Alien is a beloved film series, but one with a rocky track record. The original film is an all-time classic, and the sequel, Aliens, is an 80's pop culture thing that’s just as enduring. Since then, Alien has taken various shapes and forms, all of them mostly taking up niche spaces rather than reaching blockbuster success. Even the most recent film, Alien Covenant, did not draw audiences, despite solid reviews. As good and appealing as Alien can be to a specific audience, it’s a dated property. It’s a hard sell for a large, mainstream audience, and that holds just as true in video games.
Part of Alien’s digital struggle is due in part to one of the biggest disasters in contemporary video game history. Yes, I’m talking about Aliens: Colonial Marines. It was so poorly-recieved and so surrounded by controversy, it’s both a permanent stain on the IP and on the entire game industry as well. Alien Isolation, a more serious, and well-made effort, ended up being a much better game, but it was still a hard sell. It did okay, but not great; it was not a groundbreaker, and AAA publishers want groundbreakers.
But, the industry is trying again, even after that and Covenant stumbled. Now, Fox has its own games division, called FoxNext; it was started in 2017, and is all about things like video games, VR, and other entertainment avenues like theme parks. It’s unclear how the Disney purchase impacts FoxNext, but it was recently announced that FoxNext is working on a new, console Aliens game. It’s a shooter, which appears to mean that Fox wants to try the Colonial Marines thing again.
In getting this new Aliens game off the ground, FoxNext acquired Cold Iron Studios, an emerging development house that set up shop in 2015. Cold Iron Studios has not released any games yet, but was founded by people who used to be at Cryptic Studios, the developer behind the likes of City of Heroes and Neverwinter. FoxNext, as an in-house publishing arm taking over Aliens ,is a departure from what was previously a deal with Sega for the IP. FoxNext also has yet to release a game, but will soon release Marvel Strike Force, a mobile, free-to-play RPG based on Marvel Comics.
FoxNext and Cold Iron has a lot to do to get a new Aliens game where both companies likely want it to be. A big part of this will inevitably be brand rehabilitation, because no matter how good Alien Isolation was, this sort of game will invoke memories of Colonial Marines. It doesn’t matter how many other shooters set in the Alien universe, that’s the one that matters now. PR folks aren’t going to be able to just get away with, “we’re doing it right this time we promise.”
That said, it’s also a brand new publisher, utilizing what is essentially a brand new developer. This is about as good an opportunity for said rehabilitation as you can get. It will feel like a fresh set of hands, which may be a tough pill to swallow for fans of Creative Assembly’s work, but a welcome change for folks burned by Gearbox, who likely won’t trust a bigger name. As a big fan of the property myself, I’m always willing to give a new take a whirl. But I also know to keep my expectations in check, something dedicated fanbases often struggle with. But hey, at least it isn’t a mobile game, right?