‘In space no-one can hear you scream.’
Not so on Earth, sadly, as game enthusiasts trying to play Alien on their Commodore 64 screamed in frustration. Although that said, I did manage to complete it on a number of occasions, but it did take some tense hours of game play, sat in the dark, knowing the sirens could go off at any second and my crew would be attacked by a badly animated 8-bit xenomorph.
Alien the computer game was released as a belated movie tie-in to the 1979 cult sci-fi horror in 1984, by Argus Press Software. It was released on Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC home computer formats. And despite its god-awfully basic graphics, and the aforementioned painfully difficult game play, it was one of the most heart-pounding atmospheric games that ever came out for the early 8-bit home computers.
The game follows the movie, in that at the beginning of the game a crew member (not always, but often Kane) gives “birth” to the alien. It’s then up to the rest of the crew the player controls to move around the three levels of the Nostromo using the air ducts, attempting to isolate the alien and destroy it. Or blow it out of the airlock of the Nostromo, or as in the movie set the self-destruct on the ship and get away in the escape pod.
As with the movie one your crew is an android (not always, but often Ash). The android will at some point go haywire, and cause your crew additional problems. The rest of the crew will listen to your commands, as long as they are happy, but if they become anxious they will disobey your commands. And your crew will meet the alien and they will die. In fact when anyone first plays the game, it’s likely they will all die. Time and time again!
As you move your crew around the Nostromo, via the ducting they will encounter the alien, and very likely not survive it. It’s a tense game, with minimal graphics and even more minimal sound. You can hear the constant heart-beat of the crew members you command, the beep of the tracker (that sometimes Jones the cat sets off), and the opening and closing of hatches, and the piecing siren sound when you meet the alien. That makes you jump!
There was nothing else even close in atmosphere in gaming at the time. I would switch the light off and play it for hours, feeling a palpable tension in the room, as I had crew members search room after room for the alien, only to be caught by it in the ducting. I still recall almost jumping backwards off my chair the first time I saw it. Alien was a true classic of game play out-stripping the need for all singing and dancing graphics.
Richie Weird – This post first appeared on Weird Retro. Thanks to Richie for permission to re-post it.