Feb 12, 2021
From the Vault: The Game Doctor Reviews Alien Resurrection PS1
Bill Kunkel, "The Game Doctor" was long a force in the gaming journalism world. While Bill left us many years ago, I came across a number of reviews he sent me with instructions to "post these someday." They make for a nice trip down memory lane for those us that that knew him and an introduction for those who didn't. Read on...
Alien Resurrection, Playstation
Let's face it, folks, the Alien film franchise is your basic no-brainer for translation to the electronic gaming medium. You've got all those delightfully slimy, death metal environments, plenty of dimly-lit corridors and crawlspaces, lots of creepy sound effects and, of course, one of the big screen's most successful monsters (available in several varieties!).
It's no surprise, therefore, that just about all the Alien video and computer games--including one on the old Atari Jaguar--have done a pretty good job of mixing play action and virtual chills. Unfortunately, Alien Resurrection, perhaps the most anticipated Alien game since Acclaim launched the series a decade or so ago, is also the most disappointing.
It isn't difficult to see where this game went wrong. For one thing, developer Argonaut Software and publisher Fox Interactive originally planned the game for release on the PSX, PC and Saturn (!) almost three years ago.. By November of '97, Argonaut's Jez San was telling the press that the PlayStation SKU was already more than half done and Fox expected the game to release some time between the film's theatrical release and the arrival of the video version in mid-'98.
But the game just refused to cooperate. Originally, it was intended as a topdown recreation of the film, with the characters forced to move up, level by level, as the USM Auriga floods. But Argonaut's agenda was heavily weighted toward creating a genuinely scary game, even, it seems, at the price of playability, and the topdown vision was soon abandoned. At one point, multiple POVs were considered and the game even saw an iteration that employed a 3rd person, Tomb Raideresque perspective.
None of these revisions, however, were considered suitably frightening, however, so the entire game was retrofit yet again, this time as a fairly straightforward FPS. And, giving credit where it's due, there are several sequences in Alien Resurrection which will unquestionably tighten your sphincter. But all the remaking dated the game and spoiled the broth that might have made this a truly compelling experience instead of a frustrating, largely generic FPS.
The player is cast as a variety of characters from the film, including Call, DiStephano, Christie and, of course, Ripley. Gamers get to struggle with the controls (AR isn't exactly a joy to play with a Dual Shock stick or mouse, but it's just about impossible using standard-issue PSX controllers), while shutting down auto-destruct devices (yawn) and fighting off an endless battery of attackers. Marines come first, but before you know it, aliens are swarming from every direction while the player makes a frantic attempt to aim their wimpy weapons and save their virtual skin.
There are five types of military antagonists and six flavors of alien, but none of them feature kill zones (i.e., shots to different part of an enemy's body do not generate different results, so you can't cripple an opponent, for example, by taking out their legs). There's also no evidence of any significant AI in the way the enemies fight, particularly the aliens, who make a dramatic appearance (emerging from the floors, walls, etc.), then charge directly at the player-character as if they had a bull's eye painted on their chest.
Not only are the weapons difficult to aim and operate, they're also hard to locate. The developers were not only stingy with the ordinance, but none of them have the kind of audio-visual impact players have come to expect, or the game-given power to keep an army of aliens at bay.
As for the fear factor, nothing will squelch that willing suspension of disbelief so critical to the production of a truly scary electronic game like a poor control system. And while most of the technical flaws -- especially the hurky-jerky, impossible-to-aim weapon firing system -- are PSX-related, that's no excuse. In games such as Goldeneye on the N64 and The World Is Not Enough, for example, auto-aiming features help correct the weapon's trajectory as long as the player is firing in the correct general direction.
Alien Resurrection is so dedicated to creeping out the gamer -- with its pop-up monsters and eerie, compelling background graphics -- that it forgets to be a playable game. In the end, that's the only really frightening component of this program.
Pros: Alien Resurrection offers some of the nastiest, creepiest visual environments and atmospheric sound effects and voice bites of any PSX FPS.
Cons: Unfortunately, the game suffers from three years in development hell and a stiff, unwieldy control system.