Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Update

The end of October is nearing and the review of Aliens: Infestation marked the last review in Alien Month.  I enjoyed doing as it let me try something different by having a month dedicated to a specific topic and it was pulled off successfully without a hitch.  Next month, things will return back to normal; there are few more game reviews coming next month and some more in December, along with a movie review that month.

Also, in the month of December I have a couple of special posts planned; I can't say what they are, but I thought I would close off the year with something interesting and varied.

That's about it in terms of information I can provide for y'all, till then, later.

Alien Month: Aliens: Infestation (2011)

Over the course of this month, I have reviewed three different Alien games from different developers, and the quality of these games have noticeably varied.  I started off the month reviewing a decent game, then I followed it up with a review of a game that was subpar, and the last game I'm reviewing is good.  The developer of this game is Wayforward Studios, who are best known for their Shantae and Mighty Switch games, but the studio has also create games based off of established properties.  These include the 2009 Wii remake of A Boy and His Blob, Batman: The Brave and the Bold for both the Wii and DS, and this game.

Summarizing Aliens: Infestation's plot will be tricky as it is very similar to the plot of Aliens: Colonial Marines, with a few exceptions.  The similarities start with the fact that the game is set a few weeks after the events of Alien 3, and a platoon of marines on the U.S.S. Sephora has been dispatched to find the Sulaco.  However, unlike in Colonial Marines, where the marines found the Sulaco drifting near LV-426; in Aliens: Infestation, the ship is just drifting around in space, and they're not here because of a distress beacon sent by Corporal Hicks; instead, they're checking for any survivors that may be onboard after learning about what transpired on LV-426 in Aliens

When the marines arrive on the Sulaco, there are no survivors to be found, but while the marines are searching the ship they encounter combat androids owned by the UPP, or Union of Progressive People.  This group is actually a reference to a concept from an unused draft of Alien 3's story.
While fending off combat androids, the marines find a single human survivor that's about to be attacked by an xenomorph, but she escapes, and it turns out that there are also xenomorphs running loose on the Sulaco as well.  This was the result of the UPP, and not Weyland-Yutani, who do show up halfway through the game after the marines deal with the UPP on LV-426.

Much like Colonial Marines' story, Aliens: Infestation's story starts out on a promising note, but after the initial promise, it quickly devolves into an uninteresting tale with a lack of compelling moments.  The story never throws out any plot twists to try and keep you interested in the narrative; however, the story does feature better characters than the ones in Colonial Marines.  Each of the marines you either play as or encounter are fairly likeable and depending on who you're currently playing as when conversing with other characters; they have their own unique responses to what other characters are saying to them.  Also, the game sends you to a variety of different locations over the course of the game, including the Sulaco, LV-426, and in one level, you travel to one of the moons of Mars, Phobos.  Though you also revisit previously explored locations on multiple occasions, such as the Sulaco.

Whereas the previous Alien games I reviewed were first person shooters, Aliens: Infestation is a sidescrolling, action-adventure game in the vein of games such as Metroid, which is ironic, as the first two Alien movies were an inspiration for the creation of Metroid.  Similar to Metroid, exploration is a key part of this game; in every level you're given an objective and it's up to you to find your way towards the objective in order to complete it.  Sometimes, however, certain areas are inaccessible and require a certain device or tool in order to progress onwards.  For example, some rooms in the levels are completely dark, but once you find a shoulder lamp, you can explore the previously unexplorable areas.  Additionally, exploring levels will often result in the discovery of weapons, items, or marines that will help you in the long run.  By blasting open vents with a grenade, you can explore maintenance tunnels that may or may not contain either health, ammo, or lead you to your current objective.

One interesting aspect of this game is its usage of lives.  When you start the game, there are four different marines to choose from and you can swap between them at any time when you're in a save room.  However, these marines also act as lives, if one of them dies in a fight, they're dead for good; fortunately, you can find new marines over the course of the game to fill in the missing gaps.  Though aside from each marine having their own personalities as well as their own idle animations whenever they're in a save room, none of them have their own special abilities or something that makes the marines play differently from each other.

The variety of weapons is pretty standard, at the beginning of the game you have a pulse rifle and a pistol, and over the course of the game you'll acquire a shotgun, the flamethrower, and the smartgun, but you can find upgrade modules hidden in each level that will increase the strength of the weapon you have currently equipped.  The combat itself is very fun, firefight with the xenomorphs are fun and tense and the human enemies you'll sometimes fight introduce a unique idea that has rarely been tried in a sidescroller, and that's the ability to take cover.  It may not sound like much, but this is useful for avoiding gunfire from either the UPP or Weyland-Yutani soldiers.  The boss fights are also fun as well, and unlike in Aliens vs. Predator and Aliens: Colonial Marines, the fight against the Queen Alien doesn't suck.  However, some enemies and bosses can get cheap in their attacks, which will often result in huge chunks of health getting lost.  Keep in mind, the game is never too hard nor is it easy, the difficulty and challenge feel fair.

