All right, you really like the Alien movies (except you didn't dig the last one nearly as much as the first two). You love first-person shooters like Duke Nukem 3D and Quake. You walk into your local software store and spot Alien Trilogy, Acclaim's new first-person shooter based on the movies you love. It's like a dream come true, right? Right - if the dream were a nightmare.
Actually, that's a little bit harsh. Alien Trilogy isn't a horrible game; in fact, if it had been released two years ago I'd probably be inclined to give it a fair rating. But hey, it's 1997 - and after seeing what can be done with first-person shooters on the PC, Alien Trilogy looks like a real trip back in time.
There's no doubt that this game has problems, nearly all of which can be traced back to two things: It's a video game port, and the video game that's being ported is already a year old. I don't mean to imply that all video game ports are sub-par, but when little or no effort is made to take advantage of the PC's capabilities - such as saving during levels, changing options during gameplay, and more - then you're off to a bad start. And while a year may not seem like that long of a time, anyone who knows anything about gaming technology will assure you that it is.
One thing AT does have going for it is a great setting. I don't think I've met an action-game fan who wasn't into Aliens, and that's where Alien Trilogy begins: You play as Ripley entering the colony complex on LV426, armed only with a 9mm pistol. Following the tried-and-true formula for first-person shooters, you explore each level in search of weapons and power-ups, and of course blasting everything that moves.
But a great setting alone does not a great game make, and in nearly every feature Alien Trilogy falls far short of the standards set by classy products like Duke Nukem 3D and Quake. Hey, the annoyances crop up even before you begin play. When you install the game, AT offers you the choice of 256-color (8-bit) or 16-bit (64K-color) display. But the 16-bit version provides a color palette with only 40 or so more colors than the 8-bit version; why bother someone with this decision when there's no discernible difference?
Once you launch the game, be ready for a wait - a long wait. The credit sequences for Fox Interactive, Acclaim, and Probe Entertainment are interminable - nearly a minute and a half on a P-133 with 32MB RAM - and there's no way to bypass them. That's right, you gotta watch 'em every time. Excusable? Not in my book. When you do get into the game, you'll find all the usual ingredients of a shooter, but executed so nonchalantly that it seems the designers just whipped this thing out by rote: kill an enemy, find a weapon, open a door, exit the level. Yee-haw.
Of the seven weapons here, only the flamethrower is unique - and with several of them (shotgun, pistol, seismic charges), you have to press the fire button for every single shot. Given the number of aliens you're facing and how many shots it takes to waste each one, gamer's cramp is always looming on the horizon. Three of the six alien enemies - the Young Dog Alien, Warrior, and Adult Dog Alien - are so similar in appearance that they all might as well be the same critter, and except for the Alien Handler the Company Enemies are run-of-the-mill employees who were unlucky to become host to the alien - in short, they're just people. You'd probably offer them a sandwich if they weren't shooting at you.
There's no jumping or crouching here, and the motion tracker - that way-cool device that's supposed to tell you if anything's getting ready to jump your butt - is pretty much useless. It doesn't even tell you if creatures are in a room you're about to enter even when you're standing at the doorway.
The sound effects are mostly adequate, but uninspired. Shoot a Young Dog Alien, for example, and after the acid has splattered you hear a wheezing noise that sounds like the Three Stooges snoring. Your character seems to revel in taking damage, hissing out "Come on!" and taunting "Is that all you've got?" whenever you take damage. That's not what I call talking the talk AND walking the walk.
Besides being unable to change options during play or save a game in mid-level, Alien Trilogy's video game heritage is revealed by the fact that you can't play separate sections a la Duke or Quake unless you use cheat codes (which I haven't been able to find yet) - you have to play this thing straight through from start to finish.
Alien Trilogy runs at 640x480, but the graphics for enemies and backgrounds are so ho-hum and chunky that I could have sworn it was running at standard 320x200. These graphics are straight out of the Doom era - good enough if you haven't seen any recent first-person shooters, but disappointing for everyone else. Acclaim boasts of using "motion-capture technology" to create the game, but I guess you'd have to be a programmer to see any difference between this high-end technology and other first-person games that eschew motion capture.
The last insult is the game's network play features. The box copy boasts that AT is "fully loaded for real-time multi-player action over a network" - not much to brag about, since I've never seen a first-person shooter on a network that didn't play in real time. What's more, the network game doesn't have you shooting other players, but company synthetics; whoever kills the most company enemies wins. Now THAT'S the kind of action you'll hang around after work to enjoy! The crowning touch? No modem support - despite the "ad" on Acclaim's hot line that says the game has this feature.
So what have we got? Great setting. Dated graphics. Dated gameplay. Mediocre sound effects. Sub-par multiplayer options. Those might be enough for a die-hard Alien fan who wants to make sure her collection of memorabilia is complete, but for the rest of us - even those of us who love the movies - it's not enough to make this game worth buying. To quote Bob "Company Synthetic" Dole: Just don't do it.