Christ, the Alien franchise has lent its name to some right wank over the years hasn't it? The franchise has basically taken the same career trajectory as KISS did from the late-Seventies onwards; I wouldn’t be surprised if Ridley Scott started selling Xenomorph themed novelty condoms to Goths. Fortunately enough though, whilst most of the franchise’s films and games post Aliens have been the sort of shite (Aliens vs Predator: Requiem, and Aliens: Colonial Marines, for example) that only Lance Henriksen would agree to sign on board for, the few that actually are good are very good indeed (Aliens verses Predator 2 for PC, anyone?). So I’m going to focus on two of the better entries today and tomorrow, namely Alien Trilogy for the PS1 and Alien: Isolation for Xbox One & PS4. If only because you can only be a misery guts for so long before you start to resemble the love child of Judge Dredd and Spawn.
Part I: Alien Trilogy (1996)
It’s hard to believe that Alien Trilogy was released only a year after Ultimate Doom. While Doom resembled the early days of South Park - with the sort of low-res graphical fidelity suggesting it was designed in a guy’s basement using whatever he had to hand - Alien Trilogy looked like the dog’s bollocks. One of the earliest shooters to offer 3D environments, Alien Trilogy easily impressed me back in the day – but this was when I was six, and thought the World Wrestling Federation was the pinnacle of mankind’s accomplishments. Going back to Alien Trilogy in the age of voxel cone tracing, polygon modelling, and other made up words which keep the men in suits happy, it’s hard to deny the game looks like arse. And not a good arse, we’re talking Mickey Rourke’s arse here.
I’m not apologetic about calling out a twenty-year old game for its graphics. From its 2D-cum-3D sprites that rotate as your perspective changes like they’re doing a ballroom dance, to the ugly blend of pixelated greys, greens, and browns, Alien Trilogy looks like your mum after a night on the tiles. But that’s ok: graphics do not make a game. And neither does a story apparently, because this game doesn't have one. Just that you're mirror universe Ripley playing through an extremely loose adaptation of the first three films. All you really need anyway is a boomstick and a grudge as though the Xenomorphs are trying to get off with your daughter. What Alien Trilogy also does well, however, is capturing the grim aesthetic style of the original trilogy. Portraying the nightmarish and grungy ‘Bone Ship’, USCSS Nostromo, and exomoon LV-426 through a filter of dust, blood, and slime. The game’s first level sets a sort of precedence for what will follow: it’s dark, there's the iconic bleeping radar making proceedings creepy as hell, and going through the tight labyrinthine corridors is like being Jeremy Corbyn on a Virgin train.
This opening level gives the impression that Alien Trilogy is going to be a tense horror game. And for this deceit (as well as touching itself) the game is going straight to the Ninth Circle of Hell to be perpetually chewed on by mega-Satan. Though Alien Trilogy uses its Xenomorph’s sparingly through the first few levels, once you’re half an hour in you’ll have fought off more of the bastards than Odysseus’s wife rejected suitors. It's got the discipline of the makers of those Sharknado films and just can't help itself. Pacing goes out the window as the game throws Xenomorphs and Dog Aliens at you as though it's getting paid by the alien. Which I don't mind. Melting unnatural monstrosities with a flamethrower is always good for a laugh; I've been getting off on it since I was too poor to get Resident Evil: Director's Cut and had to take care of Plant 42 myself.
Early on the Xenomorphs only take 3 shotgun blasts, though with this game's jerky hit-boxes and animations you kind of feel like you're at some redneck wedding mindlessly shooting at nothing, once in a while actually hitting something. They do get harder later on in the final episode, but by that point you'll have the pulse rifle and the 'SMART' gun; so the Xenomorphs get to shrug their shoulders, take their ball, and go home. Good luck finding one of those weapons early on without a guide though, Alien Trilogy's got more well hidden secrets than the fucking Royal family. But getting back to the subject of Xenomorphs, I find that there's something disconcerting in the way they move. This is likely because they were motion-capped, Prince of Persia style, probably because the developers wanted to capture the fluid movement of the Xenomorphs. But the Xenomorphs in Alien Trilogy move like they’re trying cross a makeshift minefield of Lego.
A few things about this game still shit me up, however. Not least the fact you have to replay the missions again if you didn't satisfactorily complete the mission objective (of which you have no way of monitoring progress). It's the Facehuggers, annoying as they may be, which do me in. Nothing is as absolutely terrifying as when they crawl up the screen and face fuck the protagonist. Having a spider-crab jizz its embryonic offspring into your mouth isn’t what it used to be though, and instead of dying you just lose a few hit points. But it’s the graphic first person depiction of the bony little bastard crawling up the screen that freaks the fuck out of me. I also felt the same about the slimes in Duke Nukem 3D. But then everything about that game made me want to take a long, soapy shower.
Things get genuinely freaky once you reach the ‘Bone Ship’ from Alien, which frankly sounds like the kind of dick euphemism an Eighties Hair Metal band would choose for a name. I can see why the developers had you going through the more generic looking areas from Aliens and Alien 3 first. And it's not just because this is the 'in-name only' brand of movie licensing - seriously where did all these possessed human enemies come from? Was The Thing hanging out next door? In any case, the eldritch organic design of the ‘Bone Ship’ - with the marines encased in the sinewy walls begging for death as a Chest Burster rips them a new one – feels like the horrifying payoff the game has been building up to. It's like finally asking that girl out after months of pining only to discover that she likes the new Ghostbusters film.