When I was choosing the games I wanted to review for this version of 30 Reviews in 30 Days, I found myself wanting to visit some of my gaming roots. While many people grew up playing NES and Sega, I spent much more time playing games on the Commodore 64. The system was amazingly versatile, and many beloved game franchises either got their start or made appearances on the system.
Well, if I was going to do some C64 reviews, I decided I wanted to do the games I spent the most time playing, and when it came right down to it, there are few C64 games I spent more time playing than Aliens.
Step into the movie
Aliens was by no means the first Science Fiction film to be translated into a game. The issue was many of them either did a very poor job of adapting the movie to the game, such as E.T. for the Atari 2600, or recreated a small portion of it, such as the original Star Wars arcade game. Very few really let you step into the movie itself, playing through some of the most critical points in the story via the game.
Aliens was different. Activision took each of the turning points in the film and managed to create gameplay around them. You got to pilot the drop ship, lead the marines stranded in the nest back to the APC, hold off the aliens while one of your teammates burned through the door, maneuver through a maze of air ducts to make your way back to the drop ship, saddle up to rescue Newt and battle the queen in the power loader. As a fan of the movie, I could not have been happier.
Activision did not stop there, however. Via text screens and early still-frame predecessors to cut scenes, the player was drawn even more into the story. Even people who had never seen the movie would have been able to follow what was happening, as the storyboard sequences and other scenes helped explain just what lead from mission to mission. Granted, it would be easier to follow the story if you were already familiar with it, but the fact these sequences were included just made the immersion more complete.
Doing a lot with a little
For those of you who never played games on the Commodore 64, the controller was very similar to the one for the 2600. You had a joystick and one button. This was not a lot to work with, but Activision did a great job of of using this and the occasional push of a key on the keyboard to make a rich gaming experience. Take for example the sequence where four of the marines are stranded in the alien nest. You can only control one marine at a time, using the keyboard to switch among the marines. You had heart rate monitors for each one, and those would react whenever they were about to be attacked by the aliens. When that occurred, you had to switch to that marine quickly and deal with the aliens or risk losing that marine, which would really hurt later in the game.
That was one of the true innovations of the game. You could play past the sequence, even if you did not rescue any of the marines. The problem is you would have fewer of them left alive for the rest of the game. In the next mission, where you are trying to hold back the aliens while cutting through the door, any aliens that get by you will grab a marine and take off, and if they get to Ripley and Newt, it’s game over. If you get past that part, the remaining marines will sacrifice themselves in the maze of air ducts to allow Ripley and Newt to escape. You can see, then, how important it was to have as many marines as possible survive. I believe the best I ever did was only losing two marines throughout the entire game.
Don’t get me wrong; the game was still limited by the restrictions of the C64. The battle with the queen in the power loader at the end really only consisted of bashing her against the sides of the screen until you wore her out enough to grab her and drop her through the airlock, but it still felt like really battling her at that time. I could not get enough of that fight.
How do you rate a game this old?
When reviewing games for older systems, especially ones as old as the Commodore 64, it can be difficult to determine how to score them. After all, if you were to bring this game to current generation gamers, they would laugh at how outdated it was. In my opinion, you have to rate the game based on the limitations of the system for which it was made. That is why my review for Jet Grind Radio was a perfect 5 stars (which is how we were rating games back when I wrote that review) but my review for Jet Set Radio HD only rated a 7. When that game was brought to the current generation of consoles, the changes in technology showed, and it needed a little more to be included to maintain the perfect score.
So with that in mind, how do I rate Aliens? I have struggled this question for a while, and I have come to some conclusions. Of all the games I played on the C64, and I played several, this is the one I come back to time and time again as my favorite. What Activision was able to do with the limited hardware to make you really feel like you were in the movie was just impressive, and my score needs to reflect that. With that in mind, Aliens for the Commodore 64 gets a 9 out of 10.