Saturday Crapshoot: Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure
Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, whose presence is sorely missing from this attempt to bring the Aliens world to the small screen in adventure form? It's Ripley's, believe it or not.
Cryo. On a box showing a drool-dripping Xenomorph out for blood, its logo would still be the most sinister thing about this adventure. I won't say they never made any decent games. For instance, there was... uh. Hmm. I guess Faust wasn't too horrible, though they only published that. I hear some folks liked Megarace for some reason. They made three of them. Someone must have been buying them. And then of course... no. Well, looks like I am indeed saying they never made any decent games. They did however make a lot of them, mostly awful adventures an- Wait! Dune! They made the original Dune. Dune was pretty good. So, well done there Cryo. Now rest in peace... and please, never ever wake up.
In any event, Aliens did not help their reputation for creating good adventure games. Pretty ones, sure. But good? Let's just say that in space, no-one can hear you scream, but wow, can they see you suck.
This isn't actually a conversion of the movie, but a continuation of a Dark Horse spin-off - because obviously, this is what the world needed rather than a game built around something like RoboCop Vs. The Terminator or Judge Dredd vs. Aliens. It's about the crew of the USS Sheridan, busy sleeping away the journey from a terraforming mission back to Earth, diverted by a mysterious SOS on the planet B52C. At least, it's probably an SOS. This being the Aliens universe, it's no surprise that dark things are afoot on this unimaginatively named world, so it could just be the guy in charge saying "Soz!" to the universe about to be infested with hideous horror. Specifically, this game. Yes, a cheap shot. But deserved.
Aliens is the kind of adventure that wastes little time being unlikeable, firstly by putting tight time limits on the action. Almost everything is timed. Everything. Waking up for instance, the crew finds themselves in danger from asteroids, with about five minutes to rush around and figure out what to do - something that the characters think is best done by sniping at each other, borderline setting up fights, and chasing the one female member of the team with lines like "What's your problem, hot lips?"
Not too surprisingly, her response is to make this face.
Later, you get about 15 minutes per section of the game, which is about long enough to drain all the tension like fat from a George Foreman grill, but so full of things that need to be done and occasionally barely pixel-sized objects that need to be found that your odds of getting through anything without a million failures is exactly zero. It doesn't help that very little makes sense, this being one of those SF adventures that just piles in any old objects on the grounds that they're futuristic, rarely bothering with clues or advice except in the most self-evident bits, like using a severed hand to open a severed hand shaped lock. Well, scanner.
The idea was that Aliens was going to be an adventure/roleplaying hybrid, where things like moral and hunger would need to be managed along with the puzzle solving. In the end though, almost none of that actually made it into the game, with the most notable remnant being that forgetting to feed the crew early on means that everyone will pretty much go crazy later on. In that sense, Aliens practically has permadeath, in the sense that no sane person would start over purely to see what happens next.
The basic puzzle in this section is to run around and steal from everybody's rooms, because despite the USS Sheridan having a crew of exactly four, its designers still feel the need to have special passcards to get into certain areas of the ship and interact with the computer, MOM. MOM itself turns out to be a real piece of work too. The only way to avoid the asteroids is to land on planet B52C - hereafter known as Shithole, because it deserves something more appropriate to the acidic, stormy mess that most of this game is set on - and you'd think that would be pretty easy. But no. While MOM can work out landing co-ordinates just fine, apparently nobody thought hooking the ship's computer up to the rest of the ship would be smart, forcing you to find a blank CD... yes, really... to download the co-ordinates onto, then literally walk about twenty steps to hand it over to a pilot who's idly watching the autopilot do its thing anyway.
Now, this is already setting up the worst technology since Windows ME. But it's nothing compared to the computer's other handy task - providing background information on the universe. You'd think you could simply ask for an update on what's going on. Nope. This is Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure. Instead, it wants you to play games of Reversi to unlock your bits of lore. That makes complete and total sense.
