I was introduced to this game as an early PlayStation title. I remember rumblings about it when the PS launched, and was certainly looking forward to it, considering I like the films, and the PS launch first-person-shooters were the likes of the heinous Kileak: The DNA Imperative. As it turned out, Alien Trilogy was overall average as a game, but certainly one of the best Aliens games released to that point. If you want to roam hallways inspired by the looks of the three films, the game will certainly deliver.
Alien Trilogy departs from the side scrolling third movie tie-ins and challenged the Jaguar’s Alien vs Predator in bringing the films into a 3D space. An extremely loose plot takes you on a whirlwind tour of the three films – you’ll go back to LV-426, despite the fact that it was blown to smithereenies at the end of Aliens. You’ll then shuttle over to the prison complex from Alien 3, despite the fact that it was on another planet altogether. Finally, you’ll head over to the original derelict ship from Alien and, well at this point, who really cares why? You’ll get around 30 levels of corridor crawls that honestly don’t purport to be anything more than fun fan service.
There are some attempts to assign a purpose to each level, given to you as mission briefings at each level’s loading screen. In most cases, you are simply doing the same key hunts and enemy blasting as you would with Doom, however some require you to raise a “mission completion” percentage (through destroying crates, finding ID tags, etc) before the exit will be unlocked. Another nice touch are the occasional resupply levels – you’ll have 60 seconds to run through a small map and collect all the ammo and armor you can to stock up for the next level.
Finding gear (including secrets behind breakable walls) is indeed important, as ammo can end up being surprisingly scarce. Your low end weapons (pistol, shotgun) will keep you alive, but your better guns (pulse rifle, smart gun, explosives) chew through ammo quickly and are important to keep around for surprise encounters. Aliens get tougher as you go along, their acid blood can and will damage you at close range, and you’ll eventually fight enemy soldiers that can work you over pretty quickly as well. The end of each film has you fighting a boss – always an Alien Queen – before shuttling you off to the next locale.
Between the “films” are some cutscenes meant to tie the levels together and offer some eye candy. They’re impressive CG animation for the time. Models themselves look awfully plastic, but movement features some early motion capture most apparent in the swagger and cautious advances of the Marines. It’s not quite Toy Story, of course, but for a game on a game’s budget, it’s certainly a nice extra. The various machinery from the second film (dropships, APCs) look the part, and a few varieties of violent deaths await CG Ripley if your life bar runs out.
Alien Trilogy does do a strong job of recreating the atmosphere of the films. The technology isn’t quite sharp enough to recreate actual locations from the films, but the spirit is absolutely there. The trapezoidal shape of the Aliens colony’s hallways stands out, complete with fluorescents running down the length. You can find the escape pod in the Alien 3 prison’s garage and take a limited look inside. Hypersleep chambers, hissing pipes, flashing strobes and flickering monitors are all here. The hive levels are particularly menacing, and even contain humans mounted on the walls with surprises in their bellies.
Lighting in general was rightfully another major consideration, with colored and flickering lighting throughout. Red and amber emergency strobes make frequent appearances, as well as some areas eerily lit entirely by flickering blue screens. Dark rooms are also plentiful, which must be powered on by local switches. You can collect a torch to light the area in your immediate vicinity, but there will still be plenty of eerie stumbling through poorly lit metal hallways. In all, it’s a great homage to the styles of the films (as great as period technology would allow), and often genuinely spooky. My only wish is that they’d gone with a Nostromo level. The recreation of H. R. Giger’s alien ship for the Alien chapter is bland and disappointing by comparison.
But while spooky locales abound, the gameplay doesn’t hold up. Part of it is the goofy-looking Aliens (who somewhat resemble the old Kenner action figures) with some jerky, marionette animation. The Aliens are supposed to be shadowy and nimble, but their actions make no effort to showcase this. They stand stock still or pace around until they spot you, then they will charge right at you, standing upright, until they die. The Aliens become the cannon fodder they’re not supposed to be, instead of the crafty, silent nightmares from the first two flicks. They will occasionally crawl along the ceiling to raise the creepiness factor, but they’ll still simply charge at you. Don’t expect them to offer any intentional sneak attacks or crash out from hidden alcoves. The best you’re going to get is if you walk through a door and miss the one standing off to the left.
The idea of deadly, close-range Aliens versus your powerful futuristic arsenal does come across somewhat, so the game isn’t entirely a standard FPS with a slipshod coat of franchise paint. However, Aliens feel like any other melee FPS enemy from the era – almost like the Aliens Doom fan mod where the pink demons were adapted with some simple sprite changes. In fact, I remember Aliens Doom being a bit more fun than this one. The action was faster, Aliens didn’t require entire magazines of bullets to kill simply for the sake of offering a challenge, and they even managed to throw the powerloader battle in that one. It’s a bad sign when your company’s effort is outclassed in the gameplay department by a handful of guys working for free in their spare time.
I do appreciate that they didn’t change the films and create new Alien breeds for the sake of gameplay challenge (as frequently done in other games or the comics). But admittedly, by staying close to the films, the designers eschew any chance to offer variety in their foes. You’ll be fighting the same dumb-as-a-brick Aliens throughout the whole game, with the only change being the appearance of the Dog Aliens in the Alien 3 levels. I presume to make up for having melee zombies run at you whilst spouting acid blood, the designers included “infected” humans. I’m not real clear what they’re infected with, but it somehow makes them very aggressive and able to take ten bullets to the chest. Later, company goons and androids will show up – fighting right alongside the Aliens, no less – and soak up more of your precious ammo supplies.
Ultimately, your real enemy is going to be the buttery controls that have you sliding past foes in an endless game of you trying to get some distance to shoot, while they try to close that distance and tear off your face. I suppose from a distance, the fights would look like medieval jousts. Guns also have an annoying habit of shooting through enemies (who seem to turn invincible when recoiling from a hit), meaning only one of out six bullets in a burst may actually do damage. Short, controlled bursts indeed.
I appreciate that no attempt was made to change the mythos for the sake of making the game more “interesting” – Aliens is interesting enough as it is. But by removing the Aliens’ close range prowess, their sneak attacks, their craftiness, and instead just giving them a hefty set of armor and the desire to charge straight on, the designers have changed the mythos. You’ve got environments that, with the technology of the period, do an excellent job of making you feel like you’re in one of the films. You’ve got disappointing Alien cutouts who do not. Aliens superfans might find it playable, but FPS aficionados with no loyalty to the brand will want to move on.
Nice recreation of the atmosphere of the films.
The enemies that populate those levels are stock FPS villains, not representative of their film counterparts.