Alien Holocaust — Portrait of a past

Alien Holocaust — Portrait of a past

I’ve been feeling quite lost lately. Confused about my writing, my future, and also my present. Then, as if heeding my prayers, I stumbled upon Alien Holocaust — an Atari 2600 game, created in this decade by Brazilians, inspired by a short film (also Brazilian) and developed by the main actor of said film. Despite the simplistic idea, its execution and sole existence piqued my interest.

Alien Holocaust game

Alien Holocaust, alongside the fact that it was developed for the Atari, received a sequel, runs natively on the console, and even comes with a manual that’s extremely reminiscent of the console’s era, as a love letter to the very beginning of the age of videogames at the end of the 20th century. And, miraculously, one of the creators trusted my work and provided me a copy of both Alien Holocausts, the two manuals and even introduced me to the short (available on YouTube in English, with Portuguese subtitles). So… what’s the game about? In fact, what is Holocausto Alienígena, the short film that started it all?

The concept behind the short is a homage, using the Super 8 camera in order to borrow that feel with pinpoint accuracy, instead of simply imitating it. The whole movie is 10 minutes long and the same song plays throughout the full runtime of the film. There are almost no voice lines. The only character to ever speak is the narrator. The story is relatively simple — an ordinary man with no particular outstanding features named Bruce is suddenly stopped while driving back home and, following his curiosity, he finds himself inside an alien trap designed to drive him to insanity in order to abduct him. The aliens are never actually seen in the movie, same goes for a beast in the woods that chases the protagonist. In fact we’re not even told if that beast is remotely related to the aliens. Bruce goes mad by the invisible presence of an otherworldly force, represented by objects that, in one way or another, go beyond his comprehension. A telephone ringing without being called, clocks going back on time, and especially a painting of a boat in the ocean that emits sounds of its scenery as if it were real. The painting is also moist, as if it was actual water. In the end, succumbing to madness, Bruce is abducted.

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Well then, how can you make an interesting game with this story? Or, more accurately, on the Atari 2600? Well, a very cool thing about that time is how they always found a way to transport a famous work into a game, even when it didn’t make any sense. And, by adapting other media into videogames, a lot of inconsistencies regarding the original plot appeared. Alien Holocaust’s manual features a short comic telling the story of the film, and even it has differences when compared to the movie when it didn’t need to. That was very common at the time, and sometimes it can still happen nowadays. So, what about the game itself?

Alien Holocaust has four levels, each with its distinct gameplay style. In the first one, you drive your car through the road dodging falling lasers, aliens in front of your car, and try not to get abducted. Every time you’re hit your car gets a little slower, making it harder to dodge the UFO’s attempts to capture you. Eventually, you’ll be hit and Bruce will jump out of the car into the next stage. Now in the Woods, Bruce runs and jumps in search of a key, and might even find some other items. You can get hit up to three times before restarting the stage. There are aliens, spiders, and other obstacles to evade. We also discover the beast of the forest is actually a bear. When you eventually find the key you can get into the shack to begin the third level. Here, your goal is to not go mad — evading the clocks, the painting’s flowing water, holes in the ground, and aliens. However, the only way to move on is by losing your mind (I really don’t know if it’s possible to fail the level legitimately). The fourth and final stage is a journey across space that takes place on the alien ship, dodging meteors and destroying human satellites. You can finish this level, but even if you don’t the credits will roll anyway.

Alien Holocaust game

Everything about the game is pretty impressive. It was never intended for it to revolutionize gaming as a whole, after all, it was released for one of the first sets of videogame hardware ever created. Despite that, if I had to point at something that could be adjusted it would be the difficulty. The second level is very interesting, but the first and third, although creative, are way too easy. You spend too much time on these stages that can only be completed once you’re dead. They’re fun, don’t get me wrong, but I’d wager that even shooting for high scores would be a more fun and rewarding experience if the stages were harder. That, in turn, would make them shorter because of the challenge. However, this is an indie game designed for a console released decades ago. Alongside hardware limitations, it’s a challenging feat on its own to release such a game and I had fun with it anyway.

Alien Holocaust game

The sequel, Alien Holocaust II: Invasion Earth strips itself away from the source material (like a lot of sequels of licensed games did in the past) so you can play as the aliens conducting the titular “Alien Holocaust” in an arcade-style shooter gameplay. You have to destroy cities by shooting down monuments and buildings, which are in turn split into little pieces that can be destroyed in a single shot. Helicopters, Jets, and Tanks will appear and you can either destroy them or simply dodge them. Between stages you can abduct humans or cows to raise your score or restore health. The UFO has an ammo gauge, and has to fly up the screen to a safe area so it can recharge its ammo. Something interesting about the game is that the projectiles — both yours and the enemies’ — follow the direction you’re facing at all times. I’m not sure if that was on purpose, but it asks for way better strategizing than simply shooting, considering you have to stay put horizontally if you want to hit a certain spot. Because of that, it’s recommended to shoot as close as possible to your target — a higher-risk area, where your saucer turns into an easy target for offscreen helicopters and jets.

Alien Holocaust game

AH2 is much longer than the first one, as it has a lot of levels. The score system was also improved and the bonus stages are fun. The first one interested me by its unique concept shared with the film that inspired it – the portrait of an ordinary man losing his sanity before being captured by otherworldly beings. The second one though is interesting to me because it’s way too fun, the kind of game you can replay many times. I’m certain the buildings your UFO wrecks are based on real places (hope that doesn’t bring trouble to anyone) and honestly I think that’s funny.

Meeting Alien Holocaust was a very cool experience and I’m happy I’ve decided to write about it. It ended up inspiring me a ton, and I’m really thankful for the trust the devs gave me. Wishing the best of the best for our friends at Teknamic, good night!