Visually, the 2D graphics look nice.  Wayforward Studios is known for creating really good 2D graphics, and this game is no exception.  Not only that, but the game manages to build up a nice amount of tension in some parts of the game.  The sound is also good, the weapons sound great, especially the smartgun, which has a cool firing sound effect.  There isn't much music in the game, and while the music is good, it can get annoying hearing certain tracks over and over in a level.

Out of the three Alien games I reviewed this month, this one was easily the best of the bunch.  While the story may be forgettable and it's not a long game, taking about three to five hours to beat, this is made up by the fact that the game is fun to play and if you're looking for a good Aliens game or just a good sidescroller, this is a good choice.

Final Score: 8/10

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Alien Month: Aliens (1986)

After the success of Alien, released in 1979, one has to wonder how somebody could create a sequel that manages to be as good as the original, enter director James Cameron.  Two years prior to the release of Aliens, James Cameron directed a little known movie called The Terminator.  The success of that movie allowed Cameron to direct this sequel that takes some risks but ends up proving to be a strong follow-up to the original.  One of those risks is the switch between genres; whereas Alien was a science fiction-horror film, Aliens is a science fiction-action movie, and as the title suggests, this time instead of there being one Alien, now there are dozens of Aliens for a squad of marines and Ellen Ripley to confront on the planet LV-426.

It should be noted that this review is based off of the extended cut of the movie.  The biggest difference between the theatrical cut and the extended cut is that there are some added scenes that show Ripley learning about what happened to her daughter during the time she was drifting in space, plus a scene set on Hadley's Hope, showing the start of the colony's infestation.

After she escaped the Nostromo, which Ripley primed to self destruct, as well as kill the Alien that killed the crew members of the Nostromo, except her, she put herself and Jones, the ship's cat, into hypersleep on the ship's emergency shuttle, with the hopes that the ship's signals would get picked up by somebody.  Unfortunately, that doesn't happen, and the ship drifts around aimlessly in space, until a salvage crew stumbles upon it, fifty-seven years later.  She's taken to a space station orbiting Earth, and while she's there, Ripley learns that her daughter, Amanda Ripley, passed away while she was drifting in space.  To make matters worse, Weyland-Yutani, the company she worked for, has pressed charges against Ripley for blowing up the Nostromo, and they doubt her claims about the Alien. 

After a meeting with executives from the Company, she learns from one of them that a colony has been set up on LV-426, the planet where the crashed ship was found, containing those eggs, and it isn't before long that a Company representative, Burke, comes to her with news that they've lost contact with the colony.  He tries to convince her to go back to the planet, as a squad of marines is getting sent to the planet to check things out.  She says no, but after having another nightmare involving the Alien, she decides that it's best that she face her fears and go with the marines to LV-426.

She acts as an advisor for the marines, but they're too confident about the mission, thinking that it will be a simple search and rescue operation and that the Alien Ripley tells them about won't be so much of a problem, considering the firepower they have.  The marines, Ripley, Burke, and Bishop, the ship's android, arrive on LV-426 and the squad splits up to check the colony for any survivors.  They investigate the operations building, which shows signs that a fight had taken place inside the building, but they don't find any survivors or casualties while searching.  Eventually, they do find one survivor, Newt, who tries to flee from them, but Ripley gives chase and grabs her before she can get any further.  Newt doesn't respond to any of their questions, as she is in a state of shock and can't speak.

Meanwhile, it's discovered that apparently, all of the civilians are at the atmospheric processor, due to tracking chips that were implanted into them.  Everyone heads over to the processor, with Ripley, Newt, Burke, and Lieutenant Gorman staying behind in the APC, while the marines head into the processor to find the civilians.  As they get deeper into the processor, they discover what looks like a hive and the civilians, who are all dead, having been cocooned up to serve as hosts for the eggs.  Soon, the marines are attacked by the xenomorphs, and Ripley commandeers the APC to save them after Gorman fails to give the marines direct orders during the ambush, which results in a large chunk of the squad to be killed by the Aliens.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, Aliens switches genres, shifting from a focus on horro to a focus on action, but the pacing of Aliens is also not as slow as the pacing of the first movie.  Even though this movie has a strong focus on action, it does a great job at building up momentum before unleashing on the action in certain sections of the movie, such as when the marines investigate the atmospheric processor and enter the area that has been turned into a hive.  It also has a couple of suspenseful moments as well, including a scene where Ripley and Newt are trapped in a room with two facehuggers running loose, and they have to find a way to get the attention of Hicks, who is keeping watch of the monitors, yet he doesn't notice them flailing their arms on the camera to get his attention.

