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Insanium (PC) artwork

Insanium (PC) review


"The last thing you hear before being exploded by an angry monkey? Ba-BOOM"


Some of you have never played Concept Software’s Alien which was released for the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, and Amstrad CPC in 1984. For the most part, I suspect most of you have not played Concept Software’s Alien directly because it was released for the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, and Amstrad CPC in 1984. But! Despite its near 40-year lifespan and the now-archaic hardware it calls home, I might offer the argument that you’ve been missing out. In fact, screw it, I will! It’s frankly amazing what that game manages to do with so little, and how hard it works on being an authentic companion piece to the seminal film it shares its name with.

Unlike the other Alien game which was just a badly reskinned Pac Man, Concept gave you complete control over the film’s original cast, trapped them in the wireframe guts of the Nostromo, lobbed a xenomorph in there, and then tasked you to help them survive. You would fail. Taking direct cues from the film, the game gave you a familiar set of limitations. For example, you couldn’t use firearms because the bastard alien had acid blood that would melt through the hull and kill you all. You couldn’t just jump in the lifecraft, because it could only house three people, so that only became an option once enough of the excess crew had been horrifically murdered. But, even when you meet this condition, you can’t just blast yourself off into safety because you’ll first need to find Jones the cat. Also, remember in the film where the ship’s android decided to screw over his meatbag crewmates because The Man saw the financial worth of the alien stowaway? The game replicates that, only it secretly randomises who the backstabbing robot is on your crew. You have to figure that out for yourself, while still offering poor (probably) innocent Ash all of your hate.



By this point, you may be wondering why I’m spending so much time talking about a completely different game to the one I’m supposed to be reviewing. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one who was a huge fan of the little Alien game that could; for better and worse, so was the developer of Insanium, who has effectively remade the entire game with a slightly altered premises. What if, instead of a predatory alien, there was a space-mad homicidal ape rampaging around the ship.

To this end, both games share a lot of the same framework. You have a crew trapped on board a craft in the midst of space who need to survive the massive monster trying to pick them off one by one. Some aspects of the original game are kept by Insanium for reasons that don’t make a lot of sense beyond die-hard homage. For example, there’s still a randomised traitor on board who’ll screw you over because they’re a secret member of a society dedicated to the equality of space apes. Also for example! You still have to save a bloody cat. That ginger bastard, Jones, probably got me killed more times than the alien did in the original game. The adorably fluffy arsehole.

But that’s not to say it’s a straight copy and paste job. While it does an admirable job of recreating a more accessible version of the graphical era of the original, it also offers four different difficulty levels whereas Alien only had borderline impossible as an option. This means you can start yourself on the easier levels to build a better understanding of the game’s mechanics, dialing up the difficulty as you gain experience. It’s a lot more convenient, because it isn’t the type of game you just jump right into and start reaping glory. While you find yourself in control of the entire crew, you’re only able to move each crewmate one at a time. This gives things an almost board game feeling, as you slowly move your pieces into place to try and execute whatever grand plan you’ve been putting into place that will soon be destroyed by a flighty cat.



Probably the most notable change is that with the xenomorph’s corrosive blood no longer an issue, Insanium offers a new win condition: kill the monkey dead. As such, you can find considerably better weapons than the original supplied; cattle prods and nets are replaced with proper firearms and, at least on the lower difficulties, it’s completely viable to search the ship for guns, arm everyone to the teeth, and form a lynch mob. There’s a very clear chance that you can simply pummel the manic monkey to death. But there's also a very clear chance that it’ll show up for any perspective scraps equally well armed. It can both acquire and use the same weapons as you can. This tactic does risk damaging the ship, though, which is rarely a good idea.

Before it was a PC game, it was a comic, which is included with the game. But after it was a comic and before it was a PC game, it was a mobile game, which you can tell, because it still has a few mobile-oriented prompts about, telling you to press the screen to continue and the like. Other than mentioning this to give me a reason to make a petty complaint - it’s why I took this job - it’s also a useful tie-in when I suggest that perhaps this is a game that lends itself better to a mobile platform. You’re not going to be burning away entire evenings trying to evade death by monkey, and single games don’t tend to last very long. Even if you’re successful, though you won’t be. But wherever you play it, it’s an appreciated homage to a game that was ahead of its time, fitted with adjustable training wheels so you can sometimes feel like you’re smarter than an angry cosmic simian, at least for a little while.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (April 30, 2021)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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