Watch Out for Them Grabboids!

Alien (1982)

When you think of a good game based on the loosely connected Aliens v PredatorOriginally two separate franchises, the Alien and Predator series came together first in a series of comics and video games before, finally, Fox Studios merged them together is the Alien v Predator film franchise. franchise, you likely have a first- or third-person shooter in mind. You, against some Xenomorphs (or Predators), stalking dark hallways, desperate for a strategy so you can get the upper hand. That's a reasonable way to build a video game for these movie monsters, something that puts you in the thick of it, low on health and just praying to stay alive. That suits the films in this series.


Something tells me, though, that your first inclination (or even you second, twelfth, or eightieth) isn't to put that game on the Atari 2600. Where modern consoles can make you feel like you're right in the thick of it, battling against Xenomorphs that look like Xenomorphs, the Atari 2600 was an underpowered system not known for its graphical fidelity or ability to render detailed play types. A game from the Alien franchise, licensed to the Atari, simply has no hope of being good, one would assume.

And that assumption would be correct. I won't try and sugar coat it, or pretend this cart is anything other than crapware cranked out to capitalize on a name. The 1982 Alien, which arrived on Atari's console three years after the original Alien came out in theaters, isn't really an adaptation of that film, even. It's just a completely shameless clone of Pac-Man with a little Frogger asides between mazes. As far as tapping into the real vibe of Alien, though, this game falls short.

The concept for the game is simple: you are the member of a human space-faring crew, out in the far reaches of space, with a ship that's been infested by the Xenomorphs. They've laid eggs all through the halls of the ship and it's your job to go around and collect them. Naturally, there are Xenomorphs roaming around as well, and if they catch you they will kill you. But fear not, you have some firepower at your disposal: special "pulsar" items that are hidden in corners of the ship. If you collect them you can strike back against the aliens, at least for a limited time.

Don't be fooled by that description, the game is just Pac-Man. Your human is Pac, the aliens are ghosts, the eggs on the ground are the basic pellets you have to eat, and the pulsars are power pellets. Everything is a literal one-to-one translation of the Pac-Man experience. The only difference are the graphics, which feature a human and aliens instead of Pac-Man and Ghosts. Otherwise, there's nothing different about the bas construction of the main levels of the game.

Between mazes a little extra has been added, but note that it's very little. After you complete a maze you're then dropped into a screen where rows of aliens (with occasional gaps between) go horizontally across the screen. You're supposed to weave your way up to collect the flamethrower which the ends this bonus round. Yes, this, too, was stolen, this time from Frogger. Nothing about this game was in any way original.

Functionally the game is playable. It's a decent clone of Pac-Man for the Atari 2600. In fairness, the actual Pac-Man release for that console was bad, a spotty, slow, sketchy looking game that did more to ruin Atari's reputation than any hundreds of thousands of E.T. carts could have. Fans looking for a good translation of Pac-Man could have done worse than this Alien game, although most probably went over to the Television or Collision for their much better ports instead.

But while this is a credible Pac-Man clone, it's a pretty horrible Alien game. Even if we're kind and think of it as an adaptation of Aliens (which wasn't even in development at the time and wouldn't come out for another four years), this is hardly a good representation of the series. Frankly, it doesn't look like an Alien game.

Look at the aliens. What are those?! They look like malformed gloves with legs. They remind me of the monsters from the Tremors series, and that was a comedic franchise with dumb looking, weirdo aliens. Calling these things in the game Xenomorphs seriously oversells the graphical power of the Atari 2600. They look like what a kind would draw if you tried to describes a Xenomorph to them while trying not to be scary. it just doesn't work.

It doesn't help that the ambiance of the main stages is completely off. When you think of the early Alien movies, especially the first one, you think dark hallways with the monsters creeping around out of sight. You don't think blue floors with bright blue walls. A black background would have helped the appearance of this game some... but then, that's also the background color used in Pac-Man (although, oddly, not the Atari conversion of that game), so they probably had to avoid using black so this didn't look too much like Midway's arcade original.

There really isn't any way to look at this title and think anything else other than, "someone had a license and decided to put the least amount of effort possible into a game." They went the easiest route, cloning and existing game, instead of actually trying to make anything compelling for the console that suited the actual license. Sure, the Atari 2600 wasn't a great console, loaded as it was with quick, five-minute diversion titles. But even among all that crapware, this game still feels like a nakedly brazen cash in designs to steal money and never look back.