Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Alien Trilogy Review

Alien_Trilogy_boxPlatform: Playstation, Saturn, Arcade
Released: 1996
Developer: Probe
Publisher: Acclaim
Digital Release? No
Price: $5.75 (PS1)/$11.64 (Saturn) – Disc Only, $14.47 (PS1)/$21.99 (Saturn) – complete, $74.99 (PS1)/$34.99 (Saturn) – Sealed according to Price Charting

Alien Trilogy was developed and released in 1996 as the bigger budget, larger team, and more experienced group making a full scale Doom clone alongside the presumed B-Team at Probe Software.  That other team was set to make Die Hard With a Vengeance to release alongside the film and eventually widened scope to release the Die Hard Trilogy.  Two games, each with its own take on large popular franchises in the 20th Century Fox vaults, and trying to hit it big.  Did Alien Trilogy succeed by cloning the more popular franchise and game genre?  Find out after the jump.

Jam’s Take

I am a huge fan of the first three Alien films. Yes, yes I hear you ask, “what, even Alien 3?” Yeah that film is really not that bad. It started getting really bad when Aliens decided to fight Predators on the silver screen – a concept that works very well for video games, books, and comics but not on the big screen for some reason. Anyway I’m not here to talk about all that, for this months game club I’m going to dive back into Alien Trilogy.

at_1I will come out and admit that my first experience playing this game I was very young and kinda terrified of the Xenomorph. I actually played this game before watching any of the films and it genuinely scared me, which is particularly weird as I really had no problems with the horror themes in the original Resident Evil. Something about that Xenomorph stalking you in the dark and coming across as something that could not be killed got to me. Well several years have passed, I have watched all the Alien films (even got that cool Quadrilogy boxset), and on revisiting this game it’s clearly not as scary as I used to perceive. Alien Trilogy is a Doom clone – now I say Doom clone over first person shooter because this game very much mirrors the flurry of games we had in the nineties which were directly inspired by that PC hit. The graphical style is very similar as well as the general maze design of the game. Of course what makes Alien Trilogy stand out against other Doom clones is it’s based off one of my favourite film franchises, so I am automatically in.

The biggest hurdle returning to this game, which I was initially dreading, were the controls. After having spent years loving the ease of dual analogue controls I had this feeling going back to using a  d-pad to play a Doom clone would be a little difficult. To my surprise it really wasn’t as bad as I thought. Sure, the controls lack that smooth feel and you can not aim freely, but I had no trouble traversing the corridors. It did feel weird using the shoulder buttons to strafe again, though.

Alien Trilogy has you play as Ripley (shaved head version from Alien 3) for the entire campaign. What is incredibly comical is this game really does try to attach some crappy story based very loosely off all three Alien films just to make an excuse to make levels inspired by each of them. All I got from it is you’re Ripley and you gotta kill the Queen more than once, apparently. The game also visits the film franchises in a funny order: you start with Aliens, then you head to the prison in Alien 3, and then you go to the “Bone Ship” in Alien. It might be worth pointing out that Alien Resurrection and Prometheus (another film I didn’t mind) had not come out at this point. To me this whole game comes across as some crazy dream Ripley had, maybe while she was having a nap in Alien 3, because it makes absolutely no sense when linked to the film(s). Then again, who cares so long as the game is fun then I’ll buy whatever odd story they throw at me?

at_2You have a couple of weapons at your disposal from the pistol all the way to the flame thrower. You’ll probably end up using just the Pulse rifle and Smart gun as these are the only two that appeared to be of any use in the game. What is very impressive is that you have a grenade button in this game. So with a standard weapon equipment you can lob a Hail Mary of Death towards the xenomorphs at the touch of a button. This is particularly impressive as it was years before Halo made it mainstream.

The sound design and even the music in the game were very impressive. Put some headphones on and you really feel that you’re walking corridors infested with Xenomorphs. You will hear odd sounds in the background which will constantly have you checking your surroundings. The game also comes with that authentic beep from the motion tracker and the satisfying burst of gun fire from the infamous pulse rifle. Even the score that is playing in the background while you explore the dark corridors is ominous and haunting.

