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Alien Carnage – PC

Alien Carnage – PC

The Apogee Shareware Series, Part IV

thPlatform: PC (DOS)

Developer: Interactive Binary Illusions, SubZero Software

Publisher: Apogee Software

Release Date: October 10, 1993 (as Halloween Harry); November 2, 1994 (as Alien Carnage)

Genre: Platformer, Run-and-Gun

Nerd Rating: 5 out of 10

Well, here we are again, talking about Apogee Software, the favored video game developer of my childhood, and we come across this one. I’ve actually been bracing for it, trying to find a way past it, but no dice. It was on the disc I played when I was a kid, therefore I have to see this thing through. I’ve got to hit upon Alien Carnage and give it the fair shake, even if it plays like a low-rent version of Duke Nukem II. But why would I want to avoid one if this disc was nothing but Apogee’s greatest hits? Well, that’s simple, it’s because this game is very forgettable. I vaguely remembered it being on the disc, but then I wondered, if there was another run-and-gun on here trying to muscle in there with Snake Logan of Bio Menace and the almighty Duke himself, what’s that hero’s name? Heck, what’s the game even called? And then it hit me: “Oh yeah, it’s called Halloween Harry! …Wait…”

Yeah.

This requires a bit of background: When it was first released, the developers had decided to name the game after the titular character of Halloween Harry, hoping that he might get the same kind of name recognition as Duke Nukem or Jazz Jackrabbit. However, after a while, the publishers at Apogee wisely pointed out that having a holiday in your game title will typecast it in the eyes of the consumer as a seasonally-themed game, much like how you only pull out the Christmas movies until it’s close to Christmas.

So later that year, they re-released the game as Alien Carnage, which was more accurate to the actual premise of the story and didn’t call to mind visions of jack-o-lanterns, but at the same time, it confused a lot of people. Not that Apogee was wrong to say a name change was prudent, but I wonder if maybe the developers could have stuck with Halloween Harry as the working title and somehow changed the game up to make it fit. I dunno, have Harry’s grenades be pumpkin bombs, have the villains look like ghoulish creatures, just something more than it was, and it would have stood out to players as a game trying to do something different.

Zombies: The original "original idea".

Zombies: The original “original idea.”

That said, Alien Carnage doesn’t do very much at all to stand apart from the competition, and what it does do, it doesn’t do very well. The best way to demonstrate this is to judge our main character. Our hero, Halloween Harry, looks like he went to the bargain bin at the Protagonist Costco and got the most budget-friendly action hero clothing that he could find, except for the goofy-looking crash helmet (which does not go with that tank-top, by the way). His muscles look drawn-on and his walk cycle gives the impression that he’s been skipping his regular gym visits for the past month.

The man can’t jump, and I’m not just talking White Men Can’t Jump levels of “can’t jump”, where he actually can jump pretty well once the local basketball hoods pony up enough money to get hustled. No, he is literally physically incapable of jumping in this game. If he wants to leave contact with the ground, whether it’s to get to a higher platform, avoid an enemy, check the ceiling and walls for secret passages, or even just hop over a small enemy, he has to use his jetpack. I don’t know whether he thinks he’s too cool just to jump over stuff or he’s too lazy to push off of the ground with his feet. I can’t help but feeling that either way, his future will hold many boxes of fudge that will be packed away as soon as he’s done with this bothersome “moving around like a normal person” business.

"Darr, sorreh boss, I woulda saved dah hostages today but dah donuts got me again! Is okay, tho, da guy said they's was dah manager's special!"

“Darr, sorreh boss, I woulda saved dah hostages today but dah donuts got me again! Is okay, tho, da guy said they’s was dah manajah’s special!”

This desk jockey-turned-impromptu savior is sent to the city to stop an evil scheme by an alien overlord to overtake the earth by turning its populace into brain-eating zombies. Yep, the first thing you face in a game like Alien Carnage is actually zombies, and mostly, they’re just painful roadblocks in between you and your real objective in each standard level, which is saving a set number of innocents and finding the exit. Later on, you encounter more real alien presence, but for the large part, you’re getting the weapons just to clear them out of the way.

Each enemy will usually drop a bit of money that you can use to purchase ammunition, including fuel for the flamethrower, your trademark weapon and also the same fuel that powers your jetpack. Since the flamethrower itself is only really useful as a backup option, you’ll want to spend most of your money on things like missiles and thermo-grenades. Along with money pickups, you can also find junk food, which Halloween Harry will eat to restore health (see, I wasn’t making that up, he really does pack the food away), ammo presents, which will give you a bunch of free ammo for your selected weapon, and extra lives, which are useful in just about any game that uses them.

