Best of 2013: Not Particularly Loving The Alien
First Published: June 4, 2013
Voted For By: Tim
Reason(s) for Vote:
I love Alien. I love retrospectives. Put the two together and you’ve got yourself a winner.
When Gearbox shuffled Aliens: Colonial Marines out of the door earlier this year, they probably knew in their heart of hearts that the game stood rather less chance with the critics than Lambert did when faced with the iconic xenomorph in the first movie. Post Doritos-gate (the shameful episode in the history of games journalism that proved that most games journos would whore out their mothers for a bag of Doritos and the vague chance of winning a PS3), games journalists were looking to enhance their credibility with a tough review so they could look like proper journalists, even if they did then all go on to give Far Cry 3 ten out of tens for some inexplicable reason.
So, Colonial Marines was ripped to shreds by endless reviewers all keen to show what great fans of the movie they were by filling their reviews with quotes and as much bile as they could spew out. The truth was that Colonial Marines wasn’t that bad. It had issues, plenty of them, but it was playable enough and delivered when it came to fan service (even if it did play fast and loose with the Aliens canon). I admit, I didn’t expect much from the game. As an Aliens fanboy I’m used to being shat on – lest we forget the fucking AvP movies. So maybe my lack of expectation helped me accept the game (which, for the record, I paid full price for and didn’t resent for a moment) but here’s the thing… Aliens games are nearly always a bit shit. Yep, even the good ones. Yes, even that one. That one that you’re thinking about. Sure, some are better than others but, for the most part, they are all a bunch of wank. Acid for wank. With added arse.
It all started with Alien in 1984. Published by Argonaut Software and released on the Zx Spectrum and Commodore 64, the game was different to any other Alien-related game that followed because there was only one Alien. Viewed on one screen (a top-down plan view of the Nostromo), your job was to try and kill the Alien or evacuate the ship using the whole of the Nostromo’s crew (one of which at random would be a goddamned android) while various blips and beeps would represent vents being opened.
So why does it suck? Well, firstly, the game is baffling. The graphics don’t really convey all the information you need and the sparse sound doesn’t fit in, unless monotone beeps really shit you up. When you do find the alien (or it finds you), the graphic looks like a sort of tiny buddah.
When it came to the second movie, the brilliant Aliens, you had three options if you wanted to live out the events of the film from your home computer. The Americans got Aliens (US), we got Aliens (UK) and the few people in the world who owned an MSX got Aliens (er… MSX). Aliens (US – 1986) was mainly a Commodore affair but was ported to the other machines of the day. It was a multi-loading, multi-event caper that had you playing through various scenes of the film starting with the dropship flight, going through various shoot ‘em up modes for the various battle set-pieces and ending with a first-person beat ‘em up duel with the alien queen. The attention to detail was great (especially the static comic book style cutscenes) and the game did offer a ton of variety.
So why does it suck? As you’ll find out when piloting the dropship, this game is harder than trying to make a house of cards with a powerloader. Failure awaits with every turn, effectively locking the rest of the game away from you unless you use cheats. The other events were no walk in the park either and the final battle was inhumanly difficult. Also, most of the mini-games look like absolute shit. Hmph!
Aliens (UK – 1986) was a classier affair though and saw you moving your team of fives humans, and the synthetic Bishop, through the mazey structure of Hadley’s Hope. A first person affair, the game consisted of entering a room, shooting whatever Alien bastards are loitering in there, and slowly moving your whole team towards escape and safety. So why does it suck? Well, this came out in 1986. First-person games didn’t get good for another twelve or so years. So what happens here is that you enter a room and spin around on the spot, hoping to shoot the aliens in there before they get you. However, they don’t need to spin around. They are already facing you and will have no doubt eaten your face well before you’ve locked in on them. It just doesn’t work. Also, figuring out where you are is nearly impossible given that all the rooms look the same.
Aliens (MSX – 1987) however was a much more traditional arcade affair. A side-viewed 2D run and gun platformer, the game played like a very linear Turrican and got most of the details right (although Ripley was a naked redhead for some odd reason). So why does it suck? Authentic locations and weapons are one thing, however, you need more than that to make a good Aliens game. You need decent animation (it’s horrible), well-designed levels (they’re shit, especially some of the leaps of faith you have to make and the unmappable door-fest of stage three) and tight controls (as tight as Kerry Katona). Alas, as Shakespeare would have said, thy game is wank.
If you wanted the big boy grown up Aliens experience, the arcades were the place to go and Konami’s Aliens (1990) tie-in offered some great graphics and high-powered shooting action. Another side-scrolling run and gunner, this is a typical early 1990s coin-op that was pretty spectacular to play for the first time. So why does it suck? Well, it’s a Konami game which means that the aliens arrive in palette-swapped varieties (red, blue, purple and green alien warriors? It looks like a xenomorphic Benettons advert). Things got even worse when they went beyond the traditional design and introduced a flying alien that was so shit that they actually cut it out of the Japanese version, laughably poor winged alien heads and a bunch of sub-bosses so rubbish, HR Giger would have taken his own life just so he could spin in his grave. The game was also a credit-feeding nightmare that would cost the average player several pounds to complete.