The graphics are a mixed bag of 3D rendered backgrounds for the environments but the enemies themselves are 2D sprites just like Doom. It’s somewhat funny having this mix as weapons will literally rotate on the floor in 3D but the enemies and characters look more like cardboard cutouts. It was not soon after this that pretty much all first person games had 3D models for the enemies as well (like Quake). Not everyone will warm to this old graphical style because it does look dated, but being a fan of games like Doom I still love seeing a Xenomorph being recreated in that graphical style. The quality still looks messy and many of the environments you explore appear very muggy.

at_4Alien Trilogy tries to mix the typical shoot-and-find-the-goal mechanic by adding mission goals. Usually these are quite straightforward like shoot the barrels, find some collectables, or kill a certain enemy. The problem is if you fail to complete the majority of your mission you will be forced to repeat the level, which is incredibly frustrating and I found was always on a level I genuinely had a tough time with. To some this will be a game-breaking problem, especially towards the end of the game. There is no way to tell while you are playing if you have finished enough of the level to progress so you have to risk it and see the statistics upon completion, then potentially throw your controller in rage as you are forced to replay the whole thing again. One of the reasons you will find it hard to complete your mission at times is Alien Trilogy makes use of hidden walls you can literally walk through. This occurs in one level particularly towards the end of the game, it’s so hard to find you will probably be forced to use a guide or YouTube video to find it. It is a cheap design to a game that would have been ultimately more enjoyable if it just copied Doom and allowed you to just finish the level and killing enemies and finding secrets being optional.

Being an Alien fan this was a game I was looking forward to revisiting and I had a lot of fun with; however this game is not great and I’m wearing my Alien fan boy glasses while typing this. I also have the original Alien film poster on the wall and an Aliens: Colonial Marines figurine in the cabinet next to me. So if you like the Alien franchise this is worth a (re)visit or if you are an old school Doom fan, this game does attempt to bring some new designs to a formula you may find intriguing. I found Alien Trilogy genuinely entertaining to experience and of course face my childhood fears, but it doesn’t change the fact that this game has some terrible design choices. If it wasn’t for the occasional appalling mission structures and level design I could see this being a classic I would replay often, but instead I think I would just rather watch the trilogy over again in an awesome film marathon. My main choice then being do I go directors cut or original cinema release?

Final Score: 3 out of 5  (review policy)

Fred’s Take

For some reason I always intended to play Alien Trilogy when I was in high school – dating myself, that’s where I was when this game came out – but never quite got around to it.  We discussed it on the game club podcast, but I think my friends and I avoided it because by 1996 the days of Doom and Doom clones had almost come to an end and we were looking to usher in 3D graphics.  For what it’s worth I avoided Quake and several other titles that were later redefined to “first person shooters” (FPS) and I had personally determined that the apex for the genre was the great Duke Nukem 3D so there was little reason to seek out the many others.  While I have to admit that I am not as smitten by Alien Trilogy as Jam, I am in the least just as much of a fan of the series it resembles and thus can’t seem to shake the fact that for an Alien license game, it is quite a decent package.

at_6For fans of the movies, there’s a thing with the Alien trilogy – if you will permit me to remove Resurrection for this review and my Prometheus review clearly states I don’t consider it part of the franchise – and that is the distinct dynamic of each film.  The first is a horror movie with a killer in the shadows meticulously stalking and killing a crew of “truckers in space”, eventually leading to heroine Ellen Ripley as the final survivor going head-to-head with the xenomorph (alien).  Aliens is a different beast altogether, abandoning the horror motif for the alpha male (despite having some great female warriors) soldier mentality and creating an action film about a bunch of space grunts (marines) trying to wipe out an infestation of the creature from the first film, even going so far as to calling them “bugs”.  The third film, of which I have personal knowledge of the long development that spans more than seven revisions of the script, ended up being an attempted return to the first film (single alien, creature in the dark, horror, yada yada) but added drama and trust issues.  See, in Alien 3, Ripley is the first woman that this prison colony has seen in decades and thus she is fearful of the potential dangers and risks that relationship presents while the prisoners are self-proclaimed monks because they realized that the only way to abstain was to remove the catalyst completely.  I bring up these deeper meanings and concepts only to then go one step further and say, “okay, now turn these items into a game.”  That’s the problem every Alien licensed game suffers right out of the gate and, frankly, none have succeeded.  Still, that doesn’t mean that some of these games aren’t good.  Furthermore, the fact that Probe was attempting to compile the entire trilogy into one cohesive plot and game, in a Doom style shooter no less, is a testament to the upstanding job the team did with what they had to work with.  It could have been a disaster and it isn’t.

