Lambert: “You admire it.”
Ash: “I admire its purity.”
One of the world’s most enduring movie monsters has been in many films over the years, some good, some bad. Because some suit believed that making video games for kids based on rated R movies was a good idea, we’ve had many more video games than movies featuring the iconic Xenomorphs. Some were good, some bad. So yes, in addition to all the toys and action figures I had as a kid based on these silicon nightmares (and my parents wondered why I often woke up screaming in the middle of the night), it seems to me that games based on the Alien franchise have always been around. I remember playing them on the NES and SNES, on the PS3 with Alien: Isolation, a masterpiece, and in the arcades.
One such arcade game I loved was Alien vs Predator, the side-scrolling beat ’em up by Capcom, but this review is unfortunately not about that game. Instead, we’re gonna chat about Aliens: Extermination, one of any number of ubiquitous casual FPS games taking up space at your local Chuck E. Cheese, which is where I happened to play Extermination, once again. The only difference this time is I had the determination to beat it, and an aunt who graciously supplied the endless stream of tokens.
I just can’t help myself. I love sci-fi and I love this Alien franchise, and it’s one of the few games that interested me out of the sea of ticket-dispensing carnival games. They didn’t even have any classic cabinets. No Pac-Man or Galaga, Dig Dug or Centipede. Man, arcades have changed.
Trigenerian moment over.
Yeah but it kind of is.
Published by Global VR, Aliens: Extermination mashes together Cameron’s Aliens and Fincher’s Alien 3. The game takes place chronology after that third film many of us would like to forget; Colonial Marine squadrons are dispatched back to the ruins of terraforming colony Hadley’s Hope on LV-426 to exterminate the remaining Xenomorphs. See how they worked “extermination” into the title? Clever, yeah?!
Of course, things never work out as planned, especially government projects, so the marines are ambushed and quickly overpowered by an extremely vicious alien force. Not only that but the androids and auto-defense systems on LV-426 malfunction and turn against the poor beleaguered space soldiers. If you ask me, this was never a competent military act in the first place, and the marines themselves seem woefully undertrained… you’re constantly shooting your own comrades as they run right into the line of your fire! Yes, this is one of those arcade shooters that will cheaply tick away at your health by placing friendly NPCs in the worst possible spots.
The game plays out across four missions with a brief fifth mission as a kind of encore: Mission 1 “Bug Hunt” finds the marines invading Hadley’s Hope and taking down the defense systems, remote turrets and gun towers; Mission 2 “Seek & Destroy” pits the marines against synthetics reprogrammed to preserve the Xenomorphs by the Weyland-Yutani corporation, which just might be the strongest anti-capitalism argument ever; Mission 3 “Stronghold” takes us further away from the source material of the movies with new Xenomorph bio-forms, including some kind of dragon-like Xenomorph boss; Mission 4 “Extermination” plunges straight down into the alien hive for a face-off against the alien Queen. Who else could it be? Best fight in the game with such a terrifically designed monster. Mission 5 finds the marines escaping the colony, which is of course about to self-destruct… wait, didn’t they detonate the reactor at the end of Aliens already?
As the final cutscene plays, the marine dropships escape the surface of the exploding planet and we’re treating to a shot of multiple aliens crawling on the outside of the spacecraft. To be continued…?
Extermination looks like a high-end PS2 game or a PS3 launch title, which isn’t to say those are bad things. In fact, I’ll come right out and say the bad thing about the visuals is that they are frequently too dark to see anything properly, and when the game punishes you for your accuracy (not shooting friendlies), that’s somewhat unfair design. I felt a little relieved when the ultraviolet sequence kicked in (see above).
Unfairness in game design lowers the fun factor; you wouldn’t like it if someone cheated against you and won in a game of Checkers, right? This is sort of the same thing, minus the opposing human element. Note that not all areas have this issue but it cropped up much more than once while playing through the missions. The flamethrower attachment does light up the environs but it has to be used sparingly, just like your other weaponry, as ammo pickups can be tough to grab with the screen moving so quickly.
Everything beyond that is just drab palette colors and low-to-middle-polygon models. Extermination isn’t a pretty game, but it doesn’t need to be. It was, however, released in 2006 and many console games at the time had better, smoother visual design.
