Alien Carnage

Alien Carnage is a 2D run and gun platformer for MS DOS. The basic plot is that aliens have landed on Earth and are turning humans into zombies that they can use for slave labor to take over the world. It’s up to you, Halloween Harry, to infiltrate their defenses, save the hostages, and defeat their leader. You play through 4 missions containing 5 zones each. 4 zones are standard levels and the fifth is a boss zone. Your goal in each level is to rescue all of the captive humans and make your way to the elevator. Often there are colored switches you need to flip in order to open correspondingly colored doors to advance. There are a range of enemies to fight such as zombies, robots, and aliens. Defeated enemies drop coins which can be used to buy different types of ammo in specific vending machines scattered throughout the levels. The only ammo that’s free is the fuel as you’ll need it to navigate the levels. You start with a flamethrower that runs on fuel, but you also need fuel for your jetpack. The jetpack takes the place of jumping. Instead, you slowly ascend when holding up. There are also some secrets to find by walking over certain areas. There are holographic walls you can walk through as well as walls you can destroy. You can regain your health either by picking up food items or saving a hostage which will give you max health. At the end of each level you’ll get bonus points for the number of humans rescued, the number of coins left over, and the amount of bonus time left. The game does save high scores.

The music in the game is pretty sweet, mostly being really cool synth music you might hear in an action movie. The design of the game seems annoying at first, but it’s actually pretty purposeful when you think about it. The use of the jetpack is unique as it doesn’t work like a jump. You move up slower than a jump would so you need to be more aware of vertical dodging and movement. You also need to conserve fuel because without it your jetpack will start cutting out, forcing you to continually hit up to make a choppy ascent. Your jetpack will never completely drain your fuel though. This is so you’ll still have a bit of firepower in your flamethrower to keep you from being totally defenseless while searching for a fuel vending machine. The enemies respawn after you get too far away from them. This means there’s usually always something to do when backtracking through the maze-like levels. Sometimes you’ll run into dead ends because you’ve already done whatever it is you need to do in those sections. So when you turn around to try and find the correct way to go you’ll usually encounter respawned enemies. Enemies you’ve already killed before will not drop anything which is to prevent you from farming coins. This also helps you figure out if you’ve gone this way or not as a lot of the textures and enemies will repeat. You’re given a radar to help give you an idea of where the hostages are, but you aren’t given a map because that would ruin the labyrinthine nature of the levels. You need to find every last hostage and usually many switches in a level in order to complete it so you will really need to explore the big levels. The limited ammo you purchase is very powerful, but the more time you spend in a level the more ammo you’re bound to expend. Not to mention that you get bonus points for having coins left over and playing through levels quickly. This is also balanced by spikes that pop up from the ground in some places, enemies respawning, and placing enemies behind scenery in the foreground. These things force you to take your time to figure out their locations, but they also reward you for remembering their locations by giving you extra points for fast times. Knowing the routes leads to killing less enemies, using less ammo, spending less coins, and taking less time which will all lead to better scores. It’s some very thoughtful design to keep the game fresh and interesting. Not to mention the different enemies and varied visuals to keep levels from getting too similar or stale.

The game definitely isn’t perfect, though. The decision to switch the third and first missions is strange and messes with the difficulty curve. It seems like the first two missions are now harder than the last two, and now you get a tutorial on how to play halfway through the game rather than at the start. Also, it never seems to explain the breakable walls, which you need to break in some parts. It’s also possible I just missed the tip on that but… I don’t think so. The fact that you need to break certain walls and walk through certain holographic walls in order to complete levels means they aren’t really secrets. They’re mandatory. There were some computers that would say “safe” on them when I ran past. I’m not sure what they did. As far as I could tell they did nothing. I thought they might be checkpoints, but after dying and respawning at the beginning of the level anyways I figured that probably isn’t it. Also, I get that putting enemies behind scenery in the foreground makes you take your time, but it’s still annoying and a bit unfair. You just have to waste ammo randomly guessing if an enemy is in a pipe or behind a box. You can keep your ammo from zone to zone, but not mission to mission. That’s fine, but you also lose it on the fifth zone with the boss. I’m guessing it’s to keep the bosses as a balanced challenge with only your flamethrower, but it certainly makes you feel like hoarding ammo is a waste of time and coins. The controls aren’t too complicated, but they can be awkward. Getting used to the jetpack isn’t too rough, but it seems like landing in hallways or getting on certain platforms is inconsistent. Your hitbox seems to change depending on if you’re flying or falling. It’s annoying. Also, the fact that you have to collect every last hostage makes sense story-wise, but if you can find the elevator and get a bonus for the number you rescue then why are you forced to get them all before leaving? You should be able to leave as long as you can get to the elevator and get more points for the more you rescue. Or the game shouldn’t pretend getting the hostages is a bonus when you have to get them to proceed. By far the biggest annoyances are the robot orbs. They can fly in any direction, they always head directly towards you, and they do tons of damage. The worst part is that they can NOT be destroyed. So basically you have to try and awkwardly maneuver around them with the weird flight and hope they get caught on platforms while you run. They aren’t too terrible, but they can swiftly mess you up.

Overall, Alien Carnage is a good game. The simple concept is spiced up with some story bits, exploration, strategy, action, and some cool music. If you’re looking for something to play around Halloween or just looking for some neat MS DOS games to try then it’s definitely worth a look. It’s not one of the greatest games ever, but the design is very purposeful and still holds up today. I wouldn’t recommend getting it in the 3D Realms Anthology pack as that’s overpriced, but if you already have that or can find it elsewhere then certainly give it a try before writing it off as just another old run and gun platformer.

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