Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Aliens - The Computer Game (Electric Dreams Software, 1987)

Developed by Software Studios: designed by Mark Eyles and produced by Jonathan Dean.

Commodore 64 version programmed by Mevlut Dinc, Steve Green, Alan Steel and Edwin Rayner. Amstrad CPC & ZX Spectrum versions programming, music and sound effects by Soft Machine and Pennsoft. Commodore 16 version programmed by John F. White and Greg Duddle from Mr. Micro. MSX conversion by Mr. Micro. Graphics by Saul Marchese for Focus Creative Enterprises Ltd.



While not quite as atmospheric or terrifying as the original Alien, James Cameron's action-oriented sci-fi classic left its own specific sort of mark in the Alien franchise, this time allowing for a more straightforward approach to the horrors in outer space. I have to admit to being more of a fan of the original Ridley Scott movie, but the first Alien game by Argus Press doesn't have as much of content or conversions to make for quite as interesting a comparison, so I decided to go with the more popular one of the two official games based on the movie.

This game is often compared to Taito's Space Gun for rather good reasons, but that one came three years after this one. Aliens also has the distinction of being the first first-person shooter in the game franchise, as well as the first one clearly utilising the horror elements to its advantage. Perhaps it's no wonder it was received as well as it was back in the day. Currently, the scores at our favourite haunts are as follows: Lemon64 - 6.8 from 82 votes; CPC Softs - 14.29/20.00; CPC Game Reviews - 8 out of 10; World of Spectrum - 7.72 from 43 votes; Generation-MSX - 4/5 from 5 votes; Plus/4 World - 7.4 from 13 votes.



Ridley Scott's Alien is one of the most important sci-fi-horror movies of all time, and it earned its status of a classic early on for good reasons. At the time of release, sci-fi movies were gaining good momentum of blockbusters with Logan's Run, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and such. There wasn't much of good sci-fi horror movies at the time, though - that sort of stuff was made mostly in a b-movie mentality. In 1974, Dan O'Bannon and John Carpenter's darkly comedic sci-fi movie Dark Star got its cinematic release, but failed to reach its intended audience, so it didn't get its due recognition until the early 1980s. However, after witnessing audiences failing to laugh at the humorous parts of Dark Star, O'Bannon lamented "if I can't make them laugh, then maybe I can make them scream." Then he basically rewrote some of Dark Star with Ronald Shushett, added some influences from other sci-fi and horror works, and the result was the script for Alien. With a fairly young Ridley Scott on the director's seat, a top-class cast of seven people (and a cat) we all remember, the haunting soundtrack by the legendary Jerry Goldsmith, the immortal surreal art of Hans Rudolf Giger, and one of the most perfect poster taglines of all time, the movie could not go wrong. Yes, it was a huge hit, and by the time it hit the theaters, there were already plans of a sequel. It took 4 years for 20th Century Fox executives to greenlight the sequel, but only when they got James Cameron to lead the project after his success with The Terminator. I can only imagine how great were the expectations towards him at that time.

In the movie, Warrant Officer Ripley is picked up floating in deep space in a hyper-sleep capsule, and taken to Gateway Station, where she learns that the remote planet on which the crew of the Nostromo encountered the deadly extraterrestrial is now inhabited by the Company's space engineers and families, who have set up a colony base there. Naturally, when the Company loses all contact with the colony, they send an elite squad of Space Marines, accompanied with Ripley, to find out what happened and clean the mess.

For all the good and bad it did, Aliens was a huge success, of course. Having more of a war film kind of a tone to it, and a basis on action more than horror could have easily gone wrong, but he did have The Terminator in his CV. My gripe with Aliens is, that it allowed for the sequels to become more and more action-based, and even have humorous tones where none is required. Then again, it also allowed the franchise to grow into what it has become, however good or bad you think it is. Since the original movie mostly induced claustrophobia and paranoia, the rather unexpected computer game adaptation was also a bit unexpectedly a strategy game, bordering on being a digital board game. Happily, for all its action, Aliens allowed for a more action-based game adaptation. Such was the level of enthusiasm with the movie, that it spawned two different games - one from Activision in North America, and this one from the United Kingdom. Because I have less personal regard for the Activision game, I chose to do a comparison of this one, but I might do one on the other one later on.

