Back Issues [Crossover Crisis]: Aliens vs. Predator


In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’ve been looking at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’ve dubbed “Crossover Crisis”.


Story Title: “Aliens vs Predator”
Published: November 1989 to February 1990
Writer: Randy Stradley
Artist: Phill Norwood

The Background:
Founded in 1980 by Mike Richardson, Dark Horse Comics separated itself from the heavy-hitters like DC Comics and Marvel Comics by primarily publishing creator-owned titles. In 1988, the company achieved greater mainstream success by publishing licensed stories and adaptations of horror and science-fiction films and franchises, the most prominent of these being the merging of the Alien franchise (Various, 1977 to present) and the Predator films (Various, 1987 to present). About a year before a Xenomorph skull appeared as a trophy in Predator 2 (Hopkins, 1990), the two alien species clashed in this three-issue short story that was the brainchild of writer Chris Warner. This story served as the basis for a five-issue follow-up that greatly expanded upon the premise, which soon exploded into a slew of additional publications, action figures, videogames, and (eventually) live-action movies that pitted the two creatures against each other.

The Review:
Our story begins “some time in the future” where the commercial transport vessel Lecter is making its way to the ranching outpost of Prosperity Wells on the planet Ryishi. Pilots Scott and Tom provide the entirety of the story’s narration, and are deeply engaged in a debate about the ethics and morals of mining other worlds for their resources, especially after humanity used up Earth’s in such a short space of time. Tom believes that it’s irresponsible to strip other worlds of their resources as it could stunt or even prevent the evolution of entire species, while Scott believes that it’s absolutely necessary to ensure the long-term survival of the human race.

Against the backdrop of a philosophical debate, Predators forcibly harvest Xenomorph eggs.

Their debate is briefly interrupted by what they assume is a meteor but is actually a Predator spacecraft darting through the cosmos. Scott and Tom’s discussion about the morals of harvesting unintelligent species for food and such are paralleled by the Predator’s harvesting on Xenomorph eggs aboard their ship; as Scott delivers a lecture about survival of the fittest and the strong overpowering the weak, the eggs and their Facehugger contents are scanned and processed and placed into pods to be seeded on other worlds. The eggs are all being forcibly harvested from a captive Xenomorph Queen, here an allegory for the “bitch” that is Mother Nature, who has no choice but to pump out egg after egg and watch as they are summarily processed and shot into space in a clean and efficient system.

Broken Tusk fends off a challenge by the upstart Top-Knot.

As Scott and Tom move their philosophical debate on to the merits of technology versus man’s primal nature, the story introduces us to a Predator warrior known colloquially as “Broken Tusk”. As Broken Tusk arms himself with all the standard Predator weaponry we’ve come to know and love over the years, Scott and Tom endlessly comment on the difference between passive leaders and active combatants. Broken Tusk observes a bout of ritual combat between other Predators and we catch a glimpse of just how many worlds have been seeded with Xenomorphs by the creatures in order to give them something worthwhile to hunt. When upstart Predator “Top-Knot” wins the bout, he’s not content with just choosing which hunting ground he gets to visit and challenges Broken Tusk’s position, which results in the rookie being bested by his superior.

The Predators engage in a successful hunt and gain their ritual markings.

One of the Predator’s seeding pods touches down on a marsh-like alien world; the automated, tank-like vehicle drives around the environment dropping off Xenomorph eggs in its wake before finally exploding, ensuring that many of the native creatures become impregnated by the Facehuggers. As Scott and Tom move their discussion to safari hunts and the like, Top-Knot and his hunting party make landing to begin their hunt, quickly and efficiently moving through the foliage and tracking their Xenomorph prey by following the exploded dead bodies. Soon, the Predators are attacked by the full-grown Xenomorphs; despite the Aliens’ greater numbers, the Predators have the benefit of their advanced weapons and their absolute devotion to the thrill of the hunt. They emerge victorious, having suffered only one casualty, and Top-Knot brands one of his subordinates with the Xenomorph’s acid blood for successfully executing his first kill.

The Summary:
The original, three-issue run of Aliens vs. Predator is basically just a prelude to greater things to come in the subsequent Aliens vs. Predator (Stradley, et al, 1990) comics series. Consequently, it’s quite the brief and tantalising glimpse into this shared universe of the two popular, sci-fi/horror franchises, but establishes a lot of the themes for how these franchises would crossover going forward. Rather than being set in the present day or on Earth, like the Predator films tend to be, Aliens vs. Predator takes place in the future like the Aliens films; it also heavily borrows from the aesthetics of Alien (Scott, 1977), especially in the depiction of the Lecter, which is essentially the same kind of vessel as the Nostromo. Similarly, the Predator’s spaceship and appearances are heavily inspired by what we see in the first two films, but the comic greatly expands upon their society and depiction even while utilising a philosophical debate between two humans for the entirety of its dialogue.

The story provides a glimpse into the Predator’s society and lore.

Aliens vs. Predator took the idea of the Xenomorphs being this biomechanical infestation, a swarm of vicious insect-like creatures, and really ran with it; because they lack the higher levels of intelligence seen in the Predators, they are reduced to being forcibly bred specifically for young Predators to test their mettle. The visual of the Xenomorph Queen being strung up and held captive is a powerful one, and one that subsequent comics, and movie and videogame adaptations would heavily borrow from, and is a humbling visual considering how formidable the Alien Queen was depicted in Aliens (Cameron, 1986). The implication is clear: The Predators, with their greater intelligence and superior technology and weapons, were easily able to overpower and capture a Xenomorph Queen and make a regular routine of harvesting her eggs for their own ends. They’re so efficient at it that the entire process is completely automated, with the eggs being forcibly removed, processed, and seeded without any manual intervention on the Predators’ part. Predator society is expanded upon greatly here; we see the hierarchy and feudal nature of the species, with ritual combat being the norm and the younger, less experienced hunters having to fight against their peers for recognition and the chance to hunt. Like lions and other members of the animal kingdom, it’s common for the young upstarts to challenge their betters in an attempt to claim the top position. While this doesn’t go well for Top-Knot, as he’s easily bested by Broken Tusk, he’s still dispatched to lead a hunting party, so it seems as though making the challenge isn’t necessarily a sign of disrespect. During the hunt, even the inexperienced Predators are formidable and capable warriors; while we don’t get to see much of their traditional strategies (there’s no cloaking, no need to modulate their prey’s voices, and very little use of the plasma cannon), we do get to see them working in a co-ordinated effort to eradicate their prey. Although the Aliens are fast and strong and have the numbers advantage, the Predators are keen hunters and superior warriors, meaning they are victorious with minimal effort, and the honour that comes from killing a Xenomorph is of high standing in their society (which, again, would be a crucial plot point in later stories).

A decent story, but clearly just a taste of greater things to come for this crossover.

However, it has to be said that the concept of bringing together the Aliens and Predator franchises probably sounded better on paper than it worked in execution. I have read the subsequent comic series, and it’s definitely a lot better and more in-depth, but I didn’t want to get into that without first tackling the three-issue arc that kick-started this entire sub-franchise and Aliens vs. Predator, while a novelty, is really just an appetiser for the main course. Dark Horse Comics teased readers by framed the first two stories as Aliens and Predator tales, so the actual Aliens on Predator action doesn’t kick in until right at the end, and it’s very brief when it does happen. I applaud the creative use of Scott and Tom’s philosophical debate as a parallel to the events of the story, but I found myself tuning the text boxes out and focusing more on the visuals. While the art does tell us a lot about what the Predators and even the Xenomorph Queen are thinking and feeling, I am not a massive fan of the art on show here. It’s both messy and yet simple, oddly coloured (I get that we hadn’t seen much of the Predator society or their ships but there’s a lot of odd purples and yellows and blues here), and it’s not that easy to tell the Predators apart. Obviously, this is in keeping with the aliens as depicted in the movies, which had very subtle differences, but I think for a comic you need a little more than just a barely distinguishable broken tusk or hair being styled differently. It’s also a little disappointing that we don’t get more variations of the Xenomorphs; considering they were all born from alien lifeforms, it’s a little odd that they are just carbon copies of the drones seen in Aliens, but again I can understand why this decision was made as it makes sense to focus on the familiar visual of a Predator we recognise from the movies fighting Aliens as they appear in the films. Overall, it’s a fun little novelty that’s worth checking out as long as you read it as a prelude to the longer, far more exciting and visually interesting follow-up.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever read the original, three-issue Aliens vs. Predator story? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comics or did you pick up the collected edition as I did? Were you also disappointed by the brevity of the story and the artwork or did it get you excited to see subsequent clashes between the two aliens? Which of the two creatures, and franchises, was/is your preference? Which of the Aliens vs. Predator stories or adaptations was your favourite? Would you like to see the two battle again in some form or another? Whatever your thoughts on Aliens vs. Predator, and comic book crossovers of this kind, sign up to drop a comment down below or share your thoughts on my social media.

Talking Movies [Alien Day]: Alien: The Director’s Cut


Audiences were first introduced to the horrific, biomechanical Xenomorphs in this classic science-fiction horror film in which an unsuspecting cargo crew investigates a beacon on the barren world of LV-426 and, as a result, the 26th of April is widely celebrated as “Alien Day”, a day to celebrate one of the greatest sci-fi/horror franchises ever created.


Released: 31 October 2003
Originally Released: 25 May 1979
Director: Ridley Scott
Distributor:
20th Century Fox
Budget:
$11 million
Stars:
Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphett Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, and Bolaji Badejo

The Plot:
When the crew of deep space haulage vehicle the Nostromo are awoken from stasis to investigate a possible distress signal, they find themselves terrorised by a biomechanical lifeform (Badejo) that gestates inside a human host and emerges as the perfect killing machine!

The Background:
Alien was the brainchild of writer Dan O’Bannon who, after working with director John Carpenter on the sci-fi/comedy Dark Star (Carpenter, 1974), desired to craft a more realistic and far more terrifying sci-fi horror that would be set entirely in space. O’Bannon’s work on Dark Star impressed fellow writer Ronald Shusett and the two collaborated on the project, which was initially titled Memory, then Starbeast, before Shusett suggested the simple and evocative title of Alien. Pitching the concept as “Jaws (Spielberg, 1975) in space”, the duo were inspired by the surreal and nightmarish work of Swiss artist H. R. Giger, who was later brought onboard to help design the Xenomorph’s various life cycles and the unsettling architecture of the alien spacecraft. Thanks to the success of Star Wars (Lucas, 1977), sci-fi was now a hot commodity in Hollywood and, eager to capitalise on that, 20th Century Fox greenlit the project and brought up-and-coming director Ridley Scott onboard (and even doubled the budget based on his storyboards alone).

Alien merged Giger’s disturbing artwork with Star Wars‘ aesthetic to birth an influential sci-fi horror.

O’Bannon and Shusett left the genders of the film’s characters intentionally vague and malleable and Scott sought to expand upon the “lived-in” nature of Star Wars by presenting the crew as “truckers in space”. He often filmed the cast’s rehearsals and pushed them to develop both a natural chemistry and a believable animosity towards each other to make their interactions more authentic, which ended up augmenting one of the film’s most gruesome scenes. Upon release, Alien was a commercial success; it made over $11 million at the box office but received somewhat mixed reviews at the time. Since then, of course, the film has not only inspired an entire series and sub-series of sequels and spin-offs but is widely regarded as one of the greatest movies of all time. In 2003, to commemorate the film’s release on DVD, Scott returned to the film, restoring previously excised scenes and digitally remastering it for this Director’s Cut version of Alien that is, for me, the quintessential version of this classic sci-fi horror.