I shall allow the G-Man's little brother to express my feelings on this.
This guy is actually O'Connor, the team's scientist and outright Xenomorph fetishist whose commitment to logic doesn't last too long. "Aliens don't kill you just because you happen to be white, black, Jewish, Hindu or simply different from them," he spits. And, sure? Except for that part, what with their victims being killed very specifically for not being drooling Aliens. "It's an instinctive drive," he adds. So that's okay!
Anyway, with the ship safe, the crew needs to get on with investigating the SOS signal.
And by that, I of course mean having lunch.
Yes, barely has the game begun than it grinds to a halt for several minutes of ordering hamburgers and hot dogs and shoving them down the crew's throats until their Hunger bars are full. This takes forever thanks to one of the slowest vending machines ever created, with all four crew members needing to be satisfied to properly prepare for the mission ahead. Somehow though, even all those carbs don't mean having to handle what you'd think was a super-important bonus objective.
Having feasted upon junk food, the team is finally prepared to head into battle. Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure wastes little time making this as unthreatening as possible, in two major ways. First, it gives them all mech suits. All of them. Fully armoured suits that obviously don't entirely negate the Aliens' power, but do rather take some of the immediate edge off it. Second, it offers no good reason why they can't poke their heads into the base, realise that everything has gone completely to hell, and leave. There is really no reason at all to stick around. After all, they're not even a team of marines or anything, but terraformers - a doctor, a scientist, a pilot, and just one soldier. Nobody would even mutter if they just made a note to phone someone about it when they got back to safety and went back to cryosleep.
But no, of course that's not an option. The four dutifully leave the comfort of their ship to investigate, and are immediately attacked by a crazy person in another robot suit. Hericksen takes him down, and everyone provides a quick reminder of how unlikeable they really are by deciding "You killed a man for NOTHING!" The idea is to show that Hericksen might be crazy and have gunned down an innocent man. If you don't though, you die. So, so much for that. That concludes the psychological horror, except for the fact that you have to spend the entire game navigating between seemingly randomly placed camera angles and hunting for tiny objects, making for an experience not entirely unlike the fever sweats of food poisoning. But then, this wasn't unheard of in games like this. You know. Crap ones.
In its place comes about fifteen or so, repeated multiple times, of simply wandering around an empty base picking up keycards and flipping switches. Nothing happens. Nothing. No aliens leap out of the darkness, no mental tricks are played, no surprises happen. Occasionally, the sound guy rustles a bit of paper and then goes home early. The most action filled moment is fighting two maintenance robots, who put up about as much of a fight as you'd think.
Luckily, Team Hero is on hand to put the 'douche' into 'bunch of douchebags'.
Here are their Top 3 Moments.
Shoving the scientist into a force field to see if it's dangerous. It is.
Despite having the inventory item needed to just switch it off.
Finally finding someone alive and in excruciating agony at the point of death, the team doesn't spare this victim a single second of the pain, nor have any interest in or comment on her plight. When the chestburster launches out and runs off, it practically looks back as if to say "Wow. You bastards."
The team discovers the mutilated body of the man whose message brought them to this desolate hellhole. "Hope you don't mind if we borrow this," chuckles the doctor, cutting his hand off and sticking it in her pocket for later use or perhaps just a light snack.
All of these people need to be French kissed by a Xenomorph. Immediately.
And no, there is still no apparent reason why they can't just declare the mission a miserable failure, go back to their ship, and go home. I suppose there might be a line explaining it somewhere, but the game doesn't go out of its way to provide an excuse beyond "Well, we've already put our suits on..."
The aliens more or less done with their glorified cameos, Aliens now hands its stopwatch over the Space Jockeys, courtesy of a ship in orbit that will nuke the whole game just to make sure it ends. I am officially on their side here. While waiting for their righteous fire, the team sets to work poking around a lab with no apparent purpose, and so inevitably ends up making drugs out of Alien egg slime. Why not? It's not like they're suddenly going to become any more sloppy and inefficient if they get high.
