There’s a lot of games out there based on Aliens, but not a huge number based on Alien; try to imagine that second title double-italicised to also indicate emphasis. The former – by which I mean the second film – is an easier adaptation to make, conceptually. Colonial marines is a straightforward concept. Shooting games have been around since time immemorial. You can churn out a game in that meeting of wheelhouses with little to no imagination, and they have done, repeatedly.
The latter – by which I mean the first film, phew – is a trickier entity. The sequel made the clever move of genre-hopping to action, but the original is entirely suspense. It’s hard to repeat the suspense formula successfully once you’ve shown the monster. You’ve gotta change something for it to work a second time around, and in this case, hey, I guess it was the medium. That’s an unexpected twist. When I heard how they were approaching the 70s aesthetic, I was – I wanna say ‘interested’, but the correct phrase is actually ‘hyped successfully’.
Alien: Isolation honestly feels like the first proper Alien sequel we’ve had since Aliens. It breathes new suspense back into the original concept simply by giving the audience agency. With a movie, I can get a feel for what’s generally what and what’s about to happen based on where we are in the story structure. I know they’re not gonna show their monster in the first five minutes (well, not effectively, anyway), and I can pick when they’re in a breather scene and when the alien’s not going to suddenly be there doing something. I can (reasonably) assume they’re not going to kill their protagonist at random. I have knowledge, which equals power.
But with a game, all that gets tossed out of the window! That knowledge is taken from me. Who knows when that thing’s gonna show up? Is it already running around hiding from the second I start playing? I have no way of knowing that. Is it standing behind me and I won’t know until it’s too late, at any given moment? I don’t have any narrative or visual cues to tell, because it’s all happening organically as I play. You end up with the Blair Witch paradox: I don’t wanna stay in this room because the thing could be in here with me, and I don’t wanna go into the next room because it might be waiting for me in there. It borders on the other great paradox, of the WOPR variety.
I can sit in the dark watching horror films by myself at 1am with no problem, a side effect of how studying film and peddling fiction yourself tends to sap its power over you. But give me a well-crafted suspense game and I’m a thousand percent done.