The Review:
Alien begins with the crew of the Nostromo being pulled out of stasis when their ship’s computer, Mother (Helen Horton), picks up a potential distress signal from a nearby planet, LV-426. Almost immediately, over something as simple as a meal, we’re introduced to the complex dynamic of the Nostromo’s crew, which is made up of a group of egos and conflicting personalities who are just about able to work together to keep things ticking along. We don’t really learn a huge amount about each of them beyond a few disparate pieces of dialogue but, through their individual and combined interactions, it’s immediately and abundantly clear that they’ve worked together for some time, certainly long enough for some friction to have developed between certain crewmembers. Captain Dallas (Skerritt) has very little actual authority on the ship; a jaded veteran of many long-haul trips, he begrudgingly goes along with any and all orders from the mysterious and shady “Company” even when they go against their standard protocol and what their ship is technically capable of.

From the banter and class-based tensions, it’s clear that this crew is very familiar with each other.

While navigation officer Lambert (Cartwright) is sceptical of their new orders, Brett (Stanton) and Parker (Kotto), the Nostromo’s engineers, are concerned with more practical considerations; namely, compensation for their efforts. Feeling undervalued and underappreciated compared to the other members of the crew (especially as they are largely responsible for keeping the ship running), they attempt to weasel their way out of landing on LV-426 and it falls not to Dallas but to the Nostromo’s science officer, Ash (Holm), to point out that they (and the entire crew) are contractually obligated to investigate any distress calls and the potential of extraterrestrial life or forfeit their entire earnings. This does little to improve their already dour mood and brings them into further conflict with Lieutenant Ellen Ripley (Weaver), a by-the-numbers officer who likes to do things by the book. She also butts heads with Ash, who not only keeps her from following Dallas, Lambert, and Kane to the derelict alien spacecraft after she determines the distress call to be a warning but also breaks quarantine procedures by allowing the away team back onto the ship even though Kane (Hurt) has an unidentified alien parasite attached to his face.

Kane brings an unexpected, and unwelcome, visitor back from the derelict spacecraft.

This “Facehugger” attacks Kane when he discovers a cargo hold, of sorts, on the derelict craft that is full of ominous-looking eggs. Allowing his curiosity to get the better of him, Kane is left in a comatose state and the crew are left unable to help him since the Facehugger threatens to choke him to death or dissolve the Nostromo with its acidic blood. Dallas is left practically impotent in his helplessness, Ash becomes consumed with researching and investigating the parasite’s capabilities, and Lambert is left enraged that Ripley was willing to sacrifice them just to maintain protocol. The tension amongst the crew is momentarily alleviated, however, when the Facehugger simply falls off and dies and Kane seemingly makes a full recovery, only for him to unexpectedly and viciously explode at the dinner table when a ferocious little “Chestburster” forces its way out of his body, killing him in the process and fleeing into the darkest recesses of the ship.

As if a seven-foot alien killer wasn’t bad enough, Ash turns out to be a Goddamn robot!

Despite the shock and terror of this sudden development, the crew scrambles to track down the Chestburster and are horrified to find that the creature has quickly gestated into a seven-foot alien killing machine! With no reliable means of tracking the Xenomorph, and being picked off one at a time, the crew struggles to unite against this common foe; tensions between Parker and Ripley escalate and things only become more complicated when Ash is revealed to be a life-like android placed on the ship by the Company to ensure the Xenomorph’s recovery. This revelation goes a long way to explaining Ash’s odd behaviour throughout the film; he willingly breaks protocol at every opportunity, which Ripley finds aggravating and suspicious since he is supposed to be the science officer, and seems morbidly obsessed with the alien life form in its various stages of life. When the Company’s true motivations are revealed, Ash drops all sense of subterfuge and attempts to kill Ripley; the ensuing melee reveals his true nature in a startlingly shocking scene that leaves him beheaded at Parker’s hands! He’s reactivated just long enough to deliver an ominous threat regarding the alien’s capabilities and to gleefully reveal that their lives are expandable compared to the alien’s acquisition, leaving the remaining survivors with no other choice than to try and evade the Xenomorph in order to set the Nostromo to self-destruct while they escape in the shuttle.

Some impressive practical effects and camera work add to the film’s timeless aura.

Undeniably, one aspect of Alien that remains intact and impressive to this day are the practical effects; model shots and miniatures do a wonderful job of conveying the weight and scale of the ships and space, and a fantastic use of lighting (particularly shadows), smoke, and flashgun lights help to increase the dread and allure of the titular alien. These are only further bolstered by the intricately-designed, heavily claustrophobic sets; clearly evoking a 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1969) aesthetic mixed with Star Wars’ more gritty set design, Alien definitely feels like a lived-in future where technology is as vaguely anachronistic and unreliable as it is advanced while also effectively coming across as a monster or slasher film in space thanks to the ship’s darker, grottier areas. Easily the most impressive set of the film, though, is the derelict spacecraft where Kane discovers the alien eggs; a combination of miniatures, model shots, and even children create a sense of awesome scale that is made only more foreboding by Giger’s disturbing set design and the presence of the half-fossilised “Space Jockey”.

The Nitty-Gritty:
One thing to note about Alien is that it was made at a very different time in cinema, a time when sci-fi and horror was a much more atmospheric affair and involved a lot of slow, ominous shots and tense, foreboding music all designed to build a sense of dread in the viewer. This is best evidenced in the movie’s overly long and slow-paced opening, which includes a full cast and credits and a deliberate tour of the Nostromo to help familiarise us with the ship’s aesthetic, narrow corridors, and the lived-in nature of the film’s sci-fi. Consequently, the film requires a certain mindset; rather than bombarding you with action, viscera, and loud explosions, it’s much more of a methodical exploration of the slow dissection of an already tumultuous group stuck at the mercy of a vicious creature.

Much of the Xenomorph’s origins and biology is left intentionally vague.

The whole first act of the film is specifically designed to introduce us to the idea of the unknown, the dangerous and terrifying prospect of what may be lurking in the furthest reaches of deep space. It’s made abundantly clear by Parker and Brett that the Nostromo is not built, or properly equipped, to be investigating strange signals, much less landing on alien worlds, which proves to be true when the shuttle suffers severe damage simply by landing on LV-426. Of course, their concerns are either ignored or outright overruled simply by Company protocol, which dictates that “all other priorities are rescinded” when compared to the Xenomorph. At this point, the Xenomorph itself is a mystery al its own; the derelict spacecraft is beyond any sense of human understanding, to say nothing of the gigantic skeleton of the Space Jockey that serves as an ominous warning to deter the crew. Where did the eggs come from? What purpose did they serve? How did the Space Jockey get infected with a Chestburster? These are all questions the film purposely leaves unanswered and which only add to the sense of mystery and terror as the alien’s true origins and purpose are unknown and, ultimately, inconsequential since, once its aboard the Nostromo, all that matters is trying to survive rather than working out who created it and why.

The Alien’s phallic design makes it as disturbing as it is terrifying.

The Xenomorph’s design, however, is no accident; consciously designed to evoke uncomfortable feelings of visceral terror, each stage of the creature’s life cycle resembles genitalia in some way and its threat is as sexual as it is physical. The Director’s Cut is notable for included a previously excised scene in which Dallas is revealed to not have been killed by the Xenomorph but, instead, is being transformed into one of the same eggs Kane discovered on the crashed ship. This would have suggested a complete, self-sustaining life cycle and only added to the mystery and horror of the alien; obviously, the sequel abandoned this in favour of an egg-laying Queen but I still feel like this concept works in the overall context as the extended Alien canon showed that the Xenomorphs were capable of undergoing further, life-sustaining transformations. Still, the Facehugger effectively rapes Kane, pouncing on him and impregnating him against his will and causing a phallic, carnivorous parasite to puncture its way from his chest. Even when fully grown, the Xenomorph remains disturbingly phallic in its design and the way it approaches and kills its prey; from its long, phallic head and tail to its dangerous retractable inner mouth, the creature stalks, overwhelms, and consumes its victims with a disturbingly serene grace that is punctuated by a sudden and brutal aggression.

The crew are undone by their own character flaws as much as the viscous alien threat.

In the Xenomorph, the crew are faced with the threat of the unknown in physical form; thanks to the network of air ducts, the abundance of shadows, and its sheer tremendous ferocity, the crew are effectively powerless against its will. It’s not even as though they can rely on any futuristic technology to assist them as the Nostromo has very little in the way of armaments; all they’re left with is a crude motion tracker and the one piece of technology they do have (Ash) ultimately proves to be just as dangerous as the Xenomorph itself. Thanks to the class-based tensions that already existed at the start of the film (particularly between Parker and Ripley) and the sheer terror of the situation (primarily embodied in Lambert), the survivors are unable to properly get their shit together fight the creature. The Xenomorph itself remains mostly hidden in shadows and tantalisingly kept off-screen for large portions of the film to only increase its shock value and horror when it does appear; appearing as little more than a living shadow of talons and teeth, when it is seen, it is an incredibly impressive piece of practical work that remains as terrifying now as it was back then.

Thanks to being able to keep her shit together, Ripley ultimately triumphs over her androgynous stalker.

What make Ripley such an effective protagonist is the way in which she embodies all of the traits of the different crew members and balances them out so that no one emotion or personality overwhelms her. She starts the film very much a semi-stuck-up stickler for the rules (though it must be said that she was right all along and Ash never should be broken the quarantine procedure); like Dallas, she is used to simply following orders but, while he boldly chooses to lead team to the crashed ship and venture into the ducts in some foolhardy attempt at heroics, she opts to follow protocols designed to keep them alive. Kane’s sense of curiosity is also present in Ripley, but it’s tempered with a caution that she is level-headed enough to keep from spilling over into aggression like Parker. As we see in the sequel, the entire experience scars her enough to leave her disillusioned with the Company, similar to Brett and, while Lambert is basically reduced to a quivering wreck when faced with the Xenomorph, Ripley (despite clearly being terrified out of her mind) is able to hold herself together enough (and be adaptable enough) to find ways to stave off and, ultimately, kill the creature. Consequently, Ripley encompasses the traits of each member in the perfect storm of survival, turning her into an independent and forthright heroine. Adaptable and desperate, she is not only able to naturally assume command of her more emotionally unstable crewmates but also temper her fear with a determination that makes her as relentless as the alien, meaning that she is fully capable of holding her own against the Xenomorph’s vaguely androgynous horror despite being more reactive than her more proactive characterisation in the sequels.

The Summary:
Alien is a thrilling and exhausting experience; thanks to a masterful, deliberate pace, the film masterfully builds a sense of dread and tension through some long, lingering shots and a fantastic use of lighting and ominous, understated music. The characters are all fantastically realised; speaking over each other and full of conflicting egos and personalities, there’s a sense of familiarity and tension that really helps to make the entire film believable and the characters immediately relatable even though we don’t learn a whole hell of a lot about them. Similar to the alien, what we learn of the characters is told throughout the film and the way they act, and interact, with each other and the escalating horror they find themselves facing. The vast expanse of the unknown is given tangible, disturbing form in the Xenomorph, which attacks and brutalises its prey through means as uncomfortable as they are ferocious and, in many ways, the entire film is an allegory of the dangers of the unknown and sexual assault. At its core, the film is about a group of working-class Joes forced into a nightmarish situation and their ability (or inability, in many cases) to adapt and react to this threat determines who lives and dies.

Alien remains a timeless sci-fi/horror classic that is as relevant now as it ever was.