at_3This game pieces together a plot that starts off with Aliens, heads around the corner and just plunks the prison colony from Alien 3 next door to the mining colony on LV426 (imagine if that actually happened), and then wraps up with the only connection the original Alien has with LV426, the crashed ship (Bone Ship in this title).  With all the concessions I’m already making walking into this game, taking this story as a plot is in no way far fetched and it at least gives some linearity to the path I’m on as Ripley.  None of this matters anyway, it’s really 30-34 levels of rummaging around for items, switches, and exits all while taking down baddies and sometimes a boss.  You know, Doom.  When you look at Alien Trilogy from that perspective it’s a vast success that doesn’t really cut corners unless it absolutely has to.  Lets face it, the face huggers are annoying and shouldn’t even be enemies, but they have to be there.  You don’t want the xenomorph to be the only enemy, but by definition that’s about all you can offer, bonus points for coming up with mercenaries, prisoners, company men, and synthetics for additional enemy types with ranged weapons.  The Queen had to be the boss and I have no clue what other enemy you could use – so three queens in three main areas makes a lot of sense.  It was 1996, this was all new tech, I have no clue how you could have succeeded in having the airlock sequence from the original or tricking the dog alien into a sea of molten lead like in the third, I’m just impressed the dog alien is in the game at all.  It’s cheap that the enemies just slowly increase hit points as levels pass, but that’s less lazy than doing nothing and more creative than changing color palettes or making up new enemy types (that Fox may have forced out of the game anyway).  I have to say that even from the beginning, warrior aliens are hard to take down and you have to watch how you fight them, which is more than can be said for many other Alien games that turn them into brittle pawns of war.  If you find this concept for a game boring, then perhaps you should revisit the original Doom because this game nails that formula better than most of its clone peers.

at_5I also have to commend atmosphere, which is probably the biggest drive for me completing the game.  The music changes as you progress through the levels and even though there may be little difference level to level, ominous long corridors will have appropriate music as does a boss battle with the Queen and its hard hitting “just kill it already” beat.  Environments are given equal treatment with no one asset being reused constantly to generate levels and I have to say that over the course of the campaign you will see around six different themes for environments, which may be more than I can say for the original Half Life or Halo.  Little special effects like smoke, explosions, and interactive parts of the environment complete the feel that this is the next step in shooter interaction, perhaps even more so than the handful of set pieces in Doom and Doom II that you can’t interact with.  There’s even a spot on sound effect for the motion tracker, scampering face hugger, and gunfire from the pulse rifle that I didn’t expect to be in there but is required for me to buy this as a true Alien game.  Probe covered its bases, it knew you would be in these levels and doing the same thing over and over for a long time, so it did a strong job of at least making the world convincing.  I appreciate that much more than a game with no identity.

Sadly there’s not much to say beyond that.  It’s a Doom clone in the Alien universe, that’s either something you want or its not.  In the least, fans of the early 90s violent shooter should jump in, plug in the unlimited health and ammo codes (like you didn’t do that in Doom), and have a field day running through the environments.  It may not be the way the game was intended to be played, but damnit, that’s how we rolled back then.

Final Score: 3 out of 5

These games were played by the reviewers with personal copies.  Jam played Alien Trilogy on the Playstation while Fred played it on the Saturn, with little difference to the assets between them and identical content.  Jam completed the game in approximately two sessions totaling about 5 hours and Fred in four sessions totaling about 10 hours.

Written by jamalais

April 1, 2015 at 3:23 pm

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