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Alien Games Are Pretty Good

Alien Games Are Pretty Good

For a multitude of reasons, licensed games based on existing properties tend to have a shaky track record. Low budgets, rushed development schedules, and creative limitations imposed by the property can all contribute to lackluster final products. But when such hurdles are avoided or overcome, the ones that hit can be genuinely great. One franchise that seems to be more hit than miss in the gaming space lately is Ridley Scott’s Alien. The franchise’s gaming history spans decades, with various standalone titles, movie adaptations, and crossovers with the Predator franchise. In this article, we’ll look at three of the standout offerings released in the last decade. Each game was created by a different studio and each one aims for very, very different goals, but accomplishes each of them in their own way.

Alien: Isolation (2014)

While most games in the franchise steer closer in vibes to James Cameron’s more action-heavy Aliens, Isolation is a first-person survival-horror experience that very purposefully copies Ridley Scott’s homework instead. The claustrophobic, oppressive vibes of the first movie are skillfully recreated and evolved in this lovingly-crafted horror experience. The architecture and styling of the game’s environments are deeply informed by the late-70s, retro-futuristic designs of the film. The chunky CRT monitors that display green-tinted, DOS-esque operating systems, the cheap, mass-produced plastics that make up the station’s furnishings, and the uncanny, subliminal, vaguely organic shaping of the industrial devices all perfectly capture the unsettling tone and design of the original film. It understands the atmosphere perfectly, showing us new elements of that same world and fleshing out how it looks on a larger scale.

The Alien itself is incredibly intimidating as well. Many other games cast the titular Xenomorph as a horde-type enemy, which unfortunately makes each individual a lot less impactful. By the time you’ve gunned down 150 of them, you’re not going to be very scared of the 151st Alien you encounter. But in Isolation, a single Alien is a monumental threat. With the limited equipment you have access to, you can only hope to distract it or temporarily repel it. Nothing in your arsenal is capable of damaging it in any meaningful way, meaning the bulk of the game is about avoiding it and hiding from it. The game’s A.I. systems that govern the Alien’s actions are highly refined and just unpredictable enough to make every single encounter tense. While the game overall overstays its welcome by a couple of hours, it’s still a must-play for any fan of the franchise or horror games in general. For turning 10 years old this year, the game still looks and plays great. It’s available on a multitude of platforms and goes on sale on digital storefronts pretty regularly.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite (2021)

Showcasing the inverse side of the franchise, Fireteam Elite leans heavily into the action-focused tone of the sequel. It’s a lot less scary than Isolation, but it’s not really trying to be scary anyway. Instead, it goes for thrills and relentless action. This Co-Op-focused, third-person shooter has a team of up to 3 players take on the role of Colonial Marines dealing with a Xenomorph outbreak on a new planet and the station in its orbit. Players work together to survive literal swarms of Xenomorphs, hostile combat androids, and mutated humans and wildlife that were negatively affected by the pathogen from the prequel film Prometheus. With all of its inspirations taken together, it becomes a bullet-heavy celebration of the entire franchise. The class system lets players make character builds balanced toward specific playstyles that can synergize with the abilities of their team members.

The game is a bit barebones in terms of presentation, but it puts its focus squarely where it matters: on making a game that’s fun to play with friends. And make no mistake, it is definitely meant to be played as a team with other players. The A.I. controlled companions are not up to the task when trying to tackle the harder difficulty levels, so keep that in mind if you are considering picking it up and maybe coordinate with like-minded friends to play through it together.

Aliens: Dark Descent (2023)

The most recent release in the franchise, Dark Descent is especially unique and niche. Instead of being a reserved horror game or a gung-ho action shooter, it instead plays more like a real-time XCOM. As you guide your group of Colonial Marines through infested facilities and hives, the pace alternates between intense shootouts with swarms of Aliens and quiet, tense exploration with the distinct feeling of being hunted hanging over your squad. The game has a creative structure, with each mission site having multiple objectives scattered across the map. You are expected to take care of these assignments over multiple drops, but the limited total number of days to get everything done means you will need to be efficient and push your squad to their limits. In terms of structure, it’s a little bit like the Pikmin series.

Your squad of marines literally feel the stress of each encounter, with higher stress levels traumatizing them and forming traits that can be detrimental to future performance. While they get more skilled and powerful as they gain experience, they might also develop unwanted traits if they are pushed too far. You not only have to manage the immediate danger of getting their faces clawed off by big, moist monsters made of tubes and nightmares, but also the psychological damages that such encounters would reasonably imbue.
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