From its earliest and arguably most iconic days, gaming has starred aliens, often as the enemy: a force of instantly recognisable antagonism to mankind’s bold efforts into the stars or even just to quash our existence on this planet alone. Did Space Invaders even have a plot? Exactly. Since then, technology has allowed imaginations to run rampant, and designers and artists have created some of the coolest and most imaginative extraterrestrials committed to screen. This week, we take a look at the best aliens the Xbox has to offer. You need not look very far on Xbox for numerous spacebound, alien-riddled adventures, including the entire brand’s star franchise, Halo. Set 500 years in the future, it pits mankind against a zealous alien empire known as the Covenant, consisted of numerous races, from the fearsome Elites, easily the equal of series protagonist the Master Chief, and monstrous, hulking Hunters with near-impenetrable armour and massively powerful Fuel Rod Cannons, to the fodder enemies that are the lovable Grunts. As the series aged, new races joined the Covenant, such as the monstrous Brutes and the quite frankly annoying Drones, as well as the mysterious figureheads of the faction, the Prophets. But the Covenant is not mankind’s only enemy in the series and just over halfway through the first game, the player encounters the only enemy the Covenant fears: the Flood. True to its name, this relentless parasite attacks in seemingly endless waves, infecting the living and reanimating the dead to join its hordes, including dozens of infection spores and a handful of the hideously bloated Carrier forms, swarming with many more infection forms with which to spread the monstrosity. In few other games will you see such a sublime marriage of artistic and imaginative form with gameplay and narrative function. Another Xbox stalwart is Mass Effect, with one of the most critically acclaimed and beloved trilogies of this generation. In this series, mankind has taken to the stars to find a more friendly galaxy, already swarming with galactic civilisation and inter-species alliances, primarily the ruling council, based on the massive, flower-like Citadel. Among the primary races of the series are the Asari, a blue-skinned, mono-gendered people, ancient and wise, favouring diplomacy over combat due to their native planet’s abundance of ‘element zero’ granting them biotic powers and advancing them to the apex of galactic civilisation before their fellows. Also on the Citadel are Salarians; their high metabolism makes them a fast-talking, fast-thinking race, sometimes to the point of looking down on others. The third primary race of the series is the Turian race – stern and militaristic, there is a slight animosity between them and the human race for their role in the First Contact War, in which mankind accidentally reactivated a gateway to a hostile race, and the Turians acted, with violence, to shut it down. As can be seen by these scientific and psychological approaches to species conception, Mass Effect has some of the most detailed writing in gaming, and indeed in any art form, and it’s easy to see why the franchise is so revered. Now let’s just ignore the third game’s ‘endings’. One final beloved and hugely influential, alien-heavy series is Half-Life. Though long absent at the time of writing (and likely for the foreseeable future), there’s no denying its grounded approach to story-telling and design has revolutionised not just the shooter genre, but the entirety of gaming too. Its aliens are a fascinating mix of slightly fantastical sci-fi and ‘realistic’, grounded concepts, such as the Headcrabs, tiny, parasitic quadrupeds with recessed, toothed undercarriages, perfect for hopping onto the head of an unsuspecting victim and taking control of their body, or the Vortigaunts, green, cycloptic humanoids with the ability to shoot electricity from their hands… three of them, either as a means of assault, or to charge player-character Gordon Freeman’s HEV suit. Then, there are members of the Combine: not just content with conquering space, this tyrannical empire spans multiple realities, seemingly led by the telekinetic Advisors, theorised to be so lethargic by their reliance on technology for millions of years that they’ve evolved into basically slugs on hoverboards, mechanical arms attached to their hideous flanks. Cooler still are Striders, towering tripods of chitin and steel, and their smaller counterparts, the agile and ferocious Hunters. Few studios are capable of fusing such imaginative yet logical design with functional execution, but Valve is a master at pretty much anything it turns its hand to. Now that we’ve covered the main bases, let’s have a look at something a little more overlooked. 2006’s Prey was a conceptual masterpiece of alien abduction, ancient Native American heritage and (literally) twisted mechanics (I’m looking at you, wall-walking) that would have been more at home in a ’90s scifi shooter on the PC than on Xbox 360. Whilst the Portal-esque, uh, portals, dimension-bending antics and exoskeletal spacecraft were all cool, let’s look at the aliens. Ah. Many humans had been mutilated with machinery, turned into mindless drones. The Hunters (original name) weren’t exactly iconic, but I guess the spider-centaur beasties and the goddamn minotaur were pretty cool. But then there’s the setting. Because the gargantuan Dyson sphere, a structure built to completely surround a star and therefore utilise all of its energy output, isn’t just an enormous, hollow ball covered with industrial structures and navigational systems. It’s sentient, it’s alive, and when you see SPOILER ALERT protagonist Tommy’s grandfather Enisi swallowed into a machine, it’s the entire structure itself harvesting him for nutrients and sustenance END SPOILER, as it does with many members of the species it encounters on its travels – Earth is just one victim, as Tommy discovers, and (shock horror) it falls to him to save more than just himself and his girlfriend, Jen. For all its brilliant ideas, Prey was unfortunately lacking in the execution department, and didn’t really use many of its great ideas in particular meaningful ways. Still, it’s definitely worth a play, if you enjoy crawling beasties spawning from wall-orifices. I know I do. Finally, something a little lighter: The Behemoth is well-known for its delightfully cartoonish art style and crazy sense of humour, and its first creation, Alien Hominid, set the tone for its legacy perfectly. The eponymous hominid crashes to Earth after being detected and shot down by the FBI, and must negotiate three distinct areas, using his raygun to fend off FBI agents and other suits looking to cover up his existence. Whilst hardly an original premise, the style itself more than makes up for it, with the adorable little fella scampering around, bright yellow, waggling antenna and enormous black eyes, maiming and bloodying his enemies on his merry way. Alien Hominid was also renowned for its high difficulty level, and with players also capable of biting off enemies’ heads and mowing them down with a variety of vehicles, the exaggerated gore and toughness of the game fly in the face of its colourful and entertaining aesthetic, revealing a thoroughly entertaining and delightful game with one of the coolest and most iconic characters in the industry. Aliens can come in all shapes and sizes, limited only by our imagination. As writers and designers have proven time and again, they can be integrated into a game’s mechanics or style with fantastic results, bringing new levels of both creativity and immersion to an experience. With the next generation of gaming right around the corner, it should be a fascinating, exciting time for audiences and developers alike as we meet characters and races that we could never even dream of before.