With Alien: Covenant in cinemas, two ongoing comic-book series from Dark Horse on sale, and word of more prequels on the way, the Alien franchise is in good health.
Of course, along with movies and comic-books, the Alien universe lends itself beautifully to video games too. While we’ve had some stinkers, a few Alien games have been well worth playing – with Alien: Isolation at the top of the pile.
Recently, rumours abounded that Creative Assembly were working on a sequel. Sadly, this doesn’t appear to be the case (unsurprising, given that Alien: Isolation didn’t sell quite as well as everyone hoped). Alien: Covenant has a new tie-in VR experience, but further Alien games are a shoe-in.
Now we’re in a post-Alien: Isolation age, what do we want to see in future releases?
More of Alien: Isolation’s Scares
Creative Assembly’s 2014 game might have received mixed reviews, but it captured the visuals and atmosphere of the series’ best movies beautifully. It also managed to do something few Alien games have actually pulled off: it was filled with genuinely scary, underwear-threatening moments.
While it might have gotten repetitive at times, the process of having to creep through eerie areas, checking your motion tracker every other step, and finding places to hide brought an entirely new dynamic to the experience of playing an Alien video game. While the Alien Versus Predator games have been scary at times (especially 2010’s release), nothing beforehand compared to Alien: Isolation.
Even if we don’t get a sequel to Creative Assembly’s game, we’d love to see the same dedication to building a tense, unsettling, unpredictable atmosphere. Alien: Isolation made great use of sound and lighting (or a lack of it!): this is most powerful when played whilst wearing headphones – the noise of the Xenomorph thudding through ventilation shafts, or a facehugger’s egg opening behind you, really makes you feel like you’re right there with Amanda Ripley.
Even in a more action-oriented Alien video game, these techniques could still be used to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Powerful But Killable Xenomorphs
As brilliant as Alien: Isolation is, being unable to kill the Xenomorph with any of your weapons gets frustrating at times. While having just one creature after you was a master stroke of clever design, but it basically renders you defenceless until you get your hands on the flamethrower; once the alien spots you, all you can do is run or hide.
Still, even with that weapon, and a shotgun, and a revolver, you can’t actually kill the thing without a handy airlock.
In previous Alien video games, the Xenomorphs have largely been easy to ice but come at you in large numbers to compensate. What we’d like to see is a nice balance between the two approaches: you could still be faced with an entire hive of Xenomorphs over a full game, but their attacking techniques would vary.
For example, you might hear them scrabbling around in the vents, a la Alien: Isolation, but be confronted by just one or two. Later on, you might find yourself surrounded by several, all of which are strong enough to take serious damage before dropping in an acid-oozing heap.
2010’s Aliens vs. Predator, developed by Rebellion Developments, managed to make confronting large numbers of Xenomorphs scary. This is especially true of the survival game mode, in which you face one wave after another in claustrophobic settings.
The best approach would be to follow James Cameron’s approach in his iconic Aliens: ramp the tension so high that even the many moments without even a Xenomorph in sight have you gnawing your nails right off. Don’t make players too powerful, either – keep ammo scarce, encourage strategic thinking, but let us waste aliens here and there too.
Alien: Isolation did a great job of embedding itself within the franchise’s mythology whilst still feeling fresh, original, and telling a gripping story. Playing as the daughter of Ellen Ripley, the series’ most iconic figure, could have been a poor attempt to feel relevant, but it worked a treat.
However, we’d like to see an Alien game that doesn’t try to connect itself to the events we’ve seen in the movies. We don’t need to see the Weyland-Yutani Corporation’s logo or read messages from them. We don’t need to have a character who’s the sibling of Dwayne Hicks or the cousin of Carter J. Burke.
While it’s obvious that developers want to connect their game to the movies, for credibility or to win favour with fans, there’s plenty of potential to tell standalone stories with new heroes, new worlds, and new stakes.
The Alien comic-books have done this well enough over the years. Why not make a game in which you play as a member of a religious group on a pastoral colony attacked by Xenomorphs, with no heavy-duty weaponry but more primitive means of killing the aliens? Why not have you taking on the role of an android trying to keep the humans under your care alive?
Even with these kinds of concepts, the games could still be rooted deep in the Alien universe without bringing in the elements that have been used again and again.
Amanda Ripley was a solid heroine for Alien: Isolation, but she wasn’t the most memorable character. She was strong, intelligent, brave – everything her mother was – but she didn’t have much in the way of lines or traits that stuck in your mind.
This is true of other Alien games too. Now, though, we’re in an age where characters can be rendered with remarkable realism, and made to look & sound unique. Given how important strong characters are to the Alien movies – especially the first two, though the third has a couple of memorable ones as well – it’s important that future games reflect this.
Let’s have characters who have their own distinctive looks, attitudes, and ways of speaking; think of the marines in Aliens, or the Nostromo’s crew in the first movie, and how much you connect with them, even though you’re given next to no information about their backgrounds or motivations.
The more distinctive and engaging the characters are, the more immersive the game will be – and the more you’ll want to keep them alive!
More Diverse Locations
It’s too easy for Alien games to just take place in the same old abandoned colonies, industrial settings, and hives. This makes sense given how much these locations are in the films, but let’s see how Alien games play in more diverse locations.
We’ve had missions set in jungles and caves in previous games (as in Aliens vs Predator: Extinction), so let’s perhaps see more of these. Space-walks also make for tense, terrifying moments, especially with Xenomorphs appearing able to survive in space for limited periods. This was a powerful sequence Alien: Isolation, as well as in the Nintendo DS’s Aliens Infestation, and made for a refreshing change of setting; let’s see more of this, please!
More Forgiving Difficulty Levels
Even on the easiest setting, Alien: Isolation is a challenge. You need to replay the same sequences over and over again, whether the Xenomorph keeps dropping out of a vent at inopportune moments or a Working Joe beats you into a pulp more than once.
While it’s good to have a game that encourages you to think strategically and try new approaches, there’s no denying the high difficulty gets annoying at times; it might even have chased you away for a while.
In future Alien games, it’d be great to see lots of challenge and a need to think creatively, but a more forgiving difficulty would work nicely.
Solid Team Dynamics
The Alien films have always been about characters working together to overcome the Xenomorph (whether there’s one or dozens of them), so how about a game that features the same team dynamics we’ve seen elsewhere?
While we’ve played as one marine as part of a squad, how about being able to switch between them or give them directions to follow? In Aliens Infestation, you have several different marines in your roster, and when one dies, they’re out of the game for good. A similar approach would work brilliantly in an FPS or third-person scare-a-thon.
Imagine having to decide where you’d send your squadmates in an area, how many you’d keep at your side, and which are more expendable than others? Fear levels could also play into it, inspiring characters to refuse orders or simply abscond.
It sounds like a long-shot, but who knows? Fingers crossed we’ll get to see future Alien video games that not only match Alien: Isolation’s originality and atmosphere, but actually improve on it.
What would you like to see in future Alien video games? Let us know!