Electric Dreams' Aliens is a fairly straight-forward first-person shooter inside a facility taken over by aliens. Your mission is to take your team of space exterminators through the endless corridors of the facility, kill all the aliens, and somehow destroy the Alien Queen and her nest. And of course, save Newt while you're at it. Couldn't be much simpler on paper. But the thing is, these sorts of first-person games were not very often done back then, and certainly not in a particularly interesting manner, because the hardware of the time wouldn't allow for much more in terms of graphics than what you got in Paul Woakes' Encounter! So, the trick was to restrict your movement to just going sideways through the corridors, and shoot at things with your crosshair, then walk through doorways by a separate key meant for the job. Orientating yourself to the way how the corridors work can be difficult, but you are provided with a map, if you actually bought the game. As for the team - well, you have to control each member separately, but each of them has their own stamina and energy that you have to keep an eye on, as well as any signs that your team members are under attack or something. It's a surprisingly good amount of work for a game of this age.

I cannot honestly say that it's a particularly easy game to get into, because it's not. It takes time and practice to get used to it, but once you get into the rhythm and logic of it, it can be a very rewarding experience, and one you can easily return to on a regular basis. As such, it's a highly recommended title, but it's also very much worth taking a look at for historical reasons: the game series is now 31 years old, which makes it one of the most enduring game franchises.



Since we have once again a game under inspection, which was released on cassette tape for all featured machines, I thought we might as well take a look at all the tape loading times. I found out there are quite a few tape versions out there for at least the ZX Spectrum as well as the C64, but I thought it best to include only the slowest and the quickest versions. Unfortunately, since World of Spectrum doesn't have the tape versions available for download, I had to find them elsewhere, so I was unable to find out, which version was released by which publisher and on which compilation, if such was the case. Perhaps later, then. The version I happen to have on the Spectrum is the original Electric Dreams release, which falls somewhere between the slowest and the fastest, so that check was a bit useless. Also, I still don't know which baud rate is the proper one for the MSX tape release, so I included both in the comparison.

C16: 8 minutes 57 seconds
C64: Electric Dreams - 3 minutes 54 seconds; Beau-Jolly - 2 minutes 45 seconds
CPC: 10 minutes 18 seconds
MSX: 1200 baud - 9 minutes 8 seconds; 2400 baud - 4 minutes 57 seconds
SPE: slowest - 5 minutes 54 seconds; fastest - 5 minutes 6 seconds

Strangely enough, it's the C64 version that loads up the quickest. But then, we are talking about tape loading post-1984 here. Disk versions would be a bit unnecessary, since the general loading speeds have been well established.

Loading screens / title sequences, from left to right:
Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 16, ZX Spectrum, MSX.

The loading screen has been made similarly enough in most cases: after a while, the copyright screen comes up, stays for a while, and then gives room for the title screen, which has been made to mimic the cover art as much as possible. Only the C16 version features no actual loading screen - the very long loader only flashes a title screen (built within the in-game system graphics) a couple of times, and stays rather blank for the other 8 minutes and 56 seconds. In the four regular versions, the speed of the copyright screen's scrolling and the style of revealing the actual title screen differs slightly, the most faithful one to the movie being on the C64.



Compared to the way the game looks from start to finish, Aliens is surprisingly complex. First, you will notice that you will play as a team, as there are six slots in the info display section of the screen showing each member of the team, their health status and their location. Contrary to modern team-played games, you have no choice but to control one person at a time, until you decide to change to another member of your team. At this point already, I can point out that the COMMODORE 16 version only features four members instead of six, but considering the hardware, that's plenty enough. You can select each member by their initials on the keyboard - R for Ripley, G for Gorman, H for Hicks and V for Vasquez, but since there are two characters, whose name starts with the letter B, Burke has been chosen to occupy that letter, and Bishop is selected with the letter I.

