If you’ve seen the film you’ll probably have sussed that the game’s plot differs somewhat. Unlike the film, where Ripley was armed with nothing more than a dangerous haircut, here she’s really kitted-out for action. Her arsenal is made up of hand grenades, a flame thrower and a pulse rifle (complete with grenade launcher). Each weapon has a limited supply of ammo, which dwindles very quickly when you’re faced with aliens that take several hits to kill. She also has a motion tracker which pin-points the position of any prisoner or alien in the nearby area, although it only has a limited power supply and batteries have to be found to charge it up. The problem with this, though, is that by the time it picks up an alien, it’s already making a determined leap at your throat. However, because there are so many prisoners on the later levels, it becomes an essential bit of kit.
There are 14 levels in total, all of which are set against the clock. If you run out of time you get to witness the aliens bursting out of the remaining prisoners, which is almost worth deliberately running the clock down to see. Obviously any sane person would do a runner rather than take on an entire alien race single-handed. What prevents Ripley from following suit is that the last doorway doesn’t open until the final prisoner is rescued. Ripley only has a limited amount of energy, which is depleted by contact with the aliens and long falls. She can also be a bit of a danger to herself. There are several storage rooms in the colony which contain cans of fuel that explode when hit by a stray bullet or grenade. Moving around the levels can be quite tricky, even if you avoid most of the hazards. There are loads of moving platforms which provide the only link between gantries, so Ripley’s formidable leaping abilities are put to the test. Security doors also pose a hazard. Most can be opened by operating the controls at the side, which is handy as they can be closed behind you to lock out aliens. The alternative is to select the grenade launcher and blow it away.
Apart from the hazards with slavering jaws, there are plenty of other things to be avoided. Some levels have slippery ramps, and stepping on one of those leads to a very long drop. There are also spiked pits and gigantic fans which spell instant death. Plenty of long-drops have been placed under tricky jumps to liven things up further. Naturally the prisoners are usually stuck in out of the way locations, and half the challenge of rescuing is finding them in the first place, Often you need to retrace your steps to find a passage or doorway you might have missed, which can be a little hair-raising with the clock ticking down. The prisoners are very heavily guarded after the tenth level. Egg-sacks are placed right next to them and they release a face-hugger as soon as you approach. There’s one level that differs from all this though. The mayhem stage is devoid of prisoners but full to bursting point with aliens and facehuggers. The object isn’t so much to find the way out as to survive. This sets you up with almost no ammo for the next level, which makes things tougher still.
One of the trickier features of the early levels are the networks of ventilation shafts. You can’t tell where the passages lead to and aliens have developed a nasty habit of dropping down vertical shafts at high speed. The hand grenades come in very useful as they can be dropped down tunnels to clear the way before you crawl into the unknown. Alien 3 is definitely very challenging. There’s plenty to shoot, lots to explore and the backgrounds vary enough to hold your attention. It has all the atmosphere of an Aliens film as you never know when one’s going to leap out at you. It was one of the best movie-to-game conversions released in the early 90s.