Ripley, as the only one capable and adaptable enough to balance emotions and characteristics that otherwise overwhelm her crewmates, is left the sole survivor but the cost of her victory is high as it is only through the sacrifice of everything and everyone she knows that she is able to triumph. In many ways, Alien was incredibly ahead of its time; it’s easy to almost forget that it’s a science-fiction film since, fundamentally, Alien is a twist on the classic slasher or haunted house formula and technology plays a very small role in battling the Xenomorph. Thanks to the efforts of Ridley Scott, and his cast and crew, one of the most terrifying monsters in all of cinema was effectively realised and while subsequent sequels somewhat diminished the Xenomorph’s ominous threat and menace, that doesn’t take away from this more terrifying and deliberately-paced first film in the series, which has stood the test of time and remains, despite some outdated onscreen technology, a timeless classic.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Are you a fan of Alien? What did you think to the additional scenes added to the Director’s Cut? Which member of the crew was your favourite and why? What did you think was the backstory of the Xenomorph and the Space Jockey at the time? Did you guess that Ash was an android? Did you expect Ripley to end up as the sole survivor and, if not, who did you think would make it out alive? Which of the Alien movies is your favourite and why and how are you celebrating Alien Day this year? Whatever your thoughts, stay frosty and drop a comment below!

Game Corner [Alien Day]: Aliens: Colonial Marines: Limited Edition (Xbox 360)


Audiences were first introduced to the horrific, biomechanical Xenomorphs in the classic science-fiction horror film Alien (Scott, 1979), a tense and suspense-filled monster film that kick-started an entire franchise. In that film, and much of the subsequent Alien media, an unsuspecting cargo crew investigates a beacon on the barren world of LV-426 and, as a result, the 26th of April is widely celebrated as “Alien Day”, a day to celebrate one of the greatest sci-fi/horror franchises ever created.


Released: 12 February 2013
Developer: Gearbox Software
Also Available For: PC and PlayStation 3

The Background:
Hooo boy, where to start with this one? So, if you’ve played games, follow games news, or watch online reviews or videos about games the chances are that, at some point, you’ve come across people talking about Aliens: Colonial Marines, a first-person shooter (FPS) that was heavily pushed as being the official, direct sequel to Aliens. Though originally conceived of by Gearbox Software, multiple development studios worked on the game between 2007 and its eventual release in 2013 since Gearbox was busy dividing their attentions between multiple other titles at the same time. This, perhaps inevitably, led to some disagreements regarding the design and direction of the game. Further compounding matters was the fact that Gearbox were dissatisfied with TimeGate Studio’s work on the PlayStation 3 version and, having already delayed the game significantly by this point, were forced to work against a strict deadline to finish the game for its intended release date.

Aliens: Colonial Marines had a long and troubled development and contained many oddities.

Interestingly, Aliens: Colonial Marines actually sold really well upon its release (perhaps because of the strength of the Aliens franchise) but was the subject of widespread scathing criticism; critics were unimpressed with the graphics, bugs and glitches, poor textures and lighting effects, and its lack of continuity to the Alien franchise. While there were some who praised the game’s aesthetics and features, others criticised the intelligence of the game’s enemies, which had been corrupted and neutered thanks to a simple typing error in the game’s code. For my part, I’d heard all the horror stories surrounding this game and was still intrigued; being a big Aliens fan, and considering the game is dirt cheap and easy to come by, I figured it couldn’t really be as bad as I was being told, especially since I’d heard similar stories about Aliens vs. Predator (Rebellion Developments, 2010) and found that to be nowhere near as bad as I had been led to believe. Not perfect, for sure, but then again I’m not the biggest fan of FPS games so my expectations are quite low by default.

The Plot:
Seventeen weeks after the events of Aliens, the Sephora receives a distress call from the Sulaco, which has inexplicably returned to orbit around LV-426. Corporal Christopher Winter is amongst the Colonial Marines sent to investigate the ship, discovering that it (and the planet below) is infested with Xenomorphs that have wiped out an entire regiment of Marines and that the malicious Weyland-Yutani corporation have once again secretly been plotting to acquire the creatures for their bio-weapons division.

Gameplay:
Aliens: Colonial Marines is, like many titles in the franchise, a first-person shooter that is, for the most part, very similar to the Marine portions seen in Aliens vs. Predator and other FPS games. In a refreshing change of pace, you play as a character who isn’t silent for a change; Winter, like many of his fellow Marines, may look and sound like your typical overly-macho jarhead but it’s nice to actually have an FPS protagonist who isn’t as silent as a graveyard and can actually, properly interact with the game’s other characters.

Blast those Xeno bugs to mush with your FPS skills.

As you might expect, all the typical FPS clichés are present and accounted for: you can carry two weapons at a time, changing between them with the Y button, in addition to a limited number of explosives (frag grenades, firebombs, and claymores, specifically) and a pistol with unlimited ammo, both of which can be accessed by pressing right or left on the directional paid (D-pad). You can jump with A (though, thankfully, there isn’t really much in the way of platforming sections), crouch with B (doing so behind boxes or other parts of the environment to avoid incoming fire), sprint for a short burst by pressing in the left analogue stick, and execute a melee attack (generally bashing enemies with the butt of your weapon) by pressing in the right analogue stick. If Xenomorphs or Facehuggers pin you down, you’ll have to mash X to fight them off and may be reduced to your pistol for a few moments as you struggle to your feet; you can also shoot at explosive canisters to take out multiple enemies at once, which is always handy.

Don’t use the weapon wheel in the middle of combat or you might end up skewered!

Holding down the Y button will bring up the game’s weapon wheel; from here, you can equip different weapons as you collect or unlock them, which is useful but this weapon wheel doesn’t pause the game so, if you need to switch out our Assault Rifle for the Pulse Rifle in the middle of a skirmish, the chances are that you’re going to get injured or killed so it’s best to switch your weapons in safe areas. Most weapons have a secondary fire function as well, ranging from an explosive short or flame burst to a paralysing effect to your shots, and you can toggle your torch (or “flashlight” for you Americans) by pressing down on the D-pad.

The motion tracker helps alert you to enemies and objectives.

You’ll want this flashlight activated at all times since Aliens: Colonial Marines is a very dark game and you’ll need all the light you can get in some areas. I knew about this ahead of time and also cranked up the in-game brightness but, honestly, I actually didn’t mind the game’s darker areas and moments as they are all highly reminiscent of the source material and really added to the game’s fidelity to the movies and the sense of mounting dread and tension since you can never really tell what’s lurking around the next corner. Thankfully, you can whip out the franchise’s iconic motion tracker by pressing LB and a mini tracker will beep and appear onscreen when enemies are near. Neither are massively accurate and you can’t shoot and use the main tracker at the same time but it’s a welcome addition and better than nothing since the tracker also points you in the direction of your objective and notable characters/objects.

Gameplay occassionally slows down to have you defending barricades or using stealth.

The game features a relatively simple heads-up display (HUD) which tracks your armour, health, ammo, and experience points (EXP). Each time you kill an enemy or find a collectable, you’ll gain EXP and can spend these points on a variety of upgrades for each of your weapons. Your health is measured in three sections and will automatically refill in each section; however, should you lose a section of health, the only way to refill it is to grab one of the Med-Packs scattered across the game’s locations. Ammo, new weapons, and armour are relatively plentiful, often found stashed in the game’s quieter rooms or dropped by human enemies. The game also features some pretty generous checkpoints and, upon reloading a save, you’ll be gifted with full armour and health, which is always appreciated. The bulk of Colonial Marines’ gameplay is centred around exploring familiar environments from the first two movies, blasting a variety of Xenomorphs and human enemies as they rush at you, and some very basic missions. You’ll be cutting open sealed doors with your blowtorch, interacting with switches and consoles, finding flight recorders, taking out Weyland-Yutani scientists before they can activate alarms and set off poisonous gas, rescuing other Marines and personnel, and generally trying to survive and get to the bottom of Weyland-Yutani’s questionable schemes. Despite the game’s dark areas and the repetitiveness of many of the corridors and locations you find yourself in, the game is quite linear so you won’t find yourself getting lost that often but you can always refresh yourself on your current objectives by pressing the ‘Back’ button and just follow nearby non-playable characters (NPCs) if you get a bit stuck.

Set up and disable sentry guns to help tip the odds in your favour.

Occasionally, you’ll be charged with defending an NPC or holding out against wave upon wave of Xenomorphs as your fellow Marines attempt to cut through doors, signal for help, or start up the iconic Aliens dropship. These sections can be rather tense and frustrating since, while NPCs are helpful and will shoot at enemies (and make for great bait), they aren’t the most reliable computer-controlled allies I’ve ever had and it can be tricky to get a good shot at the agile and stealthy Xenomorphs. Often, you’ll also be tasked with grabbing and setting up an auto-turret in these situations, which can be extremely helpful, but you’ll also have to watch out for these turrets as Weyland-Yutani mercenaries have set them up to fire on you, requiring a bit of subterfuge as you take the long way around to disable the sentry guns. Aliens: Colonial Marines’ main campaign is divided into missions; as you complete each mission, you’ll be awarded with more EXP and given the option to continue or back out, allowing you to play in brief bursts if you desire. The game’s action is further broken up by a handful of instances where you must climb into the iconic Powerloader to open up a blast door and battle a particularly frustrating boss and, of course, numerous interruptions to the flow of the gameplay. These generally take the form of platforms collapsing beneath you, parts of the environment randomly exploding, or the risk of explosive decompression; in each instance, you’ll be forced to wait for the game to return control to you and then continue on though, thankfully, there are no disorientating moments where your senses are thrown off by concussive explosions.

I encountered few, if any, glitches in the A.I. of the bog standard enemies…

Overall, the game isn’t especially difficult; there are four difficulty options available and I finished a playthrough on “Soldier” (or “Normal” for us normal people) in about eight hours. As you might expect, the game lags a little thanks to its long loads times; many of these are unsubtly masked by long, drawn out periods of dialogue between characters or doors that need cutting open but you’ll also notice it whenever you die and reload a checkpoint. Considering all the horror stories I heard about the game’s buggy A.I., I found the enemies to be quite relentless and formidable; I never had any instance where enemies harmlessly ran against walls, got stuck against the environment, or passed right by me that weren’t intentional and I actually found myself dying quite a bit when the Xenomorphs attacked as a group (oddly, I found I accrued more deaths on the game’s easy mode…), though there were instances where the game’s dodgy coding could be exploited to my benefit.

Graphics and Sound:
Aliens: Colonial Marines’ attention to detail is impressive, to be honest; every area looks and feels exactly as it did in Aliens or has been modelled to closely mimic James Cameron’s lived-in aesthetic. As you explore the Sulaco, you’ll find acid burns, claw marks, blood stains, and smashed lighting and other objects all over the place, which really adds to the immersion and the tension. You can even spot the lower half of Bishop (Lance Henriksen) in the Sulaco’s landing bay, alongside numerous Xenomorph husks, bloodied corpses, and dead Facehuggers. However, I will admit that I noticed some poorly-rendered textures, odd graphical hiccups, and that some of the voices would get cut off or be muted during dialogue.

The attention to detail is top notch but Hadley’s Hope is looking a little too intact…

In many ways, this attention to detail actually backfires somewhat as you progress through the game; as ridiculous as it is to conveniently be exploring the Sulaco, I can just about forgive it thanks to the very basic explanation the game provides. What I can’t quite forgive, though, is the fact that, after crash-landing on LV-426, you end up exploring Hadley’s Hope, the colony that was not only the primary setting for Aliens but was also completely obliterated by a nuclear explosion at the end of that film. Here, though, the colony is in exactly the same shape as it was at the start of Aliens; it looks exactly the same as it did when the Marines explored it in the movie, all the consoles work (to an extent) and all the movie’s locations are intact and recreated. You even come across Hudson’s (Bill Paxton) corpse, the medical bay, the area where the Marines set up their turrets, and explore the sewers, all of which show no signs of being vaporised as they surely would have been. This is great in terms of recreating the familiar locations of the movie but not so great when you stop and consider that the colony should have been reduced to a smouldering, highly radioactive crater.

