Bughunting: Part One.
A few weeks ago Peoww delivered the verdict on the PSP game ‘Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem’ which was based on the worst film of the year. A vapid, stupid teen-movie with actors in their late twenties playing out the well-worn roles of high school misfits, cheerleading bimbos and sporty jocks whilst inept stuntmen threw themselves around in rubber suits looking like what can only be described as intergalactic cunts.
The one interesting element of this tie-in was that the movie was the sequel to the movie adaptation of the successful AvP PC games which were in turn based on the comic adaptations of the original Alien movie quadrilogy. Confused?
There are so many rules of diminished returns happening there that AvP:aRse may yet undo all of creation. However, this convoluted mess of inspirations does teach us one thing. As far as gaming subject matter goes, Alien movies should make for great games. Especially when you look at something like Aliens which is practically a videogame concept translated into ninety odd minutes of cinematic greatness.
Many have tried to bring the Aliens universe to the gaming world and the results have had varying levels of success. Here’s part one of our guide to the best and worst of them.
Beginning with one of the six crew members of the Nostromo dying then ultimately spawning the xenomorph. The xenomorph then moves around the ship relentlessly hunting the crew until they are all dead. Viewing the Nostromo from above on one screen you’re charged with moving the remaining crew around the ship in turns looking for equipment that can be used whilst avoiding the xenomorph. Weapons like flamethrowers and nets can be collected and used by the crew against the xenomorph should they get caught but once you only have three crew left alive your best chance is to get to the engine room and start the auto-destruct sequence.
The most important thing in the game aside from trying to avoid the xenomorph is the emotional state of the individual crew members. As they are picked off one by one the remaining characters get more and more edgy and if pushed too far will collapse and refuse to move or take commands you issue them. You can help their mental state by giving them weapons or by keeping them together but then you run the risk of losing both characters as one of the crew is always an android who will just as Ash did in the movie go mad and start killing the other crew. It’s a good idea but like John Carpenter’s The Thing on PS2 it doesn’t quite work despite the obvious potential for tense scenes and paranoia enduced moves.
The first of two Aliens games made for the 8-bit market, this edition was subtitled Aliens: US here in the UK and featured vastly different gameplay from the Electric Dreams version. Rather than being one big game this is split into several different mini game sections. Each has its own mechanics like a flight sim, shooter or beat ’em up. Each level is also interspersed with cut scenes recreating key moments from the movie complete with excerpts from Cameron’s script. The best of these being a recreation of the ‘bug hunt’ scene on the way to LV-426 with each Character speaking the lines in comic book style dialogue bubbles.
The first level has you flying the dropship to the colony trying to stay inside the navigation rings. This is further complicated by wind chop and rapidly increasing speed. It works well and has a funky tune playing whilst you wrestle with your joystick but epileptics beware the strobing effect used. Then you recreate the medi labs siege trying to hold off the xenomorphs whilst your team cuts through the bulkhead. It’s a tense affair as your four survivors are dragged off if you don’t work fast enough with your flamethrower.
Afterwards it’s a dash through the air ducts to the landing zone to meet the dropship your only defence CoD4 style grenade martyrdom. It’s a top down affair (much like my last GF, but back on topic) displaying the labyrinthine ducts filled with dead ends and scurrying xenomorphs. The last level has you taking on the ‘the bitch’ with Ripley and the power loader in a tough as nails first-person beat ’em up section. Once beating down her strength you have to drag her to the airlock and blow her out and it’s no easy job given her fast speed and strength and the power loaders sluggish controls. It still holds up well today and has the distinction for being one of the few movie tie-ins of the time NOT made by Ocean.
Unlike Aliens US, the Electric Dreams version this is a much more focused game that mixes exploration with action and damn right tense xenomorph encounters. Viewed from a first person perspective you have to get through the 200+ rooms of the Wayland Yutani colony by controlling your six person team one at a time shooting any xenomorphs you see or hear thanks to the motion tracker bleeping noise whilst looking for sealed doors to be opened.
