Opinion

Four Ways to Make Alien A Bigger Name In Games

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I love Half-Life, Doom, Metroid, and Halo. Give me System Shock and other Shocks, the grainy blinking lights of Mass Effect, the soundscape of Dead Space, or the corporate malfeasance of Resident Evil. Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece Alien (along with its 1980s action-packed equal, James Cameron’s Aliens) has in fact led to the best and most memorable science fiction and horror games ever made, just in spirit more than in name.

One cannot toss a rock on the Internet without hitting something written about the original film, and, by the same token, countless pieces exist about the impact that the franchise has had on games as a whole. However, like the movies themselves, Alien games have had a rocky history—let us not forget the standard cash-ins from the ‘90s and the terrible Colonial Marines game from last generation, but even the comparatively great Alien Isolation was twice as long as necessary and saw middling commercial success.

With so much in video games having blossomed out of the first two Alien films, one can argue that the franchise belongs in games more so even than Star Wars. However, Warhammer 40k—a British miniatures game!—has more presence as a name in games. What follows is a collection of better ideas than simply letting the Alien property linger without new releases, as has been the case since 2014.

JUST MAKE A DARN ISOLATION SEQUEL

SEGA no longer owns the rights to exclusively develop Alien games, but that does not mean Creative Assembly cannot be tapped to continue the story of Alien Isolation. The first game was an incredible recreation of the ’79 film’s aesthetic, and for, much of its play time, was also a well constructed survival horror in the vein of Dead Space with a smattering of the Shock games.

However, Isolation was far too long. Reducing the scope of a potential sequel and making a 10 hour experience rather than a nearly 20 hour experience would do wonders for its playability. Additionally, the wasteful attitude to R&D in big-budget games could be sidestepped by reusing many of the first game’s assets, as the digital animated series did.

Apart from the length, Isolation was excellently wrought and properly poised to perform well back in 2014, yet SEGA fumbled the release by slotting it into the busy end of year period, as well as attempting to market a horror game as some kind of blockbuster hit. Naturally, its failure to pay for itself in sales was cited for years after as another nail in the coffin of horror games.

More recently, though, Capcom’s Resident Evil 7 and Resident Evil 2 established that merely being a horror game is no reason to expect poor sales (especially when not released in October!). Alien‘s rights holders are leaving valuable mind share on the table by not returning to Isolation post-SOMA and post-RE2 remake. Just remember to sell it in January or February and target horror fans with a tighter, more focused experience (perhaps even with the A-side/B-side kind of replayability that the Leon and Claire campaigns of RE2 offer).

TAKE HOLD OF ALIEN‘S LEGACY IN FIRST PERSON GAMES

Far too often, the Alien franchise has focused on the marines and the series’s legacy in FPS games—look at Doom‘s long history of simply making literal Aliens‘s descent into hell. Across the Aliens and Aliens vs Predator licenses, are half a dozen Colonial Marines-focused games, which is perhaps to be expected but not necessarily the best avenue for a new first-person Alien game.

Instead, a non-Alien Isolation game of this kind should explore the other great legacies of the franchise: the complex, claustrophobic worlds of Metroid and immersive sims. This generation’s Prey by Arkane Studios borrowed heavily from Alien whichever part was not directly from Alien arrived by way of System Shock and other sci-fi games, particularly the interconnected levels of Metroid.

With Metroid itself being heavily inspired by the first Alien film, this nexus of single-player game genres—light RPG progression, terrifying creatures, exploration, gaining new powers to unlock doors—should be a top priority for the Alien property. Perhaps Fox Games should even tap Arkane to design an ancient temple complex on a far-off planet or just another space station to try and escape from.

RETURN TO OBSIDIAN’S EXCELLENT ALIEN RPG CONCEPT

Fair enough, of course: the Alien RPG (known as Aliens: Crucible) from last decade is dead and buried, not to mention that Obsidian Entertainment has now been folded into Microsoft first-party. Nevertheless, these are not reasons to abandon the concept entirely.

Horror is ground well-trodden in tabletop RPGs, and what little has eked out over the years about the Aliens: Crucible project reveal a Knights of the Old Republic-styled epic, leaning heavily into the broader lore of the Alien universe while remaining pants-soilingly terrifying.

The fact that in the many years since, this sort of project has never seen a return is baffling—it truly only makes sense when one considers that big games executives are vaguely anti-RPG, in a typically North American nerds-versus-jocks kind of way. The Alien universe represents unbelievably fertile ground for large-scale terror, and the idea of multiple characters trying to escape a large facility on a far-off world has never been more popular (take a look at all the science-fiction survival games on Steam).

This time, an Alien RPG does not even need to represent an enormous AAA production. Games such as Wasteland 2 have proved the viability at retail of smaller scale RPGs that take ambitious worlds and player agency as core tenets, rather than say the later, mushier, open-world action-ish BioWare productions.

Fox Games could turn to a left-field developer, much as SEGA did with Creative Assembly, and ask them to branch out while retaining their strengths—a developer such as Firaxis, the team behind the XCOM reboot, could really flex its development muscles by taking the light RPG elements of its strategy games and developing a brand new Alien RPG.

FINALLY: JUST ANYTHING, RIGHT? WHAT ABOUT THIS?

That none of these specific examples have been explored in the Alien license is far less surprising than the fact that no single-player Alien games of any kind have released since 2014. (Yes, there have been mobile releases and so on, but those are a different market entirely.)

In the interest of just getting new Alien games to the public, Fox could look at going hog wild and making weird new moves into totally unexplored genres for the franchise—at least until Disney stomps down. My pitch for that is Frontier Developments, the team behind Planet Coaster, Jurassic World: Evolution, and the upcoming Planet Zoo. This developer should take the idea of the amusement park gone-wrong from Evolution and apply it to Weyland-Yutani (Building Better Worlds).

Players move from colony to colony in the outer reaches of man’s galactic influence, building settlements and exploring strange landscapes and mysterious ancient ruins for technological advancements or scientific discoveries. Inevitably, however, they will explore too far and unleash something terrible.

Like Evolution, there will be a body count, but Weyland-Yutani? The company only cares about profits, so unleashing xenomorphs, Predators, or perhaps other, even weirder threats out in the black of space is actually a player objective, and not just a mechanic that destroys all of your hard work building a space colony.


Do any of these ideas appeal to you? Do you have Alien games that you would like to see as well, and if so, why not comment below? Thanks for reading and happy Alien day!

Mitchell Ryan Akhurst
Mitchell is a writer from Currawang, Australia, where his metaphorical sword-pen cleaves fiction from reality daily. When he's not writing, he plays video games and watches movies. While thinking about writing.

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