Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure

Developer:  Cryo
Publisher:  Mindscape
Year Released:  1995

Review by Gordon Aplin (January, 1996)
alien.jpgAliens: A Comic Book Adventure is developed by Cryo who recently brought us Dragon Lore and Lost Eden. With such a title I am stating the obvious by saying the game is based on the comic book series by Dark Horse Comics which are in turn based on the well known movies.

To a certain extent the comic book influence is a little unfortunate as the movie scenarios alone are sufficient to inspire a good adventure game. I say unfortunate because, in typical, juvenile, comic book style, the male leads in particular rely on aggressive posturing and macho dialogue in a misguided attempt to lend a semblance of depth to the characterisations. The conversations, such as they are, are largely pointless anyway but you do get the option of saying things like, "How would you like my fist in your face..." And this to a colleague who has done nothing to provoke you.

The 'tough guy' dialogue, besides being laughable, is also quite sexist and even though the good Dr Lora gives as good as she gets, this fails to excuse it. Why, for example, is it necessary for the mission commander to ask the ship's captain if the 'doc' is any good in bed? However, all this is merely byplay leading up to the time when your team can don their exoskeletons and disguise their humanity entirely as they clunk around like robots to explore their equally metallic environment.

Familiar plot
The familiar plot involves the four crew members of the USS Sheridan awakening from their cryogenic sleep to investigate an SOS from a mining colony which, as you will discover, is not as innocent as it seems. You must search the mining complex and piece together the scattered evidence to learn exactly what and who is behind the sinister experiments that have gone horribly wrong.

Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure combines very impressive graphics with a suitably claustrophobic atmosphere that succeeds in capturing the mood of the movies. The cut sequences featuring the alien creatures are very well done and one scene in particular, as I attempted to retrieve an item, provided quite stunning shock value. The game comes on two CDs and offers a first person perspective that switches to third person during the cinematic sequences showing your party exploring the base. It also presents a third person 'isometric' view during the combat sequences which, surprisingly, I didn't find too off-putting.

Lost potential
From a purely adventuring point of view the game had a lot of potential incorporating some interesting problems to solve, items to find, locations to explore and a sinister plot to unravel. Unfortunately, this promising aspect was marred for me by two major flaws that conspired to ruin the game entirely so that it quickly ceased to be fun to play.

The first of these involved the interface which became rather cumbersome, especially when swapping items between the four characters. Each of the characters can carry a maximum of eight items and I spent almost as much time swapping things between inventories as I did solving puzzles. This was particularly noticeable when it came to simple, yet mundane, tasks such as eating. Your characters will get hungry so you need to take along an ample supply of food. To feed them the food must first be in each individuals inventory before you can drag it over to their 'portrait' to enable them to eat it. If the hungry person has a full inventory but with no food you must clear a space by moving an item to someone else then switch to the person with food then drag the food into the newly created spot then finally feed them. All this takes precious time. Of course, one way to avoid some of this is to make sure every one carries sufficient food. However, with only eight item slots each and lots of things to pick up along the way the inventories soon become full and you will still find yourself forever swapping items or switching inventories.

A race against time
The interface by itself would only be a minor annoyance were it not for the second and even more annoying 'feature' of this game. The action takes place in segments that have a time limitation which means that you can't leisurely explore your surroundings and take your time mulling over a particular puzzle. In fact you are constantly 'dying' as your time runs out and must keep restoring your game. So what's the problem, you may ask?

The problem resides in the design of the save game system. If the developers had gone out of their way to annoy adventure gamers they couldn't have chosen a better way to do it. Put simply, once you leave the ship your games don't save where you intend them but default to the point immediately before you put on your exoskeleton. This means that you must go through the same sequence time and again before you can navigate your way back to the rooms you were searching just before you 'died'. Admittedly, you can cut through some of the cinematic sequences by pressing the space bar, and you do retain any items you may have picked up once you have saved the game, but it does very quickly become boring. To cap it off this problem is compounded once you finally make it through to disk 2.

Swapping disks in the last third of the game almost took on nightmarish proportions for me. When your allotted time runs out you must first insert disk 1 in order to restore; then suffer a, mercifully, foreshortened cinematic sequence that returns you to the start of stage three; and then you must reinsert disk 2 before you can move on, if, by this time you can remember where you were and what you were doing.

I could put up with all this if I had 'died' due to my own mistake, but it soon became intolerable knowing that at any moment the game was going to decide my time was up and throw me out.

Not the way to go
To be fair, this game is clearly aimed at a teenage (male) market, and a lot of effort has gone into the cinematic sequences which are obviously its main attraction. However, I suspect that most players, including its intended audience, will soon become frustrated with the aspects I have mentioned, and it will take a lot of single minded determination to play it through to the end. It is, in fact, a very difficult game to play, but only because of the time limitation and the vagaries of the control system, and not through any inherent difficulties in the nature of the puzzles. This is certainly not the way forward for adventure games as there is no time to relax and explore the game world. It is a pity that a potentially interesting adventure game has been marred in this way. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1996. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
486DX2/66, 8MB RAM, 20 MB hard drive space, SVGA, mouse