Of course you get to explore the derelict spaceship.

You also get to explore the derelict Engineer ship from Alien; similar to Alien Trilogy (Probe Entertainment, 1996), the ship has been quarantined by Weyland-Yutani and they have been investigating it, putting up floodlights and scaffolding and what-not in an attempt to harvest the Xenomorph eggs. This means, of course, that you also get to visit the massive egg chamber and the decaying remains of the Space Jockey from that film, which is always a delight, and I could have sworn that I spied the floating mapping device the protagonists used in Prometheus (Scott, 2012). Although all of the Marines resemble little more than action figures, the Xenomorphs come off looking much better; I always find it odd how games of this generation can render alien monstrosities so well but struggle with human likenesses.

Humans might look like garbage but the aliens look really good, at least.

While the game’s environments are dark, moody, and atmospheric, this all adds to the immersion and the tension since Xenomorphs can pop out from grates or smash through windows and doors at a moment’s notice, which really helps to keep you on your toes. Even the sewer section is made more exhilarating by the dank aesthetic, the presence of numerous, dried out Xenomorph husks, and the fact that you are stripped of all your weapons and must stealthy make your way through to avoid detection. Like many FPS titles, the majority of the game’s cutscenes are rendered using in-game graphics and without deviating from the first-person perspective, meaning full-motion cinematic cutscenes are few and far between. In terms of sound design, though, Aliens: Colonial Marines knocks it out of the park since everything is ripped straight out of Aliens; that means the familiar beep of the motion tracker, the recognisable bursts of the Pulse Rifle, the high-pitched squeals and growls of the Xenomorphs, and even the sounds of the computers and environment are all present and accounted for. Additionally, not only does Lance Henriksen return as Bishop but the developers somehow convinced Michael Biehn to return as Corporal Dwayne Hicks which, while welcome, makes absolutely no sense even in the game and seems to be based purely on the fact that the third movie is so unfairly hated.

Enemies and Bosses:
You’ll never believe this but the most common enemy you’ll encounter in Aliens: Colonial Marines are the Xenomorphs! The regular drones are modelled after those seen in Cameron’s film, sporting ridged skulls and clambering all over walls and ceilings. These guys will pop out from vents, grates, and even from behind doors, slashing and clawing at you, leaping at you, and trying to pin you down to take a bite out of you. Thankfully, though, like in Aliens, these bugs are easily dispatched (and will often blow into chunks) with a few shots and are most dangerous when attacking in groups or from the shadows; while they do bleed acid blood and melt away upon defeat, this doesn’t seem to damage you (or, if it does, I didn’t really notice).

You’ll come up against a few new types of Xenomorph in this game.

There are also a couple of Xenomorph variants to contend with as well, such as the Lurker Xenomorph, which is more akin to the one seen in Alien; this smooth-skulled bastard creeps around and attacks from the darkness before darting out of sight, making it a particularly bothersome enemy. You’ll also come across a number of eggs scattered throughout the game’s environments; you should shoot these on sight with your pistol and be aware of Facehuggers in the immediate area, which are small and particularly difficult to get a good shot at. In the sewers, you’ll encounter the Boiler variants; these are heavily-degraded husks whose senses have been dulled by radiation poisoning and remain completely still until they hear movement. You must sneak past them, stand completely still if they hobble near you, and then activate a series of switches to lure them towards noises, whereupon they explode in a shower of acid. You’ll also have to contend with the Spitter Xenomorphs, which spit acid at you from a distance to whittle down your armour and health, and combinations of each Xenomorph type at various points.

Wey-Yu mercenaries will hide behind cover and blast you at point blank range.

You’ll also have to contend with some human opposition as Weyland-Yutani send in a bunch of heavily-armed mercenaries to take you out and secure their investment. These assholes dart around, use cover, and fire at you with the same weapons available to you, packing Pulse Rifles, shotguns, tossing grenades, and even wielding Smart Guns and heavier armour. Thankfully, they go down just as easily as the Xenomorphs and any nearby aliens will also attack these humans, which is helpful, but the mercenaries are a constant source of frustration as they tend to blast you with a shotgun from behind when you least expect it.

The Raven makes for a persistant and frustrating boss.

Aliens: Colonial Marines only features four boss encounters (each of these uses the term loosely since you aren’t given the luxury of a health bar to check your progress) but each one is a little different and frustrating in its own way. The first boss you’ll have to contend with is the Raven, a large, Praetorian-like alien that appears to have burst out of Hudson’s chest. This thing is all-but-invincible and must be evaded and ran from when you first encounter it as you don’t have any of your weapons. Eventually, after darting through the sewers, dodging its wild swipes from floor grates, and racing across the barren wasteland of LV-426 while numerous drones try to cut you to ribbons, you make a final stand against it in the iconic Powerloader for, perhaps, one of the worst and most annoying boss fights ever. The Powerloader is slow and clunky and it’s never made entirely clear what you have to do or if your hits are even landing, not to mention the fact that your turning circle is abysmal and Xenomorphs swarm at you to whittle your health down. In the end, the best thing to do is concentrate on the Raven, whacking it with your left claw repeatedly and try to get it to glitch against the environment in a corner; land a few hits and then try using your right claw to choke it until, eventually (seemingly randomly), a cutscene will play out where Winter breaks the fucking thing in two.

Work your way past the APC’s heavy artillery in order to take it out of commission.

The next boss sees you taking on an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) that is manned, and protected, by Weyland-Yutani mercenaries. Like the Raven, this thing is completely bulletproof and will cut you in half, or blow you to pieces, in seconds with not only its heavy weaponry but also the firepower of the minions which protect it. I found this section particularly trying since you’re exposed in the open a lot, despite the abundance of cover (bullets and explosions can be seen to penetrate much of the cover anyway) and it’s really easy to get caught in a crossfire. It’s best to find a good vantage point, drive the APC back by shooting the nearby fuel tanks, and pick off the mercenaries (particularly the flamethrower and RPG-wielding assholes) to clear the way to the crane controls and crush the APC once and for all.

Luckily, you can use a game bug to make the Crusher far less threatening.

The third boss is the Crusher Xenomorph, a gigantic bull-like variant with a huge, armour-plated head that charges at everything head-first and will crush you under its elephantine feet. As if that wasn’t bad enough, swarms of Xenomorphs fill the area to distract you, making it hard to get a good shot at the Crusher but, luckily, you can again glitch the boss to make things a bit easier. When you enter the area where the boss spawns, head to the barricade on the left and hop on the crates and then on top of the barricade. The Crusher will stand completely still by the APC and no Xenomorphs will spawn in, allowing you to fire at it with your explosive shots and either significantly wound it or kill it outright to make the fight ten times easier.

It all ends with a game of hide and seek with the Alien Queen.

Finally, as you might expect, you must face off with a Xenomorph Queen. This gigantic bitch is completely bulletproof and you won’t be able to deal any damage to her at all; instead, you must use the conveniently-placed environment to hide and avoid her claws, tail, and sight, working your way around the hanger and towards a series of switches. You must then activate each switch to prime a cargo launcher, rushing back to cover and grabbing the respawning armour if she hits you and trying to not get sucked out into the atmosphere at the same time. Once the cargo launcher is fully primed, simply stand behind it and wait for her to get in front of it and activate it and that’s it. Of all the parts of the game, and the many battles I’ve had against Xenomorph Queens, this was by far the easiest and is simply a question of patience.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Naturally, as both a FPS title and an Aliens game, you can acquire numerous weapons and items to increase your odds against the Xenomorph hordes. When you spot a weapon, ammo, or item, though, it’s not enough to just walk over to it; you actually have to press X to pick them up so make sure you do this or you could enter the next fire fight shorthanded!

Customise and upgrade your weapons with EXP.

Winter begins the game with a handy stock of frag grenades, the iconic Pulse Rifle, a service pistol, and a shotgun for close-quarters combat. You can also acquire a number of other weapons as well though, including the Assault Rifle and Submachine Gun, the sniper rifle-like Battle Rifle, and the tactical shotgun. Each one comes with different ammo capacities, firepower, and accessories to purchase and equip with your EXP. These include increasing your ammo capacity, adding laser sights, or underbarrel grenade launchers and flamethrowers. It’s a good idea to swap out for a different weapon when you find a quiet moment in order to preserve your more powerful weapons, though this can result in your shots being a bit less effective and a bit more haphazard depending on which weapon you select.

Grab the Smart Gun and dice those Xenos up with auto aiming and auto tracking!

You can also find three super weapons scattered throughout the campaign, generally right before a story-based objective; these include the Smart Gun (which automatically targets and tracks nearby enemies), the Incinerator Unit (a flamethrower perfect for setting alight groups of enemies), and the RPG Launcher to take out anti-aircraft guns. When you grab each of these weapons, you’ll still keep your existing weapons but won’t be able to use them unless you drop your current weapon; none of them can be reloaded either so choose your shots wisely. Finally, you can also pick up six Legendary Weapons throughout the campaign; once you find them, they are all added to your inventory for regular use (with two exceptions) and, while you can’t modify or upgrade them and they take their own unique ammo type, they generally tend to be a bit more powerful than the standard weapons. You’ll find such memorable weapons as Hicks’ shotgun, Scott Gorman’s (William Hope) pistol, Hudson’s Pulse Rifle, and Jenette Vasquez’s (Jenette Goldstein) Smart Gun; finding all six will net you a cheeky Achievement but, luckily, they’re all pretty much sitting out in the open so it’s not hard to miss them.

Additional Features:
Speaking of which, Aliens: Colonial Marines includes sixty Achievements, fifty of which in the main game and ten more made available through downloadable content (DLC). The majority of these are tied to story progression and the game’s multi-player but you’ll also net them for finding various goodies in the campaign (including a number of dog tags and audio files, the six Legendary Weapons, the head of Rebecca “Newt” Jordan’s (Carrie Henn) doll Casey, and even a stash of Xenomorph eggs painted up like literal Easter Eggs), completing missions under various time limits and restrictions, and for beating the game’s higher difficulty settings.

Pick up the game’s DLC for more multiplayer maps and a whole new solo campaign.

As alluded to above, Aliens: Colonial Marines features a multiplayer component; one allows for two players to play through the main campaign in co-op, which is achieved through a split screen, and the other is a typical deathmatch mode that, for some reason, cannot be played locally. Here, you can customise your Marine and Xenomorph’s appearance (unlocking additional attire, weapons, and attacks through successful play) and take part in various team-based missions across a variety of the game’s maps. Additionally, there’s a pretty decent amount of DLC available as well, including additional map packs for the multiplayer mode and an entirely new single player campaign, “Stasis Interrupted”, which explores the fourteen week gap between the end of Aliens and the start of Colonial Marines. This campaign sees you controlling a new Marine character, features a bunch of additional Achievements, and even has the player journeying to Fiorina “Fury” 161 in a desperate attempt to rescue Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). Finally, if you own the “Limited Edition” of the game as I (and, I’m sure, many) do, you’ll gain access to a number of classic characters and weapons from the Alien franchise, and some additional customisation options, to use in the multiplayer mode.

The Summary:
Once again, it turns out that all of the horror stories and negativity I’d heard about a game is nowhere  near the truth; sure, Aliens: Colonial Marines is by no means a perfect game but it’s far from the unplayable wreck I was led to believe it was. Instead, it’s a pretty by the numbers FPS title, offering little new or innovative from the genre, but elevated above much of its competition by a fantastic use of the Alien license.

Though not perfect, the game is far from the unplayable, buggy mess I was led to believe.

