Alien 3 was the big-screen directorial debut of the highly distinctive commercials and music video director, David Fincher. Unfortunately, Fox were extremely agitated and nervous in following up the epoch-shattering success of Cameron’s Aliens, and relentlessly pestered Fincher, arguing about the script, questioning the budget, interfering with his work on a daily basis and driving the man to despair. The result was a notoriously botched job, unloved by nearly everybody on release, but one that has found some new appreciation in the 22 years since through various reconstructions and alternate cuts, most notably The Assembly Cut (see it if you can, it’s a much, much better film than it was on release).
Still, the film did not go without the fuss and fanfare you’d expect from the media campaign for a new Alien flick, and this included eight console and handheld adaptations, for the SEGA Game Gear, Mega Drive/Genesis and Master System; the Nintendo NES, SNES and Game Boy, and the Commodores, Amiga and 64. All of the games, except for the Game Boy version, were produced by one developer, Probe Entertainment Software (although the visually similar Mega Drive and Amiga versions also credit Eden Entertainment Software, probably because the latter was a port of the former). Probe were founded in England in 1984 and underwent a couple of name changes before being bought up by Acclaim Entertainment in 1995. In their various Probe forms, their back catalogue is absolutely massive, founded mostly on 8-bit home computer and 16-bit console titles and including dozens of well-known and mostly well-loved games. For the PC crowd, these include the above par Die Hard Trilogy, Alien Trilogy (more on that later), the PC port of Capcom’s X-Men beat-’em-up, X-Men: Children of The Atom, and my own personal all-time favourite game, Bubble Bobble also featuring Rainbow Islands (the PC port of Graftgold’s classic Amiga/ST port of Taito’s legendary arcade games). Probe/Acclaim were also prodigious film and TV tie-in producers, with computer and console versions of most of your favourite 80’s childhood films and cartoons in their catalogue.
The effect of this consolidated development process for the third Alien movie tie-in was to create, as you can see above, at least seven very similar games, all sharing a look, and as far as they were capable, as many of the same mechanics as possible. Only the Bits Studios-developed Game Boy version was necessarily much different. The action in all the games was a little bit abstracted from the movie, in comparison to the veracity of the previous Alien and Aliens games, and took the form of a side-scrolling arcade shooter. The backdrops were largely generic, although certain visual motifs from the film made it through, such as the thick plastic curtains from the medical ward and the stainless steel panelling in the mess hall/meeting room. Ripley, in every incarnation of the game, ran around hairless and in combat fatigues and a white vest, also as per much of the film. And, of course, there was the Dog-Alien. In the film this was notable for introducing a concept to the canon film universe that had only been talked about before by Ridley Scott, but had existed for quite a while in the spin-off fiction; that of the Alien taking the form of its host creature. From the perspective of Alien gaming though, it was not so unusual.
The other note-worthy item here is the inclusion of a Commodore 64 version, surely one of the last proper games made for the venerable C64 before production was ceased and it was removed from market in 1995 (it frankly boggles my mind that well into the era of 16-bit computing, there was still a demand for the thing, although this demand was mostly from Britain and Europe, while the Americans had largely abandoned it by 1991).
Right then, let’s pause here for a moment and take stock. Alien had two game adaptations, in 1982 and 1984. Aliens then received four distinct titles (including the arcade game), from 1986 to 1990. It then rained Alien 3 games for two years, from the Commodores and Master System with the film’s release in 1992, to the Game Gear version in 1994. That was it for Alien 3 in gaming history, with the exception of SEGA’s 1993 Alien 3: The Gun arcade cabinet, which capitalised on the growing trend for attaching plastic light guns to games. As with all of its arcade outings, the Aliens came in a variety of colourful shades but continued to explode in showers of pea soup-like green goo, and that’s about all that needs to be said there. In the film series, our next stop is Alien Resurrection in 2000, but that’s still some way off yet. Next week, we’ll carry on from 1993, which marks quite an important year in Alien gaming as it brings the Alien and the Predator together for the first time on any kind of screen, but perhaps not in the game you’re thinking of right now… Join me here next Wednesday for the next leg of the journey, and in the meantime, hit the comments below and share your Alien memories, gaming or otherwise!