The first movie introduced Ellen Ripley, a woman who was willing to do anything to get rid of the Alien killing the Nostromo's crew members.  At the start of Aliens, she's having nightmares due to the events of the previous movie, similar to a war veteran who's constantly having bad dreams regarding the war they fought in.  By the end of the movie, however, she regains her confidence and she isn't afraid to confront the xenomorph infestation head-on.  The previous movie touched upon a motherly side she had in scenes with her and the cat, Jones.  This aspect of her personality is more fully explored here with the introduction of Newt.  Since her own daughter passed away while she was in space, she wasn't able to be with Amanda throughout the years she was alive.  Yet, when Newt is discovered, she fills in the missing void in Ripley's life, and like a mother, Ripley is willing to do anything to protect Newt, as signified when later on in the movie, Newt is grabbed by a xenomorph and Ripley decides to go and rescue her, even though things aren't holding up on Hadley's Hope.

Besides Ripley, the other characters in Aliens are also memorable.  The marines, in particular, stand out as the best of the bunch.  The writing and performances from the actors and actresses who play the marines do a great job at making these characters feel like they've been a team for some time.  The most memorable marines of the squad include Vasquez, played by Jeanette Goldstein, a hard as nails marine who doesn't mind some of the remarks the male marines make at her.  There's also Hudson, played by Bill Paxton, who's essentially the jokester of the squad, making various quips and smart remarks about the situation currently happening.  The last one worth mentioning is Hicks, played by Michael Biehn, who at first, seems a lot like the other marines, but when things get dire later on in the movie, he inadvertently finds himself leading the remaining marines and ensuring everyone's survival.

In fact, I would say that in Aliens, the iconic element of this movie has to be the colonial marines.  Weapons in their arsenal, such as the pulse rifle and the smartgun, are recognized by many as two of the most iconic weapons in film history.  Also, out of all the movies in the franchise, this one has had the strongest influence on video games.  Certain franchises such as Contra, Halo, Metroid, and Gears of War, have lifted certain concepts and character archetypes from Aliens and used them as a base of inspiration for their franchises. 

Aliens also further explores the xenomorph creatures, revealing more of their motivations and functions.  For starters, the creatures have a hind mind mentality.  As revealed later in the movie, there's a Queen who lays all of the eggs, and the xenomorphs are drones who help the Queen by finding new hosts for the eggs she lays.  Additionally, the xenomorphs in Aliens are more agile and faster than the xenomorph in Alien, and are able to use the environment to their advantage by blending in with their surroundings, thus allowing themselves to get the drop on the marines when they investigate the hive during the movie.

The special effects of Aliens are top notch, with excellent practical effects that feature a mixture of miniature, suit, animatronic, and stunt work.  The creature effects were handled by the late Stan Winston, and the highlight of his work on the movie is the Queen Alien, which involved the efforts of multiple puppeteers, control rods, and cables in order for it to function, and it's an impressive technical achievement.  Besides that, the music, composed by James Horner, is great; it borrows from the style of the first movie's music, but also adds in a strong military element to the score as well.

I first saw Aliens on TV at about the age of twelve, after reading about it in a couple of different film books that I owned.  The movie blew me away back then and today, I still think it's a great movie, due to its story, which raises the stakes, its memorable characters, and tension building action sequences.  Not only that, this movie is also a great follow-up to the original and a case example of taking risks that result in a successful payoff.

