Written by Gav Weir
I know what you’re asking: ‘but Gav, how do you make a game out of the claustrophobic, downbeat, often criminally underrated waking nightmare that is Alien 3?’
Easy: you make one based on Aliens instead.
That’s how the design meeting at Probe went when they planned the Mega Drive version of Alien 3. How do I know? I was there, boy. Now get the fuck off my lawn. Ok I wasn’t there and please, stay on my lawn as long as you want. It’s nice to have company.
Alien 3 – (1992 – 94, Amiga, Commodore 64, Master System, NES, Mega Drive, Game Gear)
Sure, the game is dressed up in the rusty, oddly chain covered industrial gloom of Fury 161 and Ripley’s sprite is bald, but everything else screams Aliens. Take a look at the weapons – Pulse Rifle, Flame Thrower, Grenade Launcher…all the weapons that ‘Rips tapes together in the really long elevator ride in Aliens and all the ones that do not appear in Alien 3. Ok, so the Pulse Rifle does, but it’s only briefly glimpsed in the final seconds and Ripley is no where near it (and it’s painted cream). More evidence? Fine. How’s about the hordes of aliens you face as opposed to the films one? And these are full on adult, human born Aliens too, not the dog-born Runner type that Ripley faced – it couldn’t be more Aliens-based if it tried. Which it is doing. As I proved.
None of this makes it a bad game, totally the opposite…it’s really good, even given the 23 years the game has been on this dying sphere we call home (I’m focusing on the Mega Drive release here, can’t imagine the Master System one has aged gracefully). The main mechanic of tracking down captive inmates before they pull a John Hurt brings a decent amount of tension to the proceedings and helped along by that ever present motion tracker, the game turns what could easily have been a generic platformer into an environmental puzzler. You can often see the inmates as you wander around but they’ll be *just* out of reach, so you have to explore and find the path to them; all whilst a timer ticks down to a fairly graphic death scene.
It’s also bastard hard. The Aliens take only a quick pulse of bullets before they explode with a squeal and a satisfying crunchy sound, but they will dart at you from off screen really fucking fast. It becomes a case of edging forward and paying attention to the motion tracker for early warnings of an attack, then it’s about small controlled bursts (SEE, IT IS ALIENS) to ensure you don’t burn through your ammo but dispatch the monsters swiftly enough to get to those inmates before the timer hits zero. It’s pretty much as good a game as you could want to have from a film tie in, looks great, sounds great, plays great…So go: play this game ya fools, play it now.
Alien 3 – (1993, Game Boy)
It’s shite. Play Alien Breed on your iPad instead.
Alien 3 – (1993, SNES)
Much in the same vein as the Mega Drive one, but at the same time completely different. Once again more influence is pulled from Aliens as Ripley is faced with a shit tonne of Aliens, though these bare closer resemblance to the on screen one and the animation is way, way better. Your arsenal of weapons are the same ones taken from Aliens and <Colombo>oh, just ah…one more thing…<Columbo> who’s voice is that muttering a certain, over-quoted phrase on the game over screen? Pvt. First Class William Hudson, who, if you were watching carefully, was not in Alien 3. Honestly, it’s like everyone watched the wrong film before making these games…
But let me bore you not with what’s the same, let me bore you with what’s different: First off, the graphics are much more appealing in this version. Environments are more detailed and match the aesthetic of the film closer. The levels in SNES Alien 3 are non-linear in scope, you’re free to roam around large sections of Fury 161 with a check list of objectives to complete before moving on. Destroy all the eggs in Medical Area, rescue hostages, repair some pipes…you know, all the things you’d do if an unstoppable killing machine was on the loose…and you’ll be sealing up doors with a blow torch JUST LIKE THEY DID IN ALIENS. DO YOU SEE NOW?!? *clears throat, straightens tie, sits back down*
But as you move around, the Aliens you kill will continuously respawn, creating a really cheap false difficulty that ends up wearing you down, little by little until you inevitably die and have to re-do the entire level. If the devs had been just a little braver (and of course if the SNES could even do something like this), this version of Alien 3 really could’ve been something. Imagine if you will, the same objective based gameplay but throw more of a survival horror element to it. Just the one Alien stalking you as you desperately scramble to complete tasks – it can attack at any time, in any room from any angle. You have no weaponry save a makeshift short range flame thrower made from some compressed gas and one of those candle-torch-things they use in the film – but this can only fend the beast off, not kill it. Yeah, that’s right – you’ve just imagined a 16-bit Alien Isolation. Now think about that game coming out in 199 fucking 3, your stupid child brain wouldn’t be able to handle it. Instead we get a so-so shooter with irritating platforming and cheap, infinity spawning enemies. Shame.
ALIEN 3 – THE GUN (1993, Arcade)
Rounding us off is this arcade light gun shooter that was back in 1993, FUCKING INCREDIBLE. LOOK AT THE CABINET. LOOK AT IT:
Imagine seeing that red behemoth staring at you from across the room. I had the joy of playing this at Showcase Cinema in Coventry, probably before watching Street Fighter: The Movie. It cost a quid a life (which back in 1993 was the equivalent of charging £20 for a life) and was every bit worth it. The guns, shaped roughly enough like a Pulse Rifle to get me all excited, were loaded with force feedback, vibrating like a bastard when you pull the trigger (or at least that’s how I remember it). The game itself as you might guess is a fairly standard shooter: enemies run across the screen, towards the screen and pop up right in front of you and you gun them down as fast as possible. If you thought the console games took liberty with the license, then this game rips it up and sets fire to it before pissing on the ashes then popping the wet, piss-soaked ashes into a bag and mailing it to the licences’ parents. There are thousands of Aliens; hordes of them run across the planet’s surface, Facehuggers swarm down corridors and the bosses, like the Queen Facehugger*, are pure fiction on the side of the devs.
As fun as this was, it is a pretty standard shooter. Played recently on my works arcade machine, it looses most of the buzz without the big, molded plastic gun juttering around under your arm. Best to keep this one in the past.
Things start to get weird with no film to use as a basis, but will the release of a bloated, heavily misjudged fourth film kick things back into line, or will it send the games spiralling into oblivion, just like the film did? WHO KNOWS? Me. I know.
*Yes, a ‘Queen Facehugger’ does appear in the superior ‘assembly’ cut of Alien 3, but the one in the game is the size of a small family car and in no-way was influenced by the one in the film. Oh, what’s that? You thought you’d come at me and question MY knowledge of the Alien films? Do you know who I am, DO YOU??!? Step into my neighbourhood and get in my face like that…gonna go getting yourself got. Yeah…yeah, that’s you told.