Most video game fans will agree that roughly 85% of movie tie-in games are absolute tosh. However, as a general rule, having a blockbuster name attached to a title usually sees it sell by the bucket load. This is a trend that dates back to the beginning of home computing and the tie-in trend grew at an alarming rate during the 8 bit era (and hasn’t stopped since).
Off the top of my head there was the Back To The Future game and the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street games on the NES. Games that bore little relation to their silver screen namesakes. Games that were a truly awful and frustrating gaming experience, selling in their masses purely for the name of whichever big film was printed on the box…
But you know all this, don’t you? You’ve bought some of these turkeys yourself, haven’t you?
Every so often though, along comes a little gem that the programmers and publishers actually care about. Computer game counterparts imbued with the quality of the films they are based on. They were infrequent, especially in the 80s, I’ll grant you that, but the Batman: The Movies and the Robocops were some of the finest games ever to be played in their era.
Yet few horror games, let alone movie tie ins, oozed genuine tension and fear. Aliens, by Electronic Arts for the ZX Spectrum, was a very, very rare breed indeed.
Set on a ship with a huge map of 255 rooms, you controlled 6 characters (Ripley, Hicks, Bishop, Vasquez, Gorman and Burke if you’re asking) via a central hub, viewing the action via their helmet cams. Your main aim was to locate the Queen Alien’s egg nests and destroy them (no easy feat). To do this you had to search the rooms controlling only one character, armed with a limited ammo supply, at a time. If your controlled character had entered a room with an Alien inside, the ever intensifying alarm would sound and you only had a few seconds to either get the hell out of there or shoot it as it sprinted towards the camera and began eating your face off with that tiny wee inner mouth that those creepy, lanky bastards have.
Each character had a panel with a status bar. If an off screen character was under threat, their panel would turn yellow, alerting you to their impending fate of death by devouring and eventual tiny mouth through the brain finale. Okay, you didn’t actually see the mini mouth bit. The screen just exploded into static white noise. If characters had been caught by a Facehugger, they were impregnated and there was a chance to rescue them, although admittedly I never managed once to achieve this.
In fact, I never managed to achieve much in this game, truth be told. In the dark it had me drenched in sweat and jumping out my skin frequently. As the waves of Aliens intensified, it was incredibly easy to panic and hit wrong buttons and become a stupid, blubbering idiot. I’d find myself trying to get out of the room quickly, only to find exits had been destroyed by acid blood. That left me trapped and trying to find the Alien before it found me and even if I did, I was in such a state I’d be shooting everywhere apart from where I wanted to shoot and screaming like a freaked out Pvt. Hudson (sadly lacking from the game, though I pretended that’s who I was behind the hub anyway).
I never achieved much, but I had such a fantastic experience I simply didn’t care. I loved every minute of it.
The graphics, especially for the Spectrum, were very respectable. The atmosphere was silent yet agonising. Infact, the Spectrum version was by far the best. The C64 one had Aliens that were blocky looking and grey(?). The Amstrad version was completely undermined by a chirpy soundtrack being played throughout, effectively killing off the great atmosphere the other versions had managed so well to capture. My beloved Atari 800XL was once again blanked and a version for it was never released.
But wait! Before you go running to download a ZX Spectrum emulator and the Aliens 1986 rom, there is no need. A new version of the game was made very recently and it is absolutely free to download. Not only does it have 21st century graphics, but the sound has been overhauled with more recognisable motion tracker sounds and the soundtrack is stolen straight from Cameron’s sci fi horror movie epic itself. Created by Derbian Games and nicely titled LV-426, it’s a genuine love note, even using the same 255 room map and controls of the original games.
It’s only 14MB and can run on some pretty dilapidated hardware. If you are a fan of the films (and who bloody isn’t?) or more importantly, the original game, it is an essential download. Check it out, thank the author, turn the lights down, turn the sound up and try to get through 4 waves of those scary big slabbery fuckers…just try!
THIS TIME, IT’S MORE (but essentially, the same game)