Tuesday, May 16, 2017

We Remember Sega's 'Alien 3: The Gun' Arcade Game!

Just in time for the new Alien movie, we revisit one of the greatest unsung pieces of Xenomorph media ever.

By: Jimbo X

With Covenant coming out at week's end, we here at The Internet Is In America has decided to dedicate an entire week of articles to the much beloved Xenomorph saga. Of course, that ultimately entails just two mildly themed Aliens stories, but still. 

As a kid, I loved Aliens. I enjoyed Alien 3 to a much lesser degree, but I liked it way more than most people. Interestingly enough, I was never a big fan of the original Alien movie, which - compared to its sequels - just felt way too staid and meandering. But if you just focused on the theatrical movies, you were missing out on a huge part of the brand's appeal. Yes, the 1986 James Cameron flick was fucking awesome (indeed, the director's cut might just be one of my ten favorite movies ever), but you know what else was awesome? The Kenner toyline from 1992, the long tapestry of Aliens tie-in Dark Horse comics and - of course - the string of Aliens branded video games released throughout the 1990s. 

Now, there were a LOT of great Aliens video games to come out in the 1990s. You had Konami's underrated Aliens arcade game from 1990 (which, with its mutated retard Frankenstein zombies and sentient black goop enemies, eerily foreshadowed Prometheus almost a half century in advance), the superb Alien vs. Predator arcade beat 'em up from Capcom and - of course - the even more awesome Atari Jaguar shooter of the same name from 1994. Lost in the mix of surprisingly well done licensed games, however, is a forgotten gem from Sega that graced arcades back in 1993. 

Now, according to the Wikipedia, Alien 3: The Gun was a Japan-exclusive arcade game, which I can dispel as bullshit right here and now because I vividly remember playing the game at Six Flags Over Georgia back in the third grade. Conceptually, the title is technically just another rail shooter light gun game, a'la Terminator 2 and Lethal Enforcers, but it's WAY above those games in terms of general quality and experience. It really was one of the most intense and atmospheric arcade games of the early 1990s, and it's a crying shame it was never ported to home consoles - this thing would've been just bitchin' on the 32X as it was at down by the food court, in my humblest o' opinions.

Let it be said: these motherfuckers definitely did not skimp out on the "exploding monster guts" animation budget...

Now, right from the get-go I can tell you that this game doesn't even attempt to follow the plot of Alien 3 ... but then again, you probably would've realized that the moment you saw the giant plastic pulse rifle mounted to the arcade cabinet. Rather, the game begins aboard the Sulaco spacecraft from Aliens, which has been overrun by xenomorphs and huge assed facehuggers. Thankfully, you pick up a fuckin' flamethrower power-up as soon as the game begins proper, so those acid-spewing motherfuckers are quite literally toast. If you've ever played a rail shooter like Beast Busters before, you know what to expect here. Like a rollercoaster, you're on a fixed track shooting the shit out of everything that moves before it shoots you, stabs you or tries to suck your face off. The deeper you get into the ship, the more enemies you'll encounter; you've got sentry guns (which I guess is a nod to a deleted scene from Aliens), some killer Roombas and - of course - a whole bunch of nasty ass green eggs with even nastier creatures ready to pop out of 'em as soon as you get within five feet of them. Also, for whatever reason, a bunch of missiles from out of goddamn nowhere start coming at you, which is a real pain-us in the anus since there's always at least a dozen or so things onscreen trying to kill you at any given time. Thankfully, the game is fairly generous with the power-ups - about every 20 seconds, you're bound to find a power-up pill, which, as fate would have it, looks just like something out of Dr. Mario.

Basically, Sega treated this game like a carnival haunted house attraction, and it just plain works. Atmosphere abounds in this one, and the programmers definitely knew how to keep you on your toes. For example, unlike most arcade shooters from the era, the overall pace of this game fluctuates quite a bit. One minute you're flying down a corridor at 100 miles an hour and the next, you're slowly tip-toeing your way through a claustrophobic lab, intently listening for the squealing sound of facehuggers to give you a one-second hands up before being attacked. Not a whole lot of arcade games of the like ever did that much with aural cues (prolly because arcades were noisy as fuck), but you really have to admire the extra miles Sega went with the sound design here. 

What, you don't remember that part in Alien 3 when Ripley had to fight a neon blue version of Johnny 5 from Short Circuit

The first boss is a super facehugger which - as the name suggests - is a really, really big crab monster motherfucker. I really dig how the computerized "warning" alarm starts blaring over the soundtrack, while digitalized fire flashes over the screen. It's a really neat touch that creates a profound sense of urgency - if not outright panic. 

