Aliens is the definitive sci-fi horror film. I’ve probably watched it 20 or 30 times during my lifetime, and it’s one of my favourite films ever. You can’t overstate the influence of Aliens’ colours and environments on the aesthetics of subsequent movies and games, or the influence of the marines’ banter on the vocabulary and diction of the military in popular culture. Recently I’ve been struck by the debt owed to Aliens by one video game in particular: XCOM 2.
I’m a fan of XCOM 2 as well as Enemy Unknown, and they’re both good games on their own merits. But one of the things I like most about them is that they are so evocative of Aliens and, to a lesser extent, other 80s action films like Predator. One of the characteristics of XCOM is that your soldiers are all expendable, and largely lack meaningful back stories or personalities. However, they can be customized, and it’s quite easy to give each soldier a distinctive look or feel with accessories or hairstyles. This is quite reminiscent of Aliens where, of course, the marines are similarly expendable and generic. One of the areas where XCOM 2 improves upon Enemy Unknown is the greater range of customization, and it’s a lot of fun to kit out your team in a variety of sunglasses, bandanas, tattoos, facial hair, piercings, etc.
The default armour and weapons used in XCOM have a similar look and feel to the marines’ kit in Aliens, with a archetypal near-future design. In particular, the Heavy class feels like it has pretty much nailed the look of Vasquez and Drake in Aliens. The personality-type feature in XCOM 2–‘hard luck’, ‘intense’, ‘laid back’, etc–also ends up mirroring the marines in Aliens, from your laid back Hudson to your intense Hicks. The dropship used in XCOM is basically the same as that used in Aliens, and the shots of your squad on the way to and from missions is a recurring homage to the scene in Aliens where the marines land on LV 426. One of the recurring lines of XCOM’s female pilot is a quote from the film: “We’re in the pipe, five by five.”
In XCOM, these dropship sections are where you get a good view of your crew, and the line that regularly comes to mind is another one from Aliens: “Absolute badasses.” One of the best things about XCOM is how it captures this feeling, without actually giving your characters much in the way of back stories or identities, so you’re free to imbue them as you see fit. Aside from Aliens, the other film notorious for its cast of badasses is Predator. To Aliens’ Hicks, Hudson and Vasquez, Predator featured memorable and immediately distinguishable characters like Blaine, Mac and Billy, all of whom have influenced my own character designs. If there are no Aliens or Predator mods yet for XCOM 2, someone should make them.
What Predator doesn’t feature that Aliens and XCOM do, of course, is female soldiers. Like Aliens, XCOM’s squads feature gender equality and integration and it’s another big plus for the game. I’ve almost finished XCOM 2 now and my squad is basically being carried by four female Rangers who bring to mind the following interaction from Aliens:
Hudson: Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?
Vasquez: No. Have you?
Aliens is 30 years old this year. It’s strange to me to think that young people will be growing up and developing interests in sci-fi movies and games, but might not automatically think to watch the movie that did so much to shape the sci-fi horror genre. XCOM 2 goes to show how much we still owe it.