The game’s attention to detail is staggering and this very well may be the best one-to-one adaptation of Aliens ever; everything from the sounds, the weapons, and the environments is all ripped straight from Aliens and the game goes out of its way to recreate the look and feel of the film through the use of atmospheric lighting and almost slavish fidelity. It’s just a shame, then, that the developers didn’t think a little harder about the game’s narrative aspects in relation to its source material; as a midquel between the second and third movies, the game makes little sense, favouring fidelity and fan service over a coherent and consistent plot, which honestly drags the game down more than the minor graphical and A.I. bugs (of which I saw very little in the game’s basic enemies).

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think about Aliens: Colonial Marines? Did you find it to be a broken mess of the game like so many others or did you, like me, find it to be a perfectly serviceable FPS title? What did you think to the game’s story and the way it brought Hicks back? Did you encounter any odd glitches or game-breaking moments? If so, what were they and how often did they crop up? Which of the Alien movies or videogames is your favourite and why and how are you celebrating Alien Day this year? Whatever your thoughts, stay frosty and drop a comment below!

Game Corner: Alien Trilogy (PlayStation)

GameCorner
AlienTrilogyLogo

Released: February 1996
Developer: Probe Entertainment
Also Available For: PC and SEGA Saturn

The Background:
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.

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It took a while for Alien to be made into an FPS title.

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.

The Plot:
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).

Gameplay:
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.

AlienTrilogyGameplay
Explore some familiar locations in Alien trilogy.

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.

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Missions vary and will have you exploring environments from top to bottom.

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.

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The map is useful, if vague and awkward.

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.

AlienTrilogyPanels
Activate and power up doors, lifts, panels, and pods to reach new areas and find goodies.

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.

AlienTrilogyNavigate
Navigation can be tricky when a lot of areas look the same.

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.

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Many of the iconic Alien locations are recreated in Alien Trilogy.

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.

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The graphics get a bit pixelated when they’re right in your face.

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.

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Some basic 3D cutscenes break up the action.

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).

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There are a few different Xenomorphs to contend with.

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.

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Infected colonists, androids, and Company stooges make up the game’s other enemies.

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.

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Three Alien Queens act as the games only bosses

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.

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All the classic Aliens weapons are available to use.

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).

Additional Features:
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.

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The Summary:
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.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Terrible

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.

Game Corner: Aliens vs. Predator (2010; Xbox 360)

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Released: February 2010
Developer: Rebellion Developments
Also Available For: PC and PlayStation 3

The Background:
I’ve mentioned this before but Aliens vs. Predator has been a thing for a long, long time now. These two iconic science-fiction/horror franchises first came to blows in a series of excellent comic books published by Dark Horse comics between 1989 and 1990 and, since then, we’ve seen countless additional comic books, action figures, two divisive movies, and a whole host of videogames based around the concept. In the same year that the exceptional arcade beat-‘em-up was released, Rebellion developments crafted a first-person shooter (FPS) for the short-lived Atari Jaguar (remember that?) that allowed players to take on the role of a Colonial Marine, a Xenomorph, and a Predator in what was, essentially, a reskin of popular FPS games like Wolfenstein 3D (id Software, 1992) and Doom (ibid, 1993). A few years after AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem (The Brothers Strause, 2007) effectively killed the concept of seeing the Predators hunting the Xenomorphs onscreen (though I actually quite enjoyed that movie; it was worlds better than the first AVP movie), Rebellion Developments rebooted the concept for then-modern consoles and produced another FPS title that, despite bringing two of cinemas most iconic franchise together for a new generation, failed to really impress players or critics alike. Despite this, and my general disdain for FPS games (I just don’t like the restrictive view or being shot in the back), these are two of my favourite franchises and the game is dirt cheap so I decided to pick it up and see it was really as mediocre as everyone said it was.

The Plot:
The malevolent Weyland-Yutani corporation finds their colonies, laboratories, and spaceships under attack when their experiments with Xenomorphs inevitably break out and the alien Predators become enraged at the corporation desecrating their sacred hunting grounds. Roping in an expendable team of Colonial Marines to secure their sites, the corporation scrambles to ensure that their new cross-breed specimen survives to be sold as a military weapon.

Gameplay:
Like its Atari namesake, Aliens vs. Predator is a first-person shooter than gives players the option of playing as a Colonial Marine (known as the “Rookie”), a Xenomorph (codenamed “Specimen 6” or simply “Six”, and a Predator (referred to as “Dark”). Each story sees you exploring similar environments and the game’s over-lapping story from different perspectives, with slightly different control schemes, gameplay mechanics, and objectives to fulfil as part of your mission.

Block and slash with wrist-mounted blades or make short work of his prey with the Predator’s plasma cannon.

As much as I love Aliens (Cameron, 1986), I have a soft spot for Predator (McTiernan, 1987) so, naturally, upon booting up Aliens vs. Predator, I completed my first playthrough as the Predator character. In an effort to better evoke the spirit of that first movie, you’re dropped into the middle of an alien jungle to learn the many complex controls associated with the Predator, who has access to the majority of his iconic abilities right off the bat. The Predator engages in combat primarily through the use of his wrist-mounted blades; the right bumper slashes with a weak blow, the left with a stronger attack necessary for breaking through an enemy’s guard, and holding them both down allows you to defend yourself from melee attacks. Pressing the right trigger sends out an energy blast from the Predator’s trademark shoulder cannon and holding the trigger down lets you lock on to a target. You can also press the Y button to activate the Predator’s signature cloak, though both of these abilities drain Dark’s energy meter and this can only be replenished by charging up at various electronic panels scattered across the game’s limited environments. Also, it might just be me but I found the cloak almost completely useless; if you activate it and walk in front of a human enemy, they will still spot you and open fire upon you and they’ll still be able to see and track you even if you leap behind cover. Add to that the fact that the Xenomorphs can detect you whether you’re cloaked or not and Dark’s invisibility is all but ineffective in execution and it’s far easier to simply sneak around behind cover than depend upon this mechanic. Dark can also cycle through various vision modes (the usual thermal vision allows you to see human and android enemies but renders Xenomorphs as nearly invisible and the reverse is true for the green-tinted Xenomorph vision) with a press of the B button and you can even lure his prey into an ambush by pressing X and mimicking cries for help. This is the perfect way to sneak up behind your prey and execute a “Trophy Kill” that sees the Predator wrench a man’s head from his shoulders or skewer them with his wrist blades.

Even with all the Predator’s advantages, first-person doesn’t seem to be a suitable gameplay perspective.

You can also execute these gloriously gory kills by stunning enemies through melee combat and can expand the Dark’s arsenal as you progress through the story and acquire other weaponry popularised by the criminally under-rated Predator 2 (Hopkins, 1992). As you explore your environments, you’ll be given objectives and hints through your heads-up display (HUD) and can hold down the left trigger to entire a “Focus Mode” that allows you to see points of interest, your exit, and other secrets and items scattered around the environment. The Predator can also jump with the A button and, when in Focus Mode, will leap to higher vantage points automatically to allow you to take the high ground and pick off your targets. Dark has a health bar in the bottom right of his HUD; he can take a decent amount of damage but falls surprisingly quickly under sustained gunfire or Xenomorph clawing. You can restore your health by holding the Y button as long as you have a Health Shard on hand; you can hold three of these at any one time and will find them scattered sporadically across the game’s locations. Luckily, there are numerous checkpoints so, if (well…when) you die, you can simply load up your last checkpoint. You can also manually save the game at any time but this doesn’t create a checkpoint; also, quite often I found that I would reload a checkpoint only to be dumped in the middle of a full-on gunfight, which was a bit annoying, to say the least. Similarly, for me, the FPS perspective is clunky and awkward for the Predator; since you’ll soon run out of energy for your plasma cannon, you’ll be relying on close-combat melee attacks or Dark’s other, less interesting weapons. It’s also slightly awkward and annoying to have to constantly cycle through the Predator’s various vision modes when dealing with combinations of enemies so you rarely get the chance to properly appreciate the game’s surprisingly detailed environments. Personally, I feel like the Predator would have controlled and been realised better if his gameplay had been rendered from the third-person as in Predator: Concrete Jungle (Eurocom, 2005) though, to be fair, I found that game even more daunting in the vast array of controls and mechanics it used to bring to life all of the Predator’s various abilities and weaponry.

The Marine controls much like a typical FPS, but with poorer lighting and a handful of rudimentary puzzles thrown in.

After finishing the Predator’s story, I next took on the role of a Colonial Marine (known as “Rookie”). The Marine’s gameplay is very similar to a standard FPS videogame, which makes the game far less clunky and awkward when compared to playing as the Predator from a first-person perspective; the HUD is simplified, incorporating the Aliens motion tracker to give you a vague idea of where enemies are and pointing you in the right direction, and the Marine also regenerates a small portion of his health as long as you don’t lose an entire block. You can still pick up health, though, this time in the form of Stim Packs, which operate in exactly the same was as the Predator’s Health Shards, but are afforded far more limited options when it comes to your ability to see and navigate through the game’s many dark and dismal corridors. Pressing B will activate Rookie’s torch (or “flashlight” for you Americans) to bring some light to darkened areas and you even have an unlimited supply of flares that you can toss into the darkness for a brief period of light, which is a nice touch. Rookie’s story is one of survival and meeting many varied objectives; the Xenomorph infestation has left Weyland-Yutani’s many facilities in quite a state so you’ll be repairing power points, activating doors, and setting up automated gun turrets to progress further, fortifying the barricades the few remaining Marines have set up, and mowing down swarms of Xenomorphs. Because of this, the Marine’s gameplay feels far more tense and reminds me of playing Doom 3 (id Software, 2004) thanks to the sparse use of lighting, dark, dank, and dreary futuristic environments, and claustrophobic, mounting horror that fills every area. The Marine is your typical silent FPS protagonist and spends most of his time taking orders from fellow Marine Tequila and being directed by Company android turned good Katya. Generally, this means hacking into terminals and then surviving while hoards of Xenomorphs or Combat Androids (or both) fill the immediate area, which can be a tall order in some situations. Other times, you’ll simply be running from certain death and, while Rookie can jump, he isn’t required to do any tricky platforming, which I am very thankful for, but he also can’t duck and there’s no real snap-to-cover system in place so, in the face of a hail of bullets, you’re limited to taking a more old school approach and simply, awkwardly, hiding behind bits of the environment. You can take advantage of the environment to help clear out enemies, though, as you’ll find explosive pipes and barrels conveniently scattered across narrow hallways and bridges that will help to thin out swarms of Xenomorphs or put down those Goddamn Combat Androids.

It can be disorientating playing as a Xenomorph since Six’s clunky gameplay makes stealth tricky.

