Released: February 1996
Developer: Probe Entertainment
Also Available For: PC and SEGA Saturn
Over the years, there has been a slew of media and merchandise produced based on the Alien movies (Various, 1979 to present); we’ve had action figures, comic books, crossovers with the Predator films (ibid, 1987 to present) and various other comic book characters, and, of course, videogames. Typically, videogames based on the Alien series prior to Alien Trilogy focused on the more action-orientated Aliens (Cameron, 1986) and were fast-paced, sidescrolling run and gun videogames.
This changed with the arcade title Alien3: The Gun (SEGA, 1993) and Alien vs. Predator (Rebellion Developments, 1994) for the ill-fated Atari Jaguar. Both titles still largely borrow more from Aliens than any of the other Alien movies but transitioned the franchise into a first-person shooter for the first time. With the under-rated Alien: Resurrection (Jeunet, 1997) due to be released late the following year and Final Doom (TeamTNT, 1996) having been released that same year, it’s safe to say that traditional first-person shooters (FPS) were still relatively popular and just starting to be just as much fun on home consoles as they were on PC and that the Alien franchise was still very much alive in the public mind, no doubt contributing to the development and release of this title.
After their colony on LV-426 is over-run with the volatile biomechanical creatures known as Xenomorphs, the malevolent Weyland-Yutani corporation enlists a group of Colonial Marines to head into the colony under the pretext of suppressing the Xenomorph infestation (though their true goal is to capture a live sample for use in their bio-weapons division).
Alien Trilogy is a first-person shooter in which players are cast in the familiar role of iconic Alien series protagonist Lieutenant Ellen Ripley and dropped head-first into what is, basically, a Doom (id Software, 1993) clone. If you’ve ever played the original Doom or any of its sequels or knock-offs prior to the franchise making the jump to 3D, you’ll know exactly what Alien Trilogy is all about: navigating dark, dismal, maze-like environments, picking up a variety of weapons, and blasting at never-ending swarms of enemies until you reach a pre-determined exit.
Despite its title, Alien Trilogy doesn’t have you running through each of the Alien films in concurrent order; instead, the plot is like a condensed and abridged amalgamation of all three movies stuffed primarily into the setting of Aliens. Ripley closely resembles her appearance from Alien3 (Fincher, 1992), for example, but now she appears to be a Marine and all the weapons she has available are ripped straight from Aliens. After clearing the first few stages (all of which are based on environments from Aliens), she explores a nearby prison colony that is exactly like Fury 161 and, in the game’s finale, ends up investigating the crash alien spacecraft responsible for LV-426’s problems first seen in Alien (Scott, 1979). So Alien Trilogy is not framed in the same vein as, say, another trilogy title developed by Probe in that same year but more like Mortal Kombat Trilogy (Avalanche Software/Midway Games/Point of View, Inc, 1996) in that it mashes together all of the most recognisable elements from the three Alien movies and merges them with a traditional, Doom-style FPS title.
Unlike Doom, however, rather than simply making your way from point A to point B and collecting coloured keys to progress further, each stage of Alien Trilogy has a mission directive tied to it that must be met in order for players to activate the exit or successfully clear the stage. These directives range from eliminating all enemies within an area, collecting identification tags, destroying Xenomorph eggs, eliminating infected colonists or rogue androids, and activating lights, lifts, or other mechanisms to access new areas of the colony. Once you clear a stage, you’ll receive three percentage grades that track the number of Xenomorphs you destroyed, secrets you found, and how much of the mission directive you met. If your mission completion percentage is too low, you may find yourself repeating the stage to get a higher grade and progress further and, after every other stage or so, you’ll be placed in an area completely devoid of enemies and given a short time to stock up on health, ammo, and other items.
Ripley is quite well equipped for the task at hand; she starts each stage with a default handgun but soon acquires all of weapons made famous by Aliens; ammo and health items are scarce, though, and severely limited compared to the number of respawning enemies you’ll face on the game’s higher difficulty levels, so it’s unwise to go in all guns blazing like you would in Doom. Ripley is equipped with the iconic Aliens motion tracker, which will emit a beep whenever enemies are close by; it’s helpful but a bit erratic and vague and doesn’t seem to pick up when enemies are hiding behind doors. Ripley can also acquire a few items to aid her efforts; night vision goggles and a shoulder-mounted light are perfect for illuminating the game’s near-pitch-black environments but run out quite quickly. By pausing the game, you can view a map of the area, which unfolds as you explore or becomes immediately accessible and far more detailed if you manage to find the Auto Mapper device. This is a must-have item as it allows you to zoom in on your current labyrinthine location and see where doors are (marked in green) and terminals and secret areas (both marked in blue). Without this item, you’ll be left wandering around in circles almost swamped in darkness and you’ll have a tough time getting through the game’s stages yet, while the map is helpful, it’s still very vague and it’s annoying that you have to keep pausing the game to view it; it would have been super helpful if the developers had mapped it to the Select button and allowed you to toggle between the motion sensor and a mini map.