The side-on viewpoint continued as the games moved on to the Alien3 era and produced two similar but different bites at the license: Alien 3 (1993) for the Megadrive (and Commodore Amiga) was a Metroidvania style sprawl around Fury 161 and sees you as the shaven-bonced Ripley, running around shooting hordes of xenomorphs while trying to rescue coccooned prisoners. It looks the part and, thanks to them ignoring the plot of the film entirely, is full of shooting action. So, why does it suck? The sprawling nature of the game and imposing time limits stop Alien 3 from being a fun little blaster and turns it into a horrible test of memory as you try to remember where all the prisoners are, and the focus is on conserving your limited ammo, which suits the plot of the second movie, but doesn’t make for a great shooting game.
Alien 3 (1993) on the Super Nintendo followed the exact same type of gameplay, but was a completely different program and slightly less sprawling than its sister game. The shooting had a lot more oomph to it, with Ripley carrying her flamethrower/pulse rifle/grenade launcher combo. Again they decided to increase the number of aliens for gameplay purposes which hurts the authenticity of the game but probably makes for a better gaming experience. So why does it suck? Again, Alien 3 still involves running around in all directions and, unfortunately, the game isn’t very forthcoming when it comes to telling you exactly where to go. The sprawling nature of the game combined with some significant difficulty means that in the end it is a lot more fun when you fuck the prisoners clean off and just go around shooting things, but ultimately that makes the whole thing a bit pointless.
Arcade-goers looking for some Alien 3 action were treated to Alien 3: The Gun (1993), a huge, imposing light gun game that had some spectacularly realistic graphics and non-stop action. So why does it suck? Initially Alien 3: The Gun is phenomenal. The setting is authentic and the alien hordes are reasonably scary and soon convince you that short, controlled bursts can go fuck themselves as you start spraying bullet-piss like you’ve been mainlining Marilyn Manson albums for a month. Unfortunately, by the second level it all goes to shit with terrible ‘junk robots’ being thrown into the mix and the levels start to feel overly long and repetitive, while the savage difficulty level starts to make progress an expensive affair.
Alien Trilogy (1996) on the PlayStation loosely wrapped up all three films into one package and is the first proper FPS in this article (Aliens UK didn’t count as you couldn’t really move). Starting out on LV-426, this was a typical ’90s FPS that saw you taking on numerous xenomorphs (mainly by shooting while running the fuck backwards as quick as possible). Eventually you find yourself on Fury and then on the original Spacejockey Boneship, which helps give the game a nice authentic Alien feel. So why does it suck? It was made in 1996 and felt a little dated even then. The clumsy FPS action and mazey level design are relics of a thankfully-forgotten age and the repetitive action soon got tiresome. The aliens themselves weren’t that scary either and felt like you were about to get pounced on by a fluffy great dane. Aw… look at that fluffy little fella! Woof! LOOK! HE THINKS HE’S PEOPLE!
Alien Resurrection (2000) on the PlayStation remains the one and only attempt to bring the much-maligned fourth movie to the home consoles and it’s a well thought of title in its own right. Going up against aliens and military forces on the Auriga, the game looked the part at the time with some great locations and moody lighting. So why does it suck? Alien Resurrection was bollocks hard. This wasn’t helped by the piss-weak weaponary, spongy Dual Shock controls and the fact that most of the doors in the game were locked down, Doom-style, and needed fucking access cards to be searched for all the time. It wasn’t a bad game per se but it put of all but the most forgiving of gamers and came a long time before people really accepted playing FPS games with joypads.
By this point in the history of Alien-related games we had three Gameboy games to consider, too: Alien 3 (1993) was a top-down Gauntlet clone (as we used to call them back in the day), Aliens: Thanatos Encounter (2001), which employed the same top down viewpoint, and Alien vs Predator: The Last of His Clan (1993). So why do they suck? Mainly because 99% of Gameboy games were unmitigated shit. Alien 3 and Thanatos encounter were clumsy, unenjoyable backtracking fests with shitty shooting and AvP put you in the battle armour of a Predator who looked like a fat ponce. All three games were far too hard for their own good and looked like 8-bit dogshit. The Last of His Clan wasn’t the first game to throw in the Predators.