According to the game manual, you, the unnamed player behind the keyboard or joystick, command the crew members around the base from a Mobile Tactical Operations Bay (MTOB) they have set up just outside the colony base. You will remain there and direct the other crew members, so basically, you're the wimp that gets killed last. Of course, this explains the way the game looks: you've got a video screen showing each member's view from their helmet cameras, the cross-hair to indicate each team member's movement and aim, and all sorts of personal information on each team member below the video screen. In the middle, you have the selected crew member's portrait, left of which is the member's bio-functions trace, and to the right you can see the current member's ammunition levels. In the smaller slots around the middle one, you can see each member's occupied room number and bio-monitor bar, which shows the member's life status (green - healthy; yellow - being impregnated by alien; red - has been impregnated and cannot be saved) and stamina (any movement will reduce the bar's size, and resting will restore it). There is also a score counter under the crew member portrait as well, but that's the least of your worries. The primary goal is to get to the Queen's Chamber - room 248, and dispose of the alien scum.

Unfortunately, unless you have an exceptionally good visual memory, you will need to have a map, which is provided with the original game. There are 255 rooms in the game, and the base is constructed in a unique manner, so you cannot really do without a map. More to the point, since you can actually direct the crew members to move through up to 9 rooms at a time to any single direction, you will need to know where to go. You just have to perform it in a certain order: first, have your character selected, then press a number key to move the chosen amount of rooms, and then press the direction (NSEW) - and finally, switch to another character to make the previous move on his/her own. When you feel like you have no choice but to move around manually, you can use the cross-hair to move around and shoot, and pass through doors by pressing Space Bar. You will also notice rather early on in the game, that you have to clear up some of the bio-mechanical Alien growth on the walls by shooting at it, in order to find hidden doors, and also in order to minimize the possibility of getting more aliens spawned in the rooms this stuff is found in. You may also seal doors by blasting the lock mechanisms next to the door. Of course, then if you need to go through a sealed door, you need to blast your way through the said door. You might wish to be aware, that queen aliens or groups of warrior aliens can break sealed doors.

All of this information, and more, can be found in the instructions manual that comes with the original game, which is in the flip side of the map. Since I came to speaking of the map again, I should probably advertise the Remember team crack of the C64 version as being the only version out there, that features an in-game map, which also happens to be the only map around of the C64 version that is correct. It also has plenty of bugfixes and other minor improvements. Anyway, in case I would be doing something completely stupid and against some unwritten law regarding cracked versions, I shall retain from showing you the full map included in the Remember version until further notice. For the rest of you folks, this map of the Spectrum version should be plenty enough.

I would assume that the C64 version is the original, considering the amount of information on the creators on each version, so I will compare every version to that one. Only I will be using the Remember crack as my chosen release to play, since I seem to be constantly running into some sort of bugs in the original tape version that halt the CPU or do other uncomfortable things that make me feel like throwing the tape out of the window. One very crucial bug has ruined my game a few times: if your stamina level goes to zero when you walk through a doorway, the game freezes. So, the only reason I would actually recommend you to buy the C64 version would be for building on your collection. My often referenced friend Bob has mentioned that he has an original tape version of the game that doesn't have these problems, but it hasn't been determined yet, whether or not it is a budget re-release or what. But I'd say, regardless, stick to the Remember crack. That said, I have to confess that I have never actually finished the game, not even close. It requires such quick thinking and multitasking, that my style of gaming is no match with this game. The furthest I've gotten to is somewhere around the control room, which is in the middle of the map. But I shall compare the basic gameplay as much as I can.

As you will soon enough notice after you start the game, you will come across some alien drones quite often. The deeper you get into the base, the more aliens you will meet and they get gradually more hostile as well. Happily, the game will always notify you when there's an alien in the room one of your team members occupy, by making a gradually intensifying noise and showing the endangered person's name in a different colour. Basically, once you have an alien drone in your vision, you only need one bullet in the head to kill an alien, or three bullets elsewhere in its body, although you might need another one to attract it to come towards you, so that you can actually kill it. This should be kept firmly in mind, since you will need all the bullets you can get. You should also keep in mind not to shoot an alien in front of a doorway, because it will automatically squirt some acid on the spot, which will drain your energy, if you have to walk through it. Sooner or later, you will also come across facehuggers and alien warriors, and finally, the alien queen, so you will need to be either extremely quick in your moves with a single character, or have all your team on the move all the time, because the only place where you can get some more bullets is the armoury (room 028), which is located the closest to the entrance room of all the important rooms. The game is completed only when you have destroyed everything in the room occupied by the alien queen (room 248) and have returned to room 001 with the remaining marines. Once in a while you might see the little orphaned girl called Newt hanging around - you might want to leave her alone.

