The recent reveal of Aliens: Fireteam (a co-op shooter from Cold Iron Studios based on the film of the same name) has quickly proven to be one of the year’s most welcome surprises so far. At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has left us questioning when previously revealed games will be released, the seemingly simple announcement of a potentially major, entirely new game on the horizon feels much more hopeful than ever before.
Besides, after all these years, there is still a special something about the Alien franchise that has never faded away. Even though recent Alien movies failed to capture even a hint of what made Alien and Aliens two of the finest sci-fi films ever made, nothing has truly diminished the shine of their gold standard status.
Mind you, it hasn’t been all bad. 2014’s Alien Isolation, for instance, is widely considered to be one of the scariest horror games ever made as well as one of the rare instances of a game based on a movie that is entertaining in its own right while perfectly capturing the spirit of the movie itself.
Can Aliens: Fireteam replicate that success by perfectly capturing the spirit of the sequel it shares a name with? It’s an interesting question that forces us to look at the even more interesting possibility that Aliens: Fireteam has a taller task ahead of it than Isolation did. Why? Well, it has something to do with the fact that Aliens has proven to be one of the most influential films in the history of video games.
If you were born in a post-Aliens world and never looked back on the film’s most lasting influences, you may be shocked to learn the many big and small ways that the James Cameron directed sequel to Alien rewrote the sci-fi action lexicon and reshaped our expectations of the genre.
There are few places where that influence is felt more often than in video games. From motion trackers and mobile turrets to alien enemy design concepts and the very notion of space marines, the last 35 years of video games have would have almost certainly played out differently if developers weren’t able to borrow concepts popularized, refined, or invented by Aliens.
Yet, the clearest influence of Aliens can be found in the games that borrow from the movie wholesale. While there is no shortage of games essentially designed as unofficial Aliens adaptations, it’s hard not to think of most entries in the Metroid franchise and Halo: Combat Evolved as the most notable examples of that approach. The former owes everything from its music to its enemy design and revolutionary sense of atmosphere to Aliens and Alien, while the latter was essentially the biggest budget fan tribute to Aliens you could ever imagine. If you’ve only ever played the original Halo and never actually watched Aliens, you’ll likely find yourself laughing at how many little things that game took from the movie.
What about official Aliens games, though? That’s where things get tricky. While there’s no shortage of tremendous games inspired by Aliens, official Aliens adaptations have been noticeably worse across the board. 2013’s Aliens: Colonial Marines is best known for its parade of hilarious glitches while 1986’s Aliens: The Computer Game was an ambitious attempt at an adaptation that tried to do far too much at a time when a simpler “Contra-like” experience probably would have sufficed.
There have been interesting official Aliens adaptations, but many of them missed the mark in lesser ways. For instance, the Metroidvania-like Aliens: Infestation for Nintendo DS is certainly impressive (and hilariously borrows from the game that borrowed heavily from the franchise), but its gameplay doesn’t quite capture the more intense action-heavy elements of the movie. 1990’s Aliens arcade-game is one of the better beat-’em-ups of the golden age of that genre, but it too feels closer to a genre interpretation of the film rather than a game that truly captures the experience of the movie itself. The Aliens vs. Predator games feature harrowing sequences that recall the best moments of the movie, but those sequences share time with other properties and different ideas.
Again, though, that’s the weird thing about making an Aliens game. While there are only a few notable official Aliens game, we’ve seen dozens of titles which offered nearly perfect Aliens experiences that included almost everything you’d want from the concept aside from the license itself. Even Early Access Steam title GTFO features that “Left-4-Dead” gameplay design seen in Aliens: Fireteam as well as some of the most intense Aliens-inspired action you’ll find in gaming.
Yet, there are certainly reasons to hope that Fireteam will honor Aliens in ways that no other game quite has.
First, off, don’t overlook the use of the actual Alien license. Spiritually similar titles are lovely, but only Aliens is Aliens. The designs of the weapons, creatures, soldiers, sounds, and environments in that film have stood the test of time for reasons that go far beyond the fond remembrances of simple nostalgia. Of course, there are also few enemies in all of science fiction more intimidating than the Xenomorph.
You could also honestly argue that for as many great Aliens-inspired games as we’ve seen over the years, we’re still waiting on that one that really puts it all together in a way that more completely captures the experience of watching the film. That movie featured a rarely replicated blend of horror, action, science fiction, dramatic tension, and visual splendor that you can find in a combination of video games but perhaps no single title that satisfies your desire to play your way through that experience of the closest approximation to it as possible. On paper, the idea of venturing into a nest with friends and trying your best to survive against intimidating odds is exactly what many people would come up with when asked to imagine the ideal Aliens experience.
Besides, does it matter if Fireteam ends up being “just” another entry into the proud legacy of games inspired by Aliens? There’s a reason that we’re still playing games inspired by Aliens after all these years, and if Fireteam proves to be another worthwhile entry into that genre, I’m sure many of us will find an excuse to lose hours to it.
Just as the developers of Alien: Isolation recognized that changes in horror gaming trends inspired by the success of games like Amnesia and Outlast created the perfect opportunity to make a horror game that captured the sheer terror of the original film, Fireteam‘s developers don’t need to break the mold so long as it takes the best of what’s out there and adds just enough Aliens to become the game we turn to after watching the movie for the first time or yet again.
Aliens: Fireteam is set to release in Summer 2021 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.