Graphics: Alien Resurrection is one of those rare titles where the phrase “dripping with atmosphere” may be used in a literal sense. Be it blood or Alien-deposited goo, a dripping ceiling is a sure sign of either recent or impending carnage. Other environmental effects add to the overall ambiance of the ship: pipes leak steam, sparks fly from short circuits, and even Ripley’s acidic blood smokes as it eats away at the decks. Some areas even feature brilliant blue electrical arcs that must be avoided, or areas of utter night, which only the flashlight can adequately penetrate. Those who follow the game’s advice and play in the dark with their contrast adjusted will understand the full impact of Alien Resurrection, which uses grisly visuals and nail-biting tension to instill a sense of fear in its players. Impressively, this sense of impending doom is not watered down by anomalies such as torn textures, blocky characters or even the dreaded curse of plunging frame rates. All told, this is one of the best examples of pushing the limits of the system we’re likely to see on Sony’s aging system.
There is one problem with Alien Resurrection‘s graphics: the designs rely far too heavily upon the visuals from the film. Arguably, the USM Auriga was a huge military ship designed along the same lines as the Nostromo, with intertwined corridors and ducts, so it would make sense to design the game with the same environment. The unfactored variable in this equation, however, was the technique of narrative economy, which ensured that moviegoers would only be exposed to this claustrophobic environment for two hours at most. When slogging through the game and desperately backtracking in search of missing items, the unending corridors of black and gray are painfully oppressive. Perhaps an interior decorator could have remedied this problem, but regardless, the brilliant sense of tension and terror conveyed by these visuals make a bit of repetition forgivable.
Interface: Not many people are aware that the original PlayStation has a mouse controller available, but kudos go out to Fox Interactive for supporting this little used peripheral. The majority of players will most likely be using their Dual Shock controller, so it’s comforting to know that several configurations are available for those uneasy with the default scheme of using the two analog sticks for angling the view and moving the character. Volume controls for the sound effects, along with the specially designed contrast and screen position controls, ensure that Alien Resurrection plays exactly how you desire. The saved games are a reasonable size, and contain the options data within them, meaning that so long as there’s a save on the card, the options will automatically be extracted from the most recent file even if that game data isn’t loaded.
Visually, there’s plenty to applaud in this title, as the HUD is carefully designed to stay out of the way while still providing all the pertinent information. For example, the chest-burst meter disappears if the hero has not been implanted by a face hugger. The most impressive aspect of the interface has to be the force feedback support. Working with the game’s audio, the Dual Shock gives 110 percent as it pulses, shimmies, vibrates and generally drives home the USM Auriga’s worsening condition and tenuous hold on its vital systems.
Gameplay: At first glance, Alien Resurrection seems like it’s going to set some major standards in the first-person shooter genre. There’s the compelling opening as Ripley looks around her prison and is then freed by a massive power surge that unlocks her cell. There’s the realistic head sway and responsive analog control for movement. There’s even a healthy dose of scripted events as Aliens are glimpsed hunting the crew of the Auriga. Small touches, like the change between climbing down a ladder and propping the feet on the outside for a quick downward slide, for example, give the controls a unique feel that shows attention to detail. That, unfortunately, is where everything starts to go wrong.
To begin with, finding the pistol is a bit of a chore. It’s fairly obvious that it’s located somewhere in the first area, but finding it tucked behind a crate is somewhat non-intuitive. Not only is the handgun hard to find, you can’t return should you leave without it, ensuring your death in the next segment. What’s the big deal, you ask? Finding that first weapon is indicative of the rest of the gameplay: a constant hunt for switches, access cards and levers that will drive all but the most patient players to utter frustration. The plot does little to ease this malady since Alien Resurrection follows the film’s story almost exactly. This wouldn’t be a problem except that certain significant chunks of plot have been excised, such as how Ripley befriends the crew of the Betty. After rooting around every square inch of a level for a card, it’s particularly disappointing to be thrust into the next area with minimal plot development.
Even if card hunting’s your thing, the moment you find the pistol, you acquire a whole new set of problems: the view controls make it extremely hard to keep a bead on your target, for example. The soldiers aren’t so bad, as they tend to stand still when they fire, but lining up the quick-moving Aliens is difficult under optimum circumstances. Certainly, the mouse support should solve many of these problems, but the number of people aware that a PlayStation mouse exists is pretty much equal to those who actually own one. Plain and simple, a first-person shooter that uses a standard controller at all should have some sort of aiming assistance if it hopes to cater to its audience. Without an available lock-on feature, combat becomes little more than an exercise in frustration.
Multiplayer: As there is no multiplayer support in Alien Resurrection, this criterion has not been rated.
Sound FX: Rest assured that you won’t be sleeping overly well after a marathon session of Alien Resurrection. Ambient effects abound–including the groans of the ship and the hiss of leaking gas pipes–and work together to create the impression of a dying space vessel. More specific audio cues, such as the screams of distant crewman, inform the player to expect some bloody carnage up ahead. Of course, if the cries come from behind, the impressive implementation of Dolby Surround Sound places them in the rear speakers, along with many of the ambient effects. Even the voice of Father, the ship’s computer, modulates and slows every so often, as if the processor has become bogged down under the new emergency status. Purists will be especially pleased to note that the motion tracker’s unique audio pulses have been recreated perfectly. The only additional feature that would have completed this atmospheric tour de force would have been the addition of digitized speech for the characters. Admittedly, though, it’s sometimes better to listen to nothing than it is to hear bad imitations of your favorite stars.
Musical Score: As there is no in-game music in Alien Resurrection this criterion has not been rated.
Intelligence & Difficulty: I could have sworn that, due to the crossing of human genes into the queen, the Aliens in “Alien Resurrection” were supposed to be smarter and more cunning than those spawned in the earlier movies. Apparently I was wrong because once these critters jump clear of the wall or ceiling, they dash straight toward the player, making them fairly simple targets given the limitations of the aiming system. Observing the guards, however, adds some credence to my theory because these dedicated but mindless souls will stand in one place and slowly unload shot after shot with their pistols, or cap off bursts with their pulse rifles. There are moments where they will roll out of cover to line up a shot, and typically a soldier won’t shoot his fellow in the back. Both are indicators that the A.I. has some sense of tactics, but generally, the performance is poor at best. There are three difficulty levels, and rather than simply throwing more enemies in your path (though that does happen) the hardest level limits each save point to one use and removes the luxury of automatic reloading. As might be expected, each increase of difficulty comes complete with the requisite increase in enemy damage and toughness, and the scale seems consistent with the relative difficulty chosen.
Overall: Alien Resurrection almost managed to do its namesake justice. Accurate modeling of the ship, multiple playable characters, an arsenal taken straight from the films and the mechanics of a first-person shooter could, and should, have made a great game. Unfortunately, the vacuous plot relies far to heavily on the film to fill in its gaps, while the lack of a target-lock or any other sort of aiming assistance ensures that players will need more than short controlled bursts to take out their assailants. Level design rounds out this terrible triad as it places far too much emphasis on back tracking, card hunting and just about every first-person shooter faux pas since players learned to expect more from innovative titles like Medal of Honor. This is, ultimately, an absolute waste of some phenomenal potential. The combined efforts of the graphics and sound effects create an atmosphere that, when not bogged down by the endless hunt for keys, is easily as engrossing, shocking and frightening as the much-touted Resident Evil series. Fans of the “Alien” movies may still wish to check out this take on their favorite universe because of the atmosphere, but without a particularly unique plot, they will probably be disappointed in the long run.