Wednesday, May 22, 2019
The Aliens franchise has a vast collection of licensed video games spanning nearly four decades from Alien for the Atari 2600, in 1982, all the way to Alien: Blackout in 2019 for Android and iOS. Needless to say I had a lot of titles to choose from, but to make things as interesting as possible I selected one old game, one new game and one roughly somewhere in the middle. Here are my three picks:
- Aliens: The Computer Game by Activision
- Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure by Mindscape
- Aliens: Colonial Marines by Gearbox Software
So, which is the best of the worst? Well, I'm going to have to go with Aliens: The Computer Game. As far as movie tie-in games go it does try to recreate the story beats of the film admirably given the severe hardware limitations at the time. Even so, it does suffer from the collection-of-mini-games problem in that none of the gameplay segments have much in the way of depth. In all honesty this game isn't bad though, it's just dull. Meanwhile, Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure is awful in almost every way, including a number of technical issues. Unsurprisingly, it is largely forgotten along with a lot of other early CD-ROM shovelware games. Gearbox is the worst though in that they had all the support they needed to make Aliens: Colonial Marines good, they just dropped the ball, and lied about it to boot. Congradulations, Randy Pitchford! Unlike like the dev teams behind the other two Aliens games mentioned here, you will be remembered...as the Carter Burke of video game developers.
Wednesday, May 15, 2019
Dino Crisis from its inception, and especially in the second game, had a lot in common with Aliens in terms of plot and pacing. Dino Crisis 3 in particular though feels like Capcom was milking the movie franchise for every last usable idea. Not only is it set in an industrialized outer space environment, but the dinosaurs themselves are skinless monstrosities that only feel vaguely reminiscent of their real-world counterparts. Of course, the surprise in-game twist is that these creatures are actually a combination of human and dino DNA and the result of the derelict ship AI going off the rails after the entire crew died of radiation exposure.
here. Since it's over an hour long though, here's a select list of similar plot points for those who don't have the spare time:
- Botched mission
- Secret artificial human
- Ship AI is called "MTHR"
- Heroic sacrifice involving a hand grenade
- Self-destruct sequence
- Surprise 4th act showdown
...and of course there's the simple fact that the player is trapped in a space sci-fi location shooting lots of hideous monsters with a machine gun...a quintessential survival horror premise that was sadly not at it's finest here. Then again, the same thing can be said of for much of the Aliens IP, official or derived. Oh well...at least the mutant dinosaurs looked kind of cool.
Wednesday, May 8, 2019
Officially, Giger only every took part in the making of two games, both point-and-click adventure titles by the names of Dark Seed and Dark Seed II. I've mentioned them before in other blog posts so I won't go into detail about them here. If you are looking for more information by all means poke around Youtube and I'm sure you can find some excellent reviews/retrospectives on what are sadly pretty mediocre video games. Moving on...what I really want to cover here are games that used his visual style without consulting him or giving proper credit to his distinctive biomechanical look.
Of course, there are many other examples out there I could mention. Side-scrolling beat'em up, Alien Storm has a character select screen that feels practically like a cut and pasted job. Also, look no farther than the covers of Alien Syndrome, Alien Breed, and Baal by Psygnosis for Giger inspired boxart...all old titles, I know, but if you want something more recent there's the AI constructs referred to as "Rusalki" in Axiom Verge whose visual appearances are largely inspired by two of Giger's more famous paintings, "Li" and "Li II". It's amusing to think about this eccentric artist's influence, and how it has not diminished despite him passing away half-a-decade ago. Truly the man has a long shadow, which might well grow longer still in the years to come.
Wednesday, May 1, 2019
One of the best ways to illustrate this theme is by examining the xenomorphs themselves. Fans of science fiction and horror are probably familiar with these creatures. They are slender, hairless, humanoids with elongated skulls, fangs, and claws. Their tongues even have pseudo-mouths of their own. Aside from a fairly ordinary pair of arms and legs each alien has a barbed tail as well as a set of dorsal tube-like appendages along the back. This is where things start to get ambiguous. Most "Aliens" media depicts these oddities as purely decorative, although the Aliens tabletop RPG suggests that they are used by xenomorphs to cling to walls and ceilings. Sounds plausible although none of the films explicitly show this being the case. The purpose of the elongated head is another mystery. Is it tied to the secreted resin Aliens use to build their hives or does the large cranium contain organs serving another purpose? Overall, the torso and limbs seem entirely too slender for the degree of physical strength Aliens possess. I've heard some speculation that the xenomorph's tail spike can inject a paralyzing venom which is how they are able to bring hosts back to the hive intact for embryo implantation.
The intelligence level of the xenomorph has always been difficult to determine. Are they on par with insects?...predatory cats?...or near human? It seems to vary from film to film. Senses and communication are also largely unexplained, so-much-so Dark Horse comics came up with the idea in their graphic novels that the Aliens were actually psychic. DNA requisition is another aspect to the Alien physiology that has been around since the original film. The script writer, Dan O'bannon, admitted that his concept of the Alien was inspired by the Lovecraftian monster Yog-Sothoth. What's less clear is the potential for RNA requisition. Do Aliens steal not only the genes of their hosts, but memories as well? If so it appears that any such information is only utilized in ways that expedite the Aliens' primal goals; survive, kill, reproduce.
Now, I'm sure there are a few Aliens fans who would decry my ideas as being too abstract. Frankly, the best of what the Aliens franchise has to offer has been milked dry by games that aren't even part of the franchise. System Shock, Starcraft, Doom, Space Hulk, Dead Space and a whole slew of other survival horror titles did it better than any official game has, so if you're going to make a licensed Aliens game why not go with an-as-of-yet-unused macro viewpoint from which players can watch humanity unravel in the face of a threat they can't control or even truly understand?