Final Score: 9/10

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Alien Month: Aliens: Colonial Marines (2013) Part 2

As for the gameplay in Aliens: Colonial Marines, it can be best summarized as being competent, yet unremarkable; it's not terrible, but it isn't good either.  The game is your typical science fiction/action shooter, lacking much of the suspense and tension found in the action scenes of Aliens.  Most of the game is spent going from Point A to Point B, shooting xenomorphs and/or Weyland-Yutani mercenaries that show up early on in the game.   There's no real purpose to exploring the levels, either, aside from finding collectibles that include audio logs, which are more interesting than the ones in Aliens vs. Predator, dog tags, and weapons that belonged to certain characters from Aliens
Aside from a few moments in the game, there isn't much variety to the gameplay.  One of those moments that shakes things up happens during the fifth level; in it, Winter has been captured by this big, ugly xenomorph.  After escaping, you spend the first half of the level running, hiding, and avoiding the creature because Winter doesn't have any of his weapons.  You'll also have to avoid mutated xenomorphs that can't see but are attracted to loud noises, and if you make too much noise they charge at you and explode.  It's also in this level that you get to find out what happened to Hudson after he was dragged through the floor by a xenomorph during the movie, and you can also find the head of Newt's doll.
Of the two boss battles in this game, the last one is really anticlimactic.  All you do is pull four levers to reel in an ejector mechanism while also avoiding the Queen Alien, and after you lure her onto the platform, you push a button to launch her out, and that's the end of the fight.  It should be noted that if you do play this game, make sure you play it on the Hardened or Ultimate Badass difficulty because the enemy AI is terrible.  Xenomorphs move a lot slower than they did in the movies and as such, they're easy to kill.  In fact, the Weyland-Yutani mercenaries you also fight are much more competent than the xenomorphs in this game.  The first time I played the game, it was on the Hardened difficulty, and it felt like I was playing the game on Normal.  The Ultimate Badass difficulty wasn't hard either, with the exception of a few sections in the game that resulted in multiple deaths.
Besides the terrible enemy AI, you're also partnered up with equally incompetent marines.  Most of the time, they'll miss their shots, run ahead of you in a level, or they'll spontaneously run in the opposite direction, only to suddenly warp right back next to you.  This is especially noticeable with O'Neal, who spends most of the game equipped with the smartgun, and despite using such a powerful weapon; he often misses most of his shots.
The gameplay is flawed, but one of the better aspects of Colonial Marines' gameplay is the arsenal of weapons you can unlock and customize.  In most of the other Alien games, the arsenal of weapons is generally limited to the pulse rifle, shotgun, flamethrower, smartgun, and pistol.  However, this game makes an attempt to introduce some new weapons into the colonial marines' arsenal, which can be unlocked by ranking up in either single player or multiplayer.  Additionally, there are numerous attachments and alternate skins you can apply to the weapons.  Most of the attachments that can be applied made sense, though there are a couple which don't make sense, such as a silencer attachment for the pulse rifle.  For some strange reason, however, the flamethrower and smartgun never become an official part of your arsenal.  While you can find these particular weapons and use them in the game, it feels more like finding a rare power-up that rarely appears in the game.
The game is very hit and miss visually; sometimes the game can look decent, and the game does a good job at replicating Aliens' vision of the future.  Most of the time, though, textures can look low-res and muddy, there's some noticeable screen tearing that happens during the gameplay, and a few times the framerate lagged as well.  Animations for the enemies can get glitch as well, with xenomorphs occasionally getting stuck on ceilings and walls, and the Weyland mercenaries can get stuck on environmental objects when they die, which can result in some hilarious ragdoll animations.
In spite of how the rest of the game is, the voice acting and music are surprisingly good.  All of the actors give good performances and the music is very well done, with a style strongly reminiscent of the first two films' soundtracks.
Before I end this review, I do want to address the controversy surrounding this game.  After Colonial Marines came out, many people started to wonder what happened to the quality of this game, how it went from looking so awesome in the previews to something quite lackluster in the final product.  Numerous rumors broke out that the developer, Gearbox Software, had outsourced most of the work to Timegate Studios so they could focus on other projects they had at the time.  There was even a lawsuit filed against Gearbox and Sega for false advertising, which, as of 2015, has been settled.  Gearbox has denied allegations that they outsourced their work, but they haven't directly apologized for how the final product turned out either.
The closest we've gotten to an explanation for the poor quality of the game was in a interview a few months ago with Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford, conducted by Eurogamer.  In the interview, he compares the quality of the game to the quality of other games his studio has done by saying it's like one of the weirder, not as good tracks a popular band does, when compared to the quality of other games his studio has done.  He also mentions that he is fully aware of the fact that people weren't satisfied with final product even though he says his studio worked their hardest on it.  Though whenever he's questioned about when everything went wrong during development, he dodges the questions by trying to come up with certain excuses or trying to change the question.
For the record, I like Gearbox, because they are a studio that can and has made good games, such as the Brothers in Arms series and the Borderlands series, which has become one of my favorite first person shooters in recent memory.  Regardless of what involvement Timegate Studios had with the game, the simple fact is that Gearbox made a bad game, even though it was promised to be something great, and if they simply just said, "Year, we screwed up, we're sorry," then the backlash they received could have been avoided, or at least, not as severe.
In the end, while Aliens: Colonial Marines does have a few bright spots, it's just a lackluster game.  The story isn't interesting and the gameplay, while not terrible, could have been much better and more varied.  The only reason you should play this game is for the sake of curiosity; otherwise, it's not worth your time.
Final Score: 4/10

