Telltale Games: The Perfect Host for Aliens
The Alien franchise is one of those properties that seems like a natural fit for video games. Between a scary, nigh-unstoppable semi-parasitic freak from outer space and ladies (and sometimes dudes) toting big guns in an attempt to eradicate them, you think they’d take to each other like a facehugger and a mushy, warm host body. The recent release of the critically panned Aliens: Colonial Marines by Gearbox and Friends is just another entry into a relatively disappointing list of attempts to bring a worthwhile Aliens game to life.
While part of the problem is obviously due to the choices that publishers and developers have made with Aliens — seriously, the pot luck development of Colonial Marines sounds like a steaming pile of the hottest mess — I’m starting to wonder if part of the problem is also the interpretation of the series as an FPS. Sure, it makes sense — add lots of aliens, give the player big guns, and throw in some jump scares. But what will that accomplish that hasn’t already been done arguably better before by other developers?
Some of our biggest science fiction games have all taken a great number of cues from Aliens, already emulating what captured our imagination about the original films. Say what you will about games like Dead Space, Halo and Gears of War, but they’ve tackled the horrific solitude, the species that hungers for human hosts and the squad of tough-as-nails marines (hell, even Gears of War’s soundtrack is reminiscent of Horner’s work on Aliens). You could argue that Aliens is probably one of the most influential properties in modern gaming.
But what have Aliens games and other sci-fi games failed to capture about the franchise? The human drama. And one company in particular has shown they have the chops for that lately: Telltale. With The Walking Dead, Telltale lovingly crafted a game that kept in step thematically with its previous iterations, and made a fantastic game about zombies that had surprisingly little to do with them. I could talk on and on about the number of beautiful things that Telltale did in that game — you should really just read our review — but instead, I’m going to talk about all the reasons that a Telltale-developed Aliens game would excite me.
The Setting and the Story
One of the key features of sci-fi is a spellbinding setting. Walking Dead’s rural, apocalyptic Georgia looked like a moving graveyard, full of dark buildings teeming with the undead, coupled with altogether too-quiet city streets. Similarly, the Aliens films have had particularly mesmerizing settings, from cold, suffocating space to penal colonies (AKA Space Australia). Any of these imaginative spaces would give Telltale some unbelievable opportunities for their story.
Probably the most appealing setting in terms of characters and variety would be a space colony. A game could easily cover the downfall of a place like LV-426 or a different colony, similar to it. Perhaps one of Weyland-Yutani’s terraforming projects that doubles as a xenomorph breeding ground? Imagine waking up, Walking Dead style, in a colony gone buggy, torn apart by aliens and survivors in a mad scramble to evacuate. You stumble upon precious few survivors as you try to figure out what’s gone wrong. And it only gets worse from there.
I’d also love to see Telltale place an Aliens game in the middle of something more mysterious. A military science station, for instance, similar to what we see in Alien: Resurrection or Nightmare Asylum, part 2 of the comic book series by Mark Verheiden (if you haven’t seen these, they actually continue the story from Aliens before the release of Alien 3, with Newt and Hicks surviving to fight a xenomorph infestation on Earth… once Alien 3 came out, the names were changed for continuity, as if that has ever mattered in this screwy franchise). This sprawling science complex could be a space station or even a remote Weyland-Yutani laboratory located on Earth. Maybe one day, the mysterious egg that’s being studied in the laboratory hatches, and latches onto your best friend. When he recovers, you talk about your plans for after the internship, until, well… yeah we pretty much know how the rest of that goes.
Lastly, the easy-to-replicate exploration voyage, as seen in the original Alien and most recently modeled in Prometheus. This certainly wouldn’t be my favorite setting, but it’s one of the easiest places to create and would feel familiar to Aliens fans. Although setting it on something akin to deep space Terminal 949 in the Aliens: Berserker comic series, which had a crew of over 1,000, would be pretty damn interesting.
Or you could go nuts and set it in a prison for double-Y dudes planet. Because of reasons.
