Alien is published under the 'Mind Games' heading part of the Argus empire. For once, I can actually find it in me to say some nice things about one of their products. Alien is a very good game indeed, and a very faithful reproduction of the film to boot. It's always been the case until now that games licensed from films or TV have been marriages more of convenience than made heaven - games like The Fall Guy tend to concentrate on a miniscule part of their subject matter and make the major (if not the only) feature of the game. Even Ghostbusters really only used two of the subject ideas from the film, and it's been hailed as a masterpiece of thematic conversion. It makes me wonder really if software houses view name licences as anything except a licence to print loads of bread from the gullible view ing (and listening) public. I mean, what on earth are Ocean trying to do with Frankie Goes to Hollywood? I'd guess it will be a straight-forward platform game with a few naughty bits thrown in for the giggling rebels. But simply the fact that Ocean reckon they can sell a computer game with the name 'Frankie' on it, with no initial plot or game idea laid down at all, indicates the poor esteem in which most companies hold the material that they draw their licences from, and their total lack of regard for all the creative work that went into the piece in the first place.
Thankfully, this is not the case with Alien. Alien, the game, has been written by fans, and it shows. Anyone who has seen the film will know that the situation gets incredibly tense once the hunt for the Alien gets under way in the ship (if you haven't seen the film, persuade someone with a video to get it out - it really is one of the best and most probable science-fiction films ever made; its director, Ridley Scott, has gone on to make 'Blade Runner', and is also very famous as a TV commercial director - recent pieces include the pre-Raphaelite Mazola commercial, and the Apple 1984 Mega-commercial shown during the Superbowl, which cost 2 million dollars for 2 minutes - but I digress).
There's a quick summary of the film in the excellent booklet that comes with the game. Tension and suspense are very difficult properties to convey in any medium, let alone the computer game, which gives you a quaint little flickering blob when you wanted a chainsaw, and a squeaky little note when you wanted a massive pipe organ blast! All the same, more reason to congratulate the author on succeeding so admirably in creating a tense environment in the game.
The action starts when the first member of the crew has just had his internal organs re-arranged by the Alien bursting out of his chest. The hunt is on for the beastie with the remaining crew members, one of which is an android whose aim is to keep the Alien alive, just to complicate matters.
There are 35 different rooms on 3 decks to search; but the rooms are also connected by ducting which the Alien uses freely, but which most of the crew are loathe to enter. From what I can tell, there are basically two ways of destroying the Alien - it is possible to herd it into an airlock and then blast it out into space, or it is possible to leave the Alien on the ship, set the auto-destruct mechanism, and escape in the shuttle Narcissus, provided that you have Jones the cat, and no one is left alive on board the ship.
It soon became clear that my attempts to find the Alien were of secondary importance to my need to find the cat - and it was only after my third abortive encounter with the little scumbag that I sussed I had to have a cat box in order to catch him. By which time, of course, Ripley was the only person left on the ship and her morale was getting distinctly frayed... another feature of the game is the way that the responses to orders are affected by the personality of the crew member, and how much they have had to suffer. I found that Parker the engineer remained confident and responsive right up until the Alien sneaked up behind him and bit his jugular out. Ripley, on the other hand, freaked out so much at the sight of a dead body that I had to take her halfway round the ship to avoid coming across any more. Not surprisingly, perhaps, my involvement with the characters in the game grew as the number of the crew dwindled (ie got chomped by the big A), and the game became more of a role-playing game than strategy / command game; until (because I'm not very good at it) there was only one character left, and I started identifying completely with that character; becoming first jumpy and then downright scared as I went into yet another no-exit storeroom hunt for Jones the cat.
The middle deck plan from Argus Press Software's sci-fi horror game ALIEN. Somewhere in there the Big A is about to chomp an unlucky crew member
When you're playing with the entire crew at your disposal, though, you do get quite the feel of being in overall command. I even felt at times as though I was on the ship, as the unseen commander. The screen shows you a plan of the deck you are on, or the ducting in the immediate vicinity of anyone who is unlucky enough to be down there. You are given the menu of options to choose from - the main menu has the crew, to order individually, and the three deck plans. If you choose a crew member, your menu then changes, giving possible movements for that member, and other possibilites such as picking up weapons, entering the ducting and catching the cat (!) In particular situations, special options will appear - for example, starting the self-destruct system when in the command centre. The screen also displays reports on the condition of the crew member you've selected, whether there is any damage to the room you're in and whether the Grille is open (important because it shows if the Alien has been there or not). You also get the occasional message from 'Mother', the ship's computer, telling you useful stuff, like the fact that while you have just been picking up the cat box one of your crew members has taken compulsory redundancy from the monster.
There are a lot of aspects to the game which I have not entirely come to grips with yet; like, for example, exactly how to work the 'trackers' and how many sensors 'Mother' has. I did, however, find it very useful to make a map of the ship; it's not really necessary because the ship is shown on the screen, but it does help a great deal in familiarising yourself with the layout of the ship, the names of the rooms etc. I found when I was playing that I rarely needed to check the location of rooms from the menu on-screen, which I think saved a lot of time - and speed is very important in a real-time game of this sort.
