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I Better dead than alien have seen the Rambo films and I have played countless shoot-‘em-ups, but I have never come across anything with a plot as decidedly gung-ho as the instruction leaflet accompanying Electra’s debut release, Better Dead Than Alien. The title itself suggests a severe case of extra-terrestrial xenophobia on the programmer’s part. According to the blurb, aliens are “the most revolting life forms ever to pollute the Universe and threaten to obliterate freedom and democracy”. Stirring stuff indeed.

After you have opened the box and waded through all the worthless cardboard gimmicks (Including a ‘Brand Zoom’4-page comic with some of the worst artwork I have ever seen) and loaded up the disk, you will reel in horror as you realise that BDTA is not the vertically scrolling shoot-‘em-up that the screenshots on the box led you to believe, but is in fact a Space Invaders clone!!!

Better dead than alien After making your initial game selections on the title screen, you are plunged straight into the first level and the first wave of nasties who, in true Space Invaders style, plod across the screen in formation before dropping down one line and plodding back the other way. Your spaceship (which looks suspiciously more like a crown than anything else) is positioned at the bottom of the screen and moves around under mouse control blowing away any alien scumfilth who dares to be on the same screen as you. Most of the aliens have a little ‘eyeball’ thingy that glows red (for some unknown reason) while there are a couple in each wave that have a green glowing thing, and guess what (ooh, do tell us Gaz, we can’t wait!) when you shoot it, it drops a little capsule that you can pick up to upgrade your ship’s weapons. Extra weapons include ‘scatter bolts’ that let you fire in three directions at once, the ubiquitous shields and yer actual armour missile what can waste a whole row of alien filthbags with a single shot. Cor blimey!

To provide some sort of relief between the rounds of alien-zapping tedium, every so often there are a couple of variety rounds, one of which being a simple ‘destroy the mothership’ affair where a large and extremely ugly alien comes flying down the screen at you and has to be hit quite a lot to be destroyed, and the other being a neat variation on the Asteroids theme. On this round, huge swirling rocks whiz around the screen and have to broken down piece by piece in order to finish the level. For sheer entertainment value, this was the high point of the game for me, but only because the rest of it was so boring.

Better Dead than Alien is a typical example of a game that, despite the programmers’ best efforts, has totally failed to come off. The graphics, although quite pretty, are poorly animated and fall way short of the machine’s potential. Sound too is poor, with no tune to speak of and although the synthesized effects are nice, they are far too sparse to have any real effect. The whole thing is very user-unfriendly and the mouse control totally cack (as GP would say). The only redeeming features are the amusing gung-ho attitude of the instructions and the impressive sampled applause on the high score table. In my opinion, the programmers have concentrated more on producing a game with a sense of humour than a playable one, and the end result is little more than uninspiring.
Gary Whitta

CU Amiga, August 1988, p.45

Scale 1 - 10
5 out of 10
3 out of 10
7 out of 10
5 out of 10
4 out of 10
CU Rating: 4

Better dead than alien logo

Electra, £19.95 disk
Better dead than alien Brad Zoom has landed on the red planet of Mars on April 1, 1954, four years after leaving Earth. On discovering the planet has a breathable atmosphere, Brad sets out to explore the surface but, distracted by a giant mushroom (of the magic variety?), he has failed to see an alien taskforce until they are almost upon him! Brad, being the heroic sort, has fled from their attack to his spaceship, where he can begin the fight back.

Gritting your teeth as only Charlie Brown knows how, you take over control of Brad's Zoomship, which has freedom of movement over the bottom third of the screen. Waves of alien craft appear, and begin descent, Space Invaders style. These are despatched with your laser gun, with stronger aliens needing a number of hits before they explode. Hits received deplete a fraction of your energy, shown in the lower right of the screen as a bank of power bars, but crashing into an alien removes a whole bank of energy.

The aliens have glowing red highlights (just like Maff), but those which glow green release a Power Capsule – which recharges your Power Bars – or a Destructivity Intensifier capsule. This gives an additional weapon, of the eight available, which include Lazer Scatter Bolts, a Clone Ship, Shields, an Armour Missile, and Neutron Bomb. The add-on weapon icon, in the right hand column, glows with the alien, and is highlighted when collected.

Every three waves, the player is confronted with either a meteor shower or a Master Alien. This large creature attacks, accompanied by salvoes of rockets, and requires many hits to be destroyed, but you have the freedom of the entire action screen.

To allow easy access to the higher of Better Dead Than Alien's 75 levels, a code word system is incorporated into the game. Before play, the word is entered, then you can begin battling against the nastier aliens immediately.

Zzap! Issue 42, October 1988, p.87

Gordon Houghton A Space Invaders game, in mid-'88?! And on the Amiga?! Well, if the success of the many Breakout variants is anything to go by, it's perhaps not such a bad idea. On playing Better Dead Than Alien, I think I can safely say that it certainly isn't a bad idea. Being given more room to manoeuvre somehow dispels thoughts of the first ever space shoot 'em up, and the alien-blasting fun is very intensive. The aliens vary from standard nasties to very unusual designs, and the rocky face Master Alien is positively cute – it seems a shame to shoot him! My only doubts are in the lasting interest, as after a few hours' play, the action can get repetitive, even with the code word system. I'd try it out first if I were you – it appealed to our sense of humour and it had addictive qualities which you might not find.

Maff Evans Take Space Invaders, add the manoeuvring area of Centipede, then add-on weaponry of Nemesis, give the graphics a 1988 16-bit look, the mix with a dash of Arkanoid, and you have Better Dead Than Alien! It sounds an unusual mixture, and unfortunately doesn't have the addiction of such a combination – but for what, on the face of it, is a very old idea. It's a highly playable hybrid. Movements of both ships and missiles is unfortunately on the jerky side, and some of the graphics, particularly the backgrounds, could be better, but there's an overall polished, 16-bit feel. The samples that are present are intentionally amusing, if in short supply, and match the humorous all-round presentation. I can't really say what was attractive about it – maybe it's the simple gameplay and the fun of taking part in two-player mode; either way, for a classic game with a modern feel, it's well worth having.

Useful code word system and a strange but amusing comic.
Sharply defined aliens but movement is a little jerky.
A few unremarkable samples.
An instantly playable update of a very old idea.
75 accessible levels but lacking overall variety.
Space Invaders with add-on weapons and greater manoeuvrability is a surprisingly enjoyable game. It's a little overpriced.