It’s very easy to get lost amongst the near identikit rooms with only the room number and the occasional xenomorph room splitting them up so getting some graph paper and making your own map was the best route to the dropship back in those pre-gamefaq days. Juggling six team members at the same time was no easy task and when your motion tracker goes off it’s a mad scramble to find and xenomorph and kill it before the screen goes to static and you lose one of your team.
Unlike the other two Aliens 8-bit titles, Aliens is a far more traditional affair. Pitting you as a naked, redheaded Ripley *stops to wank self to death* versus the assorted ranks of the alien hierarchy this side-scrolling platform/shooter actually gets quite a lot right.
The graphics are pure 8-bit loveliness with some well-defined beasties and a reasonably authentic LV-426. Add to that a host of different weapons from the standard pulse rifle and M-40 grenades to a laser cannon and twin rifles and you’ve got everything you need for a solid Aliens game.
That is apart from decent animation (it’s horrible), well-designed levels (they’re shit, especially some of the leaps you have to make and the door-fest of stage three) and tight controls (as tight as Kerry Katona). Still, it’d have made a lovely Speccy game in the right hands but alas this Jap-only release only generates any interest for being Square’s one and only platformer and for having a rather nice Nobuo Uematsu soundtrack.
Aliens – Arcade Following on from the MSX version, this is another side-scrolling shooter but with a lot more oomph to it. You play as Ripley (Hicks is the second character for two-player co-op) as she fights her way through the latter half of the film. This means finding Newt, losing Newt, blowing up the alien egg sac, leaving the planet and fighting the queen on the Sulaco.
Whilst the early nineties graphics are definitely showing their age, the game still looks the part with a classic Konami look to everything and bundles of aliens to fight against. Being an old Konami coin-op means that, naturally, the aliens are palette-swapped in the usual red, blue and purple variations with other new types to fight against also. These include a laughably bad flying alien (actually cut out of the Japanese version for being cack), really shit winged alien heads and a bunch of sub-bosses that would make HR Giger take his own life just so he could spin in his grave.
For Aliens fans this is a mixed bag. Sure, you’ll recognise parts of the film and you’ll lap up some of the classic Konami action but also the new enemies are mostly awful and the game itself is a credit-feeding nightmare, nowhere near as well-balanced as the likes of Contra.
If this feature needed a link from Aliens to Alien3 this is it. Although the name suggests that the game is based on the events of all three films, this isn’t strictly true (and if we’re being fussy, this was developed after all the Alien3 tie-ins but who’s checking?). It starts you off on LV-426 as you take on various xenomorphs (mainly by shooting at them whilst running backwards frantically).
Whilst this wasn’t the first Alien-flavoured FPS it was certainly the first really technically decent one. It’s 3D but in a Doom kind of way with 2D sprites. That said, it feels a lot more fluid than that with some very zippy xenos to deal with that move fairly unpredictably at times.
Once you get past the LV-426 level (after a particularly tedious queen battle) you move onto Fury for the usual dog-alien related nonsense. As with all the Alien3 games to follow, this game does away with the solo alien scenario and throws in a bunch of them along with Weyland-Yutani synthetics just incase you were getting comfortable.
Interestingly, the final third of the game is set on the Spacejockey Boneship (the big ship from the Alien movie). Here Ripley aims to destroy the source of the alien invasion of LV-426 which ultimately leads you to the egg chamber and the final queen.
With some all the weaponary you’d expect, some very nice cutscenes and a consistently high level of tension throughout this is definitely one of for the fans. However, the game is distinctly two generations old and has been massively surpassed since.
Before we get onto the ‘proper’ Alien3 games, it’s worth taking a quick look at Alien3 on the Gameboy. Unlike the other Alien3 games this isn’t a platform/shooter but rather a Gauntlet clone (as we used to call them back in the day).
