Part 2 of Conquering the Pile of Shame Series:
I absolutely love the Mystery Science Theater 3000 TV show. For those who don’t know, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is a show where a guy and two robots make fun of movies that had low budgets or had such a lack of vision that they are genuinely unwatchable. These terrible movies are usually called B-Movies and if there were a B-Video Game category, Action Alien would sit firmly inside of it. Action Alien has problems with optimization, animation, and physics that are so glaringly obvious that it is extremely hard to play the game as intended. However, a few points of light exist in Action Alien that really impressed me, possibly because my expectations were so low, but also because I was genuinely surprised at some of the effort put in.
As I’ve stated before in earlier articles, I look for video game deals nearly everyday and at one point I guess I picked up Action Alien as a part of a larger bundle and immediately ignored it. For probably over a year it sat in my library taking up space and I never had the drive or interest to try it out. But a few days ago, with the interest of this new series in mind, I installed it, booted it up, and put a few hours into it. I went in thinking it would be bad, but I didn’t realize just how bad it would be. From a gameplay perspective, the animations are pretty terrible and the enemies are pretty straightforward (literally, they make a beeline for you from anywhere on the map). Action Alien features 6 to 7 enemy types that all behave the same way: they basically chase after you from any distance and force you to run away shooting until they are all dead, which lasts for maybe six seconds before they respawn again in significantly greater numbers. A few of the enemies shoot from a distance, others are faster than normal, and still others are large and menacing; however, if you have played nearly any game you have seen these guys before. As I played, the enemies would glitch out and bounce a huge distance in the air (presumably from hitting an object on the way to hurt me) as if bouncing on an over-sized super-trampoline. They then land totally unharmed in the mass of their alien friends as if gravity and physics were taking that particular day off. Other times, because the enemies can spawn from pretty much anywhere around you, I would get stuck in a mob of aliens and get beaten down within a few seconds of noticing that they were even there. The other issues that tend to crop up usually are a result of the controls not being that responsive and buttons not working when they are pushed (or the abysmally long grenade throw, ugh). But, even with all of these issues I still found some fun in this game, and I have to applaud the developer(s) for still supporting the game (as of late 2017) even with, what I can only assume to be, a light following.
The glitches and errors in Action Alien are some of the best parts of the game. The first time I killed one of the aliens, it fell to the ground and flopped around uncontrollably like a bunch of fish attached to some strings. This is clearly not supposed to happen, but it still made me laugh almost every time it did. Shooting mechanics were also surprising: if you shot a wall or object, it would either blow apart or put a hole in the wall. Don’t get me wrong, the map is small and scarce of buildings, so the different pieces created from blowing holes in walls won’t slow down your computer like it would in a big budget game with a large map. But I couldn’t help but be surprised that the developer(s) took the time to make every single wall piece and object destructible. For all intents and purposes this game is not fair to the player; the aliens spawn into the 50-100 range and some of them take a huge amount of ammo to put down, but in every building you will find a small arsenal of guns and health packs to keep you going, even from 1 health point, as long as you’re moderately careful. Your character can also be upgraded through a perk system contained in the main menu, which I will admit is an odd place for it. You are offered tokens for each completed game for achievements like number of aliens killed, accuracy, or percentage of the scenario completed. These tokens can then be used to upgrade your reload speed, damage, and a wealth of other aspects of yourself that may be lacking at the start.
I genuinely love when things go wrong in a game, and as long as it doesn’t break the actual game, it is always fun to see something go haywire and not do what it’s supposed to. B-Games are so fun to play because things go terribly and hilariously wrong. In a big budget movie you will almost never see a boom mic lilt into the frame and quickly snap back out again or a stunt actor CLEARLY replace the main actor for a scene like you would in a really low budget movie. There is a feeling of catharsis that washes over you when watching a dumpster fire of a B-Movie and having your expectations thoroughly destroyed; that same feeling is present when playing a B-Video Game. Games like Action Alien force you to have such low expectations from gameplay that you are more easily surprised and impressed when something actually works well, or even at all. Action Alien will not give you gratification in the gameplay but rather in the things that go wrong. When the gears start moving, for a brief moment you are graced with a well oiled moment that is ever so fleeting but undoubtedly interesting. I felt the more that I played this game the more I understood that Action Alien was (and probably still is) a passion project of a starting developer: a game that was most likely worked on by one or two developers to learn how to create something while trying to make it good enough to sell to the public. While I cannot in good faith recommend that you buy this game because it has so many problems that are hard coded into the game itself, if you do happen to come across this game in your library from a bundle long past, or if someone happens to give it to you (which, shame on them), give it a try and experience the wonders and horrors of a low-budget B-Video Game.