Behold! The Alien game that makes Aliens: Colonial Marines look like a worthwhile purchase.
The first of these is the 1995 PC-only Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure, a clumsy point-and-click adventure (with 3D grid-based combat) by the Uwe Boll of adventure gaming, Cryo Interactive Entertainment. By all accounts it’s a terrible game, hampered by bad writing, illogical and pointless puzzles and fiddly pixel-hunting for the interactive bits, as well as the near-constant pressure of having to do everything within set time limits – sort of like the notorious QuickTime events, but dragged out to agonizing lengths. Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure was originally designed to be a much grander work than it ended up being, and artefacts of the abandoned bits still linger – a morale system that doesn’t do anything but take up a small bit of the screen, and a hunger system that requires your crew of terraformers and odd-job men to sit down and eat early on in the story, or face a game-breaking end much later on. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the game now is the fact that it borrows a concept from the really rather good 1993-94 Dark Horse Comics series, Alien: Labyrinth (itself later novelized by S.D. Perry). If you want to read more about this horrifying monsterpiece, you could do no worse than clicking here for a lengthy article at PC Gamer on the game, published in January 2014 by Richard Cobbett as part of his legendary Saturday Crapshoot series.
One year on, and early 1996 finds us at the height of PlayStation fever. The SEGA Saturn is still doing well enough, and our old friends at Probe Entertainment are back to wash away the memory of the previous year’s dreadful Cryo adventure with a much, much better FPS, Alien Trilogy. This is notable, first and foremost, for having a unique story not directly derived from either the comics or the films, but instead being a mash-up of the Alien, Aliens and Alien 3 films (hence the ‘Trilogy’ part of the name). A Doom-like corridor shooter (being Doom-like was one of the worst criticisms of the game at the time, so really, it’s already doing pretty well), Alien Trilogy cast the player as a slightly different-looking Ripley, now actually a Colonial Marine herself. With text briefings setting up each of the game’s 30 levels, Ripley begins in Aliens’ Hadley’s Hope, investigating the missing colonists, escapes from there with Bishop to Alien 3’s ‘Fury’ 161 prison facility, and from there to Alien’s derelict ‘jockey’ ship. Each of the three segments features an Alien queen as a final boss, and in anticipation of Alien: Isolation 18 years later, rogue androids also appear as enemies in the first part. This is another Alien game that succeeds in creating some tension and atmosphere, and is possibly the apotheosis of the ‘shove all the iconic stuff from the films into a blender and wizz for 30 seconds’ approach to Alien game design. What saves it from being slavish exploitation is its unique ‘mix-tape’ approach to the story, and some truly nasty death scenes for the hapless player – in no other Alien fiction that I can think of (apart from her nightmare at the beginning of Aliens) do we see Ripley speared, bitten, eaten, sliced, diced and acid-vomited on with such gusto as we do here. In 1997, when PlayStations and N64s were flying off shelves and Lara Croft was still new and exciting, I was working in an Electronics Boutique in London, England, and Alien Trilogy was one of our best sellers. In lean times, we could Sellotape a copy to a PlayStation and that was a guaranteed sale (although the number of people who mispronounced trilogy as tri-ology was a bit surprising). Released on the PSX and Saturn in the first few months of 1996 and to the PC in November, Probe’s experience with the Alien 3 license a few years earlier stands them in good stead here, creating a nice bridge between the Jaguar FPS and its next iteration, the classic PC Alien vs Predator.
Look at that magnificent bastard! Perhaps taking a leaf from Rebellion’s book, Acclaim caught these suckers using their own internal motion capture team, Advanced Technologies Group.
Juuust before we get to that one though, there’s one more stop to make, and that’s in March 1998 for the Alien’s online debut in Mythic Entertainment’s Aliens Online. Published by Kesmai, this was a straightforward affair, being an online shooter between teams of Aliens and Colonial Marines, but one that required a subscription to Kesmai’s online GameStorm service. The 1990s were an interesting time for online gaming, and the foreign-sounding Kesmai (actually an American developer/publisher named by one of its two founders using a random name generator they’d created) were one of the early pioneers. Founded in 1981 by Kelton Flinn and John Taylor, Kesmai’s history book features names such as AOL, CompuServe and GEnie, with their output being a mixture of MUDs and early online games such as Legends of Kesmai and Air Warrior. Mythic, of course, are well-known for another classic, Dark Age of Camelot, as well as a more recent failure in the shape of Warhammer Online. At the time of Aliens Online they were still going by their original name, Interworld Productions, and developed Aliens Online with a USD 450,000 budget using a modified version of the engine they’d developed for an earlier online shooter, the magic-themed Rolemaster: Magestorm.
In terms of gameplay, Marines could be customized to your taste from a variety of different heads and torsos etc, and had four classes to choose from which gave them some simple RPG-like stats determining their efficiency with health kits and damage with different types of guns. Speaking of which, they had all the usual guns and gadgets, and apart from some early unfairness with the Aliens being able to spawn anywhere on a map, including on one map in air vents directly over the Marine spawnpoints, were functionally much as you’d expect – good at doing long range damage, but nice and squishy up close.
I’ve played the majority of Alien games, but never this one. It’s the one that got away!
More interesting were the Aliens. Each map began with a large number of AI-controlled Aliens, with human players spawning into a random Alien as it went about its business. Upon death, the human players would spawn into another random Alien, and so on, until the total pool of available Aliens had been whittled down to zero. This kept the Marine players nicely on edge, wondering whether the next Alien they met would be a ‘stupid’ AI drone or a smarter, more deadly human one. (Cunning human Aliens would mimic the simplistic behaviour of their AI counterparts to lure unsuspecting Marines into surprise attacks). Alien players could also choose to play not only as Aliens, but also as facehuggers, which although smaller and weaker, had their own spawn pool and an extremely annoying tail-whip attack. Most excitingly, players earned experience playing as Alien drones, which would eventually allow them to play as a Queen, and later, an Empress – in reality just a bigger, tougher Queen, but also with the occasional right to create custom games instead of just queuing to join them.
Just reading about Aliens Online is an exciting experience, and it only makes me wonder now why we haven’t had another proper, dedicated team-based online Alien. Battlefield: Aliens, anyone?
Right then, back to the dropship for another week before we make the final push. Next week we’ll be in 1999, playing the much-anticipated PC AvP, followed by a brief Alien Resurrection break before diving into the string of sequels and expansions to PC AvP which will lead us to the present day. Until then, “Stay frosty!”