Liam’s Game Room #15 (Alien 3, Genesis)

Introduction

Alien 3 is a side scrolling platformer/shooter game released for the Sega Genesis and multiple other game systems in 1992. The Sega Genesis version was developed by Probe Entertainment and published by Arena Entertainment, which was a subsidiary of Acclaim Entertainment. This review will only be covering the Sega Genesis version rather than comparing it to the other versions because each individual version is extremely, except from the Sega Master System version being an 8 bit port of the Sega Genesis version. The Sega Genesis version was released a month after the official release of the film, however there was also a port to the Sega Game Gear, but this port was not released until 1994.

The genre of Alien 3 is quite interesting because it was released at a time when there wasn’t a survival horror genre of video games and the only early examples at the time were Splatterhouse and Alone in The Dark, which was released for MS-DOS the same year that Alien 3 was released. So, a side scrolling shooter was the only realistic interpretation of the film, as survival horror based titles at the time were quite basic and perhaps the style of the Genesis release may have not suited the primitive nature of early survival horror games.

Story

The story of Alien 3 is very different compared to the movie because the game is separate from the movie and takes the approach of being inspired by the aesthetics and style of the film. The story is that the aliens have taken human captive across 5 different sectors and it is up to the player who controls Ellen Ripley from the film to find these prisoners within the time limit before the aliens kill them. Every 3 stages there is a guardian, which is guarding the entrance to the next section. After the 5 guardians have been defeated, she will escape with the prisoners safely.

I quite like the interpretation of the story because taking the story even though it would have been great to see the original story in the game, however I believe the different story is purely down to technical limitations. I do think the story fits the genre of the game quite well and does add an element of horror and tension because there is almost a feeling of responsibility of the shoulders of the player to make sure that the prisoners don’t die.

Gameplay

Level 1.png

Alien 3’s gameplay is somewhat typical of side scrolling games, but the game has some elements that makes the game stand out from the crowd. The game is split up into 5 sets of 4 stages, which will end with the 4th stage being a boss battle against a guardian. The player is equipped with 4 weapons, which can be used at any time as long as the player as ammunition for that weapon. The limited ammunition adds a survival and exploration aspect because if the player runs out of ammunition, then the player cannot attack aliens, which is most situations is needed.

The 4 weapons are a Pulse Rifle, which is the default weapon and is a machine gun, a flamethrower that can destroy multiple aliens at once, the grenade launcher which is the most powerful weapon and hand grenades. The player can ammunition for these weapons either on the main path to the prisoners or in some secret areas, which are well hidden and normally have the more powerful ammunition. Normally on the main path, Pulse Rifle ammo and flamethrower is extremely common and easy to find, however the grenade launcher ammo is much harder to find. The grenade launcher makes the guardians much easier to defeat and shouldn’t be used in normal battle against normal aliens. I really like the way that the ammo system works in this game because it means that the player has to explore to find the necessary ammo to defeat the bosses. But, for players who prefer to not stray from the main path, there is also sufficient ammo to survive and defeat the need enemies.

I have mentioned the main path quite often so far, but there really isn’t a main path because the player has to find the prisoners without a minimap. Instead, the player has a radar, which red dots will appear showing where there are nearby prisoners and aliens. However, the radar is one of the major flaws because it leads to one of the major issues with the game and that is the aliens themselves. The major problem with the aliens is the fact that they can climb up from under the ground and if the player is running to the right, then there is very little time to react to the alien and defeat it. What this means that unless the player is really familiar with the spawn locations of the aliens and also what weapon will give sufficient time to defeat the alien, then it will lead to the player taking damage.

Level 2.jpg

This leads onto another problem with the aliens, which is whenever the player gets hit by an alien, the player will be launched to the opposite direction that they were facing. This recoil means that the player will be down for about 1-2 seconds and in that time the alien could have gone off screen and despawned. What this could lead to a situation where the player doesn’t expect the alien to reappear again and then damage again and the player can only take 7 hits with default energy and a maximum of 10 hits with a full health bar. Also, if the player loses all their energy before the end of a level, then all prisoners that the player had saved is reset, meaning that the player would be repeating the same level over again. Also, the game doesn’t have any continues and no password system, which means if the player loses their last life on the final boss, then it is back to the start of the game. The player cannot find any extra lives either, which means whatever amount of lives the player picks to begin with on the options screen is what they have to beat the game with.