The only time the Flamethrower works well is during boss fights, when it's your only weapon but you have unlimited ammo, letting you do airborne strafing and all of the other neat stuff that makes actually using it fun.

The only time the Flamethrower works well is during boss fights, when it’s your only weapon but you have unlimited ammo, letting you do airborne strafing and all of the other neat stuff that makes actually using it fun.

As we try to figure out why in the world he got the name “Halloween” Harry, we also find other puzzling aspects about Alien Carnage. Many of the passageways restrict your ability to jetpack around and over enemies, making you have to kill off whatever’s in your way, which can be a pain when you come up against fast enemies you can’t avoid. The level also makes backtracking necessary, as color-coded doors are often spread out on opposite ends of the level as their unlock switches, some hidden behind other color-coded doors, and the secret passages are typically easy to miss and often hide a hostage or two inside of them, making you stuck trying to find one girl in a room that you don’t know how to access at first. And while you’re running and jetpacking around to save these people in the time allotted, your fuel’s constantly being drained.

Your HUD assistant will nag you about how you’re using it up and eventually you’ll be out, which admittedly doesn’t make you lose the level or be stranded on whatever floor you’re on, it just makes the jetpack cut out frequently in mid-air like it’s running on fumes. At the very least, they decided to opt for fuel being a mere round-the-clock frustration over seriously punishing you for letting it go, like Harry’s dietician should have done after he spotted Harry eating a triple-stuffed meat lover’s pizza with extra cheese.

Knowing this game, the switch for that orange door is on the upper side of the level behind at least one other color-coded door, with a lot of fuel-guzzling passages in between. At least you have gas money! Or just gas, in Harry's case...

The switch for that orange door is likely on the upper side of the level behind at least one other color-coded door, with a lot of fuel-guzzling passages in between. At least you have gas money! Or just gas, in Harry’s case…

As more evidence of the principle that “Duke Nukem This Ain’t,” we have pretty standard sound FX that probably did come from a low-cost Casio keyboard, and the music of Alien Carnage, while not exactly droning, can get pretty monotonous if that’s the only music you hear through the entire zone’s normal levels (and it is, sadly). Take a listen to the music of Zone 2. Catchy, finger-snappin’, toe-tappin’ sort of stuff, right? Not really, and as I played, I realized they may have tried to make it slightly different by adjusting the tone through each level, but it’s so little of a change that it’s like you tried to hide that calendar that your boss doesn’t like during your cubicle inspection…by hanging it on the opposite wall of your cubicle. Surely he won’t notice, right? I know I did, and I wasn’t impressed. At least the boss music is kind of okay, though in classic fashion in games like this, you’ll only hear it at the end of each of the four episodes…yeah, they were desperately trying to recreate the Duke Nukem magic here, weren’t they?

Beat all of these in record time to unlock the secret Mission 5: TREADCLIMBER.

Beat all of these in record time to unlock the secret Mission 5: TREADCLIMBER.

In summary, Alien Carnage isn’t bad, but it isn’t exactly great, either. It’s good in the way that garden-variety is good, because at the end of the day, you got what you paid for. However, when other games on the market will give you that and so much more, doing just enough to be generic will not cut it, and that’s ultimately why people always remember Duke Nukem and why almost nobody knows who Halloween Harry even is. And given that the developers of this title obviously took pages from…wait, you mean this originally came out a month or so BEFORE Duke Nukem II? Well, shoot, I guess that’s just really bad luck, then!

If Alien Carnage had been trying to compete against the original Duke Nukem game, perhaps the choices they made would have been more sensible, but given that it was almost a year after the original and that Apogee was already whipping up their sequel to ship before Christmas, Halloween Harry didn’t stand a chance in the long run. He was just one of the many would-be heroes who watched the big stars of video gaming pass him by. And later in life, he probably got fired from his part-time job at the local McDonald’s for stealing quarter-pounders out from under the heat lamp. C’est la vie!

Check out these other Apogee Software titles reviewed by Action Zero.

Written by Action Zero

Action Zero spends his time relaxing in his Stratocaster-pink Starjammer, listening to New Retro Wave tracks and planning to get back in touch with the Hell Riders of the Milky Way for some beers and an intergalactic drag race or two. Played by Reb Brown in the historical documentary “Space Mutiny”.

 
 

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  1. Great review! You got me laughing out loud for certain parts. Though I will say, this kinda sounds fun to me. I’m curious to check it out now.

     

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