Keith's Crappy Videogame Blog

They’re Alive (PC, 2009, Russia): Familiar? It Should Be…
December 13, 2012, 1:09 am
Filed under: They're Alive (PC, 2009, Russia)

1TLSo, you know that story where an out-of-work pro-wrestler slumming on the streets of some California city finds a cool pair of expensive looking sunglasses in an alley, and when he puts them on he sees that aliens have actually already taken over our planet and are manipulating all of us. Apparently, they have been here for years and have assimilated into our society seamlessly without anyone knowing it. With the advantage of this cool eyewear, the pro-wrestler then decides to lead a ragtag group of fellow homeless people to  evict these aliens from our planet and send them packing into space? I’m sure you know the story… I think it was made into a book or a movie or something like that, right? Well anyway, do you think the copyright has expired on that idea yet?

2TLOh, that’s right. Since we’re talking about a videogame made in Russia, the entire concept of copyrights simply don’t matter. So yes, saying that Orion Games’ 2009 title “They’re Alive” is derivative of the 1988 John Carpenter film “They Live!” is a complete understatement—I mean, Jesus, other than three measly letters and an apostrophe, the titles are identical. This is all-out theft, plain and simple. And also, this theft is not entirely surprising considering the game’s origins.

3TLIn “They’re Alive” (the title makes me chuckle every time I say it just because it is so ridiculous), you begin as an engineer standing outside of an office building where a worker uprising is taking place. As you watch your colleagues being beaten down by corporate police, you gain entry into the building in order to confront your boss. You almost make it, but you are ultimately knocked unconscious, and you eventually find yourself completely out of work (and with a headache), standing on line looking for a state-subsidized job. The bitchy lady at the employment office tells you she has no need of your skills and to look elsewhere. On the verge of starvation, you exit the building and a gentleman approaches you and asks if you would like to earn a little bit of money delivering a car to an address. You agree, and drive the car to a train yard presumably to look for its owner. So far, I likey.

4TLSuddenly, workers at the train yard begin to attack you (huh?), clobbering you with all manner of melee weapons. Without so much as an explanation or even a pinch of context (uh, okay), your job is to pick up a car muffler laying on the ground and beat them back while trying to escape. Eventually, just like Rowdy Roddy Piper in the so-so Carpenter flick, you find a pair of glasses and put them on only to reveal that you are surrounded by aliens. Not soon after, you overhear an alien conversation regarding a large satellite transmitter atop a half built skyscraper in the center of the city that will “turn all of these humans into our slaves… Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha!” You say to yourself, ‘I guess I should make my way to that tower and take it down to save everyone,’ and as the (completely unnamed and undeveloped) hero of the game, that is precisely what you do, making your way through an industrial site, an underground auto park, through a multi-level corporate headquarters, past a half-built skyscraper, and then into an  “alternate reality” setting revealed by the glasses where the final level of the game takes place. The entire time, the player uses the high-tech sunglasses to identify friend from foe and to reveal hidden secrets and passageways. Of course, as a first-person shooter/melee game, you also get help from your fists, a car muffler, a pistol, a shotgun, a rifle, and an alien pulse gun. Hey movie fans! Does any of this sound vaguely familiar?

5TLActually, it is sort of surprising to me that no developer exploited the idea behind the movie “They Live” and turned it into a videogame long before now, considering the fact that the entire set up sort of writes itself. But to my knowledge this Russian title (let’s be kind and call it an “adaptation”) is the only one out there. And even though this has unabashed (and unapologetic) theft written all over it, it goes to show that the idea behind a magical pair of alien glasses is perfectly well-suited to this medium.

What I’m trying to say is that the main gimmick in this game, although it is completely underused and only marginally necessary on a few occasions, works. Here’s an example: You are fighting your way through a maze of rooms and eventually come to a complete dead-end. You wander about looking for an exit, but you cannot find one. On the verge of frustration, it occurs to you to put on your glasses, which slightly warps and discolors your view. But when you do so, a very large alien door appears right in front of your face, only feet away. The exit has suddenly appeared! You remove the glasses, and the exit is gone, and you face a blank wall. So, you put the glasses back on, the door reappears, and you go through the wacky exit and the game continues. It’s simple, but it’s neat. It’s what a game with magical alien goggles should do, pretty much.

6TLOh, and you think that blonde bimbo shooting at you is simply a secretary who is poorly brandishing a Magnum while wearing stiletto heels and a tight-fitting knit sweater? No! Put your crazy alien glasses on dude, and you will see that she is actually a stalk-eyed freako in alien garb—looking like something that wandered off the set of Tron. Of course, if you have more fun shooting the blonde bimbo, all you need to do is take the glasses off and continue combat. If shooting aliens is your cup of tea, then keep those glasses on, bucko. In essence, that’s what this game does.

