How Alien brings the scares

6 min read

Alien xenomorph

With Alien Isolation releasing soon, it seems like a fitting moment to look back on why it was and is such a scary universe. The day I saw and watched all the Alien movies back to back and realized that Ripley never got a break from the terror… Geez. With such a scary franchise getting a game that appears to do it justice, let’s look at what makes the Alien franchise so terrifying.

In 1980, Swiss surrealist artist H.R. Giger received the Academy Award for “Best Achievement for Visual Effects” thanks to his design for the Alien in the original film. Giger is often touted as the father of biomechanics design, and faulted for the fact he somehow manages to get hidden surreal genitals into every design. However, his depiction of the titular Alien is truly terrifying.

Alien facehugger

Perhaps what makes the Xenomorph so terrifying is that they don’t actually want to kill their victims right away. Instead, they seek to violently capture humans as hosts for the Xenomorph embryo. The concept of running for your life, only to be captured, smothered by a facehugger and later have an alien burst out of your chest? That’s just nightmare fuel right there – I’d rather it just used that precision jaw/head-bite to kill me right away.

Depending on the host used to reproduce, the Alien can have various features, taking on a unique form in the various films. In any form, though, they have a skeletal, biomechanical appearance, usually in black. They have incredible strength exhibited by an ability to break through vent covers and even reinforced pressurized doors.

Xenomorph closeup

With only a mouth as its visible facial feature, the Xenomorph is particularly terrifying – you can’t look into its eyes, making it impossible to even know if it is looking at you. It is purely built to destroy or consume as it reproduces.

To add to its terror fuel, the Alien is plausibly invincible on a spaceship. With acid blood that can corrode any substance with high speed, normal weapons would lead to far too much acid leaving its body, resulting in the spaceship getting destroyed. Speaking of secretions, the alien is permanently covered in some form of fluid. Presumably, this is linked to the thick, strong resin that it can produce when building its hives and cocooning its victims.

Alien mouth

The Xenomorph made its first appearance way back in 1979 in the first Alien film. Even by today’s standards, the debut is quite the visual masterpiece. Over 200 people constructed the main sets – the surface of the alien planet as well as the Nostromo. There was no CGI, which is quite something, because everything on screen was ridiculously detailed. The Nostromo had control panels with flashing lights, the space suits exhaled gas with each breath, the Xenomorph’s movement and appearance was so lifelike… it made it all so believable. What’s even more impressive is that the film only cost $11 million to make (although back then that must have been quite the bit of money).

It kicked off a series of sequels. The Xenomorph returned to harras Ripley and co in Aliens (1986), Aliens 3 (1992) and Alien Resurrection (1997). The franchise is still popular enough that it warranted a recent prequel in the form of Prometheus (2012).


It doesn’t stop there. There is a whole other franchise where the Xenomorph goes head to head with the iconic Predator – who also has its own set of films too. Their first crossover film was released in 2004, with a sequel landing in 2007. It’s also spawned a plethora of media over comics, books, and games of course.

The joy of the Alien franchise is that it takes place where humanity is most vulnerable – in space, a precarious location. This combines our fear of the unknown with our fear of the Xenomorph. As such, not only is there the terror that you might be killed, there is no hope in sight for rescue.

Notable Games

Aliens vs. Predator (Arcade)

Avp arcade

The first, and arguably one of the very best in the long-running grudge match that features the Xenomorph tangling with the infamous intergalactic hunters, Aliens Vs. predator wa a coin-guzzler of note. Players had a chance to jump in as one of two distinct Predators, or as the very augmented humans known as Dutch and Linn. And then proceed to kill anything with a double-mouth in sight.

The game was fast-paced, intense and unrelenting. And it was filled with more Xenomorph variants than a toy convention specialising in plastic face-rape monstrosities.

Alien Trilogy


The Alien franchise may be at its best when it focuses on survival horror, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t room for some tight action as well. And in a game collection that spanned the original trilogy of films, players got the chance to run, gun and dodge acid as they worked their way through 30 levels of biomechanical horror.

Aliens: Colonial Marines


Ha! Just kidding!

Alien Isolation

Alien Isolation takes the approach of the original Alien film. With only one alien on the ship, the goal is not to fight or defeat the creature, but simply to survive. There are weapons in the game, but they’re only effective against other humans and androids – don’t even try to kill the Xenomorph with them. The best players can do is run (which makes noise and might attract the alien), hide and pray that they don’t die. The game promises to fill us with fear the way that old school horror games have; this isn’t an action game, but based purely on survival horror. This trailer seems to capture it all:

The game releases 7 October and is available from all your usual favorite retailers.

Like what you see? Want more frights, chills and thrills? Then don’t forget that The Evil Within and Alien Isolation is out right now. If you’re brave enough, you can grab The Evil Within from these fine stockists on a range of platforms:

Or Alien Isolation right here on PC, current-gen and new-gen systems:

Last Updated: October 3, 2014

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