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Alien Month: Aliens Colonial Marines (2013) Part 1

Back in 2010, I was at a flea market, looking around, when I came across a few back of issues of Game Informer that were from 2008, after buying them, I glanced over the issues, one of which contained a cover story for Aliens: Colonial Marines.  Keep in mind, this was before the game resurfaced at E3 2011 and at the time, people were unsure as to whether or not Gearbox Software was still working on the game.  Anyhow, as I read the cover story I became very intrigued by this game, as someone who had seen Alien before, and what was being described about the game seemed rather promising.  Then in 2011, the game re-appeared at E3 and everyone, including myself, got excited for the game after seeing the impressive demo that was shown off. 

Finally, the game came out in 2013 and when I saw the reviews for this game, the critical thrashing the game received from critics surprised me.  Then I saw footage of the game, and like everyone else, wondered why there was such a huge contrast between what we were shown back then, and the final product that was released.  Having finally played the game this year, it's safe to say that even now, Aliens: Colonial Marines is still one of the biggest disappointments from the previous console generation.  (Disclaimer: This reviews spoils plot points from the game)

The story is set a few weeks after the events of Alien 3, a platoon of marines stationed on the U.S.S. Sephora is sent out to LV-426 after receiving a distress call from Corporal Hicks.  There, they discover that the Sulaco is now orbiting the planet, even though it was last reported to be orbiting Fury 161, the planet from Alien 3.  A squad of marines gets sent over to the Sulaco to find answers, but they never return.  Captain Cruz, the leader of the platoon, sends Corporal Christopher Winter over to investigate, and he discovers that most of the marines that were sent over have either been killed or cocooned up to serve as hosts.

While rescuing one of the cocooned squad members, Corporal Winter is attacked by a xenomorph, and it turns out that the Sulaco is infested with xenomorphs.  Later, he learns the Weyland-Yutani Corporation was responsible for this.  Eventually, Winter, Cruz, and two other marines named O'Neal and Bella end up on LV-426, and now they must take down the corporation while also finding out the truth as to what really happened to the marines sent to LV-426 in Aliens.

Despite having a promising set-up and a strong opening, the story quickly becomes uninteresting due to a lack of interesting events.  The game tries to keep your interest with a couple of plot twists, but they don't work as the first twist is predictable while the other one is interesting, but the story drops the ball when it comes to an explanation for this particular twist.  Early on, when we first meet Bella, she tells Cruz that a spider-like creature (i.e. a facehugger) was attached to her face, but now the creature is dead.  The problem with this twist is that we know that this character is doomed from the get-go and it doesn't come as a surprise when she eventually dies later in the game.

The other plot twist involves Corporal Winter, Bella, and O'Neal finding out that one of the marines from Aliens has survived and is being held hostage by Weyland-Yutani.  When we do find out who this person is, I initially thought that it was cool seeing this particular character alive, but after this person is rescued, his role in the story is underutilized, and worse, the story doesn't explain how this character managed to survive.

Later on in the game, after this character has been rescued, Corporal Winter asks how the Sulaco managed to get back to LV-426, which he explains, but when Winter asks how he managed to survive, he tells Winter that it's a longer story.  It clearly felt like this plot point was left unexplained, just so it could be actually explained in DLC, which is what happened.  The explanation that is given in the DLC makes sense, but it should have been explained in the game either way.

Finally, the ending for this game is anti-climatic; it has a case of plot convenience when O'Neal inadvertently kills Michael Weyland, the main bad guy of the game, after the surviving character from Aliens forcefully makes O'Neal shoot the gun.  It turns out that Michael Weyland was just an android, but Winter figures that since it was a high-ranking android, there may be some important information stored within his conscience.  The last thing you see is an exterior shot of Weyland's ship and one of the characters saying, "We've got everything," fade to black, and roll credits.  It ends on a deliberate cliffhanger with the hopes that there will be a sequel, but given the negative reception of the game, the odds are very low.

As for the characters, they're okay, but a lot more could have been done with them to make them more interesting.  For example, Captain Cruz has a metal leg, yet we don't know how he lost his original leg and got the replacement, it's just there.  The main protagonist of the game, Corporal Winter, is just your typical everyman-type of soldier, and he's rather uninteresting.

