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Xenomorph

In the fourth of his series of games you might have missed Thomas Wellicome reviews this Dungeon Master clone

 

Back in the early nineties, at the peak of my spotty greasy early teens I developed a minor obsession with Dungeon Master style games. It started, ironically enough, with Bloodwych, which I played to death. The expansion pack soon followed. Then I completed Chaos Strikes Back before Dungeon Master, despite having no idea how the spell system was meant to work, and having to use a code breaking formula to work out how to cast a spell. Captive, Ishar 1 and 2, BSS Jane Seymour, Knightmlare, I just couldn't stop myself, I even completed the PD game Dark Wars and nearly finished Mystic Well. Despite having played these games to death, Xenomorph kind of passed me by. I'd seen it reviewed, it looked good, but I never got hold of a copy. Enter the Tardis and shoot forward ten years or so, and descend on the delights of eBay, a small bidding war and one duff copy, and then another small bidding war and another copy (which this time didn't have some sort of slimy scum all over the disk surface) and here comes the review.

[Screen-shot: Xenomorph title screen]

Xenomorph is basically Dungeon Master with guns. I'm pretty sure this game was the first of its kind, predating Captive by about a year, and just pipping the similarly-styled BSS Jane Seymour by a few months. There's a ropey Alien style plot line about your character being sent out to take some distant mining colony with supplies, only to have your ship malfunction during hyperspace or something. Your lovely character carries on to the colony with the hope of getting the ship repaired, even though the food deposits you were taking to the miners (which were going to keep them alive for the next year) were lost in the accident. When you get there though you find that the colony is a bit quiet. There are also nasty looking things wandering around the corridors...

[Screen-shot: Bogey attack!]

Arrgghh! I'm being attacked by a gigantic bogey!


Graphically the game's quite good, in a cartoonish style. The graphics pale in comparison to Captive, but they're quite nice in their own way. The images move in the usual Dungeon Master style steps, though Xenomorph tries a bit of a flash trick when you turn, scrolling the image onto the screen in an attempt to give the impression of realistic movement. It works reasonably well, but does slow the movement quite a bit. The actual view your character can "see" takes up about a third of the screen, with the rest being taken up with a status panel showing various bars depicting whether you're about to die or not, a movement button and two boxes displaying the contents of your hands. You can stick various things in here, ranging from a variety of weapons, to motion detectors and atmosphere readers. Yes that's right. It's not just the aliens that are out to get you, or the deranged remains of the crew. Even the blasted space station's atmosphere is also trying to kill you.

[Screen-shot: Options]

Now if I could just find the cheese and pickle sandwiches. I know I packed them, they must be in here somewhere. Hold this industrial strength laser blaster will you...


Right-clicking brings up a screen depicting the current contents of your backpack. Neatly, while this is happening your stats picture changes to the view your character's seeing, which allows you to spot that 20-foot alien trying to sneak up on you. This is all just as well, as the backpack is presented in a dodgy 3D style which makes it virtually impossible to select the right item you want, and you spend a lot of time in it trying to pick the right object.

The objects you pick up are detailed and reasonably well drawn. Your character, however, seems to be part of the way through a sex change operation, having a rather curvy figure, but sporting an Arnold Schwarzenegger style six-pack. To be quite honest I think I would be more worried if I saw him/her coming towards me down a corridor on a deserted space station than if I saw six-foot alien with acid saliva dripping from its six inch toothed mouth doing the same! The aliens are probably terrified.

[Screen-shot: Corridor meeting]

Er no, thanks for the offer but I'd rather not have an egg implanted in my stomach that will eventually turn into a ten-foot tall alien, if that's OK with you?


Speaking of aliens, the ones on offer in this are a pretty grizzly bunch. Everything from face-hugger style worms that emerge from egg pods to corridor-filling behemoths, not to mention everything in between. Many of the monsters and droids that you come up against go through various stages of evolution. You can be strolling along, minding your own business when all of a sudden you'll encounter a series of eggs attached to a wall. One is intact, one is about to hatch and the other... ah yes that must be where my arms have just gone. Bugger.