Mostly, this is another race against time to find components in which nothing happens beyond a few facehuggers sitting in tanks as if to go "Dude, I'm sleeping. Get out of my face." At least, until you meet this guy. You know he's the Exposition Guy, because he can speak in brackets. Incidentally, try to guess the plot. Did you guess idiots trying to turn Aliens into bioweapons? OF COURSE YOU DID THIS UNIVERSE ONLY HAS ONE SODDING PLOTLINE. So important is this character that Team Useless pump him for information and then amble away so that he can politely die off-screen without giving the animators any more work to do. It is their only civic minded duty so far.
"If I had one of those monsters in my gut... You all promise me that if one of those things nails me, you'll end it," demands Herickson, in the way that only a complete sociopath who again didn't so much as offer one of the unlimited-ammo blasts in his laser gun to spare another human being his agonising death.
In fact, just for that, I decided to kill them all.
It might sound like I'm skipping over a lot, and in fairness, I am ignoring some stuff because it would simply be too boring to type. Most of the plot is actually off the beaten track, in conversations and CDs that it's easy to miss but even easier to ignore. But really, none of it compensates for just how dull all this is, and how often bits have to be replayed and retrod thanks to a bad save system and astoundingly tight time limits that give little room for error even when you know what you're doing.
With the big revelation out of the way and confirmation that there's no point sticking around any longer - sadly, one that comes too late for the team to lose their ship to their own stupidity, to which the cast reacts about as enthusiastically as a suicidal clown in a pie throwing contest, the rest of the game is literally just pushing through the rest of the base to escape before the Space Jockeys nuke the planet. It involves going through an alien hive. Some appallingly designed combat with facehuggers and full size xenomorphs takes place, courtesy of an isometric engine whose existence is about as much a crime against nature. Assuming all goes well though, the crew find a replacement ship, get aboard, and take off, and that's about it. There's a big badaboom behind them as the entire thing is turned into a red ball by the Space Jockeys, and then they leave like they should have done the second they realised Planet Shithole was infested with Giger's greatest creations and they only had one gun between them.
"I hope we don't have any stowaways!" laughs the doctor, sealing their fate.
One. Two. Three.
A scream! "There's something behind the glass!"
Ha, no, wait. It's just a hilarious practical joke! And so Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure ends on the equivalent of one of those sitcom freeze-frames where everyone pauses mid chuckle so the credits can roll. Technically, at least. As is often the way, it's really more like a wall of unending shame.
This is a contender for the emptiest, most pointless movie license I've ever encountered. It doesn't so much tell a new story in this universe as tell an existing one to a new cast, completely wastes arguably science fiction's most iconic aliens by making them bit-part players in a dull scavenger hunt, and the few dangling elements of vague interest are all the more frustrating for their inclusion. Throughout the game for instance, your team has both the hunger element mentioned earlier and assorted other bars like Morale, and if you're wondering why they're only being mentioned in passing, it's because they do nothing. They were clearly intended to add more of an RPG survival horror element, but barely even count as decoration in the finished release - oddly, not entirely unlike the game version of The Thing.
Even with them though, a few novelties wouldn't have saved this trainwreck. It's a story that had no need to be told (following a Dark Horse story, though no word on whether said Dark Horse was ridden by the Space Jockeys) that mistakenly thinks people know it well enough to need a continuation, with absolutely no idea of how to build tension or use the elements for anything worthwhile. The cast is hateful at best, and their lines poorly written and translated. The closest anything here gets to horror is the very, very occasional jump-scare to show the timer ticking down. Even then, it's just a quick flash of an alien at most, as if they're more embarrassed than anyone else to be here. Can't blame them. After all, it's their rep on the line here. Nobody's going to remember Herickson and friends.
Still better than Aliens: Colonial Marines, mind...