Regardless of the setting, Telltale would have a unique template with which to move the player through — one that needn’t be the endless dark corridors modeled by most shooters. Can you imagine strategically cordoning off parts of a ship, or having to choose whole wings of scientists/crew members that might have to die for the greater good? Should you nuke the bugs from orbit or try to get out alive? If it’s set on a ship, do you self destruct or listen to the guy that wants to try and take the shuttle back to Earth? Each setting gives a number of choices that aren’t afforded by simple FPS mechanics in a meaningful way. Instead of focusing on shooting aliens, it would focus on the impossible situation faced by a team of panicked, terrified survivors.
Even though their settings couldn’t be more wildly different, both Walking Dead and the best Aliens films have something in common: real, three-dimensional characters that you root for, love, love to hate and just want to see get cocooned or dismembered. For every time that I cheered for Lee or even that scruffy hobo Chuck, I wanted to see Kenny get what was coming to him or leave Lily locked in an RV. Mixing so many potent personalities together and throwing them into such dire straits makes for great tension and explosive storytelling, and both properties know how to deliver that in spades.
After seeing how Telltale handled such a brilliant cast of Walking Dead characters, imagine their take on the archetypes we’ve come to expect from Aliens.
OK, so Bishop wasn’t exactly incognito in Aliens, but the point still stands. The android characters have always been such a pivotal part of the series. For all its faults, Prometheus’ shining achievement was that opening sequence of David, all by his lonesome, passing the time by trying to be more human. I love the idea of an artificial human in this setting, because while he’s the one party member that can’t be corrupted by the xenomorphs, he’s also most likely to screw everyone over in favor of his Weyland-given directives. Imagine putting the fate of your cast in the hands of such a being? Or even having an android as the main character?
Every story needs a Kenny or a Hudson, regardless of how tired you get of reading “Game Over, Man,” titles for every Colonial Marines review. The Chicken Little’s sole purpose is to stir everybody around him into a shitstorm, and priming that powder keg for the inevitable clash. Do you listen to Chicken Little and abandon people that need your help, or do you go down into the hive to try to free them? And at what point will Chicken Little cut you loose in order to save his own neck?
Paul Reiser, you son of a bitch. Even though you got what was coming to you in Aliens, I still get mad every time I see you hugging the company line like a life preserver, clinging to it for dear life. To have a company man as part of the ensemble, Telltale would have an instant nemesis, one that happens to know the most about how to save everyone’s lives, but might be more interested in a specimen, even if it comes back inside you or someone you love. Do you kill this person or let them live, if it means you make it out alive, too?
Aliens has been most especially known for its badasses, most notably in the form of Ellen Ripley. What I wouldn’t give to be stuck in the shoes of a female protagonist with a xenomorph-sized chip on her shoulder, one that doesn’t take any nonsense but still knows what it is to care for others in a maternal way. We’ve already seen what Telltale can do with that parenting instinct by way of Lee and Clementine’s relationship, and it was one of the most meaningful journeys I can remember in a video game.
And last but not least, the space marines. Honestly, there are so many possibilities here. If you start on a civilian or laboratory setting, I’d love to see a Half-Life-ish turn in the story where the marines show up, and suddenly everything changes. Maybe their motives aren’t just search and rescue, but search and destroy all evidence? Maybe the marines show up and they’re just as scared as you, only more dangerous because they’re trained killers.
Depending on the setting, these characters can come in various roles and backgrounds. Scientists, teachers, parents, loners. And just like in the Walking Dead, Telltale would use these characters as a playground (or minefield, depending on how you look at it) in which their story unfolds. What happens when your favorite character goes missing? Or when the one man that can pilot the shuttle gets impregnated? How far do you trust the android with your life? Which of the survivors is trying not only to make it out alive, but take an alien sample with him? How do you handle the marines if they’re there to hunt you down in addition to the aliens?
So there you have it. My crazy long discourse about why I think the best hands for Aliens happen to be located in Telltale Games. These guys know drama, they’ve proved (mostly) credible with beloved geek franchises, and Walking Dead already has so many similarities in terms of theme and tone.
What does everyone else think? Is Telltale the perfect host for an Aliens game? Why or why not? What other genres would work for the franchise, besides an FPS? Or do you think that FPS is just the way to go? What are some other dream scenarios for Aliens?
Image Source – LV426 art by Steve Burg