The best games inspired by the ‘Alien’ franchise, ranked
The arrival of Alien Covenant in theaters today is the perfect time to celebrate the various forms of nightmarish gifts Ridley Scott’s seminal horror franchise has bestowed upon us. Aside from the scarring image of an alien scorpion baby bursting through a human chest cavity, the franchise’s influence spreads far, wide, and across many mediums.
So join us on our express elevator to hell, for a list of the best Alien-inspired games of all time. Rankings, it should be noted, are based on a combination of the game’s greatness and success in capturing the spirit of the franchise (an Alien vs. Greatness ranking, if you will). We’ll start with the very best and work our way down.
Some critics have gone as far as to call Alien: Isolation their favorite “Alien movie” after the original. Creative Assembly’s 2014 horror game felt more like a spiritual successor to the original Alien’s brilliance than most of the following films. While Prometheus made the future look glossy and sleek, Alien: Isolation returned to the clunky, tactile, outdated tech of the Sulaco spacecraft. In many ways, it also brought Ripley’s unique feminine badassery back to center stage, telling her daughter’s story as she searched for her mother.
More than any other entry on the list, Alien: Isolation perfectly translated the anxiety of a hyper-intelligent, stalking Xenomorph to games, with an incredible feat of smart AI that ramps up the tension in every moment. A tension which the xenomorph tracker, reminiscent of Cameron’s motion sensor tracker in Aliens, nailed.
Another game-changer, both System Shock games captured the slow burn of the sci-fi space horror setting, which traces back to Alien’s innovation. Like the film franchise, the games are all about surviving a spacecraft where your crew’s turned into a bunch of mutated monstrosities. It even traumatizes players with its own marking moment of betrayal from a supposedly helpful AI.
One of Frictional Games’ many masterful contributions to the modern survival horror genre, SOMA brings the eerie, rusting sci-fi setting underwater. But the deep sea proves just as inescapable and anxiety-inducing as deep space, as the player struggles with the psychological horror of a science facility overrun by unpredictable sentient AI. Like The Company from the original Alien, the real enemy in SOMA is a morally questionable industrial future where we’ve lost sight of the value of human life.
While unofficial, this 1991 Amiga game series did a much better job of capturing the lonely panic of Aliens than the plethora of other official franchise tie-ins from the era. The run and gun format recreated the balls-to-the-walls chaos of the movie’s battle sequences, while the difficulty constantly reminded players how outnumbered they were in the fight against an increasingly overpowered enemy force. Not to mention the boss fights, which would have any player screaming, “Get away from her, you bitch,” before laying waste to the Alien Queen.
Alien vs. Predator
One of the few multiplayer Alien tie-ins that doesn’t totally ruin the franchise’s lonely sense of dread, this 2000 FPS gets a pass because it’s fun as hell. While not a pick for the Alien franchise purist, like its film version, the game still includes plenty of mindless enjoyment by allowing players to choose from playing as either an Alien, Predator, or armed-to-the-teeth Marine.
Contra and Super C don’t include much of the original movie’s characteristics, but it perfected James Cameron’s horrifying vision of the space marine battle in Aliens in games. In Contra, an elite team of soldiers is sent on a mission to sort out some alien shit that’s going down. Guns-ablazing, both the in-game characters and the player come to the stark realization that they are far outmatched. And that’s not to mention that, in the final level of Super C, you are very literally battling a horde of .
The creators of the original Metroid and Super Metroid openly admitted to borrowing heavily from Alien and Aliens, even basing Samus Aran’s appearance partially off of Ripley (oh, and calling their main villain Ridley, which is a pretty backhanded way of giving credit if you ask me). Like the original film did for the horror genre, this classic metroidvania series changed its medium forever. And while wholly different in tone, both franchises feature a female protagonist who’s better equipped than anyone to exterminate an alien species threatening the universe’s way of life.
A recent point-and-click indie entry, Stasis is set on an industrial space station that oozes with the slimy, icky aesthetic the Alien films owe to artist H. R. Giger. Once again, the protagonist is up against a corporation with dubious intentions, “aided” by an eerie band of seemingly omnipresent AI. More than anything, though, Stasis captures the violating, Freudian body horror most prominently featured in Alien and Alien Resurrection.
Another modern classic, the original Dead Space owes a lot of the success of its atmosphere, environment, and premise to the Alien franchise. While more jump-scare happy than the more subtle entries on the list, it still perfectly recreates the mounting dread of turning every corner of the Ishimura’s cramped corridors. More than anything, the game captures the body horror of a hive-minded alien colonizer that invades and reanimates the corpses of every crew member.
While certainly far from the best metroidvania on the list, this 2011 Nintendo DS Aliens tie-in is our case in point: the movie franchise translates perfectly into a genre where death has real consequences. Giving players only a finite numbers of marines meant that every death was not a simple respawn, but a life lost in the battle against the invading forces that have taken over the Sulaco.
The recently released takes the open-world approach to a space station overrun by an invasive species that mimics everything, including human life. The gameplay is unyieldingly anxious, perfecting the powerlessness of a surprise horde attack. The story also recalls the hubris of man: a reminder that we should all just agree to not play with fire when it comes to an aggressive alien species. But Prey’s at the bottom of our list for a reason. Both because it never nails the claustrophobia so characteristic of the Alien franchise—and because it doesn’t stand up next to many of the classics above.
is a freelance writer covering the web of internet culture, games, media, and intimacy in the digital age. You can catch her work on Vice, Paste, The Atlantic, Polygon, Glixel, Kill Screen, and Mashable.