Honestly, I dreaded playing as the Xenomorph, Six, simply because I could tell that it was going to be the most troublesome and least fun campaign. Six is the fastest and most agile character, able to clamber over walls, ceilings, and pretty much all of the game’s environments just by moving the left analogue stick. While it’s pretty simple to run up walls and use the Xenomorph’s a panther-like leap to traverse the game’s areas, it’s maybe too easy; you’ll slide up walls when you don’t mean too, slip around like you’re constantly on ice, and it’s more than a little disorientating when you’re scuttling upside down on ceilings. Six attacks entirely with melee attacks; while other Xenomorph enemies spit acid, Six isn’t able to do that so must rely on her claws and her spear-like, whipping tail. By holding down the left trigger, you can engage Six’s own Focus Mode to target specific enemies and leap at them at attack; you can also block, like the Predator, and break an enemy’s block with her stronger tail attack. Sneak up on enemies, or damage them enough, and you’ll be prompted to press X to grab them and perform a gruesome instant kill. Six, apparently, performs best when shrouded in darkness so, during her tutorial, you’ll be asked to smash out ceiling and wall lights to keep her shrouded in darkness. In practise, though, I found few opportunities to really do this and, similar to the Predator’s cloaking mechanism, enemies seem to spot you no matter how deep in the shadows you are. Sometimes you can slowly sneak up behind them, other times they’ll turn around with the slightest press of the analogue stick; one time, though, I snuck up on a Marine and skewered her through the chest as she stood next to her team mate…who just stood there, completely oblivious, and let me do the same to him. Scattered throughout Six’s environments are a series of vents that she can dart through to avoid gunfire; unlike the other characters, Six’s health automatically regenerates after a few seconds and she has no other way of refilling her health bar so it’s crucial that you hit and run if you take too much damage. Similar to the Predator, Six can hiss to attract enemies closer to her and you’ll also find some civilians scattered throughout each mission, helpfully highlighted in green. Sometimes, these civilians will run and cower in a corner but others they’ll shoot themselves or blow themselves up so you’ll have to be quick about pouncing on them to harvest them with the X button. If the FPS view is unbefitting of the Predator, it’s really awkward for a Xenomorph; it’s very difficult to know where you are or how to orientate yourself. It’s like the game wants to be like the Predator sequences from the Batman: Arkham series (Various, 2009 to 2015) but it falls way off the mark as it’s difficult to target and isolate Marines in narrow areas. I can’t help but think the Xenomorph campaign would’ve been better as a kind of top down strategy style of game similar to Aliens Versus Predator: Extinction (Zono, 2003) where you play as an Alien Queen and direct drones and other Xenomorphs from the hive to spread her progeny throughout the game’s environments.

Graphics and Sound:
Honestly, for an Xbox 360 game and considering the age of this title, Aliens vs. Predator doesn’t look half bad; graphically, the game struggles to render human models in a realistic way, once again making them appear as little more than plastic action figures, but the various Xenomorphs and Predators all look really good and are very true to their source material.

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The game’s visual fidelity to the aesthetics of the movies is top notch!

Visual fidelity is key to Aliens vs. Predator’s presentation; the jungle is clearly modelled after the one seen in Predator, for example, and the various Weyland-Yutani corridors all evoke the same lived-in aesthetic as seen in Aliens but there were a few surprising call-backs to Alien (Scott, 1979) in the game’s visuals as well; even Alien3 (Fincher, 1992) feels evoked through copper-tinted, wind- and water-swept areas such as the mines and the refinery. While I expected the game to recycle a lot of the alien and mixed dynasty architecture of the AVP movies (which it did, particularly in rendering the ancient Predator hunting grounds and pyramids, with liberal use of hieroglyphics depicting the two species’ long history), I wasn’t expecting the game to so faithfully evoke the spirit and feeling of any movie beyond Aliens so that was a nice surprise for me. Unfortunately, you’ll be visiting the same five different environments across each of the three campaigns. Sure, you’ll have access to different areas, different objectives, and different options available to you but, essentially, Aliens vs. Predator simply recycles the same levels three times, which is a bit of a disappointment.

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Sounds are all ripped straight from the movies and even Lance Henriksen is back!

Where Aliens vs. Predator excels, though, is in its sound design; the music and sound effects are all ripped directly from the two Predator movies and Aliens, providing a stamp of authenticity that works really well with the game’s slavishly faithful environments. The pulse rifle sounds exactly as it did in Aliens, the Predator’s various growls and ticks mirror those from the movies exactly, and the Xenomorphs even sequel in pain exactly as they did in Aliens. Aliens vs. Predator even brought back the immortal Lance Henriksen as another iteration of the Bishop Weyland dynasty, lending his likeness and voice to the character and rightfully cropping up more than once through each campaign to add a level of malevolence and quality to the product. The game does feature a number of cutscenes but, honestly, they’re few and far between, especially in the Marine’s campaign. The story is quite minimal, to be honest, and mostly related through onscreen text and in-game dialogue as you progress through each campaign rather than being long, in-depth cinematics that cut away from the game’s many and varied gameplay mechanics. Bare-bones as it is, though, the story is serviceable enough and does a far better job of meshing these two franchises together than either of the movies, which made the inexplicably stupid decision to set their narratives on then-present-day Earth rather than the furthest reaches of future space.

Enemies and Bosses:
Typically, the most common enemy you’ll be coming up against as you play through Aliens vs. Predator are the Xenomorphs themselves; these come in a few different shapes and sizes, from the annoying little Facehuggers, which leap out from slimy Xenomorph eggs, to the regular drones and their larger variants that like to block your attacks, to acid-spitting crawlers, all of which can further damage you with their acidic blood so don’t go running over their corpses! When playing as Six, you won’t have to worry about fighting other Xenomorphs; instead, your primary prey are a smattering of Marines who wander around the game’s environments and blast at you with shotguns, pulse rifles, and flamethrowers as soon as they spot you. Combat Androids pop up later in the campaign and are just as bad but the strategy to taking them out remains the same; stay away, strike quickly, and hopefully split them up the middle with your tail.

Xenomorphs and Combat Androids will come at you from all sides!

The Xenomorphs are slippery, agile little devils and will clamber all over the environment to avoid your attacks, sneak in through tunnels, and strike from the darkness with an aggressive fury; quite often, you’ll be faced with endless swarms of the creatures and forced to either run for your life or solve a rudimentary puzzle to escape from them. When playing as Dark and Six, you’ll also have to contend with gun-toting Marines who are far less sporadic than the Xenomorph enemies, moving in specific patterns, taking cover, and blasting to you with their heavy weaponry the moment they catch a glimpse of you. However, while their firepower can easily overwhelm you, they go down pretty easily once you get a good lock on with the Predator’s weapons and you can thin out their numbers by allowing nearby Xenomorphs to run roughshod over them, which is a nice touch. Rookie has a tougher time taking on Xenomorphs, which are much harder to get a good lock on thanks to the Marine lacking the same vision options as the Predator, and, while they don’t have to fight other Marines, they will have to contend with the Combat Androids that patrol Weyland-Yutani’s facilities. When I encountered these as the Predator, they weren’t any different to battling the Marines (except they exploded upon destruction) but the Marine will find himself shot and beaten to death in seconds by these artificial enemies if you don’t attack from a distance with the scope rifle and make liberal use of cover. The androids can only be damaged by shooting their limbs (blow off their heads and they’re still 90% combat efficient) and often suddenly jerk to life and blast at you with a shotgun from the ground; later, they also make use of the Predator’s cloaking technology, practically forcing you to use the scope rifle’s x-ray feature to get a bead on them.

The Praetorian is not as intimidating as it looks whether you face it as the Predator or the Marine.

Bosses, though, are few and far between in Aliens vs. Predator, which is a bit of a shame considering the vast numbers of different Predator and Xenomorph variants there are and even the presence of those mech-like Loaders from Aliens. Each campaign sees you tangling with different boss battles, though, so at least you won’t have to battle the same bosses over and over again. Dark’s first boss battle is within the walls of an ancient and decrepit coliseum of sorts; here, you’ll face off against a Praetorian Xenomorph variant which looks like a smaller version of the Alien Queen. Though the largest and most intimidating Xenomorph you’ve encountered by that point in the Predator’s campaign, the Praetorian is a joke; you simply strafe around, blasting at it with your plasma cannon or chucking spears at it and it goes down fairly easily. Rookie also gets to take on a Praetorian; the first time, it’s a one-on-one battle in a small, enclosed area as regular drones swarm nearby and, the second time, you take on two after mowing down wave upon wave of Xenomorphs. Luckily, the Marine’s weaponry (particularly the pulse rifle’s grenade launcher and smart gun) are more than up to the task of cutting these monstrous bastards down to size.

The hardest thing about these bosses is the environmental hazards and waves of enemies.

Disappointingly, Rookie only encounters a Predator once or twice during his campaign but you do get to battle one in the combat arena as a boss. This generally involves you running around the arena collecting health and ammo and watching out for the Predator’s laser sight; once you spot it, dodge out of the way and trace the laser back to its source and unload your pulse rifle. The Predator eventually (or sporadically) drops to ground level to try and skewer you but just keep your distance and unload with the shotgun or grenade launcher and he goes down pretty easily. The Predator’s campaign ends with him facing off against the Predalien, a monstrous abomination that is a cross-breed between a Xenomorph and a Predator, which takes place on a series of small platforms floating on instant-death lava! Luckily, in this restrictive arena, your energy bar (not your health, mind) regenerates indefinitely so you can simply keep your distance (especially from the Predalien’s devastating pound attack) and blast away to your heart’s content. Don’t even bother trying to jump from platform to platform; simply stay back and shoot him, landing a few melee attacks when it’s safe to do so, and he’ll be done in no time. As the Marine, quite early into his campaign, you’ll have to destroy an Alien Queen; luckily, this is far easier than the fight in Aliens as the Queen is helpless and chained up. You’re simply required to sweep the nearby eggs with a flamethrower, start up the massive furnace, fend off some drones, and then blast at some explosives conveniently located right near the Queen’s head to put an end to her egg-laying ways.

While Six eventually fights an Elite Predator, the Marine’s final challenge is another Bishop android…

Rookie’s final boss isn’t another Queen, a Predator, or even the Predalien; instead, you go toe-to-toe with Karl Bishop Weyland who, as you might have guessed, is actually an android. I found this to be one of the toughest boss fights in the game as Bishop shrugs off bullets, you quickly run out of grenades, and he just runs right at you, spouting megalomaniacal nonsense and blasting at you with his devastatingly dangerous shotgun. Once you finally manage to put him down, you’re then suddenly tasked with shooting him in the head after a cutscene so don’t put your controller down after defeating him or you might find yourself getting shot. Six gets off slightly easier compared to her counterparts in that the only bosses she has to worry about are some Predators. When you reach the now-familiar combat arena, you’ll have to take on two Predators at once; the key here is to target one with your Focus Mode and stalk them incessantly. Once they reach ground level, leap in and strike and then back away and strafe around them, whittling their health down (hard to judge as they have no health bar), and don’t try to go toe-to-toe with them or to grab them and, if they block your attacks, back away immediately as you’ll be made mincemeat of in seconds. As soon as the two Predators are defeated, an Elite Predator enters the arena and the battle begins again. This time, the boss does have a health bar, which makes tracking your process much easier. However, while the Elite is technically tougher, the fight and your strategy are exactly the same; the only real difference is that, once you’ve weakened the Elite down, you’ll harvest it to give birth to the Predalien from the Predator’s campaign.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you explore the game’s different locations, you’ll find a number of collectables to flesh out the game’s lore and contribute towards obtaining all of the game’s Achievements; Audio Diaries, Trophy Belts, and Royal Jelly Containers can be found (or destroyed in the jelly’s case) dotted throughout each of the three campaigns but, unfortunately, this is the extent to which additional bonuses and points of interest go for Aliens vs. Predator beyond admiring the fidelity the game pays to the various movies that comprise each franchise. Of the three available characters, the Predator has the most exotic weaponry; you start off with the wrist blades and the plasma cannon but soon acquire proximity mines (that, honestly, I never actually used during my playthrough), the razor-tipped smart disc (which you must awkwardly direct using your laser targeting), and the Predator’s iconic spear (or “Combi Stick”, which deals massive damage when thrown but is incredibly inaccurate and takes some time to return to your hand).

While the Predator and Marine wields a bevvy of weapons, the Xenomorph has far less combat and gameplay options.

