Sometimes games manage to capture the film: Halo (Aliens), Grand Theft Auto (crime films from the 1980’s onwards). For my money, the best so far has to be a game inspired by Alien: Super Metroid.
Super Metroid features so many superficial elements that make it similar to Alien – a tough leading woman (central protagonist and pioneering female hero in a genre with so few) battling disturbing insect like creatures with elements of body horror set amidst decrepit corridors. Lots of other games have the superficial elements but what makes Super Metroid a superior example is that the game truly nails is the atmosphere.
The game starts off with a memorably disturbing and equally exciting set-piece with Samus Aran investigating a space station filled with dead scientists before playing its trump card – the planet Zebes.
Like LV-426, this planet is dark, unwelcoming and filled with nasty secrets. Samus emerges from her spaceship onto a silent patch of ground surrounded by cliffs. As soon as she is outside rain patters off her armour. The planet is home to ancient ruins, a crashed spaceship (like the Navigator’s) and labyrinthine cavern systems to explore, occasionally evoking the insides of a living, hostile creature, most of which is unreachable or inhospitable without suit upgrades.
At this point of the game Samus is underpowered and you feel overwhelmed by the situation. Even as you get more powerful and levels open up, you may feel a new determination but this is countered by the planet seemingly waking up to your presence and threatening to swallow you.
I really hated playing this game as a child. It’s a perfectly balanced, cleverly toned classic that welcomes adventurers with nerve but the game was genuinely unsettling. Even as a child I could sense the daunting atmosphere and melancholy but most of all the loneliness. Samus was on her own against enemies that were truly alien and disturbing.
Throughout it all, the atmosphere evokes the loneliness and unknown at the core of people and deep space. To emphasise this is the mournful music and brilliant use of silence and ambient effects like the hum of machinery. It’s an atmosphere that few videogames have managed to capture or do right which makes Super Metroid memorable and so like Alien.