Ridley Scott made us regret ever making it past the atmosphere in rockets with the thrilling horror of Alien. Trapping a bunch of ordinary peeps inside a multi-million dollar tin can floating in vacuum with an alien monster on the loose transformed the final frontier into an unexpected setting for a haunted house in space, psychologically scarring would-be astronauts for years.
So making a scary game based on the movie seemed like a no brainer. Initially developed by Paul Clansey, Roy Gibson, and Concept Software, it first came out for the Commodore 64 and the ZX Spectrum in 1984 boasting a number of innovative features such as giving players the chance to do better than Ripley did in the movie.
Everything took place on the Nostromo right after the Alien has burst from the chest of one of your teammates and like the movie, you could set the ship to self-destruct and escape using the Narcissus shuttle, or avoid all of that and herd the Alien towards an airlock and eject it out into space.
This was something of an adventure game/tactical-RPG hybrid of sorts — you led your party (the crew) to arm themselves with what they could get, explore the ship, and attempt to work together in order to stop the Alien any way that you could. A top down view presented a line-drawn representation of the Nostromo’s three decks and the rooms in each one, the position of crew members, and sound cues for doors opening and closing as well as whether the Alien was close-by.
Characters could also squeeze through ducts to get to other areas of the ship, collect items such as a net and fire extinguishers, and even try and catch Jones the cat if they had the cat box — though some crew members are on Jones’ hate list making it more difficult with certain ones than with others. Everything was menu driven with a huge selection of context-sensitive options to pick from for each crew member.
It was pretty sophisticated stuff for the day, but it went one step further with what it called the PCS, or the “Personality Control System.”
PCS was a sort of rudimentary behavior simulator that could decide whether or not a crew member would follow your orders or not based on their profile and how scared they were. Some crew members may decide not to follow your suggestion to move somewhere or attack the Alien adding to the challenge as the all-seeing commander of this crew to keep them alive. It was an amazing innovation for a game at the time, something that would be replicated to a limited extent years later with other titles such as Interplay’s iconic Wasteland with its NPCs and Charisma-based interactions.
The game also took a few liberties with the film to give players more options to use. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t see Sigourney Weaver or Yaphet Kotto use lasers. At the same time, it also integrated key elements from the film in an attempt recreate the same sense of terror that they had experienced — acid eating through the ship’s hull from wounding the Alien could bleed precious oxygen which constantly depleted from the vessel as well as wound crew members.
It would also randomly choose one of the crew to be the murderous android intent to keeping the Alien alive, working against you by killing the others when you least expect it. It wasn’t always going to be Ian Holm — it could be Ripley the next time you played the game, adding to its shelf life.
This was also the second game based on the film. The first one, for the Atari 2600 by Fox Video Games, beat it to the punch by two years by coming out in 1982. That one was a Pac-Man clone but instead of eating “dots,” you were busy destroying eggs while trying to avoid the Alien in a maze. And as sequels eventually came out, so did the games based on them though none of them would revisit the kind of tactical-adventure schtick that Concept Software created with their game.
Though it may not be as famous as the film it was based on, Concept Software’s Alien boldly attempted to break new ground while at the same time, chill the blood of players as a movie tie-in that apparently didn’t suck.