Speaking of controls, Alien Trilogy is quite antiquated in its control scheme. You’ll find no support for your analogue controller here, meaning you’re left navigating using the directional-pad (D-pad) and using the shoulder buttons to strafe. Your primary fire button is X, with Square launching a smart bomb or a grenade depending on what weapon you’re carrying, Triangle cycling to the next weapon in your inventory, and Circle used to open doors or activate switches. It can get a bit clunky navigating with the D-pad and having to stand directly in front of terminals and doors to activate them but, thankfully, it doesn’t take long to adapt to the controller set-up and there’s no jump function so you never need to worry about awkwardly jumping from platforms.
Unfortunately, the developers doubled down on making every environment a maze; while stages are rendered quite well considering the shoddy graphics we had to put up with at the time and everything looks quite faithful to the source material, it’s easy to get lost as every corridor looks the same, areas are nearly pitch black with darkness, and it’s not always clear how you reach new areas as the map is very vague. A lot of your time will be spent activating lifts to reach upper and lower levels of the stages but sometimes these lifts are timed; similarly, you might finally find a battery to power up a door but it’s not always clear where that door is, leaving you to run around in circles and get slaughtered by your enemies.
Graphics and Sound:
Alien Trilogy doesn’t hold up too badly compared to some of its later titles; obviously, it’s a very pixelated experience but, despite the developers rendering a lot of the game’s assets using 2D sprites, the pre-rendered environments contain a surprising amount of detail and fidelity to the movies upon which they are based.
The game’s first ten missions take place inside of LV-426, meaning you’ll be traversing a lot of dark, broken down corridors and cargo bays similar to the ones seen in Aliens; after that, you endure ten missions set in a prison area that is ripped straight from Alien3 (it includes the med bay area, the canteen, and even the smelting plant, all rendered in copper-tinted, polygonal glory). The game’s final ten missions all take place in the derelict Engineer spacecraft from Alien (referred to here as the “Boneship”, which even includes the egg depository and iconic image of the dead pilot (though it’s significantly smaller than shown in Alien). Each of these stages have hidden walls, doors, and areas to find and, eventually, become infested with the Xenomorph’s influence, degenerating into hives and nightmarish environments the further you progress.
While the environments all look pretty good (when you can actually see them, that is), the game’s other assets don’t fare much better; barrels, crates, and other destructible objects are large, clunky polygons and enemies resemble little more than flat, heavily-pixelated 2D textures. Ripley’s various weapons don’t look too bad when they’re onscreen, though the developers didn’t really do much to make them any different from the stilted animations seen in Doom apart from giving them an Aliens aesthetic, but enemies only really look halfway decent when they’re obscured in shadow or coming at you from a distance. As soon as the Xenomorphs get right up close to you or a Facehugger obscures your vision, you’re faced with little more than a frightfully pixelated mess.
Surprisingly, Alien Trilogy also includes a handful of short 3D cutscenes with some passable voice acting; these are mainly used for the game’s opening and ending and the transition between stages and they’re obviously limited but, considering the rest of the game’s plot is told through onscreen text, they’re an inoffensive inclusion. Even better, when you die you’ll be treated to a gruesome little animated sequence of Ripley being skewered or gunned down by her enemies, which is a nice touch. Unfortunately, Alien Trilogy suffers a bit in the music and sound department; none of the usual Alien tracks are featured and most levels skip foreboding, atmospheric tunes or Doom-like hard rock for some odd melodies. While Ripley’s weapons make sounds that resemble those heard in Aliens, the Xenomorph’s lack the memorable squeal made famous in Cameron’s sequel and settle for animalistic grunts and hisses, though it’s quite creepy hearing cocooned or infected colonists whispering “Kill me…” as you pass them by.
