Developer: Fox Video Games
Year of Release: 1982
Graphics and Mechanics
I suppose you can say that both graphics and mechanics are…technically present in Alien. By that I mean it graphically rips off the mechanics of other classic games. There are two levels to traverse in Alien. The first has “Ripley” running through a maze collecting dots...
...all of which must be obtained before the player can advance to the next, and only other, level. The player must tread carefully lest they be killed by ghosts aliens. The plagiarism at work here knows no bounds. I doubt I need divulge the name of the game which Alien “creatively requisitioned” in its first level but if you are still in the dark, let me add that this first level is underscored by a siren-like sound and the “aliens” are multicolored.
But the thing I find unfortunately hilarious is the fact that the dots scattered about the level are not even arranged in straight lines. It ends up looking like a tracing of the footsteps of a drunk taking the heel-to-toe sobriety test. Come on guys, if you aren’t able to create a game yourselves, can’t you at least steal a game properly? Even though the practice of surreptitiously borrowing other games’ engines was once incredibly commonplace, and despite the fact that Pac-Man itself was ripped off enough times to warrant its own section in the classic game archives, Alien is one of the worst examples. It would be one thing if the maze in the first level adopted new orientation each time the player found themselves back in its clutches, but sadly it remains the same and therefore becomes impossibly tedious.
The one difference between the opening level of Alien and its more popular antecedent Pac-Man is that the player is equipped with a gun. This sounds decidedly badass except that the gun doesn’t actually destroy any of the ghosts aliens, but might frighten them into moving in the other direction temporarily. In other words, the gun serves as much purpose as darting out from behind a corner and shouting, “boo.” Oh, and for some reason the player teleports when using the mid-screen passage from one side of the level to the other. Apparently they were hoping these two elements would provide enough sci-fi street cred to blind gamers to the fact that they were playing a lazier, less-entertaining version of an already established game.
Getting through this level proved to be easier with the joystick than when using the Genesis controller plugged into my Atari. Near the upper right corner of the screen in particular, the Sega controller tends to confuse a movement to the right on the directional pad with a movement in the upward direction. I guess that could possibly be an issue of wear on the part of my Sega controller, but it was still easier with the joystick.
The second level requires the gamer to move from the bottom of the screen to the top while avoiding chains of aliens moving at various intervals.
Yup, this game starts as a woefully obvious Pac-man knockoff and concludes with an abysmal carbon copy of Frogger. They don’t even spread the aliens apart so they still vaguely resemble the outline of the trucks and logs from Frogger. It not only reinforces the Frogger engine theft, but also suggests some curious sexual tendencies inherent in this alien species; an alien daisy chain. Once you complete this task, you return to the first level again. Oh joy.
Playing Before Instructions
It was hard to believe that the game had only two levels and that they were so simple. This was a fallacy on my part as so many Atari 2600 games boast very few levels. But even something like Krull, which technically has only three levels, offered more of a challenge during the first cycling of the levels. I was sure the incendiary Pac-Man level would serve as a hub to other facets of the game; much like the Widow of the Web level of Krull. But after suffering through four repetitions of the game’s monotonous one-two punch, and receiving confirmation of its limitations from the interwebs, it was clear I had exhausted all the dubious fun that could be gleaned from it.
Technically, yes. But on the list of things I would brag about on a regular basis, beating Alien on Atari ranks right down there with remembering where I left my keys and being able to eat three KFC double downs in one sitting. I would love to take every known copy of this game and triumphantly blast it out of the airlock to drift forever in unforgiving space.
Faithful to its Source?
Probably the least faithful to its source of any of the games I have played so far. There ‘s hardly a wink or nod toward the film, or even a hint as to what film it is actually adapting. I would love to have someone unaware of this game’s existence sit down and play it for thirty minutes and then quiz them over which movie they believed it to be based on. If you really wanted to stretch your imagination (read lie to yourself) you could attest that the first level maze represents the complicated bowels of the Nostromo and that the second level is…based on Cpt. Dallas’ favorite arcade game Frogger? But beyond those sweet little delusions, there is nothing remotely Alien about Alien for the Atari 2600.
It would seem overly critical to lambast the game given the climate of games today and the hindsight it bestows. But even when stacked up a game like Krull, which was admittedly released a year later, the shortcomings of Alien become less contextually forgivable. Krull was saddled by many of the same limitations of graphics and not only managed to craft a superior game from a technical standpoint, but one that harbored many admirable genuflections toward its patron film. Had the makers of the Alien game exerted even a tiny iota of effort into making the game faithful to the film instead of just mindlessly playable, it could have been something very cool.
In the interest of full disclosure, part of my ire toward this game has to do with how much I love the film. I named my second dog Ripley for crying out loud! In the span of this column so far, I’ve touched on only two games that were derived from movies for which I possess a deep affection. In all fairness, this can subjectively slant my expectations for the games, but then it also doesn’t help that Super Star Wars represented the other game I’ve covered based on a favorite film of mine; difficult to live up to a standard such as that. But I still think it stands to reason to judge the Alien Atari game as a failure on its own terms, and a pathetically lazy one at that.
I guess the other problem is that instead of establishing its own game identity or drawing at all from its source material, it ripped off a game that doesn’t rank highly on my list of favorites. Here’s a list of other classic game engines I would rather have seen the Alien Atari game appropriate for its own devices…
Dig Dug—If you’re going to have a poorly pixilated representation of Ripley running around in a maze, why not an underground maze wherein she could attach a hose into alien eggs, inflating them to mammoth sizes before they explode?
Pitfall—Simply replace the jungle landscape with the interior of the film’s iconic ship. Those chasms you’re asked to leap over in Pitfall can be explained as holes created by dripping, acidic alien saliva and Ripley can leap across the opening and closing tentacles of face-huggers.
Centipede—I kind of like the idea of a gun toting Ripley poised at the bottom of the screen while an alien fetus, still attached to the burst chest of John Hurt at the top of the screen spirals ever nearer. Extra points if the newly burst alien is maneuvering through a map of eggs and cocooned shipmates.
Licensed to Sell
If you’ve ever wondered whether your current wardrobe is geeky enough, you are sorely in need of a token of fandom such as this official U.S.C.S.S. Nostromo patch.
Few films have been able to make company names so iconic as did Alien. Not only did the moniker of this doomed cargo ship become geek canon, but also the name of its parent company Weyland-Yutani became synonymous with sinister corporate greed. I actually own a tee shirt bearing the latter’s name.