(This is another edition of /RANT, a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)
Word on the street is that Aliens: Colonial Marines is terrible. Really, really terrible. Almost as bad as a thousand online game reviewers thinking the headline, “Game over, man” would be hilarious for their reviews. Whether the result of incompetence, bad budgeting, or rumored dodgy dealing from a studio that simply didn’t care, Colonial Marines has been a let down to fans of Aliens, fans of Gearbox Software, and fans of games that aren’t bloody awful. Rebellion and Gearbox have both had a crack at the Aliens IP now, and both games failed to set the world on fire. 2010′s Aliens vs. Predator was alright, but I know we can do better. We have a ton of great studios out there, many clearly influenced by Aliens’ iconic legacy in some way or another, and yet more that’d do a damn fine job with the license. Obviously, with SEGA holding the rights, not all candidates are realistic. It’s fun to dream, though, so let’s look at some studios with the proven ability to do Aliens right. Things can only get better for Aliens fans now!
By far one of the least likely studios to ever acquire the license, given their binding ties to Electronic Arts, Visceral nonetheless owes Aliens a huge debt. Its flagship Dead Space series borrows heavily from the classic movies in terms of atmosphere, environmental design, and enemy behavior, as protagonist Isaac Clarke picks his way through vent-riddled spaceships crawling with bladed, screeching killing machines. Visceral’s love of moody environments, methodical combat, and panic-inducing jump scares provide a most fertile bed for Aliens magic to grow. Aliens is my favorite science fiction property of all time, and Dead Space my favorite new IP of this generation, so a marriage between these two creations would probably be my idea of the perfect videogame experience, and I do not say that lightly.
In fact, I’d probably cry at the thought. Out of every hole in my body.
Most Aliens games end up as shooters of some kind, which means they invariably draw their inspiration from the “bug hunt” of the second film. Gung-ho marines, big-ass pulse rifles, and armies of bugs lining up for the slaughter. This is perfectly acceptable, but the universe of Aliens is about more than that. Fantastic character development has always been a series staple, as has creeping, paranoid, dreadful cosmic horror. Neither of these elements get to make it into the shooters, but if one studio could capture the more personal horror found in Alien and Alien 3, it’d be Telltale, makers of last year’s impeccable The Walking Dead. The studio’s already made a deeply personal, beautifully written, subtly horrific game — applying those elements to the Aliens universe would be as simple as switching out the zombies for xenomorphs.
Okay, maybe not that simple, but you get what I mean.
An Aliens adventure game would be a perfect way to pay interactive homage to the elements of Aliens videogames so often miss. Less a case of space marines yelling “Hoorah” and more a case of ordinary humans in the cold depths of space, coming face to face with their own insignificance and a creature better suited than they to the one thing that matters anymore — killing. Telltale has the chonetouch, and could bring that to gorgeous life. And yeah … it could end up like that Jurassic Park game, but I think Telltale’s learned its lesson there!
If there’s a studio to be crowned king of the licensed games, Rocksteady is surely in the running. There’s little left that needs to be said of its stellar work on Batman: Arkham Asylum and sequel Arkham City, but let’s all just remind ourselves of their startling quality. This studio could have easily cobbled together some braindead, buggy piece of crap and let the Batman name rake in the dollars, but it actually gave a shit about what it was doing and created proof that licensed games are more than capable of matching the best of the best in mainstream games publishing. As far as I’m concerned, Arkham Asylum set the bar for licensed games, and if you’re not matching it, you’re doing something wrong.
General commitment to quality aside, Rocksteady’s skill in Batman can be transferred to Aliens quite adequately. You want moody level design? They’ve got you covered! Fluid combat system? It’s there. Predatory stealth? Just imagine Rocksteady doing for a playable xenomorph what it did for Batman. I know thinking about that gets me excited. Rocksteady could do wonderful things with the license, if only SEGA could let them have a stab.
Okay, I admit this one’s a real stretch, but if there was any way Valve could get its hands on the license, I think we’d see some real magic happen. The creator of Half-Life is clearly already knee-deep in Aliens love, with so many visual design elements borrowed from the series. From the egg-like Barnacles to the leaping headcrab zombies, Valve wears its xeno-love on its sleeve for all to see. The studio’s also responsible for Left 4 Dead, a game well versed in asymmetrical multiplayer pitting human survivors against a horde of murderous creatures. Special infected like the Hunter are basically undead versions of xenomorphs, with their nightmarish screams, leaping pounces, and tendency to gore isolated victims to death.
Gearbox seemed to want Left 4 Dead’s charm in Colonial Marines’ multiplayer, but clearly didn’t have what it took. Who better to give it real justice than the home of Left 4 Dead itself? Like Valve’s zombie shooter, you can have common Xenomorph “drones” backed up by playable warriors, spitting subtypes, and give Tank duties to the Alien Queen. Of course, there are probably a thousand PC mods that already do this … but wouldn’t an official one be nice?
This one was suggested to me on Twitter, just as I was trying to think of one last perfect choice. The brains behind Metro 2033 and the upcoming Metro: Last Light? You damn right that’s a perfect choice! When it comes to claustrophobic horror on a deeply personal level, these guys really know how to knock it out of the park. Metro 2033 was a perfectly paced exercise in creeping through the dark, attempting to outwit stronger, more powerful opponents with nothing but skill and wit. It was a great game with a palpable sense of tension, and its dismal, beautifully bleak world of tunnels and shafts is the kind of thing that’d translate well to the Aliens universe.
4A is the kind of studio that can pit you against a mere handful of xenomorphs and make it as nailbiting and terrifying as any number of games that toss thousands into a corridor and tell you to get going. I think I’d love to just see these guys take on a space setting in general. The team certainly knows what it’s doing when crafting a post-apocalyptic russia. If it could take its survival horror elements and truly dark tone into the stars, I reckon we’d have a chance at a genuine System Shock 2 successor. With xenomorphs, of course. Lots and lots of juicy xenomorphs.