The Marine isn’t exactly lacking in weaponry, though; the Rookie has access to a handgun (which, thankfully, has unlimited ammunition) and all the iconic weaponry from Aliens (the pulse rifle, the smart gun, even the flamethrower and shotgun). Pressing the right trigger allows you to perform a melee attack with each of these weapons and they all feature a secondary firing mode as well; the handgun has a rapid fire mode, the pulse rifle shoots out grenades, and the shotgun can fire from both barrels, for example. The Marine also gets access to a scope rifle that is, essentially, a sniper rifle, which comes with a handy x-ray scope that us extremely useful for picking off enemies (and Combat Androids) from a distance but quite tricky to wield in execution as your enemies generally move faster than your eye can track. Compared to the other two, Six gets the short end of the stick when it comes to power-ups and bonuses in that she has no such options available to her. Once you learn everything she can do, that’s all you get; you don’t get taught how to spit acid or do anything new, despite Six metamorphosing into a Praetorian throughout the story, leaving her as the most limited of the three available characters.

Additional Features:
As you might expect, Aliens vs. Predator features a wide variety of Achievements that you can earn as you play through the game’s different modes; the majority of these are tied to unmissable story events or the game’s multiplayer but others will require you to kill a number of enemies with certain weapons or find all of the Audio Diaries, Trophy Belts, or destroy all of those Royal Jelly Containers. The game also features a “Survival” mode where you must hold out against wave upon wave of Xenomorphs for as long as you can using a number of restrictive maps based on the game’s different environments. Unfortunately, you can only play as the Marine in this mode and, honestly, it’s not really all that challenging as your entire health will regenerate in time and there are loads of respawning health packs, ammo, and weapons strewn around the maps. The waves do increase in challenge and aggression as you progress, though, but you don’t really earn anything for playing beyond using the mode to easily grab a few Achievements so there’s not a lot of incentive to revisit the mode. As you might expect from an FPS, Aliens vs. Predator also includes a multiplayer component; unfortunately, I wasn’t able to experience this as there is no couch multiplayer option and I haven’t renewed my Xbox Gold for some time now (if anyone wants to get me a subscription or, better yet, Xbox Ultimate, feel free to drop me a message). The game also apparently did well enough to justify the release of some downloadable content (DLC); however, as this is entirely comprised of additional multiplayer maps and options, I won’t be investing any money into this. How cool would it have been to have an additional single-player DLC that cast you as the Predalien or was themed around the movies? Like recreating the events of Predator or Aliens using the game’s maps, which are already heavily inspired by those movies, or to crawl around in a cobbled together recreation of Fury 161 from Alien3 as a Xenomorph, or even play as the likes of Hicks (Michael Biehn) or Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in a short mission-based campaign?

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The Summary:
With three different campaigns to play through and a variety of different gameplay styles on offer, you’d think that Aliens vs. Predator had a lot of replay value and incentive to keep you playing. Unfortunately, despite is aesthetic and aural fidelity to its rich source material, the game ends up being just another lacklustre FPS title with little to really tempt you back once you clear the three single-player stories beyond tackling a harder difficulty level. I suppose it’s possible that the game’s multiplayer is worth revisiting the game but I wouldn’t know about that and, even if it as, I generally judge a videogame by the merits of its single-player campaign and options since that’s where I spend the majority of my time. While Aliens vs. Predator is nowhere near as bad as I was led to believe going into it, it’s also quite mediocre in a lot of ways. Enemies and environments are strikingly faithful to the movies but incredibly linear; while this works to evoke the claustrophobic and atmospheric moments of the films, it doesn’t do much for the game’s replayability and there are definitely better FPS, and AVP, games out there.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think of Aliens vs. Predator? Which of the three campaigns was your favourite, or least favourite? Did you also enjoy the level of fidelity in the game’s presentation or were you too put off by the game’s short length and simplistic story mode? Was the multiplayer any better? Which Aliens, Predator, and/or AVP videogame or piece of ancillary merchandise is your favourite? Whatever your thoughts on these franchises, please feel free to leave a comment.

Game Corner: Alien vs. Predator (Arcade)

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As always, I am opening this review by asking you to cast your minds back to the 1990s. This time, we’re specifically winding the clock back to 1994, a time when Xenomorphs had been off cinema screens since Alien3 (Fincher, 1992) and we hadn’t seen a Predator onscreen since Predator 2 (Hopkins, 1990). Both franchises were in a state of flux not entirely unlike where they are now; these latter sequels had resulted in divisive audience reactions, to say the least, and 20th Century Fox had made the genius decision to allow Dark Horse Comics to mash their two science-fiction/action/horror franchise together into a series of comic books, action figures, novels, and other media. Basically every type of media that wasn’t onscreen. This was also a time when the arcade was still going strong; sidescrolling 2D beat-‘em-ups were staples in arcades everywhere thanks to titles like Final Fight (Capcom, 1989), The Punisher (Capcom, 1993), The Simpsons (Konami, 1991), and X-Men (ibid, 1992) and violent videogames were suddenly massively popular thanks to the controversy surrounding Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992). This was also around the time when adult films like Aliens (Cameron, 1986) and RoboCop (Verhoeven, 1987) were being turned into comic books, action figures, cartoons, and videogames. Mash all of these factors together and you get the topic of today’s discussion: Alien vs. Predator (Capcom, 1994).

The story is simple but effective.

Far from the disappointingly neutered down mess we got in AVP: Alien vs. Predator (Anderson, 2004), the arcade game of the same (well…similar) name is a straight-up combination of the balls-to-the-wall action embodied by the Colonial Marines and the Xenomorphs in Aliens and the brutal efficiency of the Predators. Rather than lumbering the story in the present day, Alien vs. Predator takes place in a far more futuristic setting more befitting the Alien (Various, 1979 to present) franchise, immediately making it look and feel like an actual entry in the franchise rather than a toned down cash grab. It is in this setting that the game shows a whole horde of Xenomorphs descending onto Earth and ravage the city of San Drad; although the cybernetic soldiers Major Dutch Schaefer (fittingly with the likeness of Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Lieutenant Linn Kurosawa try to fight them off, they are quickly overwhelmed but, surprisingly, saved by a group of Predators. The Predators, seeking to curb the infestation of their prey, ally themselves with the humans and the four set out to eradicate the Xenomorph swarm. If you think the idea of the Predators conversing (in English) with the humans is madness, it might also blow your mind to know that this plot was, apparently, based on an early draft for a potential Alien vs. Predator movie…let that settle in for a second.

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Just keep killing aliens until the stage ends!

If you’ve played any sidescrolling 2D beat-‘em-up, you’ve played Alien vs. Predator; you select a character and battle from the left of the screen to the right, bashing enemies with simple combos, grapples, and a variety of weapons until you defeat a massive boss and clear the game’s seven stages. Up to four players can play simultaneously and each character has certain strengths and weaknesses over the others; the Predator Warrior is quite well-balanced, for example, while Dutch is a slow powerhouse. As you traverse each stage, you can pick up a variety of items and power ups; some, like gems and jewels, exist only to add to your high score while others, like pizza, soda, and chicken, replenish your health. You can grab pipes to bash in Xenomorph heads, grenades to blast them apart, and even the iconic Smart and Pulse Guns from Aliens to mow their numbers down.

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This image will never get old

Each character also has their own weaponry and special attacks; the two Predators start with unique alien bladed weapons to increase their range while the two humans boast better range through their firepower. You can even use the Predator’s plasma cannon; while it is prone to overheating through repeated use, the “Super” power-up allows repeated use to decimate entire screens of enemies. At the cost of some health, you can also perform powerful special attacks, as is the norm for sidescrolling 2D beat-‘em-ups. Each stage is swarming with enemies, to the point where it’s genuinely tough to find your character much less plough through your opponents. Luckily, if you’re playing this on Mame or other arcade emulators, you can continue with as many lives and chances as you like until you clear each stage. To break up the monotony of the button-mashing and fighting, you’ll mount an M577 vehicle and blast away endless hordes of Xenomorphs and be tasked with destroying various objects under a time limit.

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You’ll encounter some new Xenomorph forms as you progress.

Taking its cue from Aliens, most of the enemies you’ll encounter are various Xenomorph types, most of which were made famous as action figures and never seen in the movies. You’ll be blasting away at recognisable Xenomorphs such as Warriors (who resemble the Xenomorphs from Aliens), Stalkers (who are more like the Xenomorph seen in Alien), and Chestbursters but also encounter Alien Arachnoids, Smashers, and the Queen’s Royal Guard. Oddly, you’ll also come across zombie-like humans and cut your way through the Weyland-Yutani Corporation’s personal army as they seek to use the Xenomorphs as biological weapons.

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The game’s fidelity to the source material is impressive.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a 2D sidescroller without some big boss battles; you’ll battle the hulking Alien Chrysalis, the deadly Raor Claws, a couple of infected Predators, some Power Loaders, and, of course, the gigantic Xenomorph Queen…twice. Most of these bosses will also spawn a bunch of lesser enemies to distract you can whittle you down, meaning that it’s best to partner up with at least one other player to take on these big guys. While the gameplay and premise of Alien vs. Predator is nothing new or exciting, what sets it apart is its aesthetic fidelity to the look and feel of both franchise but, in particular, Aliens; the sprites and backgrounds are big, colourful, and full of energy, making you feel as though the iconic Predator has been dropped right into the middle of Cameron’s action/horror sci-fi classic, which is exactly what Alien vs. Predator should be.

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Team up with a friend to cut through the alien hordes.

It is extremely satisfying to punch and skewer your way through the seemingly-endless swarms of Xenomorphs and seeing a Predator wield the classic Aliens weaponry, as well as their own iconic weapons, never gets old. It’s repetitive at times, of course (it is a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up, after all) but it’s a fantastic way to waste an hour or so with a friend (or alone). While a similar title was also released for the SNES a year before, this classic arcade title has been lost to the mists of time and complicated rights and legal issues. Thankfully, thanks to the release of the Capcom Home Arcade, you can relive this timeless classic in the (relative) comfort of your own home (as long as you have the cash). Of you can just emulate the game on a Raspberry Pi or similar console and get to slaughtering those Xenomorph scum right away, and I highly recommend that you do.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Did you ever play Alien vs. Predator in an arcade? If so, what did you think? If not, why not go give a play? Either way, leave your memories and impressions below and let me know what you think.

Game Corner: Alien: Isolation (Xbox One)

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In many ways, this review is very redundant; by this point, I’m sure that everyone has heard everything there is to say about Alien: Isolation (Creative Assembly/SEGA, 2014). The title has been heaped with praise and accolades and, since it’s been out for a while now, there’s been plenty of reviews and opinions out there in the world so I guess this would now qualify as a retro review?

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Whatever you do, don’t let that bastard see you!

Anyway, Alien: Isolation does a lot of firsts for the Alien franchise (Various, 1979 to present); like many standard Alien-branded videogames, Alien: Isolation adopts a first-person perspective and, rather than controlling a marine or series protagonist Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the player is put in control of Ripley’s daughter, Amanda. Also, not only does Alien: Isolation take place fifteen years after Alien and therefore closely resemble Alien’s low-tech, seventies-sci-fi aesthetic, it also emphasises survival over combat.

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It’s a nice touch to feature Ripley’s daughter.

As I said, the player takes control of Amanda Ripley, who has grown up most of her life wondering what happened to her mother, who went missing fifteen years prior when all contact was lost with the Nostromo. When the Nostromo’s flight recorder is recovered, Amanda heads to Sevastopol, a massive space station in orbit around a gas giant, to investigate and find closure. However, a few catastrophes have befallen Sevastopol; many of the systems are offline or busted, the synthetic Working Joes are malfunctioning and attacking humans on sight, and an all-too-familiar alien organism is loose on the station and picking off the few human survivors. Quickly, Amanda is left alone (isolated, you might say) and with only her wits and a few resources to survive the ordeal and make it to safety.

