It’s now 30 years since James Cameron’s iconic Aliens exploded into cinemas, tossing facehuggers, marines, and a big ol’ Queen at awestruck audiences.
The film’s as amazing as ever three decades on, thanks to its great characters, endlessly-quotable dialogue, and nail-biting suspense. It actually works brilliantly as a sequel and as a film in its own right – not something many follow-ups can claim.
Like any major film franchise, the Alien saga has spun off into other media: comics, novels, a never-released Saturday-morning cartoon (no, really!), and, of course, video games.
Guess what? Not every game starring the Alien (or the Xenomorph; or the Starbeast – take your pick) is a hit. No surprise there.
But then, not all of them are misses, either.
In fact, there are some pretty great games set in the Alien universe. And what better time to check them out than now, as one of the greatest movies ever made celebrates a milestone birthday?
Most Alien-based games stick a pulse rifle in your hand, unleash hordes of the acid-spewing monsters, and invite you to dive in.
That’s fine and all – sometimes, there’s nothing you want to do more than channel your inner Corporal Hicks and kick ass. Still, there’s a whole other side of the Alien experience, and Isolation taps into this big, juicy vein in a grand style.
Playing as Amanda, the grown-up daughter of the iconic Ellen Ripley, you’re thrown into a dark, shadowy, underwear-threatening nightmare. This is a bold FPS that thrives on building suspense, giving you a laughably-small supply of weapons (to start with, at least), and generally taunting you with its high difficulty level.
Everything you could want in an Alien game is here, including hiding in a locker for twenty minutes while you try to pluck up the courage to venture out into another badly-lit corridor. Your motion-tracker, flamethrower, and space-suit all look exactly as they should, and the Alien itself (that’s right: just one) is a fantastic accomplishment.
Turn the lights off, plug your headphones in, and immerse yourself in this masterpiece for an authentic Alien experience.
Alien 3 (Sega Genesis)
When Alien 3 came along in 1992, it was seen as something of a disappointment.
Still, the tie-in game was generally met with a warmer welcome. There were multiple versions, but the two best are on the Genesis and the SNES (see below).
Both of these take different approaches. The Genesis’ Alien 3 is more f a straightforward run-and-gun adventure, ignoring the movie’s no-weapons plot and gleefully arming Ripley to the teeth. The graphics are terrific, with Ripley looking as shaven-headed and under-nourished as she does in the flick, and the environments are suitably moody.
Alien 3 (SNES)
This is a more complex beast than the Genesis version. Here, players have to complete certain missions within the six overall stages, such as fixing junction boxes and rescuing cocooned prisoners. There’s also more of a story, with a solid opening sequence and informative mission set-ups.
Alien 3 on the SNES is slower and more atmospheric than the Genesis version, and both games will appeal to different types of gamer.
Hailing from the earliest days of the PS1 and Sega Saturn, Alien Trilogy is a bit of a mixed bag. First of all, the graphics are pretty hard to take today, and were even a little off the mark in the mid-90s. Second, the game throws in elements from all three movies (Resurrection was still a couple of years away), but with its own story.
Still, Alien Trilogy does a lot of great things. The environments are dark and claustrophobic, and the weapons look and sound as they should (check out that pulse rifle’s growl!).
It’s also fun to watch a facehugger cover the screen if you fail to blast it in time – they’e almost cute!
Aliens VS Predator (2010)
Never mind the atrocious AVP films – the games are generally worth playing.
One of the best is easily the 2010 release. As always, players can choose from a colonial marine, an Alien, and a Predator, with three unique campaigns.
The Alien itself might be tricky to control, often sliding all over the place when all you want to do is run into a ventilation shaft, but it’s also immense fun. Few things are quite as satisfying as holding some unsuspecting human down while a facehugger climbs aboard or spearing enemies with your tail.
Aliens VS Predator: Extinction
This may not be anyone’s favourite game of all time, but this RTS title does a damn good job of giving us a deep Alien simulator.
Unlike other games, here you can actually take part in the full Alien life-cycle. On some occasions, you start with a handful of eggs or newborn facehuggers, and have to impregnate a nearby creature. Once you have yourself a Queen, you can set up a hive and create more eggs. Before you know it, you’ll have a full-on Alien army.
It’s a real treat to drag humans back to your hive and wait for that satisfying crunch as a chest-burster breaks through. Lovely stuff.
This Nintendo DS exclusive is a surprisingly creepy little game. A Metroidvania design is the perfect fit for a handheld Aliens game, and it actually made things more immersive by making character deaths permanent.
Though you start the game with a small group of colonial marines, keeping these alive quickly becomes tricky. As you progress, you can find more recruits, each with their own distinct look and personality. However, as soon as one dies, that’s it – they’re out of the game.
Infestation was clearly made by a team with a lot of love for the franchise. Getting to drive the APC and climb aboard a Power Loader is a nice addition to the running and gunning, but by the far the geekiest, smartest nod to the series is the mini-game.
This recreation of Bishop’s famous knife-trick, as seen in Aliens, involves guiding a blade between your fingers using the DS stylus. It’s tough, addictive, and shows that the developers were paying attention.
Aliens VS Predator (1999)
Similar to the Atari Jaguar release from 1994, this AVP game is still regarded as one of the best Xenomorph-em-ups ever made.
Again giving players a choice between marines, Aliens, and Predators, this is known for its scary atmosphere and clever species-specific playing styles. This was re-released several years ago, and is well worth tracking down.
Alien VS Predator (1994)
Ever ask yourself what would happen if someone took Final Fight or Streets of Rage, added a load of Aliens, and let you beat them up using your hands and feet?
Well, this 1994 arcade game came has the answer!
This is a big, silly, gorgeous thing, allowing you to play as a couple of buff humans or Predators as you fight through wave after wave of Aliens. It’s absolutely crazy, but this was a big hit with gamers, despite its unfaithful take on the source material.
Weirdly, some of this game takes play in daylight, when we all know the Aliens mostly come at night, mostly …
Okay, we know this may be a controversial addition to the list, but this game definitely has its moments. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, mainly due to the punishing difficulty, but Alien: Resurrection is incredibly atmospheric. Considering this is on the PS1, its graphics are pretty impressive, and the eerie ambient sounds help to keep you on edge.
Weirdly, this wasn’t released until 2000, three years after the film. Still, the game was trapped in limbo for a while, evolving from a third-person adventure into an FPS through its troubled development stage.
Well, that’s it! Now that Alien: Isolation has revolutionised what an Alien-based game can be, we hope we get more like it in the future. Fingers crossed!
What’s your favourite game set in the Alien universe? Let us know!