If there's one positive to the game's story, it's that you do revisit a number of important locations from Aliens, and in some cases, you get to see some unexplored areas of these places.  You'll explore the Sulaco and eventually LV-426, as well as the ruins of Hadley's Hope, plus take a brief visit into the Derelict.

Tomorrow, in part two, I'll discuss the gameplay of Aliens: Colonial Marines.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Alien Month: Alien (1979)

In 1979, the movie Alien was released in theaters.  It's a movie that's the result of taking two different genres: science fiction and horror, and mixing them into one movie.  It's a science fiction movie in that the creature stalking the crew is not of this world, and the setting is on a cargo spaceship returning to Earth.  However, it's also a horror movie because this alien has a body count, and it's a virtually unstoppable killer.  This movie, and the franchise in general, have left a big impact on both science fiction and mainstream films, and their impact has also extended past the boundary of films, and into the realm of video games.
The movie is set in the future, a future where space travel is considered a common method of travel and business.  A cargo spaceship named the Nostromo is on its way back to Earth, carrying ore resources mined from a distant planet.  The crew is in hypersleep when the ship's computer wakes them up because it picked up an unidentified signal from an uncharted planet.  The signal is partially decoded and revealed to be an S.O.S., but some of the crew members are unsure about whether or not they should check out the location of this signal, but Dallas, played by Tom Skeritt, tells them that if they don't follow through with the Company's orders, then they won't receive their paychecks. 
The Nostromo lands on the uncharted planet, later to be called in LV-426 in Aliens, and three of the crew members: Dallas, Lambert, and Kane, set out to investigate and find the location of the signal.  While this is happening, Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, continues to decipher the message, and it turns out that the signal wasn't an S.O.S., but a warning to stay away from wherever the signal came from.  Due to poor frequencies, however, Ripley can't properly contact Dallas and tell him and the others to turn around and come back.
Eventually, Dallas, Lambert, and Kane find a crashed ship that's been lying there for an unknown period of time.  The three of them investigate the ship and end up in the cockpit area of the ship, where there is a fossilized skeleton sitting in what is, assumedly, the pilot's chair, but the pilot has a hole in his chest, as if something broke out of his body, and there's a hole nearby which Dallas and Lambert send Kane down to investigate.  He finds a massive room containing rows upon rows of mysterious eggs, and when he investigates one of the eggs, it opens up and an unknown creature jumps out and attaches itself to Kane's face.
He's brought back to the Nostromo, where the crew tries to get this creature off of Kane's face.  They try cutting it, but this thing has acid for blood, and the blood burns a hole through a few floors of the ship.  They eventually depart the planet, and soon, the creature is dead, having detached itself from Kane's face.  After a certain amount of time has passed, Kane wakes up, and everyone assumes he is alright.  Yet, while the crew is having their last meal before they go back into hypersleep, Kane starts coughing and yelling in intense pain, and then a small creature bursts out of his chest and runs off.  Before long, the creature has grown bigger and it starts killing off the other crew members of the ship, starting with Brett, who gets killed while looking for Jones, the ship's cat, and then Dallas, when he goes down into the vents to try and lure the creature into the airlock.
Alien is a slow movie; there's no way getting around it.  A large portion of the movie mainly focuses on the film's characters and less on the Alien itself.  Some people may not like that, but I don't mind as long as the characters are interesting, which they are.  Before this movie came out, in most science fiction films, the characters were mainly scientists or some other high ranking official, in Alien, however, the characters are essentially average Joes returning to Earth with their cargo, only to receive a message from their company to investigate something nearby, which leads to the deaths of most of the characters.
