This is a monumental year for the Alien franchise. For starters, 2014 represents the 35th anniversary of the first film’s release. In May 1979, Ridley Scott’s story of an interstellar commercial towing crew being tormented by an alien creature aboard the Nostromo shocked and disturbed moviegoing audiences, the grim blend of science fiction and horror solidifying the movie as one of the best examples of either genre.
That film also launched the career of its star, Sigourney Weaver, turning the young actress into a female lead whose career would span three-plus decades. Her early box office hits include Working Girl and Ghostbusters, but her most iconic role remains the formidable, resourceful Ellen Ripley. Weaver went on to reprise the role three more times throughout the 80s and 90s, ending with 1997’s Alien: Resurrection.
For a time, it seemed like the fourth chapter in the saga would be the last audiences would see of Lieutenant Ellen Ripley. Then, early in July, the announcement was made that members of the original cast would lend their voices to a DLC chapter of the upcoming survival horror game Alien: Isolation, and the internet collectively lost its mind. Sigourney Weaver was finally returning to her old stomping grounds in the Nostromo, and not a moment too soon.
This is the other reason the Alien franchise is seeing a resurgence. The movie has remained a constant fixture in the minds of horror audiences and aspiring filmmakers, a testament to its quality, but for the first time in several years, it appears that a video game bearing the Alien name might live up to the standard set by its predecessor.
In a conference call with Bloody-Disgusting, Sigourney Weaver fielded questions on a range of topics, not just about her experience working on Alien: Isolation but also the legacy of Ridley Scott’s 1979 movie and the possibility of finishing up the Alien saga with a fifth movie.
The Alien name has not been well-served by its pixelated counterparts. Starting with a Pac-Man clone for the Atari way back in 1982, Alien(s) has been associated with some undeniably poor games over the years, culminating with last year’s Aliens: Colonial Marines. Colonial Marines was such an epic, publicly-ridiculed failure that people despaired as to whether there would ever be another Alien(s) game, let alone a good one.
Then, lo and behold, this year is seeing the release of not just a promising Alien title but one of the most anticipated games of the year; one that, amazingly, would also feature the talents of one Sigourney Weaver.
When asked what compelled her to become involved with an Alien game after all these years, she said, “I’ve been approached to do other kinds of games and stuff to do with Alien, and this is the first one that seemed to me to be ambitious in a new direction.”
What separates Isolation from previous games based on the series is that developer The Creative Assembly is very consciously taking its cues from the original movie and not from James Cameron’s decidedly more action-oriented sequel. Players won’t be taking up arms as a gung-ho space marine, mowing down dozens of aliens with a variety of assault weapons, but rather they will use traps, stealth, and avoidance in order to escape the clutches of a single Xenomorph.
Not only does this game pit the main character against a single foe, the plot weaves in story elements that necessitate the game’s undeniably retro feel. Isolation takes place fifteen years after the original movie, and the main character is none other than Ripley’s daughter Amanda, who embarks on a mission to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance after the Nostromo’s flight recorder box is found.
Not only that, but the game takes place in some of the first film’s most iconic set pieces, a fact that unnerves the actress. She said, “It was actually a little hair-raising for me to walk through the corridor I hadn’t walked through for thirty-five years and to see Ridley Scott’s little bird that goes back-and-forth and some of the weird little touches that the creators have put in the environment. All the detail is really fantastic. There’s so much to take in.”
Furthermore, the technology in Alien: Isolation has its roots firmly planted in the same blocky, plastic, analog style as the film. Rather than beef up the tech for the game, the devs crafted items that evoke the world of the late 70s and early 80s, a decision which douses the game in a particular kind of nostalgia and further limits the player. If Amanda has to rely on somewhat inadequate or underwhelming tracking equipment, then she will have a much tougher time being stealthy. The end result, the team hopes, is that players will be exponentially more nervous and terrified.
All of it is an astounding feat of fan service, up to and including the fact that the game will feature not just Weaver’s voice but also those of other original cast members, like Tom Skerritt and Yaphet Kotto. However, although the appearance of original cast members elevates the profile of the game, their involvement in the story proper is negligible. This isn’t just the original movie retold, in other words.
Instead, Weaver and the others are included in two DLC packs to be released sometime after the main game. One is entitled Crew Expendable and the other Last Survivor, and players will be able to play as Ripley, Dallas, or Parker in two missions lifted from the movie. The missions are not exact replicas but rather exist between certain spaces of the movie, though Last Survivor does place players into Ellen Ripley’s perspective for the movie’s chaotic, unnerving finale.
Originally, the DLC was only going to be made available for those who had pre-ordered Alien: Isolation, but the furor over that announcements quickly caused SEGA to reverse the decision and announce the missions would be made available to all players at a later date. No release date or price have been announced, thus far.
Though comparatively unfamiliar with the ins and outs of gaming, Weaver seemed to nail the basic philosophy behind Isolation’s appeal. She said, “Video games themselves are expanding to please a lot of different appetites for a lot of different kinds of gamers, maybe gamers who are more interested in story than target practice.”
