James Cameron's Aliens was one of the biggest blockbusters of the 1980s. A shitload of computer and video games were made based on it. Which made sense, given the the movie had been mostly about shooting monsters – a genre well established in game circles. In 1987, no less than two officially licenced games were published on the C64 alone. One solid, one actually rather good. Though two years later, they were both easily topped by this unofficial version taking more than just a few basic cues from the movie.
You take the role of a lone soldier on a mission to investigate a space station (aptly named Prometheus) with which radio contact has been lost. Right in the first room, there is a mutilated body with a severed hand. The man apparently used his stump to write “Danger” on the wall in his own blood. It is as it must be: everyone on board has been killed by mutant creatures. Everyone? No, there is one person left to save, before triggering the self-destruct and getting the hell out of there.
All throughout,impresses with its efforts at movie-like storytelling. The intro is split in two, with the first sequence playing upon boot and the second one after running the credits. In-game, it uses closeups as well as cutscenes, which may be timed or linked to certain player-triggered events.
Adding to that, the game does a very good job at implicitly telling its story just through its locations. Running through the long, now lifeless corridors. Finding the signs of fights. The bodies. Plus, as a third column, the log entries and internal communication still stored in functioning the computers, telling what sort of experiments went on here, how they went wrong and giving the player the necessary information to understand those fragments they find.
Yes, the graphics may be coarse and blocky by today's standards. The scrolling may be slightly jerky. The animations may not be as impressive as they used to be. Yet, the game manages to build up a remarkable atmosphere. A looming feeling of constant danger. Which, to a degree, players can manage by diligently closing doors etc. Though knowing that at some point, they will go face to face with the mutants anyway. Which does not occur often initially, but when it does, they arrive with an intensity which can still get hearts pumping and adrenaline rushing.
Meaning it is all in the change between phases of seemingly “nothing happening” and then sudden, short outbursts of violent danger which makes things all the more intense than if it were just non-stop shooting. Traversing the decks, always on the lookout to solve those small puzzles, for example to get access to previously sealed off areas, repair the nuclear reactor and so on, a constant feeling of urgency is driving things forward. Supplies, such as weapons and ammunition, are scarce. There is no reward for killing mutants. The fewer encountered, the more avoided, the better.
Unusual for its time,does not make its player the blazing hero, but hunted prey. Instead of the usual power fantasy, it provides the thrills of constantly being on the run. Of fearing what may be behind the next door. Even more so when discovering that not only a global clock is ticking, but the game world itself is turning more hostile, for example when the new type of mutants suddenly turns up.
In 1989, all this was pretty much unprecedented. All the more impressive how fully formed the ideas already are, how tight and flawless the execution is. Five years before, people had marvelled at Impossible Mission, itself a fine game.illustrates how far game design, ambition had progressed in this short timeframe. How far developers had been able to push the C64, but also how much grander, how much more engaging and immersive games could be. , today, is an important piece in every museum exhibition about computer game history. is a game still to be enjoyed.