The movie introduced a character that has become known as one of the most iconic characters in the science fiction genre: Ellen Ripley.  This movie was Sigourney Weaver's first film, having previously been a stage actress in plays.  She gives a great performance and her character is willing to do anything to get rid of the creature running loose on the Nostromo, but in some scenes of the movie, we also see a motherly side to her whenever she's with the cat Jones.  This element of her would be further explored in the sequel with the bond she forms with the little girl Newt.  The other characters in the movie are also memorable, particularly the scientists Ash, played by Ian Holm.  At first, he seems like a perfectly normal human being, but later on in the movie, his actions start to warrant suspicion from the other crew members, especially Ripley.
Speaking of mysterious reasons, one of the movie's biggest strengths is the sense of mystery established with certain locations and plot points in the movie.  The crashed ship, commonly referred to as the Derelict, is the biggest mystery of the entire movie.  We don't know what led to this ship crashing on the plant, how the pilot of the ship died, or why this ship was transporting all of those eggs in the first place.  The audience's mind is left to think and come up with their own explanation as to what happened; though the mystery of who the pilot of the ship was did get partially explained in the movie Prometheus.
The other big mystery involves the Company that the crew of the Nostromo works for and their unknown agendas.  After Dallas has been killed by the Alien, Ripley goes into the room containing the ship's computer to try and get some answers.  She manages to find out that the Company, which was revealed in the sequels to be named Weyland-Yutani, wants the creature to be brought back alive, even if the crew of the Nostromo gets killed.  Much like how we don't know why the Derelict was transporting those eggs in the first place, we're not exactly sure why the Company would want one of those creatures.  We can assume they want the creature so it can be researched for the purpose of being developed into a weapon; but again, the audience's imagination is left to wonder what they wanted to do with the Alien.
As I mentioned earlier, Alien introduced a character who is now considered to be one of the best science fiction characters ever created, but the movie also introduced one of the most iconic science fiction characters, the Alien, commonly referred to as a xenomorph.  It has an iconic design, the work of artist H.R. Giger, and as the movie shows us, it's also a deadly threat.  Almost every single scene involving the xenomorph is often a tense and dramatic situation; granted, the xenomorph isn't as fast and agile when compared to the xenomorphs in the sequels, but it still manages to be a threat, considering that this creature can hide almost anywhere and get the drop on any of the crew members at any moment.
The movie also has a great art direction when it comes to the designs of the Nostromo and the Derelict.  The interiors of the Nostromo are often small and the various pathways connecting the rooms together make the ship feel like a complex maze.  This is in contrast to the Derelict, as the pathways, cockpit, and underground area are wide and spacious.  Besides that, the movie features a great soundtrack from composer Jerry Goldsmith.  The soundtrack has a strong balance between eerily calm tunes to reflect the less tense parts of the movie, and more dramatic and tense movie for the suspenseful parts of the movie.
Before I end this review, I would like to say that I'm not a big fan of the horror genre, for certain reasons.  There are only a few horror films that I like, and that's largely because these movies are a mixture of two different genres, and Alien is one of those movies.  While it is technically a science fiction movie, there's also a strong horror vibe present throughout the movie.  It's a movie that introduced us to an iconic science fiction creature as well as an equally iconic protagonist.  The characters are interesting and intriguing and the movie also has a great sense of mystery and dramatic tension, put it all together and what you have is a great movie.
Final Score: 9/10