So after every level, you're given a quick statistical rundown, showing how many enemies you killed, and are given a military-type ranking. You also get a quick, text-driven cutscene that explains why the scenery changes so much from stage to stage. In this case, you take an escape pod offscreen to save yourself from the exploding space ship, and hey, what do you know, you just so happen to crash land on the penal colony planet from Alien 3

The attention to detail in this game is just phenomenal. The hatches on the escape pod have the Weyland-Yutani logo all over them and - just like in Alien 3 - the xenomorphs change hues from solid black to burnt orange. I know it's going to sound like a backhanded compliment, but this has to be one of the most beautiful "ugly" levels in arcade game history. Just like in the movie, everything is lifeless grey and rocky, even the rain that splashes down from the drab, dark purple clouds. Even more impressive, however, are the gale force wind effects. The whooshing of the wind - in tandem with the sounds of bullets flying through the air and alien guts splattering all over the Normandy like beachhead - is downright skin crawling ... even if the follow-up slog through a scrapheap, in which you do battle with a bunch of non-canonical junk robots that look like Fugitoid from Ninja Turtles, is a little bit ridiculous. Things take a turn for the even more absurd when you make it to the stage's final boss fight; a throwdown with a not-even-close-to-being-canonical-flying tank the game designers thought would be a good idea to call "Iron Tortoise." Anyhoo, just throw a couple of grenades at it (interestingly, in this game, said weapons are of the potato masher variety instead of the more standard American pineapple) and carry on, my wayward son. 

In the next stage the clouds disperse and the skies turn blood red and it's creepy as fuck. After plowing through a small armada of albino xenomorphs, you'll find yourself making your way through the labyrinthine exterior prison grounds, which are pretty much perfect replicas of the outstanding sets from Alien 3. One of the things I really love about this game is how the alien enemies themselves aren't just half-hearted palette swaps. All of the models are scaled differently, with different body types, animations and even attack patterns. Some are taller, some are bipedal, some scurry away from you and some just lunge at you like penis-headed meth addicts (as in, these fuckers literally try to headbutt you to death, a'la former WWF 'rassler Bam Bam Bigelow.) And man, if you want to see gross, just wait until a facehugger hops on you and starts jizzing its green pussy face slime all over you ... yee-uck.

Watch out - these suckers definitely look to fondle you to death.

As night falls, the pace becomes way slower and the enemy attacks become more sporadic. Thankfully, the game does give you a Predator-like infrared scanner so you can slog your way through the pitch black madness without having your eyes plucked out and your abdomen impregnated by a 15 foot tall grasshopper. I guess now is a pretty good time to bring up the explosion effects, before I forget. Whenever you kill an alien, not only do they erupt in big gooey green piles of gunge and gore, their arms, legs, pincers and antennas fly towards you like an intergalactic Gallagher show and I fuckin' love it

For our boss fight, we finally make it inside the prison, and as soon as the soundtrack transitions into this awesome techno metal beat, we're confronted by a super lanky alien - which the designers simply called "Alien" - which runs around the room, hiding behind stuff, only to periodically emerge and ... shake its dick at you? Well, it doesn't technically have a dick, but it's only method of attack appears to be thrusting its pelvis at you. Well, I was going to nickname that one "the Shaquille O'Neal Alien," but perhaps the moniker of "the Michael Jackson Alien" is more fitting?

Our super engrishy cutscene lets us know that you tried to get help from the prisoners, but the whole damn jail was "fated to be turned into a hell after only a few hours." The next level is green and dreary, with sewage pipes all over the place. The wormy chestburster adversaries also make their long-awaited arrival, but you only get to kill a couple of those before you find yourself pushing buttons on an elevator. Sure enough, the floor you get off on (you sick fuck!) just so happens to be the meat locker, and boy howdy, all the cow carcasses are infected with alien parasites. It's a pretty gross environment, to be sure, but it's also funny as shit because a few of the aliens that pop up on screen do this weird thing with their hands behind their heads that for all the rubles in Russia looks like they're striking poses a'la models on the cover of Vogue. Also, there are a couple of prisoners scattered around the level you can free for bonus points, but come on, they're PRISONERS - do we really need to save convicted murderers and rapists from being eaten by vagina monsters? 

Yes, you can shoot the prisoners, if you want. And since they're canonically child rapists, why wouldn't you?

The next boss is called the "Super Dogburster," which is totally what I'm calling my revivalist '90s alt-rock band some day. This fucker is really annoying, because it can jump through walls and keeps launching poisonous blobs of grape jam at you. Still, he's pretty easy to kill, and you have to hear his red blood cell-curdling death scream - for an early 1990s arcade game, that audio is just horrifying

In the next cutscene, we learn that somebody else is following the aliens, because they want to use them as biological weapons. Well, way to give away that cliffhanger, Sega people from 25 years ago. The next stage begins with a bunch of copy pasta bald prisoners running around in an alien-infested tunnel. You're explicitly told not to shoot them, but ... well, shit happens sometimes. An aside, but I love how the alien corpses pile up and molt after you massacre them. Such a nice little touch. And speaking of nice touches, you escape this stage by shooting out a giant fan ... presumably, the same one that dude who had his face melted off by alien spit fell into at the beginning of Alien 3

The boss in this stage is another generic "Alien," but this one takes twice as long to kill as the last one. Also, I love it's "biting" animation - motherfucker's got pearly whites snazzier than the Osmonds. So you shoot this one until its life bar goes all the way down twice, and even then, you don't really kill it - it just runs off and you get another stats screen. Nice touch: if you shoot a prisoner, you actually hear their warbled death screams played over the stage recap. 