Now, in the SPECTRUM version, the controls are a bit awkward, since you can only use the cursor keys to control the Smart Gun, unless you can replace the cursor keys with a joystick somehow. Those of you unfamiliar with a Spectrum keyboard, you might be a bit shocked to learn that they are placed within the numeric keys 5 to 8 (5 = left, 6 = down, 7 = up and 8 = right), and 0 (zero) is used as the fire button. Added to that, you will need to use the keys for each member, along with all the numbers and compass directions (NSEW) for instructing the members to move without your manual labour. So, you will have your fingers quite well at work in the Spectrum version. You should be able to change the controls in the start-up screen, but I could never tell, what happens in the controls when you change them, and the Spectrum version's instructions manual doesn't tell it to you either. But that's only the beginning of my account of the differences here. Your crew members move a bit slower on command than they do on the C64. The cursor moves around with a slow inertia, as well as a bit jerkily, and the game scrolls up to a few character blocks' width at a time, depending on your crosshair's speed of movement. Also, the aliens move at a higher speed, so it's much more difficult to get a good aim at them. The alien growth on the walls is wider, so you don't need to shoot at it as much, but with the slow cross-hair, it takes some practice and patience to get yourself adjusted to this version. The biggest advantage the Spectrum version has to the C64 one is that it doesn't have nearly as many bugs in the official release, and I have encountered no freezing problems whatsoever.

The AMSTRAD version suffers from a similar scrolling problem as the Spectrum version, as well as the cursor slowness and jerkiness, not to mention the relative slowness of crew members moving on command, but at least the aliens walk around in a more sedate manner. Also, there are no control-related problems on the Amstrad, since it has separate cursor arrows on the keyboard, and you can also use a joystick here. Somehow, this version falls kind of half-way between the Spectrum and C64 versions, but unfortunately is more like a mixed bag of good and bad (with more of the bad), rather than the optimal version.

Surprisingly, there is less control jerkiness and slightly better scrolling on the MSX (but only slightly), although the crosshair is still a bit on the slow side, but that's not too bad, considering everything. You control your crew with the cursor keys, as you would expect, but you shoot with Space bar and walk through doors with Enter. The aliens walk around at a similar speed that they do on the Amstrad, and so does your crew on command, so I'd say it's the most playable version based on the Spectrum code.

What can I say about the C16 version, then? Judging by the game's page at Plus/4 World, it has all the rooms that it's supposed to have, which is quite impressive considering the hardware. Also, the cross-hair moves smoothly, which cannot be said of every version, and the scrolling is surprisingly smooth as well - although the screen doesn't scroll at varying speeds. Then again, when it scrolls smoother, it's easier to see things, so it's better this way, really. The aliens move around at a similar pace to the C64, as do your crew members on command, so it's all surprisingly good so far. As I mentioned before, there are only four members in your team, so in theory, it should make this version the easiest one to play, because you don't need to focus on as many people all the time. The controls are similar to the MSX version, in that you need to use Enter to go through doors, and Space bar is used for shooting, but you can use a joystick as well. Other changes made due to the hardware incapabilities are fairly easy to spot, although I'm not sure if these are all the other differences in the game: the facehuggers and eggs are now gone, and the corridors are aligned with each other to take less space from the memory. Considering everything, it's perhaps the most impressive version of the lot, and it also is perhaps the most instantly playable one. However, since it lacks some of the original's feel and depth precisely due to the adjustments, it can be also considered the worst version around, which it unfortunately must be.

Based on my still rather sadly limited experience with the game, I could say the Commodore versions beat the rest by some length. On the other hand, one could argue that the faster aliens and the jerky movement might add some atmosphere and difficulty into the game - as if it wasn't difficult enough already. I could understand that argument, were it not for the fact that it's an insanely large and complex game for all its simplicity and repetitiveness. In these sorts of situations, the comfort level in the game's playability overrules the intended atmosphere. So, here are the scores...

