If nothing else, Alien Versus Predator on the PC a couple of years ago scared the life out of me. I reject the terms "made me soil my pants" because frankly even if it did make me do that, I wouldn't class it as a term of endearment. But still, the game was a moment of clarity for developer Rebellion, who beforehand frankly nobody had ever heard of. Presumably because Rebellion are now busy milking their own headline grabber, 2000AD, Fox have chosen instead to farm the production of the PlayStation's own scarefest off to UK lovelies Argonaut. Obviously a game based on the Alien franchise needs to thrive on tension; it's all that fans of the series know and expect. If, for instance, the guys and gals at Argonaut had come up with a resource management game about colonizing a planet, that would have gone down rather like a big lump of lead in a pile of particularly soft feathers. In order to replicate Rebellion's success, Argonaut should have sat down with the Alien movies, a pen and paper and gone through them considering just how best to fuse tension, excitement and the rather limited PlayStation format. However they clearly hadn't considered the possibility that one can go too far with frightening the player, and have done just that. Alien : Resurrection, even if played with the lights on and Teletubbies music in the background, is capable of frightening the life out of you. If you sit down in the pitch black with headphones on and a widescreen TV, the best you can hope for is to walk away sweating with adrenaline pumping wildly through your veins. At worst, well, some sort of cardiac arrest seems on the cards..
It's just so bloody scary! The Alien films were shocking at times, not so much in their depiction of the subject matter, but in the way they built up a wall of tension then smashed their heads right through the middle of it. By bombarding your ears with musical apprehension and gradually leading you toward a climactic splatter of fear they gripped you (while you gripped the edge of your seat) and actually made for some very entertaining cinema. In contrast, you are actually taking part in this adventure, and with every step you take you're just building up to the next fright. An Alien game needs to, in my opinion, provide anxious gameplay a lot of the time, then frenzied but thrilling battle scenes with the big bastards when the time comes. Rather like the film of the same name, your objective as Ripley is to escape from a doomed starship, which plays host not only to you and your companions (who have their own playable levels later on), but also to hordes of the wall-climbing, acid-bleeding, seven-foot tall monsters. Starting off with what can only be described as the equivalent of Quake II's ephemeral "pea shooter", a gun which will soon be relegated to the back of the inventory, you set out to get out, alive if at all possible.
Unfortunately, although Argonaut have grasped the concept of tension (I shortened my life by several years playing this game I fear), they haven't found a good way of making use of the PlayStation's control pad. The Dual-Shock thumbpad isn't anywhere near as responsive as a mouse can be on the PC and to add insult to injury, the programming tends to try and "help" you by compensating, and it does exactly the opposite. Shots fly all over the place, and it's not until the nasties are physically in your face that you start scoring some hits. Thanks to a bug in the collision detection code, you can actually hold your gun through the aliens when up close, too, so you end up missing shots at less than a metre. Tracking the aliens as they dart around the screen is also a total no-goer. I'm told the PlayStation mouse is slightly more accurate, but how many gamers can claim to own one of those?
Eventually you manage to get some sort of handle on the flimsy controls and start to make some belated progress, and this gives you the opportunity to take in the game for once, and what a beautiful artistic achievement it is. For a PlayStation game, this is quite an accomplishment; the weapons feel as though you're hanging onto them, your head bobs credibly and as you sneak around trying not to get pulverized you feel very alone and very scared. The level of tension and anxiety when entering a new room is unparalleled, even by Rebellion's seminal AvP. Thanks to the voracity of your surroundings and the richness of the textures the game really feels lived-in - you don't just know that the aliens are out there, you can sense it in the milieu. Aurally, the intensity and authenticity is sublime. Every sound bite and effect has clearly been lifted straight from the Fox library, but everything fits, and the spine-tingling screams and metallic ambience act as a constant reminder that you are trapped inside the deep space equivalent of the frying pan. Although throughout your conversations with the group no lines are actually spoken, things are very believable. It's a shame that the whole game isn't simply a case of waiting to catch a glimpse of the ferocious beast as the original film was. Indeed, that might have worked better, with the final stunning encounter a suitable climax, but regrettably the actual action is very disappointing. The aliens are scripted to do certain things, but have no discernible AI. They couldn't give a toss whether you're emptying a clip into them, they just suck it up until they can no longer. It's the unfortunate lid on a can of worms Argonaut and Fox will want to try and forget about.
With no real plot other than escape and a horrible, inconsistent and very inaccurate control system, Alien : Resurrection is dead in the water. The sense of tension and excitement leading up to each encounter is unequalled elsewhere, even in the influential Aliens Versus Predator, but you can buy the films on tape or DVD for a few quid more, and with that you get tension, excitement and none of the flaws so evident in Resurrection. In fact, that's what I'd recommend you do.