“Kill me.” – Common folk saying (in outer space).
Alien 3 for the Sega Genesis should infuriate its players. Like so many film-to-videogame adaptations, it throws out everything important about the source material in service of entertaining gameplay. Yet, try as Alien 3 might (and boy does it try), there is one core thematic element to the Alien franchise that its developers simply could not purge. Alien 3 places a strong emphasis on the value of human life and that’s what makes it exemplary.
Despite varying in style, genre, and quality, the four canonical Alien films (five if you count the parallel prequel Prometheus) strike a chord so strong in the hearts of their fans that videogame developers have been trying to adapt them since 1982. Very few have been successful, a sad fact that fans have had to deal with every time some development studio says it’s working on ‘The game that will capture the essence of the Alien movies.’
Sega is the most recent studio to make the claim with Alien Isolation, a fun and intense survival horror game designed specifically to embody the spirit of the original Ridley Scott sci fi thriller that taught us that, “In space no one can hear you scream.” It sounds like a dream come true for fans, but after your first encounter with a hostile NPC – a human being – it’s clear Isolation forgot rule number one of Alien: we’re the good guys.
The value of human life is so important to the Alien franchise that even the 16-bit adaptation of Alien 3 – a game that gets nearly every other detail about Ripley’s fight against the xenomorphs on Fury 161 wrong – nails it. The whole object of the game is to run around and save captive humans. As a result, the video game adaptation of David Fincher’s underappreciated sequel still manages to hold onto the spirit of the franchise better than the latest triple-A exercise in tension.
To be clear, I mean it when I say Alien 3 gets nearly every detail wrong. Aside from putting players in control of a sprite modeled after the likeness of a bald Sigourney Weaver, Acclaim’s version of Alien 3 has no similarity to the Fincher film. In the movie, there is one extraterrestrial threat, but the game is littered with them. In the movie, Ripley is completely unarmed, but the game has equipped her with the iconic weapons from James Cameron’s Aliens. In the movie, Ripley sacrifices her life so that the powerful alien menace won’t fall into the hands of the evil Weyland Yutani Corporation, but the game ends with this message:
As Ripley leaves Fury 161 she turns back one last time “It is done.. [sic]” Well done you have rid the planet of the alien menace and won the game
That poorly punctuated gem of a congratulation spits in the face of anyone hoping that the game would at least make good on the film’s dramatic ending. It also underlines a key difference between games and film. Dying is a consequence of failure, not a reward for winning. Dramatic catharsis – alongside canon, theme and narrative – takes a back seat to entertaining gameplay.
That’s why, instead of paying homage to one of the franchise’s most iconic images, Alien 3 for the Genesis reveals itself as what it really is: a fun game made by people who don’t give a fuck about Alien 3.
The creators of the game are practically trolling the target audience. Even allowing that David Fincher’s film doesn’t have a ton to offer a 16-bit shooter, Acclaim’s adaptation gets fundamental Alien mythology wrong to an absurd degree. The goal of every non-boss stage is to rescue inmates spread throughout the level and find the exit before time runs out. If you fail, the camera moves to every man you didn’t save and shows an alien larva explode out of his torso.
It’s a major experience-killing conundrum. Ripley can’t save people who’ve been impregnated with alien embryos. No one can. If you think about it, the entire game is about Ripley running around, cutting prisoners down from their bonds, and letting them explode somewhere else.
And yet, it’s that very action, the most egregious of the game’s violations of franchise canon, that makes it feel like a true Alien experience. In the films, Ellen Ripley never killed a human being that wasn’t literally begging her to do so. Even her clone that was made 200 years after her suicide only murdered other clones of herself (and technically they were more alien than human). She has always been motivated out of a need for survival and innate sense of humanity as basically good.
For all of its flaws and inaccuracies, the video game adaptation of Alien 3 has something its newest sibling is sorely missing. It teaches its players the fundamental truth at the heart of all proper Alien media: even in the most chest-burstingly dire circumstances, human life is still worth fighting for.