Although the Alien series is best known for its movie franchise, the films have had a huge effect on the world of video games. From the alien invaders of Contra to the claustrophobic, imposing environments of Dead Space, the barbed-tailed legacy of the xenomorph can be felt across many games – and that’s without even mentioning the Metroid series.
When it comes to video games based on the universe of Ellen Ripley and Weyland-Yutani as a whole, however, things become a little bit hit-and-miss. Although there have been some genuinely great Alien games, there have also been some that had players crying out “game over, man!” Here are our picks of the best and worst that the Alien franchise has to offer.
Aliens vs. Predator (1999)
The crossover between the Alien and Predator franchises has been a staple part of pop culture for countless years now, but rarely has it been done as well as with 1999’s Aliens vs. Predator. Developed by Rebellion, a studio that developed the Atari Jaguar original in 1994 and is now perhaps better known for its Sniper Elite series, Aliens vs. Predator set the bar for games starring the H. R. Giger-created xenomorphs.
Although perhaps the star of the show was the human-based Marine campaign, which showed a great dedication to tension that fans of the Alien series truly appreciated, Aliens vs. Predator actually showcased three campaigns. As well as the Marine campaign, further single player modes allowed users to take on the role of a xenomorph in the Alien campaign, while the Predator campaign let players become the ultimate hunter.
The game was hugely successful upon release, taking home some extremely positive reviews and immediately striking a chord with the gaming community. This would then lead to two further sequels, although the most recent one only received middling reviews and a lukewarm reception from fans.
Although there have been plenty of games based on the Alien franchise, many of them begin their inspiration with the second film in the series, Aliens. James Cameron’s 1986 title brought a greater level of action to the series alongside the scares, which has lent itself well to the world of video games. However, some games have managed to take the tense, minimal setup of the original and build it into something great – as seen with Alien: Isolation.
This 2014 release from Creative Assembly put the player into the shoes of Amanda Ripley, daughter of long-suffering Alien protagonist Ellen Ripley, and threw them onto the space station Sevastopol, which unfortunately had much deeper problems than first appear. Combining a pitch-perfect recreation of the aesthetic of the original film with chilling survival horror gameplay, Alien: Isolation is undoubtedly one of the scariest games of this generation – and perhaps of all time.
Unfortunately, the game’s sales did not quite match up with the quality of the product, with Alien: Isolation suffering from disappointing commercial returns. As such, despite clamor from the game’s fans, there is currently no Alien: Isolation sequel in development at this moment in time.
Back in 1996, the world of first-person shooters was a very different place. The FPS market was almost entirely dominated by PC games, with console users given scant few options to choose from. Indeed, Goldeneye 007 – the game perhaps most attributed with the popularization of console FPSes – was still a year away. However, there were still some games trying to buck the trend, and introduce the first-person shooter to the console market.
One of these games was Alien Trilogy, which launched for the original PlayStation, the Sega Saturn, and MS DOS over the course of 1996. The game pulled together plot aspects primarily from Aliens and Alien 3, with Ripley setting off to LV-426 with a team of marines and ending up on Fury 161.
Although by modern standards the gameplay – and in particular the controls – are more than a little clunky, Alien Trilogy was a smash when it first released, offering one of the most playable console FPS experiences to that date. Combining that with a gloomy design and tough-as-nails gameplay, there’s a reason why it’s marked as a high point for early shooters.
Perhaps the most defining aspect of the Alien franchise is the terror behind the xenomorph itself, and being able to replicate this in-game is often an indicator of a game’s success or failure. One of the worst examples of this failure is the Alien tie-in game that was released in 1982 for the Atari 2600.
In short, this Alien game is a straight-up Pac-Man clone. Pac-Man himself is replaced by a human survivor, while the power pellets are allegedly now xenomorph eggs. The ghosts are replaced with the aliens themselves, and the various pieces of fruit are changed into space-themed items such as spaceships.
Understandably, this is hardly regarded as the greatest moment of the Alien franchise – particularly given that the game heavily resembled the much-criticized Pac-Man Atari 2600 port. Although some of this can be attributed to the time the game was created, the 1984 Commodore Alien – an adventure game with complex mechanics for the time and a solid recreation of the original film’s plot – proved that hardware limitations were not a real excuse.
Aliens vs. Predator: Extinction
Although many video games based on the Alien series follow a similar format – that of a horror-based first-person shooter experience – there have been a few that have forged their own path. Although there are some notable examples of successes, such as the Metroidvania-esque Nintendo DS title Aliens: Infestation, there are also titles such as Aliens vs. Predator: Extinction.
For this title, the universes of Alien and Predator were used in a real-time strategy setup. Much like the Alien vs. Predator shooters, the game was split into three playable factions – Marine, Predator, and Alien. The title also stepped away from the base building and resource management model of many RTS games, instead focusing predominantly on combat.
Unfortunately, moving the setting to the RTS genre did not quite work. At the time of its launch, Aliens vs. Predator: Extinction received middling to poor reviews, but it is a game that has aged extremely badly, both due to the dearth of content upon release and the gameplay itself. Although there are some good moments – such as gaining new Alien units through the tactical use of facehuggers – this is a game best avoided.
Aliens: Colonial Marines
It goes without saying that Aliens: Colonial Marines deserves a spot on this list as one of the worst Alien games. This first-person shooter had a huge chunk of the video game community interested once initial trailers were shown, but that was merely the start of a misleading promotional campaign that led to an absolute disaster of a final product.
When Aliens: Colonial Marines was released, it seemed a far cry away from what had been promised, with the title receiving shockingly low review scores and scathing fan criticism. As it turns out, the pre-release in-game footage was nothing of the sort, and a chaotic development cycle had led to a piecemeal game that was far from the quality required for a top tier release.
Whether it’s the ugly graphics, awful story, or terrible gameplay, the game is going to go down in history as a notorious example of a licensed game gone wrong. Aliens: Colonial Marines was essentially a farce, and will best be remembered for the legal action that followed its release, and the numerous hilarious glitches as shown below (courtesy of Grizzly Case).
That brings our picks for the best and worst Alien games to an end. What do you make of our choices? Do you think other games deserve to be on here? Let us know in the comments!