There is one item I want to mention here where the sense of creativity of the developers actually rises just a small notch above average: When shooting and trudging your way through the previously mentioned corporate office map (which of course is completely populated by aliens in disguise out to get you), you encounter what appears to be an innocuous ATM machine on the wall. But wait! This is alien territory! And right as you walk past one of these machines, it suddenly detaches itself from the wall, grows a square head, as well as lengthy arms and legs. Then, before you know it, you are battling an actual ATM robot! It’s face is the screen from the ATM (which is of course showing a blinking smiley face while it stalks), and up and down the arms and legs are the insignia of the various cards that the ATM accepts. This robot has a pretty surprising leap attack, and the upper part of its body will quickly rotate, effectively turning its lengthy metal arms into a blender as it advances. If you plug it with enough bullets, it will eventually break in two, leaving only the upper half of the torso to pull itself along and to swipe at you. Several more shotgun shells to the smiley face will shut the ATM robot down for good. Of course for effect, there are other ATM machines bolted to the wall which do not turn into robots… but this keeps you on your toes whenever you see one. There’s really only one memorable moment in this game, and this is it. It’s the kind of smartly done goofiness I’ve come to associate with some of these Russian titles.

7TLThere are several more positive elements here. Since it is a game from 2009 (although some sites claim it is from 2011, which I doubt), you expect the graphics to be at least halfway decent (regardless of the fact that we are talking eastern Europe here), and running at very high resolutions (2560×1440 on my rig) the game looks fine. In fact, good attention to detail has been paid to some of the interiors, which are super contemporary. The use of color is nice, the lighting works, and the game ran smoothly on my system. And one more positive: It’s in spoken and written English! It’s rife with errors, but it’s there, which made me happy.

One note about system compatibility though: I did have to downgrade my version of nVidia PhysX driver to get the game to boot in Win7. Using the latest nVidia drivers (as of 2012), the error message “Could not find PhysX driver” kept appearing before the game ever initialized. [This message, by the way, was only visible to me once I tried to run the game in windowed mode, which is an option you can choose in a configuration screen before the game starts—otherwise I would have never known the PhysX driver was the problem since the error message didn’t show when I tried to boot the game in fullscreen mode. Once I got the game running, fullscreen mode worked fine, btw.] Anyway, my fix involved completely uninstalling my up-to-date PhysX driver and then rolling the driver back to an earlier version (I’m not sure which, I just found some earlier PhysX driver on the net and installed it), and this did the trick. (Though keep in mind that the game can take up to a half-minute to boot. So be patient, especially if you are staring a white screen after double-clicking the game icon—the menu should pop up eventually).

8TLBut this is where the positives end. The AI behavior is dismally dumb, dumb as bricks, though sometimes numerous. Also, in my case, I could not for the life of me get all of the audio to play properly. For example, during the entire game I floated around without any footstep sounds. Also, many of the environmental sounds seem to be missing during gameplay. I checked to see if the files were present in the game folder, and they were. But for some reason, they refused to be triggered properly. (And I am aware of Realtek’s “SoundBack” program [Google it] which can help precisely with these kinds of sound problems on legacy games if you are using Windows 7… But even this program would not fix my problem with this title.) I can’t comment on the music since I usually kill soundtracks in games that use annoying music loops—though the music here is pure high energy techno, which seems appropriate. In the story department, other than the scant context of being unemployed, there basically is no story, no real characters, no real background whatsoever—other than the fact that the game takes place in Moscow. I guess if you wanted more of a backstory you could go and watch the movie again (which does not take place in Moscow)? Maybe that’s what the developers want you to do?

9TLBut these negative issues pale in comparison to the biggest problem here: This game is so short, you might not really call it a proper game at all. In my opinion, “They’re Alive” clocks in at the average length for a one-person-made mod. What a serious letdown. Considering the fact that I was hooked by the neato sunglasses gimmick and was looking forward to the various ways they might come into play, after 2.5 hours of shooting and finding myself coming to the conclusion (with an utterly unimpressive boss battle—total junk), the bottom dropped out. (And keep in mind that I call myself a “snail-paced” gamer.) I was sorely disappointed. This makes me think that “They’re Alive” is not actually a fully released, retail game but is maybe more of a tech demo? Or perhaps development on the game stopped before it was fully realized? (Though technically it does have an actual beginning, middle, and ending, such as it is.) I couldn’t find any background regarding the creation of this title (surprise), so I can’t say for sure. But I can tell you this: Don’t get your hopes up for a full-blown, kitschy experience. This game ends with a thud, and that thud (even after some promise) happens prematurely. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

And in the spirit of prematurity, I’m out.