Capcom had the idea with Alien Vs Predator (1986) which, like most Capcom games of that era, was a variation on their scrolling beat ‘em up Final Fight except this time you play as a human or Predator and walk from left to right through lots of xeno-infested levels that combined great graphics with Capcom’s usual slick fighting game mechanics. So why does it suck? Beating up xenomorphs? Yeah, see how far that’ll get you in any other Alien game. Being a Capcom game it was also a proper credit feeder with some really harsh sections and bosses to pitifully die against. Okay, it’s actually a pretty good game but it’s cheap and stupid and it’s not even Capcom’s best game of this type. That’d be Punisher or Cadillacs and Dinosaurs.
The first ‘proper’ Alien Vs Predator game was, unsurprisingly, Alien vs Predator (1994) which appeared on the doomed, and very shit, Atari Jaguar console as an in-house exclusive. Now I actually bought that piece of shit system just for this game so my expectations were pretty high. It was the first game to let you pick three different campaigns (human, Alien or Predator) and it did a fairly good job of recreating the atmosphere of the films. So why does it suck? The Jaguar was a terrible console and was cursed with the worst joypad of all time. Trying to navigate what was effectively an Aliens-flavoured Doom clone was no fun when trying to move using what felt like an actual house phone. The graphics, animation and level design were all pretty awful too. Still it was one of the best Jaguar games, but that’s the faintest praise I can muster.
The first PC game to bear the Aliens vs Predator title was Sierra’s 1999 effort and it was actually a bit special. As with the Jaguar game, it had three campaigns, and anybody who played this game would be thinking ‘hang on, this article can’t possibly slag off Alien vs Predator can it?’ So why does it suck? AvP is a good game but it’s just not a very good Aliens game. The marine campaign is textbook ’90′s survival horror, creating difficulty by limiting your ammo, and the Alien campaign was plagued with horrid controls and a meaningless story. The Predator campaign, however, was fantastic, making this probably the best Predator game of all time but that’s not why we’re here. Tough.
Sierra’s follow-up, Alien vs Predator (2001) upped the ante with better graphics and some smart fan service. The Predator campaign was no longer fun though and playing as a marine was as unsatisfying as ever. The value here, unlike the first game, was in the Alien campaign which got off to a great start with you playing through the xenomorph lifecycle from facehugger to chestburster to full on eight foot bastard. Neat. So why does it suck? We’d seen it all before. Woop… sampled pulse rifle noises, woop… motion detector beeps, woop… more fucking dark corridors with stupid, bounding alien pricks coming at you. It wasn’t a bad game but it was just so very predictable. The game got a lot of fans for its multiplayer mode but fuck that. Multiplayer is for pussies.
Aliens vs Predator: Extinction (2003) bravely tried to get the series away from the tedious FPS rut and brought Alien-flavoured real-time strategy to the PS2. You could place as one of the three factions in either campaign or skirmish modes and each species brought its own strengths and tactics. So why does it suck? It’s a PS2 RTS with a clumsy license shoved into it. The combat is horrid and the levels were too short. It was barely playable and everyone hated it. Wisely.
AvP: Requiem (2007) was a tie-in to the fucking dreadful movie (by far the worst thing to happen to the franchise) and played out as a roaming beat ‘em up with you being the Predator and using your numerous weapons and tools to save the Earth from being overridden by acidic cunts. So why does it suck? The game of the film of the comic… there are so many diminishing returns here, the game could undo fucking creation. It’s also horrific, with dreary graphics, unwieldy controls and a short campaign. It’s still better than watching the film though.
AvP (2010) came out on the big boy consoles and was based loosely on the risible movies. Again, it was an FPS with three campaigns and all the expected sampled noises and locations. So far, so predictable. The plot involves the aged Lance Henriksen reprising his role as Karl Bishop Weyland who, like every rich, old person in the Alien universe is experimenting on the aliens, hoping to control them, before they break out and chomp all his henchmen. So why does it suck? AvP is so fucking average it hurts. From the lazy graphics to the shitty plot there’s nothing here to get excited about. No decent fan service, no good gameplay. When the alien queen tells you to ‘break the generator’ you can’t help thinking ‘oh fuck off, game.’ The marine campaign is all about having a piss-weak torch and a thimble full of ammo, the Alien campaign with all its menial tasks feels like a human campaign but with shitty wall-walking and the Predator, who gets the best of the three campaigns, remains devoid of character and gets the shortest of the three modes. Add to that some of the least balanced online adversarial modes and you have a recipe for McCains Oven Shit. With added shit nuggets.
Which brings us onto this year’s Aliens: Colonial Marines, which suddenly doesn’t seem so bad, does it? Sure, it was an average shooter with mediocre graphics and some sketchy writing, but throw in four-player co-op and all the fan service you can eat and you’ve got an average FPS for people who don’t like the movies or a heap of virtual tourism for those who do. It was far from perfect but Alien games always have been like that. Expecting anything more from them is ridiculous because as fans of the movies, we should always expect to have our dreams shat on.
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