Game over, man: Why are Aliens games so good?


I'm a huge Xenomorph fan, so it stands to reason that I love Aliens games. However, it's not just my love of all things acid-drenched that makes Aliens games so fun to play. That would be a disservice to the games themselves, which have the highest great-to-rubbish ratio of perhaps any other series of licensed games.

Unlike most other licensed games, which nearly always coincide with a major movie release and then disappear, the Aliens games has lasted for years, with titles becoming part of the franchise in their own right, as opposed to a mere reflection of it. The last Aliens movie was AvP: Requiem in 2007, yet in 2010 we'll be having two brand new games that aren't being made to tie in with any film. Aliens games just ... happen ... regardless of whether or not there's a new movie in the pipeline. This is almost unique among movie licenses with perhaps only Star Wars proving more successful, and there's a reason for it. 

Aliens has become just as much a game franchise as it has a movie one, perhaps even moreso. Why has Aliens succeeded where so many other movie licenses failed? Why have these titles appeared regardless of movie releases, and why is it thus that it takes some real bad developers to make a bad Aliens game? Read on as we attempt to dissect why.

One of the first things we need to consider when working out the success of Xenomorph-flavored games is to look at the movies themselves, most notably Aliens. While the original Alien was very much a horror movie, described as a "haunted house film in space," its sequel embraced the action genre, pitting a squad of gun-toting marines against an entire army of bugs. It was, in many ways, one of the first "videogame movies," a film so full of action violence that it was like watching a videogame on the big screen. Very much like 300, but with less homoeroticism.

The "few-versus-many" theme is one of the most standard videogame setups of all time, so it has been incredibly easy to make a videogame starring the Xenomorphs and keep it authentic. Compare this to something like the Terminator franchise, and you can see why Aliens was so easy. Terminator has, until Salvation, always been about one robot chasing a handful of people. In order to turn that into a videogame, the license had to be stretched out considerably. With Aliens, the premise was already there, just waiting to be made more interactive. 

Aliens had shooting, it had survival horror, it had driving sections, a turret scene, boss fights, the whole shebang. From beginning to end, Aliens practically was a videogame in movie form. It's small wonder that the concept has become a game franchise that remains more creatively successful than the films themselves. 

Of course, the Aliens series would be nothing without the aliens themselves. The Xenomorphs are among the most iconic and beloved monsters in movie history, and with good reason. Their memorable look, based on the work of H.R Giger, makes them at once scary and undeniably cool, while their established features -- the hive mentality, the second mouth, the acid blood, the complete lack of remorse and reason -- makes them some of the most deadly creatures ever devised.  They're a fascinating species, and have been the subject of nearly every form of entertainment media. They also carry with them a number of traits that make them perfect videogame enemies. 

First of all, an Alien hive is full of generic warriors, literally faceless enemies that were made to be gunned down. Unlike Russian Soldiers or T-800s, it actually makes sense to be assaulted by hundreds of identical enemies in an Aliens game. Typical Alien warriors just throw themselves at your bullets, which makes them the perfect videogame foe. 

Despite having a mass of generic enemies, Xenomorphs also bring variety to the table to stop us getting bored. First of all, we know that the Xenomorph species has four established forms -- Facehuggers, Chestbursters, Warriors and Queens. That right there adds some flavor to the bestiary, giving players something different to fight throughout the course of a game. Alien 3 also introduced a very important variant to the franchise -- The Dog Alien. Say what you will about Alien 3, it established the idea of Facehuggers impregnating creatures other than humans, something that was not only exploited in a fantastic (if ludicrous) series of Hasbro toys, but also added endless possibilities for videogames.

Capcom's Alien vs. Predator kept it subtle, but added Royal Guards, Smashers and Stalkers, among other castes. The nature of the Alien's reproductive cycle allows developers to inject their own ideas into the games and add plenty of enemy variants that people just won't question. If Hasbro could get away with bringing out a "Killer Crab Alien," then I think Konami and the like are allowed to have their flying Xenomorphs. 

