I know this has been like…a long time coming, but it’s here now so calm, relax and strap yourself in ’cause we’re on an express elevator to hell; going down.
Yup, it’s an Aliens-centric post. We’re up into the 80’s now and the tie-in games for James Cameron’s endlessly quotable Vietnam metaphor came thick and fast. The most action focused film of the series, pitting a squad of overly confident, technologically advanced but poorly prepared Colonial Marines against not one, but an entire Hive of Aliens. Translating such a premise into a computer game would be an open goal, right? Let’s kick the tires and light the fires big daddy and find out.
Wait. That’s Independence Day…
Aliens: The Computer Game (1987, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Apple II and MSX)
So to make things a little interesting, there’s two versions of this game, both with the same name but different developers, namely Activision and Electric Dreams. Activision’s version is made up of 6 mini-games: Landing the Dropship at LV-426, making your way through a maze of tunnels to get to the Dropship hanger and some fairly rote action sequences where you control the marines (one at a time) to hunt down Aliens and make it to the exit. It’s…not great. The different game types to portray each set piece of the film is pretty cool, but playing this in the Space Year 2015, it lacks a little magic to grip you. Plus, it looks like piss. But it does give us the first appearance of that iconic Motion Tracker in videogames. Looks pretty accurate too.
The Electric Dreams version however, is much, much better. I actually played this one on a real life ZX Spectrum years before seeing the film itself, but that lack of context didn’t stop it leaving a big impression on me. Scanning the environment horizontally, it’s your task to switch between the Marines and navigate your way to the exit, taking out any and all Aliens you encounter. The game plays like a flat version of Space Hulk; tight corridors and instant death if any of your squad should take too long to deal with the Alien/s in the area they’re in, a threat indicated of course by that ever present beeping from your Motion Tracker. Like almost every game that follows this one, it’s the motion tracker that adds all the palm sweating tension that you’d want. Hearing that beeping getting forever more frantic will have you switching between your Marines to see who’s in trouble, scanning corridors to hunt that Alien before it hunts you. A neat gameplay hook that still stands up today. I’d highly recommend trying to play this version of Aliens: The Computer Game, or if you can’t be arsed with emulators, some intrepid fans have worked on a remake called LV-426, check out this clip:
ALIENS (1987 – MSX)
Made by ya boys Square, this is heading more towards what we can expect going forward from the franchise. Released only in Japan, the game is a straight up platformer with shooty parts, a low budget Metroid and following a trend, it’s not great. Ripley’s jumping leaves a lot to be desired, either too floaty or stunted to the point of not being able to get over the smallest ledge – and then the ‘double jump’ comes into play, which is just AWFUL (you can tell it’s bad cause I had to use caps). So yeah, this game pretty much set the way for future games based on these films: some platform elements and lots of shooting. It will possibly appeal as a curiosity to the die hard Aliens fan, but as it totally fails at being a competent platformer it kills any fun you could’ve had with it. A shame as it includes a fantastic Alien Queen sprite. Behold the glory of all 4 frames of animation:
Aliens (Arcade, 1990)
Now this, THIS game is more like it. The first and possibly last good game based on Aliens (again: I’m not counting the AvP games here). Konami had been borrowing from the aesthetic of Aliens for its Contra games, so who better to make this? A side scrolling shoot-em-up in the vein of all those classic Konami arcade games pitting you as either Ripley or Hicks up against a endless horde of Aliens with an impressive arsenal of weaponry: flame throwers, rocket launchers, Smart Guns and of course, the iconic Pulse Rifle (insert Hudson quote about knives and sharp sticks).
Setting aside for the moment that the very concept of Rips ‘n’ Hicks going up against the Alien Hive is utter nonsense after we watch an entire squad of Marines spend the film on the back foot (hell, every developer since has missed that subtle narrative point too…) this game is pretty fun. Enemies constantly pour at you in the form of standard (albeit pink) ‘Warrior’ variations, Face Huggers, Chest Bursters and even some seriously non-cannon alternatives that would look more at home in Kenner’s fantastically license ignoring toy line but thanks to some great death animations, it’s always fun to mow them down.
Graphically it holds up, too. The environments look like Hadley’s Hope by way of a comic book, all angular corridors and exaggerated colours while the main sprites of Rips ‘n’ Hicks actually resemble the actors (in a pixelated, seeing them from a distance after a few drinks sorta way) and the gun pick ups genuinely do look like the weaponry from the film.
Alas, this praise comes with a ‘BUT’. As often with this genre, the gameplay is horribly repetitive since you don’t have any other attacks to create your own combos with. You shoot and that’s it. The weapon pick ups change things slightly and you can control a big ‘ol yellow Power Loader and smash some Alien skulls in. There’s even a few vehicle sections that have you travelling into the screen on the back of an APC, gunning down leaping aliens as you go, but as much as these little variations are fun, you still just hold down one button the whole time.
It kinda goes without saying that these games are worth a hunt down if you have an unhealthy obsession with these films (and really, if you’ve made it this far into the post, chances are that you do) so you should probably stop reading my waffling on and grab an emulator or two. They’re by no means classics but each has a little something that’ll raise a smile on your dead, cynical face. Apart from Activision’s Aliens. That really was warm piss.
It’s time for the glory of the 90’s and those beastly 16-bit machines. The only games out in this period were based on Alien 3, a film with one Alien and no guns…will that stop the developers? Will it fuck mate.