Label: Electric Dreams
Author: Soft Machine
Reviewer: John Gilbert
Five marines, the e-xFlight Officer of a doomed space freighter, and a little girl called Newt are trapped in the colony base of a lonely, distant, planet. And all the colonists are dead, gutted by the face hugging parasites which use human bodies as disposable wombs.
This as Aliens the movie and now Aliens the game.
The base comprises a massive 248 rooms and corridors, you've got no idea where you are, and only six very vulnerable characters to control - Riply, the Flight Officer, heads the cast and Lieutenant Gorman commands the marine team of Hicks, Burke, Vasquez, and the Android Bishop.
You control the whole thing from a console which shows the strengths of all the characters their firepower and heart rate and the view through one of the video cameras worn on the helmets of each character. So you get kind of player's eye point-of-view of the base - and you can switch between your characters looking, as it were through their eyes.
So there you are with your team standing at the entrance to the base. Wait long enough and the aliens will come for you rather than the other way around. Better do something.
Choose one of the characters to move - you can only control one at a time. Push the joystick forward to go forward, left or right to turn. And the characters eye-view scrolls accordingly.
At first the base seems incredibly complex and it's difficult to work out where you're going let along how find your way back.
And just when you think you're going really well you hear the warning alarm sound. There's an alien in the room with you! As the creature comes closer the warning pitch rises and you begin to fear. Where is it? - you can't find it. You whirl round but suddenly the screen blanks out in a flurry of static and you've lost one of your team. Without even getting a glimpse of the creature or a chance of a shot. This is more difficult than I'd expected.
It wasn't long before I'd wiped out my whole team! My second attempt was better though.
The gameplay is unusual - you may think it's odd but I thought it was very effective. Basically you can play the game how you want. It is a strategy game. Or is it an arcade shoot 'em up.
It's up to you. You can zap around trying to knock off as many aliens as you can - periods of relative boredom punctuated by short bouts of nerve jangling frenzy. Shoot the aliens and zap the bio-material they create from the walls of the base as you go.
Or you can map and plan your strategy. Keep your team together and try to reach the Queen alien's chamber and destroy her.
When you switch between characters, using a key letter, the display changes with a quick sparkle of interference. All of your team have a gun so things aren't as tough a they might have been. The big problem is lining up your sights on the alien before it gets you. When it all happens it all happens very fast.
You use the smart guns for destroying aliens, face huggers, generative gooey stuff and any of your buddies who have been impregnated.
There are two ways in which you move around the base. Obviously by joystick. Find a door and press the Spectrum's space bar to get into the next room. Some doors are locked and you'll have to blast through them to continue.
Rooms are made up of several screens. You don't have to scan them all unless there's an alien in the vicinity. When the warning sounds scan the room wIth the joystick and when you catch up with its shuffling, hump-backed, body aim at it's head and fire. One shot to the head will finish it but if you hit only the body you'll need three blasts.
If you aren't quick enough the claxon builds to a scream, the alien turns and it's two pairs of jaws open to bite deep into foam, plastic, flesh and bone. I defy any player to get used to what are some of the most realistic graphics I've ever seen on the Spectrum.
You'll see even better graphics if you wait until the creature turns and gets close before firing. Its head explodes in a cloud of large, black, fragments.
You can only move one room at time using a joystick but there is another method, by which, you can move through six or seven locations at a time. When you've mapped the same fairly thoroughly you can type in the number of locations you want to move and the direction in which you want to walk. For instance 2E would take the viewpoint character two locations East without having to worry about which door in the current room leads where.
Aliens don't always kill. One of your team could be captured and prepared for impregnation. If that happens his - or her - strength bar turns yellow and you should send another team member to save that character. If the bar reaches the right side of the status window the impregnation is complete the character should be killed before the baby alien leaps from the stomach.
All this killing depletes laser power so the first destination for all the marines should be the armoury. The walls of this room are laden with guns and bombs but you don't have to pick them up. Any character who enters the room well get an increased ammo status.
Once you've been to the armoury you can visit some of the other incidental rooms. There's the Generator Room which you must keep free of growths or the bases power will fail. After you've visited all these rooms you can progress through the maze towards the queen's chamber where face huggers go into action and the whole alien operation is controlled. Once you've entered the chamber you must activate the bases's biomech device to cause the aliens to decompose. Unlike the film there is more than one alien queen and you'll have little time to activate the device with face huggers, alien warriors and queens loping and lurching after you.
Survival is difficult - to say the least - in Aliens. The best plan, though not always successful, is to move the whole group from one location to another. One character should scout ahead and if there's trouble you can destroy the troublemaker easily. I've lost a few like that, but I have also managed to explore most of the base.
Electric Dream's latest baby may be a licensing deal but there's no stigma attached to this one. It's a game of realistic graphics, limited arcade action and sophisticated strategy. The simple storyline makes for software magic.
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