Seen from above, you get to control the bald-bonced Ripley as she wanders around a horribly mazey Fury 161. Everything about this game is horrible. The characters look like aliens, the shooting is rubbish (if you’re going to put in lots of aliens give us some proper guns), you never know where you are meant to go, the interface is bleak and the amount of backtracking you have to do is borderline sadistic.
But then, as everyone knows, the Gameboy was shit.
Ignoring the film’s ‘one xenomorph’ plot it concentrates on Ripley rescuing trapped prisoners from the penal colony cum steel works against a strict time limit. Packing the same weaponry as in Aliens with the pulse rifle, flame thrower and grenades all ready to use from the off and a good thing to as every level is filled with respawning xenomorphs and egg chambers to be destroyed. Despite the high numbers of xenomorphs on the loose the biggest danger comes from the colony itself, filled with all manor of dead ends, ladders, one-way ramps and huge fans that will make diced Ripley if you stray too close.
Lacking the variety of the SNES version the gameplay quickly dissolves into memorising the location of the prisoners and working out the optimum route to ensure you get them all before the time limit runs out. Ammo conservation also plays a part with certain weapons being more useful than others depending where you are. Flamethrowers are a must inside the cramped air ducts while the grenade launcher is perfect for one hit kills and demolishing any locked doors blocking your way.
Haven’t we just done this? Well actually no. Whilst the Megadrive/Amiga version of Alien3 was a very solid game, this just ups the ante with some fantastic graphics, tonnes of action and whilst it barely follows the events of the film at all you will at least recognise some of the locations from the game.
The individual areas of the game aren’t quite as sprawling as the Megadrive version and the game itself is broken into various sub-missions (usually involving rescuing prisoners) in order to break up the action a little. The structure is still pretty confusing especially as the areas of the game aren’t very well labeled. It’s all well and good the game telling you to go to Cell Block #2 but finding it, whilst being constantly attacked, is less easy than it should be.
Still, you can always do what I do with GTA games and literally just run around killing shit until you get bored and with a game engine this smooth and fluid that may take some time. The missions are worth persisting with though and if you’re a patient Alien fan this is probably the better of the 16-bit Alien3 titles.
Sega’s lightgun shooter ‘Alien3: The Gun’ arrived just as most of the good arcades died out and you just had horrible bowling alley arcades where everything costed a quid a go. That said, the huge imposing cabinet and some, at the time, spectacularly realistic graphics demanded your attention. At least if you were lucky enough to find it.
Fifteen years later (…Jesus…) and it’s not quite the gaming behemoth I remember. As ever, this eschews the plot of the film and has wall-to-wall aliens and various automated security systems for you to deal with.
The core gameplay is decent. You’re armed to the teeth and the aliens actually go down spectacularly well, at least if you can get a well-placed headshot. Lop off an arm and they’ll keep coming though.
Some awful ‘junk robots’ attack you in the second level which pretty much undoes any of the game’s good work and the levels are overly long and repetitive but this is certainly the most interesting and dynamic of the Alien3 tie-ins. You won’t be seeing this cab anywhere soon but you can check it out via MAME using a mouse which removes practically all the challenge. Great!
17 years after coding the original Alien game for the C64 Argonaut returned to the Alien franchise with this first-person shooter based on the final (so far) film in the quadtrilogy. Once again you control Ripley as she battles space marines and later xenomorphs with the usual range of FPS weaponry to defend yourself in two different spaceships all packed to the bulkheads with nasties. Despite being a PS1 this game it still looks good thanks to liberal use of moody lighting and the good old PS2 upscale and sounds even better with good spot effects and atmospheric screams and groaning bulkheads making some genuine scare moments.
Gameplay wise it’s very much in the Doom mould with very other door needing an access card and enemies coming thick and fast despite the piss weak weaponry provided for use. Things aren’t helped much by the stodgy controls encumbered by the notorious Dual Shock analogue sticks that make free-look targeting a nightmare and give rise to many frustrating encounters with control-related death rearing its ugly head far too often.