One of the biggest glaring issues is the level design and difficulty, because if the player is new to the game, then the player would have some issues knowing where to go. The level design in this game is vast and complex, which offers a lot of places to explore, but also quite a lot of dead ends and areas that can only be reached by repeating a large section of the level. This can be infuriating especially because the time limit on Normal and Hard difficulty is really strict and doesn’t offer much room for error in terms of mistakes. Easy difficulty is more more lenient in terms of ammo and energy, but the level design, alien spawn locations and convoluted level design is still the same. What this means that the game ends up feeling way too difficult even to seasoned players of the game and makes the game sometimes feel like a chore to play.

Which leads on to the final problem and that is the time limit. The most annoying thing about the time limit is not the fact that it is used in the game and the game would be better off without it, but also once all of the prisoners have been saved, the stage still isn’t over. Now, the player has to find the exit, which can be extremely difficult especially in the late stages in the game. If the player saves all the prisoners but doesn’t reach the exit with the remaining time, then the player has to repeat the stage again. I personally think that once the final prisoner has been saved, then it should have been end of the stage and on to the next one.

Music

This is one area that Alien 3 really stands out for the right reasons and also helped set some standards for quality of FM music. The music and sound design what written by Matt Furniss, who worked on a lot of projects in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but of all of the music he has done this soundtrack really stands out. The first main thing of note is that each individual set of stages has it own distinctive sound and feel. For example, the theme is to the first set of stages is quite ambient and mysterious, giving the impression that the character the player is controlling is unsure what to expect.

Themes for stage sets 2 and 3 are much more driving and much heavier than the ambient stage set 1 theme. The impression that I get from these 2 particular themes is that the composer was somewhat inspired that the sort of composing style that Yuzo Koshiro, the composer for Streets of Rage used, which is to have electronic pieces that experimented with multiple different music styles. Matt Furniss’ compositions for Alien 3 give me this impression, but makes sure that he isn’t just copycatting the Koshiro style, instead uses it as inspiration and makes he own interpretation of the style.

The music itself has a surprising amount of clarity and cleanness to it, which is not typical of FM music on the Sega sound chip. The reason why the instruments have clarity, especially the drums which sound crisp and clean is because what Furniss had was a custom composing setup, which mixed both FM and PCM music, which was then coded onto the Genesis sound chip. What this means that Alien 3 has a very unique sound that really stands out.

I personally think that this soundtrack is one of the standout soundtracks of the 16 bit era simple because the music itself is complex and makes awesome use of stereo to give the music a lot of space. The compositions themselves are also somewhat long compared to music themes in games at the time, with most tracks last nearly 2 minutes before looping and the loops are really clean. Furniss did an amazing job and made this game got from a mediocre difficult platformer and pretty saved it from being potentially an overall awful game.

Conclusion

Overall, Alien 3 is an okay platformer with some nice graphics and good level design. However, the difficulty and alien spawn locations make the game really annoying to play without knowing where all the prisoners and every single alien is. The only saving grace for the game and what will mean that the game will get a decent score is simply that the soundtrack and sound design is perhaps some of the best I have heard on the Sega Genesis. Each stage set had a unique feel to it and game the feeling that the player was progressing closer and closer to the final goal. It is a shame that the game is so unforgiving with alien placement and having no continues, as if it was more forgiving it would have been remembered for more than the soundtrack. However, if you are looking for a platformer that it is a hard game and  has an amazing soundtrack then I would recommend it. Also, once the player knows where everything is then the game is much more enjoyable and the flaws mentioned in this review can be overlooked.

7/10

Copyright ©2016 Liam Piper. All Images Used Under Fair Use

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