2. MSX



For all its intense gameplay and atmosphere, the game doesn't have all that much of graphics. Well, at least, not in a large scale. In an adequately cinema-like manner, the game starts with a credits screen and the title card revealed in different ways. But since this set was already dealt with in the Loading section - as they do get shown in the middle of loading - we shall move on to the in-game graphics straight away. Mind you, the loading screens shall have to be considered a part of this section, because it's all part of the movie, in a manner of speaking.

The start-up screen. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Commodore 16, Amstrad CPC.
Bottom left: MSX. Bottom right: ZX Spectrum.

Once the game has actually loaded in, the first thing you will see is the basic layout of the MTOB, which you will be seeing for the entire time the game is still loaded in the computer. Within a few milliseconds, the blast doors are shown to quickly close and open up again in the video screen, merely to show you the infinitely welcoming message, "Press fire to start", although the SPECTRUM version has the grace to give an additional instruction to press "C to change control." Strangely, only the two COMMODORE versions show Ripley in the profile section, while the other three have it empty, which is actually more logical, since the game hasn't started yet.

Blast doors at start-up and in pause mode, from left to right:
Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, MSX, Commodore 16.

In the C64 version, the blast doors have information on your current scores, while the other versions all need to be in Pause mode or further on, your game has to be over in order to view the scores. Otherwise, the blast doors will just show up blank and empty. The scoreboard version features the number of killed aliens of each kind, as well as the current attack wave. On C64 and AMSTRAD, the fonts used here are rather nicely sci-fi oriented, while the other versions utilise a rather more basic and unimaginative font, although each of them might not necessarily be used by the computer system by default. The look on the C64 version's blast doors differs quite a bit from the others, as they form a square wave lining in between the two doors, as opposed to a straight line featured in all the other versions. The C16 version is the only one, in which the current scores aren't shown on the actual blast doors, because there's one statistic missing due to another missing element, so when you pause the game, the white blast doors will close and open again to show you a black background with white text, which show you the scores.

Room colour #1 examples, left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, MSX.

The in-game graphics are rather monotonous for the most part. Basically, you are always standing in the middle of the room and turning into your chosen direction to view other walls of the room. If you keep no track of the direction you are facing at any given time, you will be easily confused as to where you should - or indeed, COULD be going, because all the rooms look very similar to each other, apart from their colours, and those very few select rooms that have something a little different about them. Of course, once you have gotten used to the monotonous graphics, you might eventually notice some differences in the room structures and such things, but whether or not you will ever be able to memorize them enough to play the game without a map is an entirely different thing.

In the picture above, room #1 shows us an example of one of the basic room colours for most of the versions, this one obviously being red, as you see. The COMMODORE 16 version defies this logic in abundance, which I shall be showing you further down.

Room colour #2 examples, left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, MSX.

The second (and the most frequent) room colour is either dark blue, as they are represented in the C64 and AMSTRAD versions, or purple (or magenta), as they are represented in the SPECTRUM and MSX versions. These two twosomes feature different styles in graphics as well - wide pixels with more shades and colours on C64 and AMSTRAD, and hi-res monochrome graphics with a more crude manner of shading in the other two versions. The rest of the room colours are linked to the area you're moving around in - for instance, the Controls and Research area has green and yellow rooms, but I've been unable to reach those areas in most of the versions, so I can't really comment on that with any credibility, other than that I'm aware the C64 version features more lighting effects in addition to the new colours as you go deeper into the colony base, than what the monochrome versions are capable of - and I'm suspecting the Amstrad version follows the C64 version in this.

The single most varied graphical element in the game is, strangely enough, the cross-hair, which looks different on all the versions. On the C64 and AMSTRAD, it is a white cross-hair of a different design, while the SPECTRUM and MSX versions don't have a cross-hair as such, but an aiming icon consisting of two rectangles - a small one inside of a bigger one. However, on the MSX, it scrolls through the machine's palette all the time.

Random examples of room colours on the Commodore 16 version.