Enemies and Bosses:
Primarily, as you explore the different environments on offer in Alien Trilogy, you’ll be contending with Xenomorphs more often than not. The standard drones are plentiful, especially around LV-426, and hobble over to you, hissing and snarling, to swipe at you with their claws. When bested, the Xenomorph enemies collapse into a bile of bloody pieces but be careful not to walk over their remains as their acidic blood will drain your health (though, thankfully/disappointingly, the Xenomorphs are unable to spit their acid at you in this game).
You’ll also come up against Facehuggers and Chestbursters; these annoying little critters skitter and jump all over the place, leaping out of eggs, destroyed crates or vents and, in the Facehugger’s case, obscuring your vision and slowly whittling your health down. As you progress further, you’ll also have to deal with Dog Aliens based on the Xenomorph from Alien3, which are smaller and faster Xenomorph variants, Xenomorphs that crawl along the ceiling, and larger, more powerful and far tougher variants in different colourations to add to the game’s difficulty.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, you also have to contend with infected colonists; when the word “infected” appears in Alien media, I generally take this to mean someone is impregnated with a Chestburster but, in Alien Trilogy, this means they’re apparently driven by an insatiable need to shoot you to ribbons. Similarly, androids and containment crew working on behalf of Weyland-Yutani (we saw them at the end of Alien3) crop up, all of which are more than happy to blast at you with pulse rifles and shotguns.
As for bosses, Alien Trilogy has three and they’re all exactly the same. After clearing ten missions, you’ll wind up in an Alien nest in the LV-426 colony, the prison, and the Boneship, respectively. These nests are littered with Xenomorph eggs, ammo, weapons, and health packs and guarded by an enormous Alien Queen, who begins each battle attached to that iconic egg sack. After wrenching herself free, she’ll plod along the arena swiping and biting and clawing at you, so you’ll need to back away, keep your distance, and just unload on her while clearing away nearby Facehuggers. Honestly, the hardest part about these boss battles is having enough ammo to put the Queen down; as long as you can keep your grenades, pulse rifle, or smart gun stocked up, you should be fine as long as you keep your distance.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Be sure to shoot any crates, lockers, and other parts of the environment if you can spare the ammo as you’ll likely uncover some helpful items such as health packs, ammo, or even a new weapon or some night vision goggles. You can also pick up armour to boost your durability, Hypos to increase your maximum health, and Boosts to increase your speed and damage output.
Ripley has access to a decent arsenal of weapons in Alien Trilogy; she starts the game with a simple handgun but you’ll soon be wielding a shotgun, flamethrower, and the iconic pulse rifle and smart gun. The pulse rifle is doubly effective as it comes with its trademark grenade launcher, which is perfect for one-shotting most enemies and opening hidden doorways (though you’ll also find seismic charges that do the same job, they are far slower to throw).
Alien Trilogy has three difficulty settings, each of which affects the amount of enemies, health, and ammo you’ll find in the game’s stages. When you die, you’re given a (stupidly long) password to enter and continue your progress if you need to stop playing and, best of all, there are some nifty cheat codes available which grant you invincibility, all weapons (with infinite ammo, as standard), and the ability to warp to any stage in the game. Otherwise, that’s about it; there’s no multiplayer or co-op component (unless you’re playing on PC…) or even a high score system in place so you’re literally just replaying to try your skill on a higher difficulty setting.
Alien Trilogy is a decent enough Doom clone; it doesn’t really do anything new with the formula popularised by Doom except slap an Alien aesthetic over it but it does an admirable job of recreating the weapons, enemies, and locations from the first three Alien movies. Unfortunately, the game is just way too dark at various points; I get that this adds to the game’s tension and atmosphere but it’s more annoying than fun to be scrabbling around in near pitch darkness trying to find your way as you don’t have the full map available to you. I could almost (almost) forgive the underwhelming music, sound effects, and terribly rendered graphics if not for the game’s insistence on making every environment a near-impossible maze. The game really could have been called Alien: Labyrinth for all the twisting, turning, nigh-identical areas it throws at you and it’s a hell of a chore trying to track down paths to even find the batteries you need to open doors or activate lifts, much less actually find those passageways.
What did you think about Alien Trilogy? Where does it rate as an FPS title or as an Alien game? Do you agree that the game is let down by its mazes and more confusing elements or did you find it more of an enjoyable challenge? Which videogame or piece of media based on the Alien franchise is your favourite? Whatever you think about Alien, and FPS games in general, feel free to leave a comment below.