The sound effects helped to create suspense; the fact that you cannot see where the Alien is, but keep coming across evidence of its recent passage, and hearing it move around, adds to the atmosphere of groping around in the dark - again, a very faithful recreation of the film's feel. Because you know it's a real-time game, the little scrapes you hear (of doors and, grilles being opened) and the blip from the tracker become vital aids to your strategic planning - which is a whole new area for sound effects. Of course, as with any computer game, there are bound to be irritating oversights in the program. I would personally have much preferred to have been able to see all the crew's positions at once (at least those on a particular deck), and I found the menu selector system a little cumbersome to use - for example, I always seemed to select the wrong option and go back to the main menu just when I needed to do something really vital, like catching the cat. Surprisingly, though, the menus themselves are very well thought out, and I rarely found myself wishing I had more options available than were listed - with the exception that it would be useful to have been able to communicate directly between crew members. The 'special' option always seemed to cater for particular situations - a definite improvement on other fixed-input games such as Lords of Midnight.
Finally, Alien is a hard game to win at, I thought I'd done really well after a single two-hour game, to get one member of the crew off in the escape shuttle with the cat - but I scored 0%!
Dave: Alien is like no other game I've ever seen! You get to play the commander of the space ship Nostromo which has been invaded by 'you know who'.
As commander, you have to realise that the crew have their own ideas (that is, they're terrified!) and won't necessarily obey all orders. Also, if you've seen the film, you won't be surprised to find out that one of the crew is a 'company' android.
The control panel consists of a plan view of the decks of the ship - only one screen at a time - and you're provided with a list of options down the right-hand side; these options change depending on the situation. All action takes place in real-time, so once an order's given, you're free to go and 'talk' to someone else while it's carried out.
All in all, a very different, and difficult strategy game that takes some time to get into but is well worth the effort. Remember in your bedroom, everyone can hear you scream - so keep it down a bit! 4/5 HIT
Ross: Very much an adventure game, but one that uses graphics to show what's going on and a joystick to investigate the action. But don't blink - one second, I was closing in on the Alien, the next all my crew were dead! Certainly worth a look. 3/5 HIT
Roger: Once I got the 'ang of what was going on, it was great. In space, you can hear me screaming for more! 5/5 HIT
TERROR stalks the corridors of the spaceship Nostromo as the alien devours the crew members, inexorably, one after the other. If you thrilled to the haunting and genuinely scary movie, Alien provides an authentic recreation of the plot.
You control the crew of the Nostromo, by manipulating the characters through a series of menus. You can use a joystick to move the cursor to the various instructions. A plan of the three decks displays the current position of the character you are controlling, and reports beneath send messages concerning the status of characters or damage to the ship.
To win you must either herd the alien into an airlock and blow it into space, or destroy the Nostromo while escaping in the shuttle Narcissus.
As in the film, the characters have minds of their own and will behave accordingly, sometimes disobeying orders if they are too scared. Jones, the ship's cat, is an infallible guide to the nearness of the alien. Unfortunately, you cannot launch the shuttle without first rescuing Jones, and the cat only likes certain crew members.
Whenever doors or ventilation grilles are opened, there is a corresponding whoosh from the Spectrum, and an electronic tracker, when found, beeps if anything is moving in an adjacent room.
Although the graphics are symbolic, and the representation of the alien less than frightening, there is a tremendous tension in playing the game, and scope for extremely complex tactical decisions. When all you can hear are the sounds of the alien approaching, panic can easily set in.
Joystick: Kempston, Protek, Sinclair
Alien is in no way to be confused with Aliens, the new game from Electric Dreams. Alien first emerged from the depths of Argus Press way back in 1984. Based on the exploits of the crew of the ill-fated Nostromo spacecraft, the game, though was panned by some reviewers was generally quite well-liked.
It's now been re-released as a budget game. Obviously, Argus (pretending to be Bug-Byte) has in no way engineered the release date to coincide with movie/game promotions of Aliens, but I dare say it's possible to conceive the odd sale being picked up this way.
The game is much happier as a budget title. At full price, the product promised too much. No matter how hard you try, it's very, very difficult to promote a computer game as being genuinely scary. The harder Argus tried, the more ridiculous things got: "Warning: Do not play this in the dark."
In fact, despite some ropey abbreviations allowing words to fit on the screen (Incineratr) and some iffy graphics, it isn't too bad. You take the role of a member of the crew, Lambert, Kane, Ash, Dallas, Parker, Ripley or Brett, in a desperate bid to rescue your spaceship from the altogether beastly alien.
As the game goes on, messages will pop up on the screen, telling you that something exciting has just happened elsewhere (Ripley sees Jones the cat).
The basic idea is to track the alien through the ducts, and blow it away by whatever means are most efficient. Blowing up the ship is quite a safe bet, but everyone gets killed, and since you die you lose a few points on the competence rating.
Alien is claimed to feature a unique personality control system. What this means is, in fact, that other characters will get a bit stroppy if you leave them to defend themselves. The more upset they get, the less likely they are to agree to one of your more lame-brained ideas.
Author: Paul Clansey
Reviewer: Jim Douglas
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