So many colours! And all this within the first 11 rooms in any direction, too! Well, it's still monochrome, but the rooms are in a different colour, if it helps you any. The colours don't seem to have any logical basis, though, so it's not necessarily the most helpful way to map things out, unless you want to colour your own map as you go. In all the other versions, the red rooms are more roomy, and have some sort of apparent purpose, and the blue or purple rooms look more like corridors. I still don't think it makes navigating without a map any easier.

Character faces in the profile pictures.

Now that I've shown you the basic colourings of the game's different versions, it's time to look at our teams. All the team members' faces are shown in your MTOB's portrait highlight section, and as you would have noticed earlier, the C16 version only has 4 team members included, as opposed to the regular six. Similarly to the C64 and AMSTRAD versions, the C16 version has the profile pictures follow the room colouring, while the MSX and SPECTRUM versions keep to just showing purple pictures all the time for all characters. Curiously, the C64 and AMSTRAD versions have not utilised as much of shading or colours as you could have imagined in the profile pictures, so they look a bit too blocky and ugly without better use of colours, compared to the profile pictures in all the other versions. So, the C16 version does this bit the best, since while it uses hi-res graphics, it also utilises the room colours in the pictures, making its profile pictures the most interesting to look at in the long run.

Random occurrences of Newt. Left: Commodore 64. Middle: Commodore 16. Right: MSX.

Like in the movie, Newt is the only survivor you will come across in the otherwise alien-infested LV-426 colony. She will pop up in random places, and serves no real purpose, other than giving you an additional jump scare, if you happen to be easily scareable, as well as a weird moral choice of shooting her for bonus points (YES - bonus points for killing a little girl. Whatever were they thinking??) or letting her run away, which will still give you bonus points. Anyway, that is what she looks like in some versions, and from the above screens, you can get the idea of what she looks like in the missing two. Not particularly interesting here, but in the heat of all the action, Newt can certainly surprise you a bit, since her appearance is very uncommon.

Frame-by-frame shots of the Alien approaching animation sequence.
Left to right: Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, MSX, Amstrad CPC. Bottom row: Commodore 16.

Here's where the graphics start getting a bit more interesting. I compiled a set of animation frames of an event, where you come across an alien walking by in some random room featuring alien growth on the walls, then shoot at nothing to raise the alien's attention, and then see all the frames of it walking towards you and eventually killing you - which we will get to later on.

Since the alien architecture was originally designed by H.R. Giger, I felt it necessary to refresh my mind on how the alien growth matter looked like in the first movie, and compare it to the design on the second movie. Of course, none of the game versions get the right look for the alien growth, but at least the monochrome designs have better details and the idea is closer to what it is in the movies.

The reason why I chose to use the "alien coming towards your camera" animation as the point of comparison for all the animations is, because it was the easiest one to get through. The actual alien walk was a bit difficult to see where it starts and loops, so I thought I might as well use an animation bit which has a beginning and an end. Although it's not very much, we can see that the C64 original has slightly smoother animation, even if we only base this on the number of frames made for this bit. In action, the framing differences in animations are even clearer to see, and I can assure you, it would have been difficult to get good, clear shots of the aliens walking around without a speed adjuster on the emulator or a pause button, because the aliens are drawn to move in a line-by-line fashion, so you can clearly see the alien's tail always following it more than a bit behind. Of course, with only four frames of animation for this bit, it's not difficult to guess how good does the animations look in the C16 version. Well, it's not as bad as it could have been, but there are only two frames that the C16 version loops, in comparison to the many more on all the other versions.

Dead alien remains, left to right: Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 16, MSX, Amstrad CPC.

Depending on where exactly you are in the currently occupied room when you shoot down an alien, and more importantly, where the alien in question happens to be in, you will either leave a corpse lying on the floor, or if you shot the alien in front of a doorway, a puddle of acid will appear instead. Which is a bit strange, really, since the acid would burn a hole through the floor, and not stay there for the entire duration of the game, but hey, you can't have everything on the 8-bits, right? But in view of what acid is usually seen as to look like in a non-realistic fashion, which is silly neon green, it's only natural that some of these versions would use a colour at least close to that kind to portray the alien acid. The more monochrome-based versions, of course, use the same colours used by the action screen anyway.

