PlayStation At 25: How The Game Of A Bad Alien Movie Changed Shooters Forever
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This article is part of GAMINGbible's PlayStation at 25 content - find much more celebrating the 25th anniversary of Sony's console, here.
By the end of 2000, many gamers had their eyes (and wallets) set on Sony's new console, the PlayStation 2. The original PlayStation, aka the PS1, was five years old in Europe, and the PS2's launch in November 2000 encouraged plenty of people to upgrade to DualShock 2s and Sony's sleeker, DVD-playing sequel system.
But games continued to be released for the PS1 - and one of those that came out directly in the shadow of the PS2, in October 2000 in the US and December 2000 in Europe, was Argonaut Software's Alien Resurrection. As a movie license release coming out a full three years after the movie it was based on, Resurrection didn't attract all that much pre-release attention - but it would prove to be a hugely important game.
If you're a regular player of first-person shooters on console, from the Call of Duty series to BioShock via Overwatch or Borderlands, you're probably pretty familiar with the games' twin-analogue-stick control system. Left stick to move your left and right, forward and back; and right stick for turning and to aim, basically. Not to be confused with the older twin-stick shooter genre (as popularised by 1982's Robotron: 2084), this method of playing FPS games has been standard for ages - and it was really pushed into the mainstream by the Xbox's killer app, 2001's Halo: Combat Evolved.
But Alien Resurrection got there first - around a whole year earlier, actually. While unremarkable of plot (it just followed the movie, which was pretty poor) and murky of visuals - something that Alien fans might think is a positive, but it doesn't make the game much fun to play - Alien Resurrection truly pioneered twin-analogue-stick FPS gameplay. It took advantage of the PS1's DualShock controller like no game had before - the now-iconic pad had come out in 1997 but hadn't yet been used for today's traditional FPS layout.
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Not that everyone was into it. Reviewing at the time of release for Gamespot, writer Steven Garrett called the twin-analogue-stick control scheme the game's "most terrifying element". He went on: "The left analog stick moves you forward, back, and strafes right and left, while the right analog stick turns you and can be used to look up and down. Too often, you'll turn to face a foe and find that your weapon is aimed at the floor or ceiling while the alien gleefully hacks away at your midsection."
Looking back from 2020, it's pretty funny to think that FPS gaming's most conventional, seemingly effortless control method was so awkward at first - but I suppose that every breakthrough in gaming arrives with a little resistance. In contrast, kinda, IGN's Marc Nix commented that "the DualShock control pad works miracles", albeit while acknowledging that the game was far less satisfying to play with a pad than it was with the PlayStation mouse (yes, the PlayStation had a mouse). In comparison to the mouse, Nix wrote that "the [DualShock] just doesn't swing smooth or fast enough to keep up with the incredibly agile aliens". And it's fair to say that, even today, a twin-analogue-stick pad will never keep up with a mouse for FPS games.
Alien Resurrection had a torrid development. The game was started in 1996, and was scheduled to release alongside the film the next year. But two complete redesigns - the game began as a top-down shooter before being scrapped for a third-person perspective, which was subsequently canned in favour of the first-person approach - saw it slide down the release schedule. By the time the game was in stores, the Alien franchise had moved on from Resurrection, and the nightmare of the 'newborn' was firmly consigned to history, never to be seen again. I said, never to be seen again.
But for all its pre-release misfortune and semi-underwhelming end-product appeal, Alien Resurrection is important. It's a foundational release in gaming's evolution, for both the wider first-person shooter genre and the PlayStation brand itself - which by playing host to such innovation stole a march on Microsoft before the Xbox and Halo were released. Some might argue that it's been that way ever since. Some might.
Featured Image Credit: 20th Century Fox, Fox Interactive