XENOPHOBE / Atari / Arcade

Xenophobe is a great concept from Midway, hampered by an awkward control scheme and general over-difficulty.

The whole game is sort of a fusion parody of Star Trek and Aliens; a series of spaceships and space bases are overrun by alien critters called the Xenomorphs, and you pick from a large variety of characters (including an odd duck-playpus man) to go aboard these ships and exterminate them starting only with a little handheld phaser. Up to three players can play at a time utilizing a split-screen view that allows you to roam through different parts of the ship simultaneously.

The game has great graphics for 1987 with big, colorful sprites with a lot of animation and detail, similarly the starship and base backgrounds are detailed with all sorts of different types of rooms. Sound is OK but nothing special; there's a passable range of sound effects but no music whatsoever except for a little interstitial piece when you enter or exit a level.

The problem is that the design of the game is a total quarter-sucker, full of cheap hits that you really have no way to avoid. Your character is just too slow and stiff, and the issue is confused by the three-button system. You have one button dedicated to firing your gun (or punching if you don't have one, as aliens usually disarm you and send your weapon flying when they contact you.) The other two buttons shift use depending on the situation, however, and you have to watch the bottom of your display to see what each does at any given time. This is too slow and cumbersome for a game where you are mobbed at all times by attacking aliens and very rarely get any breathing room. Not only that, but there's no way you can totally fend off all the attackers, and their hits on you and resultant disarming and tossing of your body leads to a bunch more unavoidable hits which, in ultimate sum, make the game a really expensive proposition as your health rapidly bleeds away. To add insult to injury, you have time limit to clear each level before you are automatically warped out, but the limit is so strict and the enemies so numerous it's virtually impossible unless you have three players going. Failing to clear before the time limit doesn't end the game, but the base gets "overrun with xenomorphs" and you feel like a loser (plus miss out on bonus points.)

The ultimate problem with this game, I think, is that it was focusing more on taking money from you as quickly as possible than being a really great game. I'm looking forward to trying some of the home console and computer ports, where the quarter sucking impetus isn't present, to see if any of them live up to the potential by taking it a little easier. The original arcade version, unfortunately, is really just a headache.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video