The quality of the film Alien 3 is arguable (watch the workprint version – it’s much better), but it is unquestionably not an action flick. This will not do for the video game tie-ins, so every version brings over the beloved weapons from Aliens and replaces the film’s single creature with, roughly, four billion. To be fair, this isn’t much to complain about; trying to go back to the themes of the first Alien sort of worked for the film, but an action romp is certainly more at home in the land of vidya games. Probe Software developed a fairly standard platformer for everything from the Genesis to the C64 under the above rules. Then, curiously, they developed a second, expanded version exclusive to the SNES.
Alien 3 has you playing as Ripley, trapped on a prison planet after your escape pod crashes into the sea. Unfortunately, you’ve brought the Aliens along with you. They waste no time in establishing a new colony, capturing the convicts, and generally smashing up the works. You’re armed with the rigged gun combo from the end of the second film, giving you a flamethrower, automatic rifle, and grenade launcher to splatter xenos with. Each of the three weapons is mapped to a face button, so you have instant access to what you need. A motion tracker and contextual welding torch round out your kit.
The difference between the SNES version and all the others is the inclusion of a mission-based system. Each stage takes place in a specific section of the complex. Terminals can be found within the hallways, which link up to a static list of tasks that must be completed to advance to the next section. These missions can be taken in any order, and include rescuing prisoners, destroying eggs, welding damaged pipes, and picking up power packs from one room and taking them a generator in another. Unlike the other versions, you don’t have to worry about a time limit here. You’re free to hit things at your own pace.
Each section/stage is a vertical stack of a few hallways. These hallways have doors leading to named rooms (Cell Block #3, Furnace Room #12, etc). Missions reference these rooms directly, so you’ll know exactly where you need to go. The terminals also have a blueprint mode, letting you scroll through and explore a map of the section in safety. This is the only place you get a map – or can see the names of the rooms – so you’ll need to use the blueprints to plan your path before heading out to battle.
There are six levels in all, and a fair variety of tasks within each. Missions usually send you to two different rooms to complete the objective, and the reasons for doing so change appropriately. Levels also have specific armory and medical rooms, respectively stocked with regenerating ammo and health kits. You can swing by at any time if you need their goodies, or factor a trip into your plans at the blueprint stage. Some missions also require you to weld doors shut. You can only do this when the mission demands it, but that door is indeed sealed for the rest of the level. It’s a neat addition – even when it requires you to cut off access to your own armory! Plan ahead!
Xenos come in a handful types, all meant to show different stages of the Alien lifecycle. Facehuggers leap from eggs and must be shot from a crouch to hit successfully. Young aliens toddle along like small dogs and spit acid in deadly arcs. Fully grown Aliens need no introduction, and slink, pounce, and crawl on ceilings with all their expected menace. Aliens also come in different colors to denote their relative strength, but this hardly matters to a few well-placed grenades. About the only disappointment is that no attempt is made to surprise you – Aliens might leap from off-screen, but they’ll never crash through grates, crawl in from ceiling hatches, or anything particularly unexpected.
They’re also not cunning in the slightest, and are all rigidly locked to set spawn points. Scroll the screen a bit and return, and an exact copy of the Alien you just blasted will be back in the same spot. If you run from one, it won’t really give chase. Each Alien simply patrols a short area near its spawn point. Your life bar is pretty generous, and health kits are scattered around the level in addition to always being available at the med rooms, so it’s initially easy to shrug off their attacks. Ripley also leaps like Dr. J., so you can sail over entire lines of skittering facehuggers.
It doesn’t stay easy though. Hallways get packed with huggers on the floor and the ceiling, nullifying your jumping trick. The aggressive respawn system means it’s best to avoid Aliens when you can, but by levels 5 and 6, there’s too many of them for this. Luckily there’s plenty of ammo to go around, especially if you’ve memorized the ammo respawn points. Still, it’s a little frustrating that you make absolutely no progress in diminishing the Alien horde during your time in each stage. I found it teetering on too frustrating by the late levels, so I can easily see how others might just find it outright annoying.
Graphics look great, using the SNES’ expanded colors to draw realistic-looking textures and lighting. Hallways are moody and taper off to shadows in a radius around Ripley. Some of the room backgrounds have impressive rain effects, a striking panorama of the surface, or great use of scrolling foreground/background layers. Others, to be fair, are pretty bland (the prison and assembly rooms) where one color defines the entire background scheme. Sound is also up to par, with fitting weapon effects and Alien screeches. Music is limited to a handful of tracks, but they set a nice combination of dread and action.
Two things keep this from being a clear winner. First is a severe sense of repetition. While the missions within a level are varied, most of those missions get reused across levels. No new mission types are introduced after the first stage. In fact, the only new additions later levels bring at all are tougher versions of the same bugs, stronger fuel for the flamethrower, and the introduction of “mother” Aliens as mini-bosses. Even the room art gets reused. If you enjoy what the game has you doing from the start, there’s certainly enough of it by the final boss battle. If you don’t, well, it won’t get any different.
The second issue is the lack of a mid-level save system. You only get a password at the end of each level, and each level has about eight missions you’ll need to complete. This might be unfair criticism, as each level can probably be beaten in a little more than an hour, but I distinctly remember this being a problem when I played the game in 1993. I owned it, and absolutely would have beaten it then, if it weren’t for the lack of mid-level saves. Playing again for this review, I still see the issue. Being forced to play long stretches to get your password has a way of magnifying the inherent repetition.
A slight annoyance worth mentioning is the layout of many of the levels. Every room cannot be accessed from the central corridor. Often you’ll have to pass through a room or two to get there, or the target room will be split in two with two separate entrances. It results in a lot of extra travel time, but it also feels necessary to keep the game going. The blueprints also ensure you can find your way. If you’re already frustrated with the above issues, fighting your way through superfluous Alien-infested rooms might be enough hassle to push you over the edge.
It’s certainly the best game based on Alien 3 – only the GameBoy version offers a different adventure-like take. You’ll need to be prepared for a challenge as you progress to higher stages, but there’s enough ammo and supplies to make that challenge fair, even with the abundantly respawning enemies. The repeated mission types can get a little stale, but there is at least variety within the stages. In short, you’ve got to be up for it, but Alien 3 is a fun platformer if you are.
Great graphics. Mission-based system keeps things interesting and varied. Three gun system is authentic, fun, and easy to use.
Needs more saves/passwords – I would have liked to have seen 4 missions per 12 levels instead of 8 per 6. Pretty relentless spawns puts the focus getting to the objectives rather than the battles.