Greetings from Earth Part I: Memorable first contact moments in video games

Aliens and video games. The two go back to the beginning, when you could count the data bits that powered a game on one hand. Representations of human/alien interaction are just as old. Think of those gnarly little pixels from Space Invaders. Sure, it’s not the happiest of close encounters as you lay huddled amid the remnants of your precious bunkers – waiting in vain as they descended to seal your fate! It’s safe to say that this common sci-fi trope has been resurrected time and time again throughout the history of the media. And with good reason! There’s something powerful about that moment when you encounter your first alien. If the game handles it well enough, you may end up like me and retain some fond memories of some of those first contact moments – even if (more often then not) the confrontations rarely turn out well for everyone involved. Blame the genre!

A few guidelines to help us before we get underway: This is strictly a list of video games that I find personally memorable. This post has nothing to do with their playability and does not reflect any kind of rating system, though I will be commenting about gameplay sparingly. They’re all good, in my opinion. I’ll mostly be referring to the story or background in which these inter-species exchanges will be taking place. A little build up to set the stage. There will also be some spoilers. But I’ll be sure to keep them minimal if I can help it.

Also! I do realize how prolific aliens and sci-fi are to the fabric of video games. Trust me. I’ve played my share of them. Many games handle the subject beautifully. Recent examples include  the Halo series, Starcraft 2, Gears of War, and of course the Mass Effect trilogy. These games are pinnacles in their own right. People love them for good reason. Yet most of these stories include species and cultures that are already well established within the fiction. Wars are already being fought on a galactic scale! My list will focus instead on those brief moments in video games where the character in question is first running into his oft-scaly extra solar friends. With a few exceptions: the encounter with the Flood in the first Halo comes to mind, most games forgo introductions for the benefit of just getting to the damn running and gunning already. I’ll try to stick with the first-offs.  This is a tenuous rule, as we’ll soon see, but I think it holds up; more or less.

If you guys have any suggestions of your own, I’d love to hear them! My list is kind of piddling.. though I’ll just say that it’s a work-in-progress. These are current standouts. Burned into my vision centers most recently or most prominently. Forgive me if I leave out a few good ones. Like I said.. let me know. I’m always willing to hack away at my own ignorance one bit at a time! So now, without very much more ado, and in no particular order:

Memorable moments of first contact in video games!

*Edit:* It has now been decided that this post will be extended to include a kind of “saga” of video game first contact posts. Who’d have known I could be so long winded?!

Ecco the Dolphin

Hey, why not set off this list without humans whatsoever! Ecco the Dolphin is one of those rare gems that involves alien confrontation that cuts out the need for humanoid bipedalism completely. Maybe that’s why it stayed with me over all of these years. Yes, me and this game go way back. I was poking around at a Sega controller long before I was capable of playing a game so notoriously difficult. Many of my friends couldn’t get past the beginning stage where Ecco’s pod is mysteriously and violently hoovered up into the sky by a mysterious and jaw droppingly violent force. If this were a blog post about “Video game moments where idyllic scenes were suddenly replaced by supercharged-nightmare-fodder that can give you a heart attack” this would be right up there!

Anyways, to the important stuff. For a game about cetaceans, Ecco the Dolphin was a real powerhouse when it came to its science fiction content. I remember it being kind of off putting to some of my friends. “Since when did Flipper get super powers that involved breathing water, laser-like echolocation bursts, and a general demigod power over all sea life?” This bottle nose dolphin would do Aquaman proud.

Sure I remember lots of bits here and there. Like who could forget that damn octopus? There was time travel which involved pterodactyls. A trip to the frigid arctic to find a sagacious old blue whale that could fill the entire map. Navigating the submerged annals of Atlantis, and a very strange DNA being that had lost some of its double helixes… heli… whatever. That’s all well and good, but when it comes to the parts that still shine decades on.. it’s that twisted ending with the aliens. It really isn’t often when you’re treated to the dolphin version of Odysseus butting heads with a few hostile life forms from another ocean. And we’re not talking the Atlantic here.

In your jaunts through time and space, you return to the beginning of the game and end up traveling up that cyclone from hell that I mentioned earlier. And where do you end up? Why, in a kind of unholy marriage of H.R. Giger and H.P. Lovecraft’s vision of a Sea Park. And those are bad enough as it is. You’ve got Giger squid things chasing you through a maze of vents and ducts… all under a time limit. If the claws of the green freaks don’t dice you first, you’re liable to get crushed by the edge of the screen as it continuously moves and shifts, trying to propel you forward.

Flee or fight? Just get used to that piercing squeal Ecco makes every time he gets hit. Every. Single. Time.

As powerful as as a dolphin demigod might be; I died. A lot. And all of this was before meeting her highness, the Vortex Queen. The floating alien head with a penchant for using Ecco like a blubbery toothpick. Good luck saving your pod now.

I’d like to give you a happy ending after all of this, but I literally can’t remember if I beat the game or not. All I can see are those thrashing teeth and those creepy red eyes.

In the end, I appreciated Ecco the Dolphin for its originality. Its take on the plight of the hero was pretty ingenious. It was the complete lack of humankind throughout that really stuck out to me. It gave the game its own feel, and made the encounter with extraterrestrial non-terrestrials that much more poignant. And who says a tail fluke can’t kick as much ass?

I remember cries of “Go for the eyes!”

Okay, wow. It turns out that this post might be a bit longer than previously anticipated. Only one game down! I suppose I’ll end up stretching this out into several posts. I have two or three more games in line for a proper description!

Alright… so!

Ahem – On our next installment: A video game with a bit more fidelity for our discerning readers. A newer game that stands on its own as a prime example of doing some exploration of an alien vessel right! Ecco the Dolphin could have taken a few notes.. but alas, time is a one way street. Until then, I’ll see you down the road.

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