Screen2Screen: Adapting Alien 3

by David McDougal

Screen2Screen is a series where we explore software adaptations of films and television series -- the weird, the wacky, the somewhat obscure. In this edition, we tackle the third instalment of the Alien franchise over on the Sega Genesis.

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Who doesn’t love Alien and Aliens? They’re classics, the first a tense and claustrophobic sci-fi horror, the second a pulsing action brawler. It’s a little harder to love Alien 3, the first film by master filmmaker David Fincher and an infamous mess of studio meddling and other production mishaps. The film was savaged on release, and though a few recuts have improved its reputation somewhat, it’s generally not viewed as a particularly good movie.

There are, of course, a number of licensed games based on the film. Bad movie or not, the Alien series makes for good video games. So we’ll be looking at Probe Entertainment’s Genesis side-scroller Alien 3.

A little bit on the film first. Released in 1992, the film again stars Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley and takes place after the events of Aliens, with Ripley’s escape pod arriving at the space penal colony Fiorina “Fury” 161. Of course, an alien had stowed on board the escape pod, gestating inside the dog Spike, and promptly bursts out to make everyone’s lives pretty miserable.

Make no mistake, this is not a forgotten masterpiece. Left to his own devices, maybe Fincher could have made something out of the film, but the finished product is confusing, bafflingly paced, and the prison colony is an uninspired industrial nightmare. The film is bleak and gritty, but any of Alien’s masterful use of suspense or Aliens’ wonderful interplay between characters has disappeared. The film itself just doesn’t work.

How to adapt this game? Well, in Probe’s case, they basically didn’t. There are no story elements from the movie present in the game, and only a few design elements. Alien 3 is a tense, dark side-scroller where you play as Ripley (she is bald, which is from the movie at least) and you have to rescue hostages while avoiding and/or killing xenomorphs. If the time runs out, aliens burst out of the hostages' chest, and it’s all over for you.

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Oh boy, this game is hard. It’s not unfair in any way, it just requires slow, deliberate, strategic play. The problem with that is, your heart is going to be pumping the whole time because the xenomorphs in this game are fast and just pop out of nowhere sometimes. You’re tempted to just fire forward the whole game, but of course ammo is limited as well.

The mood and atmosphere for the game is an overwhelming sense of dread. The sound, the music, the designs, the snap-change in pace when xenomorphs are on the scream -- it’s a lot, this is a very intense game.

Alien 3 may have been a flawed movie, but for Genesis side-scrollers this is one of the best.