Are those dark aliens against dark backgrounds or marines in dark clothing?
Marines barking orders, screams and shrieks, and pew pew pews is just about all I could hear from the game, and there wasn’t much of a musical soundtrack that I could detect. I’ve played this game several times now and I don’t ever really recall any music, though the volume on the unit I played most recently was turned down. I did go on to check out some online gameplay footage of the game, and it turns out it does have some generic action film music in certain sequences, though most of the game is musically silent. Huh.
That being said, one great element of sound design was the inclusion of the radar sound effect from Aliens. The ever-increasing pace of the constant bleeping helped add a little more tension to the game and its waves of homogenous enemies.
Aliens: Extermination is essentially a first-person rail shooter. Players can only control the directions their guns are pointing by moving colored reticles across the screen to blast enemies or pick up ammunition, or tag friendlies. Ammo is first-come-first-served for two players, but it is very easy to run out of bullets so there may be some squabbling. There’s no shaky cam, thank God, but the camera does move rapidly, giving you in some cases only a split second to react to items or to a new wave of enemies ready to slice and dice you.
This kind of arcade rail shooter has of course been done before and here it is a little on the rapid and unfair side, I think, but ultimately, the game is action-packed with a decent variety of enemies and the missions are just long enough to be challenging without being too repetitive or boring, at least for this writer. The boss fights, in particular, felt eventful and I felt a few stings of adrenalin. Conquering the Queen at the end was a high five moment.
Well, yes, there is a story to the game. Extermination is directly tied to the original Alien trilogy of films, and its premise is a chronological return to LV-426. This is a case, however, in which no connection to the film stories was actually needed. Extermination contains no real characters, neither does it comment on the fate of any characters from the films. The game could have remained exactly the same, subtracting a few fluff bits of text, had it taken place on LV-999 instead of LV-426. Further, I’m skeptical as to whether any Xenomorph presence remained on LV-426 after the end of Aliens, which depicted a massive explosion on the moon’s surface that presumably annihilated the hive, or at least it was intended to, with the Queen being the only survivor.
Ah, well. That doesn’t really matter and as a premise, while unnecessary, the connections to the films serve the game alright. Having begun with a story, though, there isn’t narratively much going on in Extermination, beyond a plot progression through its missions. It’s kind of hard to have a story without characters, and while that doesn’t affect much of the playability of an arcade shooter, it is a bit of a tease, and when examined directly, it holds no water.
A fairly simple game with a clear and obvious goal: blast bugs. Each plastic rifle mounted to the front of the machine has a trigger for auto-fire (or single shot when you run out of ammo), a red button on the left side for grenades and missiles, and a yellow button below the barrel for the flamethrower. It’s simple enough that my aunt, who never plays video games, could play through the entire game with me from start to finish and hit every moving thing on screen whether she wanted to or not. A ready supply of tokens ensured that mistakes couldn’t severely impede our progress.
With some poor visual design thanks to brightness and contrast, and the game’s gleeful placement of marines directly in your line of fire, Extermination’s challenge design isn’t always implemented in the fairest of ways. But, as mentioned, enough coins in your pocket and you can chew through anything. There is at least some measurable skill-factor involved, as one of the two of us playing the game this time around could consistently out-survive the other.
“Number 5 alive!”
When I started this review, I mentioned that there are a lot of Alien video games. Over 45, by my count. Extermination doesn’t do a whole lot to stand out from that morass. Its gameplay will be familiar, discounting the Alien theme, and its additions to the Xenomorph ecology are pretty weak sauce, either comparatively uninteresting to Giger’s space beast or irrelevant to the alien lifecycle.
I’m looking at you, you leech. Why do you exist?
My Personal Grade: 4/10
Fun to visit but nowhere you can call home, Aliens: Extermination is decent fun for a casual romp through the arcades, but it suffers where it tries to sustain prolonged interest. It is, fortunately, short with only 4 major missions. Now that I’ve beaten it, I don’t have much desire to come back to it again, and likely won’t, unless coerced by a friend or family member.
Extermination can be brutal if you’re not careful, nostalgic if you’re a franchise fan. Just don’t let it chew through your stash of tokens like so many perfect organisms.
Aggregated Score: 4.4
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Categories: Game Review