The Alien. The one truly terrifying, devastating, pants-wetting force in the universe that has made men run for their lives, children scream and one bad-ass woman suit up into a hydraulic lifter and still be scared.
In the movies.
In a more recent video game, the Alien is more like an ending. If it sees you, you are going to die. In the virtual reality version of Alien: Isolation, your only hope was to run and hide. Failing to do that would result in looking down at your chest and seeing a spike tail protruding from it.
Aliens, as a group, are both easy and hard to put in a video game. They are easy because they are the unknown, the boogey man, the thing in our imagination that makes us scream with fright. They are hard because sometimes, they don’t necessarily evoke fear. Instead, they can be so outlandish, either by design or by accident, they create laughter instead of loathing.
Many franchises are built around the space opera or galactic setting where aliens might just as likely be allies instead of assassins. In preparation for our Alien Day celebration tomorrow, in honour of Planet LV-426, here are some video game aliens that create a wide range of emotions in players, some good, some bad.
Garrus Vakarian (Mass Effect)
Garrus made his debut in the Mass Effect franchise as an ally of Commander Shepherd. Known for his sharp wit and sharper military mind, Garrus quickly became a fan favorite and eventually would be a romance option that players could choose to pursue.
With his scars and burns, the imperfections seemed to actually increase his appearance and, according to game statistics for Mass Effect 2, he was among the most popular squad members selected for missions.
Garrus is a turian, described as an avian race, but his appearance always seemed more cat-like than bird. But his attitude was always total bad-ass, flying in the face of rules and regulations and ready to do some good.
Boo the Miniature Giant Space Hamster (Baldur’s Gate)
Sometimes, aliens walk among us, and we never really know it. They assume forms that appear normal, but there is always someone who recognizes them for what they are.
In Baldur’s Gate, a berserker named Minsc saw what appeared to be an ordinary hamster and knew it was a “miniature giant space hamster” named Boo. These space hamsters, described in the Spelljammer campaign for Dungeons & Dragons, paddled wheels to power spaceships.
Boo, however, was created to be a miniature version of these monstrosities. Why? Apparently, he is here to impart the wisdom of the universe to Minsc.
In reality, Boo acted like a normal hamster, but Minsc would react in some of the most humorous ways found in video games in response to Boo’s “words.”
- “What? Boo is outraged! See his fury! It’s small, so look close. Trust me, it’s there.”
- “Boo will have clean wood shavings, you evil bastards!”
- “Go for the eyes, Boo, go for the eyes!”
Whether Boo truly is a very clever alien or just the delusion of a berserker who has raged too many times, his place is cemented as the mini-alien Minsc claims to the amusement of D&D players everywhere.
Covenant Grunts (Halo)
Despite the plethora of aliens in the Halo franchise, there is one that stands out from the crowd for its sheer numbers and lack of any sense of bravery.
Grunts, the cannon fodder for the Covenant, are squat, methane-breathing aliens whose method of attack is to charge forward until they see laser fire headed in their direction. At that point, it is full on retreat, screaming about not wanting to die.
In a typically cowardly fashion, they attempt bravado, taunting the player as long as their leader is there to protect them. However, their sense of teamwork goes out the door when they accidentally shoot or bomb one of their own, devolving into a shouting match and forgetting all about the battle for a moment.
They are, for all intents and purposes, the comedic relief in a game filled with death, destruction, drama and destitution. The grunts earn their place on this list for being good at just being terrible warriors.
CATS (Zero Wing)
Yes, I’m sure some people think cats are, indeed, aliens. However, a 1991 video game called Zero Wing introduced an alien cyborg named CATS, who wanted to take over the world.
While the side-scrolling shooter was considered a good game at the time, it was the dialog that raised CATS to even greater heights as an Internet meme in 1999.
The game was originally a Japanese title when it was released. As it was translated into a European version in the English language, some lines were … lost in translation.
The most popular, made famous through message forms, was CATS’ line of “All your base are belong to us.” The correct translations should have been “With the cooperation of Federation Forces, all your bases now belong to us,” but that hardly would have been as much fun.
The phrase took off and has been featured in songs and films, usually all featuring a screenshot of the cyborg who was misquoted. It is certainly one way for an alien to take over the world.
The big fear aliens have always presented in entertainment is the ability to take over people. Whether through mind control or body snatching, aliens are on earth to dominate us all.
In the most recent XCOM games, aliens arrived on our planet for an unknown purpose but seemed intent on destroying humanity. While the game is full of different aliens, one in particular was well-known for creating angst for players.
Chyssalids are four-legged terrors with a body resembling a mutated insect. These quick and powerful creatures were known to take over animals as large as a great white shark or whale, using them as nurseries to spawn their young.
However, these bug-eyed monsters could also kill humans, plant an egg in the body, converting them into shuffling zombies before eventually erupting into quickly-evolving chyrssalid hatchling. Players learned quickly to target the chyssalids before being overrun by hatchlings and zombies.
Many message boards filled up with player rage at the speed and devastation these creatures could create on a squad.
Another bug of the universe, the Zerg’s main goal is to consume and destroy everything in its path. Their appearance is definitely insect-like from the lowest larva to the powerful ultralisk.
Their power comes from evolution, rather than weapons, so they rely more on sheer numbers than any tactical advantage from firepower. Whether burrowing underground or flying above, a zerg is rarely found alone, so a single zerg should be treated with the greatest of caution for you can never tell what’s below the surface.
Because they need to attack in sheer number to overwhelm other forces, a tactic known as zerg rush, which has been known to draw scorn from opponents because of the cleansing effect the zerg have on other troops and buildings.
Zerglings can be mass produced in great numbers. When combined with some of the more powerful zerg units, they can crush a technologically advanced force with the efficiency of locusts in a corn field. Bullets can’t go everywhere.
But for the ultimate in overwhelming strength and terrifying visage, the xenomorph, simply known as the Alien, is the zenith in alien presence in gaming, making its video game debut in 1982. Officially, there have been numerous official-licensed video games featuring the salivating creature from outer space.
From arcade consoles to the latest generation of gaming consoles and computers, the Alien is predictably the Moby Dick of aliens – always pursued, never fully destroyed and forever lingering in the dark recesses of our minds.
From its initial form as an egg containing a face-hugger to the powerful and gargantuan queen, every form presents dangers to players. And for something as large as it is, an Alien can move in deadly silence, striking from above or behind.
Game designers will sometimes include trackers in the game. But that merely ramps up the fear as that dot gets closer and closer.