Death of a team member results in different kinds of static noise from camera. Top left: Commodore 64.
Bottom left: Commodore 16. Middle: Amstrad CPC (top: regular, bottom: acid). Right: ZX Spectrum / MSX.

This here is something, which a C64 or AMSTRAD gamer might be somewhat envious of. Once your character is killed, the camera turns to show static, white noise kind of an animation. In the two versions already mentioned, the screen noise looks very unnatural and forced, while the other versions feature a more natural approach to the idea - the animation definitely looks more like a bad TV signal than a VCR going fast-forward at about 16x speed. The SPECTRUM and MSX versions in particular have this effect very nicely done indeed. The AMSTRAD version can boast of one thing, though - when you step into an acid puddle, the camera static effect is of a different colour than it would be in a normal death by alien attack.

Unfortunately, that's all I can offer, since I have been unable to play the game as far as I would have liked to (not all versions available have cheat modes that wouldn't need some sort of hassle), and the internet hasn't been all that helpful in this instance either. The thing is, this game is brutally difficult after a certain point, and requires PLENTY of practice and memorizing so you don't need to keep ogling at the maps and worrying too much about the other members in your team. This, I believe, is primarily the reason why there are no further pictures or longplays on the internet of any version of the game, apart from the C16 one. It is well known, that the game features rooms getting darkened after the aliens take over the control room, and of course the Alien Queen is featured, as well as the facehuggers and those few different looking areas in the map... but I regret to say, this is all I can show you with my abilities.

So, there are three rather important things to consider, when giving scores for the graphics here: detail, animation and scrolling, and although colouring is important as well, it doesn't play as big a part in this game, because there isn't all that much of it to begin with. Really, too much extra colour could perhaps even hurt the atmosphere. For the most part, the movie is fairly dark and any colour it has is in mostly for the atmosphere. The C64 original is easily the smoothest version around, although the C16 version pulls it off rather nicely as well. However, the detail is better on the SPECTRUM, MSX and C16 versions, although it is clear that the C16 version has less graphic elements overall. The AMSTRAD version hits exactly the middle-ground between C64 and the monochrome versions in that it has the same big pixels as the C64 version, but has similarly worse scrolling and less animation frames as the SPECTRUM and MSX versions have. Since the game requires insane skills and good controls, bigger pixels (although certainly perfectly acceptable graphics) with better scrolling is infinitely preferable, but when the scrolling and animations are on par, the detail and colouring becomes more important.

2. MSX



Electric Dreams' Aliens is one of those games that excels in minimalistic sound design. In the supposedly original C64 version, for example, the game doesn't have any music, but instead you will only hear few types of sound effects, which will increase as you make progress. The first sound effect in the game is the blast doors quietly bumping into each other at the very beginning. Of the in-game sound effects I have noticed three: the droning alarm sound the grows in intensity, when an alien occupies the same room as you; a fainter beep sound that fades in and out, when one of your other crew members is in danger; and a shooting noise. As the original Alien tagline goes: "In space no one can hear you scream", so it's only proper that the sound effects are fairly scarce - particularly as you're supposed to be seeing and hearing everything through a monitor.

Although the SPECTRUM version, even in 128k mode, utilises only the single-channel beeper, it has been given a title theme tune. It doesn't really resemble much of anything in the movie soundtrack - it's more like a mock-horror movie theme in a similar vein to what the movie Beetlejuice has. But nevertheless, it is a tune, and if you don't think about it too much, it gives a fairly nice atmosphere to start the game by. The sound effects, however, are a bit lacking, since you don't get a warning signal for when another one of your team members is in trouble - you just have to notice that yellow highlight on the said person's name. The shooting noise is very good, I'd say even better than that in the C64 version, and the alien-in-the-same-room signal works well enough - even though it doesn't grow in intensity, it raises the pitch a few times. The MSX version is basically a straight port of the Spectrum version, as far as graphics and sounds go, so no need to write more about it.

