Aliens: Infiltrator, a new entry in the Aliens universe from storied war and horror novelist Weston Oche, is interesting not only because it’s a prequel to the coming Aliens: Fireteam video game from Cold Iron Studios, but also because it’s one of the few canonical releases since Disney assumed control of the expansive, legendary Fox property — a not inauspicious environment in which to create, and yet one in which Infiltrator succeeds.
This review has been written with the intent to avoid major spoilers.
Infiltrator’s main plot follows the immediately overwhelmed but affable Dr. Timothy Hoenikker who reports to Weyland-Yutani owned Pala station under the pretense of studying alien artifacts. This is, to put it mildly, a prototypical-of-the series bait and switch that unravels quickly as Hoenikker discovers that Pala is actually being used as a kind of unflinchingly dangerous, disconnected outpost where corporate benefactors seek to improve Colonial Marine resistance to Xenomorph encounters… and to experiment and iterate upon the titular alien’s biology itself (of course).
It’s a familiar, somewhat predictable plot, but its character-driven nature and inventiveness also keep it from feeling too similar, especially as Oche pushes it to balance the more singular Alien horror with the gory, bombastic military horror of Aliens. The inclusion of a coterie of weary, dejected, and yet battle-ready and straightforward Colonial Marines supporting the Doctor also helps, especially when the book relishes in the dark humor of their being unsurprised by literally anything Weyland-Yutani does.
Oche also has a knack for increasing the stakes and tension in a satisfying way. The dark, cramped and unforgiving corridors of the series are central here, and they feel even more dangerous as the new varieties of Xenomorph come skittering from the darkness. You believe that at any given moment that the entire cast could die, feeble mortality at odds with the unflinching violence of their inhuman adversaries.
Fans of the series will also appreciate that Infiltrator’s initially limited scope belies a much deeper, father-reaching inclusion of peripheral calling cards, too. One moment where the science team is discussing the paradoxical, powerful nature of the black goo from Prometheus was particularly satisfying. It’s hard to know if Oche was told (by corporate masters not unlike Weyland-Yutani?) to have the narrative encompass that stuff, but it does so deftly, nonetheless and tells a solid, standalone story that exists in conversation and reverence for previous entries but also implies a satisfying direction for the game to follow.
However, Infiltrator also has a few bad habits that prevent it from being as worthwhile or boundary-pushing a read as other newer releases like Into Charybdis from Alex White or Echo from Mira Grant. Most notably, Oche fails to properly describe things in pivotal moments — Xenomorphs are frequently referred to as “that thing”, “the thing”, “creature” etc. It’s clearly done to inspire uncertainty and flexibility for the reader, but it also undercuts the fact that nearly anyone reading this is probably very familiar with the design and even mannerisms of the well-known aliens. It’s also apparent when the narrative calls for elements that the author is unfamiliar with — science-driven scenes and dialogue are woefully underwritten and reductive compared to those driven by military or horror.
Ultimately, Infiltrator is a deeply satisfying, often surprising, and hair-raising read for fans of the series, but it also exists primarily for them. It’s hard to say this story is essential unless you’re very invested in the lore of the property, or even in the game, but it does a lot to impress in the beat-to-beat moments and reveals — certainly more immediately successful and intriguing than the disappointment some readers felt upon the release of the new Marvel comic, and also one that isn’t too beholden to anything but satisfying you, either.
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