Indeed, that seems to be the case with what Creative Assembly hopes to be a re-energizing entry for the franchise. They more-or-less convinced SEGA to pursue the project with a demo they developed themselves, with the aim of reversing the trend of turning horror games into more action-oriented affairs. Alien: Isolation will feature some limited combat, but the game is nowhere near the likes of, say, Dead Space 3 and is much more based on stealth than gunplay.
Not unlike Outlast, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Slender and other recent survival horror games, the protagonist in Isolation is intentionally underpowered. The relative lack of weaponry raises the game’s stakes, because even the slightest misstep can alert the Xenomorph, dashing any hope of a clean escape. This combination of factors successfully evokes the specific brand of creepiness that pervades the source material, which is nearly four decades its elder.
But the cat-and-mouse element of Isolation isn’t what finally captivated the veteran actress. Weaver herself admitted to being drawn in by the game’s story: “Other people have tried to funnel Alien into games, and what I think is arresting about [Alien: Isolation] is that it has its own original story, and it’s very faithful to the first film while going in a whole new direction for people. If I may say, in an emotional direction.”
Beyond the hype, Alien: Isolation has a chance to become one of the year’s best games. It doesn’t help that late September through much of October is a troublesome time to release a game – Isolation is scheduled to come out on October 7 – but this game’s narrative, which began as a mere peculiarity in the eyes of the gaming public, is reaching an oddly loud crescendo. At E3, the year’s biggest, most visible convention, Alien: Isolation racked up more than 40 awards and nominations, including several “Game of the Show” nods.
Moreover, the development team has a respectable pedigree. The Creative Assembly is most well-known for the Total War franchise, which doesn’t overlap with, say, the Amnesia series, but advance footage makes this game seem legit on more than just a graphical level. The team has managed to deliver consistently impressive footage, and demo-players, Let’s Play-ers, live streamers, and YouTubers have found the game to be insanely tense, so the outlook appears to be downright positive for Alien: Isolation.
The Legacy of ‘Alien’
The problem with plenty of science fiction is that it doesn’t hold up over time. It becomes brittle, even silly, in the face of actual technological advancements, so it’s interesting when something like Alien or 2001: A Space Odyssey manages to hold the public’s attention for years – decades – after the initial release.
Almost ironically, Weaver cites her more recent work with James Cameron in order to contextualize the continued interest in the movie. She said, “After Avatar, I met so many people who wanted to be in that world and didn’t want to leave, and I guess that [idea] never occurred to me. But Alien is such a specific, frightening world, and Ridley [Scott] did such a good job of creating this world that was unlike any notion of space any of us had had, because it was real and it was gritty and people were fighting and complaining, and it was like real life but in space.”
Something about what Ridley Scott and Co. envisioned must have worked. The movies have been parodied, copied, and used for inspiration for well over thirty years now, and the persistent interest in new games is a testament to the power of the franchise.
Though she won’t admit it, Sigourney Weaver’s performance in Alien has quite a lot to do with the film’s perpetual relevance. Her plucky, no-nonsense portrayal of Ripley – which she said is based on an environmentalist friend of hers – is in large part to explain the film’s enduring legacy. Ripley was not constructed as a feminist icon, which may go a long way of explaining why she eventually became one. “I’m both thrilled about playing such an iconic character,” Weaver said. “Also, I wish it weren’t such a lonely feeling. It just seems to be hard for Hollywood to come up with good, straightaway, true women characters that they don’t try to make ‘sympathetic’ or something.”
It almost seems the right time for the franchise to make a resurgence. Successful horror movies of the last few years – especially independent ones – owe quite a lot to the overall aesthetic of Alien. Movies that are primarily character-driven in nature, with a brooding, almost dour mood, seem to be de rigeur for the indie horror crowd, and that’s a good thing. The current crop of horror filmmakers are much more interested in the power of environment, of mood and tone, in the creation of tension than some of their more veteran counterparts. The average indie horror movie of today is way more influenced by the films of the 1970s than even the remakes of 70s flicks of the last decade.
But the movie’s enduring legacy is more than just its reflection in the audience’s current tastes. Mrs. Weaver is of the opinion that the collection of personalities that came together to make this film managed to construct a nearly-timeless film that happens to take place in space. “I was very fortunate to be working with people who could tell a story that could still resonate so many years later, that had enough universal themes in it that it was still relevant for people, which I think a lot of science fiction is.”
The Future of ‘Alien’
The glut of press coverage surrounding Weaver’s involvement in Alien: Isolation has prompted discussions regarding the possibility of a fifth movie, which Weaver herself doesn’t shy away from.
“I hope someday to complete the Alien saga,” she said, adding, “I meet so many people for whom these movies mean a lot, and it would be great to let the story be finished properly, which is my fault. I didn’t want to do [movie] five with four [Alien: Resurrection] because I wanted some distance, but maybe someday we’ll get to do the final installment and Ripley will find some peace. I hope so.”
Both Alien: Isolation and the 35th Anniversary Blu-ray will be released on October 7. Alien: Isolation will be available for PS4 and Xbox One for $59.99 retail, while the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC versions will be ten dollars cheaper, at $49.99. The “Crew Expendable” and “Last Survivor” DLC packs will be released post-launch, though there has been no word on exact dates and pricing yet.