The fifth and final stage takes place in the blast furnace, so you know it's going to be festering with aliens, facehuggers, chestbursters and those irritating-ass Weyland-Yutani-branded Roombas. The end boss is a peach Michael Jackson alien, which takes a million shots to kill. But it's kinda' worth the trouble, because at the end of the stage, you get to watch an automaton douse it in a million pounds of molten lead, just like at the end of Alien 3

But what a minute! Another cutscene/title card lets us know we aren't finished with "alien boss," quite yet, as that spindly little sumbitch hops out of its liquid metal tomb and your character ACTUALLY says "oh, shit." OK, that's pretty mundane for the Grand Theft Auto 5 generation, but to include that in an arcade game in 1993 was beyond ballsy for Sega. I mean, rippin' bitches' spinal cords out in Mortal Kombat is one thing, but actually hearing the dreaded "S" word in a coin-op? That is literally the most punk rock thing I've ever heard, and it only serves to make me love Sega a million billion times more than I already do (which is still a lot, in case you were wondering.) 

So you shoot out a water pipe and - again, just like in the movie - the Alien is doused in a cold shower and that makes the fucker explode. Except it kinda dematerializes more than it explodes, but whatever - the effect remains solid. Then a cartoon version of Lance Henrikson busts in and asks you where the samples are and you tell him you killed them all and then he says he's going to kill you so you have a boss fight with his flamethrower toting ass. So you finally kill him and then a disembodied voice yells "you're finished, pal" and then a whole bunch of soldiers in hazmat suits storm in with guns drawn and then a postscript sequence tells us "as time passed, all records of the fearful incidents were erased" and that all "the facilities were closed down and almost all was forgotten." THEN THE SOLDIERS OPEN FIRE AND BLOW YOUR ASS TO SMITHEREENS AND IT'S GAME OVER. Holy shit, that's an even better downer ending then the one they actually used in Alien 3! Hell, for that matter, this game itself almost works as an IMPROVED version of the third Alien film, with Ripley and Hicks surviving and crash landing on the prison planet with enough weaponry to stage about four or five Vietnams. Fuck, as far as I'm concerned, this IS the real canonical Alien 3, and I ain't gonna' let nobody tell me otherwise.  

Don't you just hate it when video game end bosses are just so dang cryptic?

Now, I ain't gonna' jerk you off and tell you Alien 3: The Gun is an all-time masterpiece. There's virtually no replay value, the core action is just straight up twitch reflex and you can beat the entire thing in 20 minutes, a half hour tops. But then again, that's also what makes it such a phenomenal arcade experience. Nobody has the patience to stand in front of a machine for two hours pulling a fake machine gun trigger, the same way nobody has the patience to ride a roller coaster for two hours straight. The almost Taoist beauty of it all is in crafting the most memorable, instantly-gratifying coin-op experience possible. Rail shooters were as close as '90s games got to truly interactive autuerism. Like actual movies, the camera-work preyed on your emotions, while the pace of the in-game track dipped and increased to build tension and suspense. From the ground-up, these games were designed to maximize bullet-spraying action and spacesuit-pants-pissing trepidation, and you'd have to be a damned fool to say Sega didn't deliver the essential goods on this sumbitch.

All you have to do is take a look at two rail shooters that came out decades after this one to see the intrinsic greatness of The Gun. Despite having exponentially more powerful technology and presumably a much larger design budget, neither 2006's Aliens: Extermination nor 2013's Aliens: Armageddon could outdo this ancient quarter-muncher from 1993 when it comes to straight up coin-up thrills and chills. Sega's game may lack the audiovisual firepower of the later games, but it makes up for it by being a better structured game with a far more intense pace. And hell, you can't say it doesn't have a better than average story compared to most video games nowadays - or even most Alien movies, come to think of it. 

If you're an Aliens fan and you have a basic understanding of how video games work and you're not averse to fantastical gun violence, you probably need to get your hands on a .ROM of Alien 3: The Gun. Hell, even if you're NOT a fan of the Aliens franchise but you enjoy old school shooters, I think you might be surprised by the quality of what most developers would have rushed out as nothing more than a half-hearted tie-in quickie. It's fun and it's spooky and it's a little cheesy and it's intense as fuck and it has cursing in it and there's at least two or three spots where you're probably going to jump out of your shoes. So, basically, everything you hope to find in a decent Alien flick, you're going to find in spades in this criminally underappreciated shoot-a-thon from the House Alex Kidd Built. 

So if Covenant winds up sucking, you KNOW the perfect post-disappointment means of celebrating the venerable Alien franchise - and best of all, you don't even need a sack of quarters no more to experience it!


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