[Screen-shot: Empty cocoon]

Hmm, it seems to be some sort of cocoon. An empty cocoon. Now what sort of conclusions can we draw from that?
 

[Screen-shot: There may be trouble ahead]

Er... that we're in trouble is the conclusion, damn now where's that laser gone, I can't find it in all these cheese and pickle sandwiches...


All the monsters are nicely drawn, but suffer from the usual limited amount of animation of this genre. Not that it detracts from the atmosphere a bit. What does are the somewhat samey backgrounds. The corridors all look alarmingly similar and it's easy to get disorientated, but the same complaint can be levelled at most dungeon games. Mapping is therefore an essential, if rather tedious task if you want to progress very far in this game. The action is controlled with a cursor shaped like a hand. Irritatingly, this makes it pretty difficult to click on things as there is no "tip" to point at things with. Fortunately when you shoot at the various ugly brutes lurking in Xenomorph you at least get a cross hair, and there's none of that irritating wobble that BSS Jane Seymour had built in, meaning you can at least hit the things you're aiming at.

In terms of sound Xenomorph forgoes tracker music for long periods of silence interspersed with spot effects. These are OK but hardly earth-shatteringly, but at least they didn't opt for a continous bit of chip music playing in the background.

[Screen-shot: There may be trouble ahead]

One of the game's many food dispensers. Patent Zero G Coffee Perculator eh? Sounds delicious.


Game-play is excellent, there's a real sense of tension as you open each door. The plotline is enhanced by various computer disks you can pick up while in the main game, each of which contains personal logs written by various deceased members of the crew. Just like Alien vs Predator on the Jaguar. The game certainly makes you use your intuition to work out exactly what is going on, and how you're meant to fufill your goals of getting off the space station. The manual itself is deliberately vague, which could be a blessing or a curse depending on your viewpoint. To be fair, Xenomorph is kind of BSS Jane Seymour's twin, you have to repair your ship while dodging radiation and aliens in the process, but it lacks all the irritating points like repetitive action and those annoying droids.

[Screen-shot: Sleeping area]

I'm shattered, time for a nap.


Bad points? Well the main problem with using it on a single disk drive system is the sheer hassle of swapping the three disks. Xenomorph insists on loading things from disk every time you go up or down a level. This isn't much of a problem for most of the game, however, on the first level, which is your own ship, there are three floors and a load of tiny rooms with ladders going up or down to them. It's almost as if the programmers wanted to put you off before you've started, as you continually swap disks just to go up some stairs to open an empty cupboard. Grrr. Once you get into the game proper though, the disk swapping virtually disappears with the vast levels loaded in one go.

The cupboards in Xenomorph are a tad annoying. The game insists on closing them before you move away from them, probably to show off the sound sample and animation that occurs when you open or close them. It's not really a problem, unless you've just realized there's a giant slug right behind you, but it's unnecessary nonetheless. The food and water levels in the game also seem to shoot down rather too rapidly for my liking. I had to eat four or five large pizzas and six cups of coffee to fill my bars up and they were virtually empty 20 minutes later. The hero must have the digestive system of a sperm whale!

I really enjoy playing Xenomorph, it's probably the nearest you'll get to Alien vs Predator on the ST. You probably won't want to complete it more than one or two times, but you'll have a lot of fun in the meantime. It may lack dwarfs and hobbits like Knightmlare, and isn't as good looking as Captive (but at least it's possible to finish it) or the Ishar series, but you won't regret getting hold of this game if you're a fan of the genre.

thomas@myatari.net

Verdict

Name:

Xenomorph

Requires:

512 KB ST, two disk drives and hard disk supported (and recommended).

Publisher:

Pandora

Released:

1989

Pros:

  • It's like Dungeon Master with guns.
  • Hard disk installable, which improves gameplay no end (unlike BSS Jane Seymour which was ruined by disk swapping).
  • Not an elf in sight, and if one turns up you can just shoot him. Snigger.  

Cons:

  • Too many disk swaps for a single-drive ST.
  • Graphics and sound could be better.
  • If you hate Dungeon Master, you'll probably hate this.

Rating:

4/5

 

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MyAtari magazine - Review #1, October 2004

 
Copyright 2004 MyAtari magazine