The AMSTRAD version has the same theme tune as the Spectrum version, but it takes advantage of the AY-soundchip and gives a more pronounced beat for the tune, as well as some nice harmonics. But as I said, the composition doesn't go all that well together with a game based on a movie that has a less beat-oriented, and more atmospheric soundtrack. Still, more is more, when you feel like it. And when you want more, you do get some more: there is a strange ambient sort of soundtrack in the background when you play, and includes some random bits of melody and other noises, as if to create more of an atmosphere around the base. Somehow, the Amstrad version manages to pull it off, even though I still prefer the haunting silence of the previous versions over this. For some reason, they didn't quite get the other sounds as they should be. When there's an alien in the same room, the alarm doesn't change at all before either of the inevitables happens. The shooting noise sounds more like a comedy shot, as if your character was throwing darts in a slapstick film. And like the Spectrum version, this one doesn't feature a fainter alarm sound for when another team member is endangered.

And this is where the C16 version really shows the disadvantages of hardware. There are only two sounds in the entire game: one repeating short pulse "bip" sound indicating someone having an alien in the room, whether it's you or other one of your team members; and the other sound is the very short and slightly unthreatening gunshot noise.

Depending on whether you more appreciate sound effects that are as effective as possible, or music which might not be quite as correct in context as it could be, or perhaps some artificial ambient atmosphere noise, you could easily choose your favourite version simply based on this. But fortunately, it's not as simple as that. Still, I cannot really give scores here based entirely on my own preferences, so I shall have to point out that each version has its advantages. Only the C64 version wins because it has the most complete and effective set of sound effects.




Electric Dreams' Aliens is a tough game to love, but it cannot be called devoid of atmosphere or bad value for money, unless you happen to own the super-buggy C64 version. The overall score is based entirely on the assumption, that there does exist an official C64 release out there, that doesn't freeze the game at certain points or have any other fatal flaws in it. Otherwise, I could only suggest you to either purchase and play any of the other versions, or find the Remember crack. Now, here are the increasingly dubious mathematically processed overall scores:

1. COMMODORE 64: Playability 5, Graphics 5, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 14
2. MSX: Playability 4, Graphics 4, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 10
3. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 3, Graphics 2, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 8
4. ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 2, Graphics 3, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 7
5. COMMODORE 16: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 3

Still, I do recommend you to try out every version, because they all have their own specific special things. Particularly, the C16 version I thought was surprisingly well made considering the hardware, but when compared against the other versions, it just doesn't have much of a chance. Even if I had given the C16 version a 4 in the Playability score, as I well might have done, it would still only have the same total score as the Spectrum version. But as I said, go try them all out by yourselves and find out what's the best choice for you. It's a fantastic game either way, if a bloody hard one.

Screenshot from Derbian Games' LV-426.
For those of you, who are looking for a more modern alternative: Derbian Games, the same folks who made the Quest For Tires remake, remade this game in 2007 and released it with a new title, LV-426. The latest update was made in 2010, and like the original game, it doesn't feature a multiplayer mode, but they did another game based on the same idea and implemented a multiplayer mode in it - Outpost 41. Both games very recommendable. For those of you who want a completely different sort of a game adaptation of the movie, there's always the Activision game with a very similar name, which features different sorts of areas and types of gameplay. Perhaps I shall do a comparison of this on a later Halloween session, but that remains to be seen.

Now, though, thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope my relative lack of skills (and perseverance in experiencing random luck) in the game didn't completely ruin the comparison! Next time, something I wasn't planning on doing this year - at least not very often: a fourth comparison entry for the month... and it's something some of you folks have been waiting for since the beginning of the blog. At least, it was requested of me before I even posted my first one. Anyway, that's it for now - see you later! Comments and all that stuff is still welcome!


  1. I am that person who posts regularly on your blog - I was locked out of my own account , so I had to use another one.

    There's a game of the same name based off the same movie by Activision. It plays quite differently (One part plays like Master of the Lamps, which is an interesting game). Square also made a platformer for the MSX off the film too.

    1. Hey cuba, hope you get your original profile back in action. I'm very aware of the Activision game, which I mentioned twice in the comparison. =) I'm also aware of the MSX game and the other Aliens games out there, but I will probably write about them next year, if I'm still around.