Two weeks ago, it was widely reported that Rebellion’s Aliens vs Predator (2010) and the notorious Aliens: Colonial Marines had both disappeared from Steam. Last week, it was reported that they were back again, with the whole thing shrugged off as a bit of standard legal business whilst SEGA’s Alien franchise licensing rights were renewed with 20th Century Fox. To make a long story only slightly shorter, this led me to reinstalling the 2010 AvP, playing the Marine campaign for about 15 minutes, then quitting in terror before I’d even met the first alien (which is exactly how I played it the first time I played it). Then I began the Alien campaign again, which despite being my favourite in the Rebellion/Monolith AvP games, filled me with ineffable ‘Meh’ after about 15 minutes. Then I uninstalled the whole kaboodle and went back to contemplating whether my nerves could handle an Alien: Isolation purchase. And then (ta-daa), I started wondering about the history of Alien games, and it turns out H.R. Giger’s creation has been scaring our monitors for 32 years. Thirty-two years! And although a number of other gaming sites and blogs rushed out their own reviews of Alien gaming history to coincide with Isolation’s release a few months ago, none of the ones I’ve seen are very comprehensive, and so here we are again.
Now, before we get rolling on this long, weird train, a caveat. In its 3 decades-plus of gaming history, the Alien has appeared on many different formats, from Game Boys to arcade machines. To keep this from turning into a sprawling mess, I’m focusing on the home computer and console games, including the aforementioned Alien vs Predator series, while the dozens of mobile, handheld and arcade games will all still get small mentions for the sake of completeness. We also need to look at some of the history surrounding the films and spin-off media, so you can expect a little of that too. With all that said, steel yourselves for a range of horrors, from the Alien itself to a number of dubious games – including one that makes the abominable Aliens: Colonial Marines look like a solid-gold classic…
First, the basics. The alien we know and love today began as a print entitled Necronomicon IV in Swiss surrealist artist Hans Rudolf Giger’s 1976 book, Necronomicon, and arrived on the cinema screen in 1979, in Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusset’s Ridley Scott-directed Alien. O’Bannon had previously worked on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s aborted adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune (later the basis for David Lynch’s 1984 version), on which production Giger had also been employed as a concept artist. When it came to deciding what Alien’s creature would look like, O’Bannon showed Scott a copy of Necronomicon, from which Scott was most inspired by the aforementioned Necronomicon IV. Giger was then hired to develop it into something usable for the production, and legendary Italian effects artist Carlo Rambaldi created the mechanical head and suit which 2.08m tall Nigerian student Bolaji Badejo then donned for most of the shoot (with minor exceptions for stunt work provided by veteran stuntmen Eddie Powell and Roy Scammell).
More or less concurrently Atari was working on its premier games console, the Atari VCS, which it released for sale in 1977. Three years after the film’s release, in 1982, 20th Century Fox’s electronic media arm Fox Video Games (known as Fox Interactive since 1994) was busy capitalising on the home console boom, publishing and developing a wide variety of games for the Atari (by then rebranded the Atari 2600, after its stock number CX2600). Some of these were based on its own recent film catalogue, including M*A*S*H, Porky’s, Star Wars, and of course, Alien – the first ever Alien game.
In the heady days of the Second Generation of home consoles and their blocky, abstract graphics and simple, limited gameplay, most titles lived or died on two things: their box art, and their concept. In that first Alien game – the concept was ‘be chased by the Alien but don’t get caught’, the absolute master of which had been, for the last two years, Pac Man. This perhaps explains why… why everything, really. Your task was to run around the USS Nostromo (Pac Man maze), crushing Alien eggs underfoot (Pac Man pellets), and avoiding the Aliens (Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde). Unfortunately there were no Power Pills, but you did get a rather handy flamethrower. In all, it was perhaps not the most auspicious start to Alien gaming history, but it was appropriate for its time and a boxed copy, in good condition, can now fetch around USD 40.