Aliens’ take on space marines can not be found in games like Gears of War, Halo, Doom, Mass Effect, and, honestly, most militaristic sci-fi video games released since Aliens. It’s just such an effective way to convey the humanity of sci-fi/action without having to sacrifice the more bombastic elements of those genres. In terms of the pure quantity of “imitators,” Aliens’ portrayal of space marines may be its most lasting and important influence on video games.

Doom 2016 shotgun

Aliens Set the Standard For Weapons in Sci-Fi Video Games

Much like how Aliens’ space marines benefited from a more “grounded” style that could have worked just as easily on Earth as it did in space, many of Aliens’ weapons are surprisingly…normal. Assault rifles, shotguns, pistols, flamethrowers…with few exceptions (the pulse gun, for instance), most of the guns in Aliens feel like slightly more advanced forms of weapons you would have found on Earth in 1986.

It’s kind of remarkable, then, that so many sci-fi video games released since Aliens have borrowed from the film’s arsenal. From Doom to Half-Life and Halo, there was a time when sci-fi action games often featured that same “pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, flamethrower/rocket launcher” weapon progression strategy that Aliens employed. Many of the guns in those games were even obviously designed to resemble the weapons in Aliens (with Halo being one of the biggest “offenders” so far as that goes). It’s true that those games also featured much more fantastical sci-fi guns meant to complement those more “humble” weapons of war, but somehow, the more standard guns usually ended up being the stars of the show.

So why did so many game developers eventually use Aliens’ weapons as the basis for their own arsenals? Well, one of the big reasons why the guns in Aliens are as memorable as they are is that James Cameron and his team traded in the opportunity to come up with more elaborate designs for the chance to emphasize the “bluntness” of modern weaponry through both sound design and the splatter effect you get with less precise tools of destruction. They complimented the “blue-collar” nature of the soldiers using them as well as the idea that humanity hasn’t created a weapon as dangerous as the most gifted hunters in the universe.

There’s a degree to which that brutality was inherently a draw for games like Doom, but even as we moved into the Halo and Gears of War era, a lot of developers seemed to realize that there’s a familiarity and simple functionality to these guns that elevates them over more advanced alternatives. You know what a shotgun is, and getting to use a particularly powerful one against advanced alien forces is satisfying in a way that laser guns and portable nukes can’t always replicate.

Dead Space UI

Aliens Use of Motion Trackers/Ammo Counters Helped Revolutionize Video Game UI

It was tempting to lump this point in with the discussion about Aliens’ guns and how they influenced video games, but these two points certainly deserve their own space. 



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