Last year was Alien’s 40th anniversary – and I wrote quite a long piece looking at the first movie and what it meant to me.
For Alien Day 2020 this year, however, I wanted to take a look at a selection of video games featuring the galaxy’s deadliest extra terrestrial. Note that these aren’t necessarily the ‘best’ or most highly regarded Alien games; just the ones that have meant the most to me over the years (and just a quick note: many of the Aliens vs Predator games have been among my favourite games featuring Aliens, but I wanted to steer clear of them and focus on Alien games with no Predators!).
Konami’s Aliens arcade game is the game on this list that takes the most liberties with the source material, but at the time I had no idea. I’d yet to see Aliens when I first played the arcade game, so I was completely unaware that the bizarrely coloured xenomorphs (and blonde Ripley!), odd take on the Alien lifecycle and weird new creatures didn’t feature in the lore of the movies at all.
Yet it’s still a superb game, a tough but brilliantly fun run and gunner with driving sections. Though not faithful to the movies, the pixel art visuals and designs are absolutely wonderful. It felt like a bit of a holy grail until recently when I realised I could play it again thanks to emulation – I recently played through the game in its entirety and I’m glad I’ve had the chance to see the crazy Japanese take on Aliens from beginning to end, at long last.
Alien 3 (SNES)
The third Alien movie suffered from a difficult gestation and was disowned by the then up-and-coming David Fincher – with Alien 3 being his first film as director. Despite the movie’s crazy list of production problems, studio meddling and awful critical – if not quite commercial – reception, it came at a time when 8-bit and 16-bit movie licenced games were big business.
Remarkably, not only are the various versions of Alien 3 almost all different, but they’re all great in their own way. The SNES game is probably the closest to the movie in terms of the visual design and palette used, but – as with the other versions – immediately discards the movie’s single xenomorph antagonist in favour of multiple aliens. It has a great visual style, brilliant animation and an excellent soundtrack – it’s well worth checking out as a great example of a 16-bit run-and-gun game, though be warned: it’s not exactly an easy game.
Alien Trilogy (PlayStation/Saturn/PC)
Coming at a time just before the fourth movie in the series, Alien Resurrection, went into pre-production, Alien Trilogy was an excellent way of honouring all three films that had been made at that point. I was absolutely blown away at the time by the pre-rendered cinematic sequences and what then felt like amazing 3D levels.
Though it’s very dated now, it still felt like a real leap forward at the time, with excellent atmosphere, brilliant music and superb sound design.
Along with Wipeout, Alien Trilogy was the game that made me take the plunge and save up to get a PlayStation, with me being such a huge fan of the franch and so blown away by the screenshots I’d seen of the upcoming game.
Alien Isolation (PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC, Switch, Linux, Mac)
Far and away the finest Alien game in my opinion – and easily one of the best games of last decade – Alien Isolation is a masterclass in suspense, horror and an absolutely peerless example of how to pay homage to a much loved franchise while brilliantly adding to its lore. The look and feel of a space station being run by a failing, corner cutting corporation – and the social issues that arise from the corners being cut – is wonderfully realised, with chunky, old school tech giving it a brilliantly tactile feel.
The budget androids that are supposed to be toiling away on the station – the Working Joes – are an incredibly creepy, malevolent presence on the station and an excellent addition to the universe. The continuation of the story from Alien, featuring Ripley’s daughter Amanda, searching for her mother while she drifts in hypersleep between Alien and Aliens, is done in such a way that it fits into the narrative of the overall series without retconning anything.
And I haven’t even started talking about the Alien itself yet. It’s absolutely terrifying and can’t be defeated by your weapons; the best you can hope for is scaring it away for a bit, while you find somewhere else to hide.
Though the story eventually outstays its welcome – there’s a point at which it’d make sense to just end, but it continues way past that and feels a bit like it’s stretched too far – for two thirds of the story at least, it’s hands down one of the best games I’ve ever played, let alone one of the best Alien games. Even the DLC content is extra content done right, with a number of stages taking place around the main narrative as well as one featuring the crew of the Nostromo from the original film (along with the original actors providing voiceovers).
So there we are. A quick overview of the three Alien games that have meant the most to me over the many years I’ve been gaming. Happy Alien Day everyone!
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