Both “Alien vs. Predator” films were by and large disposable mash-up exercises, undone by plots that couldn’t convincingly meld the two series’ worlds and directors who paled in comparison to the ones behind the creatures’ original solo outings. But in theory, this marriage of H.R. Giger’s acid-blooded beasts and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s camouflage-happy intergalactic nemesis is a solid one.
For the best evidence of that fact, you’ll have to look to the game world — the 1999 PC/Mac title of the same name and its recent remake, which allows you to play as a marine, an alien or a predator. It’s a title that, like its predecessor, cannily plays to the strengths of its chosen properties, recognizing that both James Cameron’s “Aliens” and John McTiernan’s “Predator” feature scenarios and action tailor-made for the gaming realm. And this new game’s success at recreating the visceral excitement of its source materials raises an interesting question — what makes a film ideally suited, or wholly inappropriate, for video game treatment?
Games based on film licenses tend to be pretty wretched. Yet given the arrival of “Aliens vs. Predator,” a film-based game that not only works but, more importantly, makes logical sense as a project to begin with, it’s clear that some films are just a better fit for the interactive realm.
The more you look at the anomalies that have succeeded in both film and games, the more it becomes clear that they share a few common traits. These aren’t hard and fast laws, and there are still countless examples of films that, though seemingly perfect for a game adaptation, wound up with horrific PC or console iterations. Here are some obvious — and yet far too often ignored — truths about the way to go about making games based on films.
The first thing game developers looking to adapt a film should ask is: does it have any action or drama that naturally lends itself to gameplay? The “Alien” and “Predator” films blend action, horror and suspense, making it easy for their games to blend firearm conflict, hand-to-hand combat, stealth action and survival horror scares. Making a faithful adaptation means making a game that’s also faithful to traditional gameplay mechanics — no tinkering or random changes to the properties necessary.
This may also be why something like EA’s 2007 “The Simpsons Game” — notable for its story’s meta-gaming critique — was just a ho-hum diversion. It couldn’t overcome the fact that Homer, Bart, Lisa and Marge just aren’t meant to be fighters. Forcing Matt Groening’s clan to navigate punch-kick-shoot sagas makes no sense, a situation that plagues just about any adaptation of a film or TV show that doesn’t have action somewhere near its core.
Because so many popular game genres revolve around high-octane battle, films with slam-bang set-pieces and chaotic mayhem are often the surest fit for translation. But that’s not really enough — that action translates best when it speaks directly to a particular gaming style.
The 1993 Genesis classic “Aladdin” thrived because the film’s various centerpieces all involved running, jumping and magic carpet-riding that fit the mechanics of a “Mario”-style platformer. James Bond’s stylish intrigue, fast-paced gunplay and globetrotting fit a first-person shooter’s need for one-against-many odds and a range of environments for large-scale firefights — a prime reason “GoldenEye 007” for the N64 remains one of the all-time great console titles.
And though its track record is more than a tad spotty, the “Star Wars”‘ sundry iconic action elements — lightsaber duels, spaceship skirmishes, force-power fights — make the franchise adaptable to numerous types of different games, whether they focus on just one of those dynamic components (as in the Gamecube’s excellent starfighter title “Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader”) or meld different styles into an omnibus-type effort (like “Star Wars Trilogy Arcade,” replete with a lightsaber showdown with Darth Vader).