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Even saving the game is ripped straight from the movie!

Like Ridley Scott’s original classic, Alien: Isolation is all about atmosphere; sampling the movie’s look, feel, and soundtrack, the player is immersed in an unnerving silence or the ominous sense of hidden dread. A lot of the time, nothing especially engaging is really happening; you’re simply investigating, collecting items and gear, and making your way towards various objectives. Soon, though, Amanda encounters armed humans, who are liable to shoot you on sight or if they feel threatened, and the malfunctioning Working Joes, who make a bee-line for Amanda and attempt to choke or pound the life out of her. This is the player’s first taste of Alien: Isolation’s purposely-limited combat system; Amanda can pick up a pistol (but there is very limited ammunition and its not very effective against the androids), hit enemies with a wrench, or craft other useful items (pipe bombs, EMP mines, etc) to help take out or disable her opponents.

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These bastards don’t go down without a fight!

However, most forms of attack will make a lot of noise, potentially attracting more enemies, and all of them are very hit-and-miss. Try and beat a Working Joe to death with a wrench, for example, and you’re gonna have a bad time; shoot a human and you better make sure to aim for the head and you have to consider whether it’s worth wasting your extremely limited ammo. Therefore, it is far more beneficial to distract enemies with a flare or a noisemaker and slowly creep past, using a vent if available, rather than engage in direct combat. This is quite a creative approach as not only does it make every encounter feel like a real struggle for survival and make the player carefully weigh their chances and inventory, but it also prepares you for your first and subsequent encounters with the Alien. Once the Xenomorph makes its grand debut, you’ll be relying more on your motion tracker and the various lockers and cover mechanics to hide because the Alien is completely invulnerable to harm.

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Once the Alien appears, get used to this view!

The Alien also has its own independent artificial intelligence, meaning that, while it does follow certain traits, it acts differently each time to encounter it and appears to learn the more you engage with it. In the early going, it will stalk around trying to sniff you out and give up pretty soon and is easily chased away by a burst of flamethrower but, nearer the end of the story mode, it will stick around for quite a while and shrug off the flamethrower’s blasts. You can use flares and noisemakers to distract the Alien and lure it towards your human enemies, and it is very satisfying to watch/hear the Xenomorph slaughter a bunch of people and clear the way for you, but you must remain hidden or else it’s liable to sneak up behind you.

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Fuck about and you’ll get this a lot, too!

Additionally, as you progress further, you have to make your way past or battle Working Joes while the Alien is nearby. Any noise made by running or attacking, or from your other enemies, will instantly alert the Alien, drawing it out from a vent or other area. You may find, as I did, that you spend agonising minutes hiding in a locker, holding your breath, and sporadically checking the motion tracker, only to have to dart right back into hiding despite the coast appearing to be clear. Using the motion tracker also attracts attention if enemies are nearby and it doesn’t make a distinction between floors; so, if the Alien is above you, you get a blip and waste a lot of time in hiding but, if you venture out, it’s likely to drop down on your ass from above without warning.

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Crafting items is essential to your survival.

In addition to picking up pre-made weaponry and tools, Amanda can collect various bits and pieces to craft items; blueprints will allow the player to create more effective items but you can’t afford to waste any of them. Pipe bombs, for example, are extremely effective at scaring off the Alien or blowing up the androids, but they have a high craft cost; Molotov cocktails will also scare off the Alien and burn most other enemies but are also likely to explode in your face if you throw them too close. Crafting is quite fun and really puts you on edge; Amanda relies on crafting to create medkits and, when you don’t have enough gear to create one when you really need it, it can be extremely tense.

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The difficulty really ramps up once you reach the nest!

One of the best aspects of Alien: Isolation is how well it re-enacts the look and feel of Alien; the attention to detail in the locations is amazing and everything looks exactly like it did in Alien. There’s even a great part where you flashback to LV-426 and investigate the crashed Engineer ship, which is recreated in astonishing detail. Later, when you venture into the Alien’s nest, the game wisely draws inspiration from Aliens (Cameron, 1986) and the latter parts of Alien to recreate the slimy, biomechanical look associated with Xenomorph lairs. The game also hints at the presence of an Alien Queen somewhere in the station’s reactor and/or the idea of “eggmorphing” from a deleted scene from Alien. This, accompanied by the fantastic use of Alien’s unnerving soundtrack, really makes the player feel absorbed in the narrative. However, this is almost to the videogame’s detriment; Alien: Isolation is a draining, occasionally frustrating experience. Every encounter is tense and a struggle; every time your motion tracker beeps, you’ll be on edge and scratting around to craft necessary items of find a suitable hiding place; and every time you think you’ve reached a mission objective, a door or path will be blocked and you’ll be redirected elsewhere or have to either hack or cut through doors, clamber up ladders while the room explodes around you, or space walk while the station disintegrates. As someone who grows increasingly paranoid when my resources are low, the path ahead is fraught with danger, and no save points are nearby, this as a constant source of frustration for me but even I have to admire how completely it immersed me into the experience.

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The shit really hits the fan by the end!

In the end, all the praise that has been heaped upon Alien: Isolation is completely worth it. You’ll be constantly on edge when the Alien is about, and probably die more than once, but this is easily one of the best attempts at recreating the look and feel of a movie while still logically and smartly continuing the narrative in a dead zone between movies. Parts of the game are annoying, tedious, or repetitive but it all adds towards the atmosphere of the situation; Amanda is at her wit’s end and with very little resources or chances of survival, so obviously the game shouldn’t be a cake-walk, and there’s nothing like the cathartic feeling of reaching a save point or, even better, flushing that Xenomorph bastard out into space!

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Talking Movies: Alien: Covenant

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In 2012, Ridley Scott attempted to present to audiences with a prequel to his seminal 1979 science-fiction/horror masterpiece, Alien. When I first saw Prometheus, I was actually very supportive of it; the film reeked of 1970’s science-fiction trademarks (such as a slowly building narrative, wide expansive shots, and deeper philosophical questions regarding humanity against the backdrop of science-fiction). However, upon repeated viewings, Prometheus is more of a massive missed opportunity for the larger Alien franchise. Rather than being a straight-up (perhaps predictable) prequel to Alien that explained what the Space Jockey was, how the alien spacecraft got to LV-426, and where the Xenomorphs came from, Scott appeared to have gotten too caught up and too preoccupied with establishing a disconnected film that was part of an entirely new science-fiction/horror franchise. The result was a convoluted, mixed-up film that wasn’t quite sure what it was or what it was trying to accomplish.

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Weyland doesn’t exactly live up to David’s expectations.

Now, quite some time later, Scott presents the sequel to Prometheus and what is rumoured to be the first in three more prequel films set before Alien. Alien: Covenant opens not directly after the events of Prometheus but some time before that movie as we witness the activation of David (Michael Fassbender), the calculating android from Prometheus, and his initial conversations with his creator, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce). This conversation establishes that David is just as inquisitive as his human creator and has little desire to live his life purely as a servant to those who believe themselves to be better than him simply because they created him. The film then jumps ahead to ten years after Prometheus. Walter (…also Fassbender, though with a pretty convincing American accent) is maintaining systems onboard the titular Covenant, which is carrying a whole bunch of colonists on a seven year journey to a new planet to colonise. A random neutrino bursts damages the ship and Walter is forced to awaken the crew, though captain Jacob Branson (James Franco) is roasted alive in his cryo-tube, leaving Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) in charge. As a man of faith rather than science, and given the tough decisions he has to make in the wake of this tragedy, Oram struggles with his newly-appointed position and to get the ship repaired so they continue on their way. However, during the repairs, the ship picks up a recognisable melody coming from a nearby hospitable world that they somehow missed during their research. With the drew reluctant to return to cryo-sleep after the fate that befall their captain, Oram elects to pop down to this new world despite the objections of Branson’s widow, Daniels (Katherine Wilson).

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These viscous little buggers kick the film into action.

Upon landing, they discover the world is fully vegetated but devoid of animal life. They stumble across a crashed Engineer craft and, along the way, disturbed some dark vegetation that infects two of them. The infected crew members quickly succumb to the alien parasite and, in spectacular fashion, become hosts to the Neomorphs. During the violent birthing, the crew’s craft is destroyed and many of the survivors are besieged by the Neomorphs until they are rescued by David. David takes them to a safety in a lifeless city whose grounds are littered with the twisted bodies of vaguely-humanoid creatures. While some of the crew attempt to radio the Covenant for a rescue, David relates to Walter, Orum, and Daniels the fate of Dr Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Repace) and what happened following Prometheus: Shaw put David back together and he piloted them to the Engineer homeworld, falling in love with her along the way. Although she died during the journey, he bombarded the planet with the black alien goo from Prometheus, which destroyed the entire Engineer civilisation. Since then, David has been taking the Engineer’s technology and modifying it for his own ends.

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Yeah, this doesn’t end too well…

Confronted by Orum, David reveals that he killed Shaw and that he has gestated a number of large, familiar-looking eggs. A facehugger latches onto Orum and (very soon afer), a chestburster emerges. David then protects the young Xenomorph by fighting with Walter so that his ultimate plan to obliterate the human species can be realised. With Tennesse (Danny McBride) fighting through the planet’s hostile atmosphere to rescue the survivors, Walter manages to get Daniels and Lope (Demián Bichir) onto the rescue craft, where they are attacked by a fully-matured Xenomorph. Although they kill the Xenomorph and make it back to the Covenant, another emerges from Lope and kills the rest of the crew before Tennesse, Daniels, and Walter suck it out into space. Injured but alive, Daniels returns to cryo-sleep…only to learn far too late that it was David, not Walter, who survived the earlier battle. David puts her to cryo-sleep and prepares a fresh batch of facehugger embryos with which he can infect the entirety of the Covenant’s colonists and crew to continue his experiments.

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So much for that plot thread…

Alien: Covenant still has its fair share of issues, mainly relating to continuity: like Prometheus, the film renders the AVP: Alien vs. Predator franchise (Various, 2004; 2007) no longer canon, but it also has some issues with the continuity it established in Prometheus. Mainly, we saw cravings and imagery of the Xenomorphs on Prometheus, suggesting that the Engineers had already created them (although it could be argued that David merely perfected the art of Xenomorph creation with his experiments). Secondly, it feels as though a big chunk of the film is missing as we only get one brief flashback to David’s annihilation of the Engineers and only get told about what happened to Shaw and between the films. Finally, the gestation period between facehugger and chestburster continues to be agonisingly fast; I understand why (to move events on and pick the pace up) but it’s still a bit jarring. However, Alien: Covenant more than makes up for the mediocrity that was Prometheus; the film looks and sounds fantastic and is much closer to the aesthetic of Alien. Much of the cluttered, convoluted plot elements from Prometheus are abandoned in favour of more recognisable elements, which may be a little disappointing as it makes the previous film feel like even more of a massive waste of time and I can’t help but think that we’ve had to endure two movies to tell a story that could’ve been accomplished in one movie.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews and some harsh negative comments about this film, but I have to disagree. If this is to be the beginning of a new series of films set before Alien, I’d say that we’re in for something much more entertaining and enjoyable than more films that emulate the style of Prometheus. If Scott can continue to address and make up for the flaws of the film and extenuate the strengths of his world and the creatures that inhabit it, we could be one step closer to getting a film just as flawless as Alien before long.

Recommended: Absolutely, if only to wash the taste of Prometheus out of your mouth.
Best moment: The vicious birth of the first Neomorph; the little bastard spews out of the back of its host in fantastically gory fashion.
Worst moment: The sudden decimation of the Engineers and the abandonment of what was once the most intriguing, unanswered question of Alien.