Returning to the officially established Xenomorphs for a final point, it's worth noting how the life cycle of the Aliens perfectly fill some of the most clichéd enemy types in videogame history. As well as the generic Alien Warriors, the Facehuggers and Chestbursters fulfill the classic "very small but very annoying" enemy type, picking up where Castlevania Medusa Heads and Half-Life Headcrabs leave off. Facehugger Eggs also serve the role of destructible traps, something that must be quickly destroyed before it harms you. Finally, we have The Queen, a classic end boss that has found her way into the finalé of many an Aliens game. The Aliens movie was practically an end-game boss fight in all but interactivity.

One of the greatest evolutions of the Aliens franchise is the ability to play not just as Marines, but as Predators and even the Aliens themselves. This also lends a great deal of variety to the gameplay and has led to some of the best titles in the series. The close relationship that has always existed between the Aliens and Predator franchises led to all sorts of crossovers, most notably in comic books. This extended to videogames, such as the classic Alien vs. Predator arcade game and the Rebellion-developed FPS series of the same name that is being resurrected in 2010 by Sega. 

Playing as a Predator is typically an awesome experience, with its fantastic set of skills and weaponry. Even more exhilarating is the ability to take command of the Aliens. Capturing human hosts, or simply eviscerating them with jaws, claws and tails carries with it an unquestionable charm. It's always fun to play the villain, and Aliens make for some fantastic villains. 

The different perspectives that players can take with Aliens games has certainly helped keep them fresh. You have three incredibly different factions to choose from with many of the titles, and the fact that they are literally and metaphorically worlds apart has always kept the games spicy.

Besides which, Aliens are blatantly better than Predators, and it's good that we have games where we can prove it. 

Let's be honest -- videogame developers rarely tend to be very good writers. It's not often seen to be worth a studio's time to hire a proper screenplay writer for a videogame, and with the quality of most scripts, it appears as if the programmers are doing it themselves. While drunk. It's a good thing then that Aliens has never needed a real premise in order to work. The story is as follows -- Aliens appear, they fuck shit up. That's all it's ever needed, and all it ever will. 

It takes a real idiot to screw up what is an incredibly simple concept. You don't need deep and complex storytelling, you just need some Facehuggers and some interstellar rape victims. It also helps that, if we face facts, the Alien movie franchise has never really been a source of epic exposition. The dialog in Aliens, while possessing a few memorable catchphrases, wasn't all that good, verging on embarrassing at times. Just watch the scene where the Marines all come out of cryostasis and start talking as if they've only just met each other in an awkward and blatant attempt to introduce the characters. You'll see what I mean. 

The attempt to create a sweeping and complicated story proved itself a major problem with the Aliens vs. Predator films. They spent so long trying to over-explain stuff when all that should have happened was that some Predators met some Aliens and then starting kicking the crap out of each other. What was all that nonsense about ancient Predator Gods coming to Earth and burying Aliens underground for a laugh? It would have been so much simpler to have them just fighting for two hours in space while Marines ran around screaming and getting their heads pulled off and a load of acid in their faces. 

As if there were any further proof needed, one only needs to take the classic Hudson line from Aliens: "Game over man, Game over." James Cameron practically acknowledged that Aliens videogames would be awesome, right back in 1986. Hudson, like some sort of potty-mouthed prophet, heralded the call of Aliens videogames and ensured that legitimate Game Over screens would have something to quote for years to come. How could you not have an excellent range of Aliens titles with such literary dynamite at your fingertips? You simply can't. 

That is why Aliens videogames are so good, and will hopefully remain good with Aliens: Colonial Marines and the brand new Aliens vs. Predator. We shall of course see, but so long as Gearbox and Rebellion remember what it is that makes Aliens games rock in the first place, we should have nothing to worry about.

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Jim Sterling
Jim SterlingThank God   gamer profile



Filed under... #Aliens #Destructoid Originals



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