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Alien Month: Aliens vs. Predator (2010)

The name Aliens vs. Predator carries two different meanings; it either refers to a pair of terrible live action movies, or a line of comics and video games.  There have been a number of different video games based off of this crossover concept, but the one I'm focusing on is Aliens vs. Predator, released in 2010.  The developer, Rebellion Studios, is no stranger to making games based off of this concept, as they also developed Aliens vs. Predator for the PC, which was released in 1999.  With that said, there is one question left that needs to be answered: is the game good?
The story is set sometime after the events of Alien 3, the sinister Weyland-Yutani Corporation is once again trying to raise xenomorphs for the purpose of advanced warfare, this time on the planet BG-386.  Additionally, the company is also investigating a giant pyramid created by the Predators, which turns out to be a bad idea as during the process of cracking open the pyramid, an energy blast is released that causes a power outage, allowing the xenomorphs to escape and cause havoc.  Later, marines show up on the planet to take care of the infestation, as well as a group of Predators who are trying to stop Weyland-Yutani from conducting any more research on their race and the xenomorphs.
The events that unfold on the planet are shown from three different perspectives: a marine, a predator, and a xenomorph.  Each one has their own goals and motivations, and their stories are set at different points in time.  Chronologically, the story events in the xenomorph campaign happen first, then the Predator's, and finally the Marine's.  Each of the three campaigns has a strong start and the endings of the Marine and Predator campaign have an interesting set-up for a possible sequel, but the events that happen in the main storyline aren't that interesting.  The Marine storyline suffers from bland characters, as most of the people you meet are your stereotypical soldier archetypes that are subsequently killed off after you meet them.  The only character that is mildly interesting is the power-hungry Karl Bishop Weyland, who is obsessed with researching both the Predators and the Aliens, even if he loses many of his own men in the process.
Each of the three campaigns has their own different playstyles and tone to their respective campaign.  The Marine campaign has a large focus on action, while the Predator and Alien campaigns focus more on stealth.  The Marine is the most familiar of the three characters, and there's nothing unique about him and how he controls.  A large portion of his campaign is spent going around, shooting xenomorphs and combat androids that show up later on, while occasionally activating terminals or re-activating generators in order to continue onwards through the current level.  One of the main problems that all three campaigns suffer form is a lack of variety.  All three characters end up accomplishing similar objectives over the course of their respective campaigns, and while the other characters such as the Predator or Alien may use their own interesting methods in order to complete an objective; it doesn't hide the fact that you're finding something in order to open a door.
Going back to the Marine campaign, the gunplay does feel satisfying as weapons such as the pulse rifle, shotgun, and the smartgun rip the xenomorphs to shreds.  You will want to be careful when killing xenomorphs as their acid will damage you and even if you shoot one of their legs off, they'll still come after you.  However, the lack of ironsights for most of the weapons does feel odd.  The only weapon you can actually zoom in on is the sniper rifle, and while picking off charging xenomorphs isn't hard to do, sometimes it can be tricky trying to aim at a far off xenomorph or small face hugger.
The next character, the Predator, is the most fun to play as of the three.  Playing as him is reminiscent of playing as Batman from the Batman Arkham games, in the sense that you're playing as someone who sticks to the shadows a lot and uses gadgets to take out enemies.  The Predator can jump high and reach treetops and cliffs to use as vantage points, and he also has four gadgets that he can acquire over the course of the campaign, including the shoulder cannon, proximity mines, smart disc, and the spear.  The shoulder cannon and proximity mines drain the Predator's energy meter quickly, meaning you can't use these particular devices freely, unlike the smart disc and spear, which take up no energy. 
If you sneak up on an enemy, the Predator can perform a brutal stealth attack that generally involves stabbing the person with his wrist blades or ripping out their skull.  Even though it's fun to get the drop on marines and wipe them out before they know what hit them, their AI could have been better.  They don't really react to your presence as much as they should have, and they never get concerned over the fact that their own men and women are suddenly disappearing or have turned up dead.
The last character, the Alien, is similar to the Predator in that its campaign has a strong focus on stealth.  Unlike the Predator, the Alien is able to crawl on walls and ceilings and travel through vents in order to get the drop on marines and innocent civilians.  It can also destroy lights to give itself an advantage when sneaking up on someone.  When the Alien sneaks up on a marine or combat android, it performs a stealth kill; however, if it sneaks up on a civilian it can grab the person and use them as a host for a facehugger that conveniently shows up when you initiate the action.  Unfortunately, the marine AI is just as lackluster as it is in the Predator campaign.  Even though the marines have motion trackers, which allows them to detect nearby threats, even when they're not visible; for some reason, most of these marines turned off their motion trackers when traveling through buildings and tunnels, allowing themselves to get easily killed by an xenomorph.
Each of the three characters also has their own boss fights, the Marine campaign has a total of four boss fights, one against the Queen Alien, another against a Predator, a fight with a Praetorian, an xenomorph that's on the verge of becoming a queen, and the last boss fight is against Karl Bishop Weyland.  The Predator campaign has two boss fights, one with a Predalien that shows up at the end of the first level, only to disappear and reappear during the end of the Predator campaign, and a fight against a Praetorian.  Lastly, the Alien campaign has two boss fights that occur during the last level.  The first fight is against two Predators, while the last fight is against an elite Predator that you must weaken first so you can attach a facehugger to him, resulting in the creation of the Predalien.  With the exception of the Queen boss fight, which isn't even a real boss fight, all of the other boss fights are decent conflicts.
Besides having their own boss fights, each character has their own special collectibles that can be found in each level of their own campaign.  The Marine can find audio logs, most of which aren't that interesting and are also rather short.  The Predator can find trophy belts, and the Alien can find specimen sample canisters to destroy.  Beating all three campaigns took about ten hours; the Marine and Predator campaign took about four hours to beat, while the Alien campaign only took about two hours.
The game's visuals are good; in particular, the Marine and Predator campaign manage to do a decent job at building up atmosphere in some of the levels.  My only complaint is that the human character models have a plastic look to them, making them look like action figures.  The voice acting is mostly average, with the only exception being Lance Henriksen's performance as Karl Bishop Weyland.  The music is also a mixed bag, some of the tracks are good but then there are some that are forgettable.
When taken for what it's worth, Aliens vs. Predator is a decent, but fun game.  All three characters are fun to play as, but the generic story and design problems of the campaigns hold back the game from being a truly good game.
Final Score: 6/10