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One of the greatest action movies of all time, Aliens, celebrates its 35th anniversary on July 18, 2021. A masterclass of body horror, impossible tension, extraterrestrial warfare and one-liners, James Cameron's 1986 sequel to one of the best horror movies ever has been a constant source of inspiration for video games (see: Contra, Halo, Alien Breed, Metroid, so many more), and has also been parodied and pastiched into pop culture with wicked abandonment.
To mark the movie's anniversary, we're not here to run through a list of the greatest Alien-related games of all time - we've done that already, so if you want to read about Alien: Isolation, Aliens: Infestation and Capcom's arcade classic Alien vs Predator, click here. We're also not going to focus exclusively on games based on Aliens itself, like Konami's blonde-Ripley-alike-starring arcade game of 1990, or 1987's Aliens: The Computer Game (catchy title, that).
Instead, we're here to offer suggestions, ideas, concepts if you will, on four fresh approaches to Aliens in the video game space. Four games based on the settings and events of Aliens and its associated franchise that we're yet to play - but given the chance, we really wouldn't mind. So how about we make a campfire, sing a couple of songs, and dream about interactive Alien adventures yet to be.
There's an all-new Aliens video game coming out this August - check out the latest trailer for Aliens: Fireteam Elite, below
We've battled the xenomorph in myriad ways over the decades: first-person shooters, side-scrolling shooters, third-person shooters. Okay, basically lots of shooters. Though there was also that weird Pac-Man ripoff where you ran around collecting eggs in a maze. All I'm saying is: I want a fresh perspective. I don't want to look at the alien down the barrel of a gun. That's altogether too dangerous for me. Keep me off the front lines in more of a support role.
It's the end of days. You're trapped on LV-426 in the early days of the infestation. Something is going on but no one seems to know what exactly. People aren't turning up to their shifts. There are strange chattering noises coming from the vents. The corpos are looking shiftier than normal. What do you do with all that pent-up unease? Go to the pub, of course. There is no way LV-426 doesn't have a drinking hole. It's the heart of any settlement. A place where people can come together to vent about the day, share their whispered concerns, swap stories about the weird discarded eel skin they found in the generator room.
I want a game where you run that drinking hole. I want to try and keep morale up in the final days of LV-426. Restocking the snacks even though there's not been a delivery in months by making a connection with a colonist who's growing peas in an abandoned storage room. Trying to make the perfect cocktail for the settler who's trying to get over the sight of their dead shift manager's burst chest, giving them reassurances like "maybe they fell" or "did they have any allergies?" Finding a new pea hookup after your business partner mysteriously goes missing after going to harvest the crop in the abandoned storage room.
Keep your shooters. I want an Aliens game where I can be blissfully unaware of the xenomorph, right up the moment it comes bursting through the door looking for a pint of colonist blood. Something I'll serve with a warm wink and a "Here comes trouble". Julian Benson
Alien 3 was a tough movie to turn into a video game - or rather, a variety of video games. There were no real guns in the film, no real script for a lot of its production, and turning prisoners into heroes didn't really seem like something game-makers would want to sell to kids in the early 1990s. What came out were some good games - the SNES Alien 3 in particular is a fantastically atmospheric metroidvania that loosely sticks to the movie's plot, while the more-arcade-like Mega Drive option loads Ripley up with guns - but nothing truly captured what Alien 3 was about. Namely: religion, suffering, and sacrifice.
But the movie could have gone a very different way. William Gibson, the author of the seminal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer and co-writer of the alt-history classic The Difference Engine, made two passes at a script which saw the end of Aliens lead to a whole new nightmare on the space station Anchorpoint. Some of what Gibson wrote likely bled over to the story of Alien: Isolation, especially his second version which eschewed an Aliens-like hive of xenomorphs for just a few bugs wreaking havoc - but to really see what his direction would have been, it's recommended that you check out 2018's comic-book adaptation, published by Dark Horse, or the following year's audio drama, which actually brought back Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen as Hicks and Bishop, respectively.
Now, the Dark Horse story tells of xenomorphs coming into our world in a terrifying new way - humans breathe in alien material which dramatically alters their DNA, actively transforming them into monsters. (You can see that Alien: Covenant was taking notes.) Weyland-Yutani is up to its old tricks, taking command of operations with a not-so-secret agenda of weaponising the beasts. There are also some great, Cold War-evoking vibes between two deep-space factions, which play out alongside the usual capitalism-will-kill-us theme of the first two Alien movies. Ultimately, Anchorpoint becomes infested with aliens (ringing any bells?), with the he-didn't-die-in-this-one Hicks leading the charge to evacuate and ensure none of the acid-blooded fiends make it off the station.
Gibson's Alien 3 isn't perfect by any means, and I can see why producers at 20th Century Fox decided against working with either of his scripts. But taking the story, and the action within it, away from cinema and into the gaming space presents us with a superbly appealing interactive adventure, where the player - potentially as Hicks, potentially the Anchorpoint technician Spence, maybe even both - has to use both stealth and firepower to repel all-new breeds of xeno adversary. What couldn't work on the big screen is pretty effective on the comic page, and I believe it'd translate well to gaming, too. I'd play it, is what I'm saying.
Five Nights at Freddy's was a sensational success in the horror game genre. The premise, though ridiculous, was pretty simple. Your player is doing the night shift at a kids restaurant, where the ordinarily harmless animatronics come alive and want to kill you. You have a limited amount of power and your security cameras to keep them out - close the doors at the right time and survive, but fail and you get a jump scare, and are murdered.
When I watched Alien for the first time, I immediately thought that a game of it would perfectly fit the Five Nights at Freddy's formula. You and your team land a spaceship on a planet with a xenomorph problem, and sadly (yet inevitably) your team is hunted down one by one. You run and lock yourself in the cockpit of the ship, sending out a distress signal - and then the game begins.
During the day you have solar panels that can keep the doors to the security room shut - but during the night you have to manually open and close vents and doors to keep the alien(s) from ripping you apart. You have seven days before help gets to you, and maybe a pet cat to keep you company as you survive. Good luck! Imogen Mellor
I'll keep this one brief, as it's a bit like the above. You know how Aliens, even as the action movie sequel to the horror original that barely showed the alien, doesn't really have the xenos on camera all that much? (In Alien, the monster of the title is on screen for less than four minutes, out of 117.) That's because a) making all those puppets and other special effects is expensive and the movie had a pretty meagre budget; and b) James Cameron milked amazing drama and tension out of... computer screens.
Think about it. The motion tracker, with its blips and clicks and the sweat on the user's face when they realise that those flashing dots are in the room. The sentry guns of the extended edition of Aliens, where our marines can only watch as ammo numbers rush down to zero, in an attempt to fend off a mostly unseen horde of double-jawed nasties. The body cams on the Sulaco's crew as they're attacked in the hive, and the crackling static mingling with the screams as vitals flatline. Bishop remote-piloting the second dropship to rescue them before Hadleys Hope goes up in a nuclear blast.
There's so much in Aliens that only exists on screens, screens within our screen, that the human characters are watching - perhaps controlling, perhaps having some agency over, but perhaps totally helpless in front of as simple numbers clicking down tell of amazing violence happening off-camera. I'd love to see someone create a whole game around that concept, all frenetic inventory management in the face of incredible danger - in a manner similar to what we saw in the fantastic indie game In Other Waters, only... Aliens-y. Someone make that game and I promise I'll buy it. One sale, guaranteed!
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