Good news, everyone: We've survived the zombie apocalypse! After years of expending brain power on zombie games, many of the major developers that had been pumping the channel full of the ravenous undead are now using their eyes to look upward. With upcoming games like Evolve, Alien: Isolation, and even Call of Duty exploring extra-terrestrial enemy options, it seems like now, it's the aliens time to shine, and it's going to be awesome.
Sure, fighting off zombies was fun. Pushing away their gnashing teeth and showing their faces the business end of a shotgun was a blast (get it). There was amazing four-player co-op in Left 4 Dead, great storytelling in The Last of Us, and tons of indie zombie titles that totally infested the top-down shooter genre. But now there are a bajillion zombie-related games out there. The gaming market is completely saturated with exploded, rotting guts. And it's time to move on to bigger, better, and not-so-dumb enemies to eviscerate.
Why the change, and why now? In years past, it was a huge game development hurdle to get lots of enemies and objects on screen all at once, which made dumb enemies like zombies a prime candidate for uncomplicated mob programming. Now the challenge will be making monsters (and enemies) smart, and since the undead typically just make a beeline towards your fleshy food parts, aliens are perfect for the next monster fad.
You have to be equally brain-dead for a zombie to sink its teeth into your noggin, but aliens are intergalactic travelers/monsters that have thoughts and instincts, which make them perfect for more intelligent enemy encounters--like facing off against Halo's Elites. Smarter enemies are definitely something I expect to see more of in next-gen games, and aliens fit the "smart enemy" bill quite nicely. The upcoming Alien: Isolation already has a smart monster in the works--one with such advanced AI that makes it feel "alive" (or so the developers claim). To me, having a single alien skulking in the shadows, hunting me until it could shove its tail blade through my torso, would be infinitely more terrifying and engaging than chainsawing my way through a crowd of stumbling undead.
With smarter enemies, encounters with your foes will also become more horrifying. I've sent a bullet through more zombie brains than I care to count, and while zombies make great targets for fish-in-a-barrel gameplay, they really aren't scary anymore. At least, not as scary as aliens could be. These extraterrestrials can be made to actually strategically kill you through intelligent movement patterns and reactionary tactics. Based on our early impressions of upcoming games like Evolve and Alien: Isolation, aliens are definitely more terrifying than a shambling dead person. Why? Zombies are slow (most of the time), they moan so loud that you know exactly where they are, and they're really easy to kill. Aliens, on the other hand, don't have any of those stipulations.
Aliens can basically be anything the game developers want--not like traditional zombies. Bug aliens, Predator aliens, Alien aliens, or little grey men aliens all have different behaviors, origins, and methods for impaling, vaporizing, or cocooning human heroes to death. The sky's the limit in terms of variety. And with the potential of the next-generation hardware, it'd be interesting to see what kind of horror, shooter, and co-op experiences game makers could come up with using next-gen aliens.
With Call of Duty: Ghosts making the zombies-to-aliens change with its Extinction mode, the Left 4 Dead developers creating Evolve, and Alien: Isolation making such an impressive early showing, I can already see the alien monster fad materializing for next-gen. Now, I'm just hoping we're not drowning in alien games by the time we start gearing up for the next, next-generation consoles.