In May 2021, I ventured back into the Southern Lanes game room for the first time in more than a year. Armed with a meaty $15 and intoxicated by the sights and sounds bombarding my senses, I ate up as much arcade gaming goodness as I possibly could—and completed Aliens Armageddon for this first time ever in the process.
As an avid rail shooter afficionado, I didn’t doubt I’d enjoy the game. The only question was exactly how much I’d like the game. Would Aliens Armageddon satiate my yearlong craving for arcade gaming? Or would it leave me high and dry? That’s what I discovered firsthand on that fateful day—and what you’ll discover vicariously through this review.
Today, I proudly present my first arcade game review since June 18, 2020—covering not only one of my favorite genres but also one of my favorite developers. Sure, I’ve written countless console game reviews in that time, but that’s not the real reason you visit my blog. Everything is riding on this one article, folks.
Developer: Play Mechanix
Publisher: Raw Thrills
Release date: 2014
Carrying on the proud lineage of 2010’s Terminator Salvation, Aliens Armageddon is a fast-paced rail shooter equipping players with an automatic weapon (as opposed to an old-school pistol) for much of its campaign. The main shtick here is simple: Mow down the oncoming alien scum before they can do worse to you.
Good news: The core gameplay is super fun, so much so my heart was racing by the end of each level. Apart from the occasional blow from an unexpected source, enemy attack patterns largely made sense. Plus, the sheer variety of enemy types is downright laudable. You’ll encounter routine hallmarks of the genre—swarms of bugs, anyone?—but they’re dolled up in such a way they feel fresh.
A small quibble I have with basic enemies is, despite their logical patterns, their attacks aren’t telegraphed as effectively as in Terminator Salvation. Gone are the glowing red outlines indicating who’s next up to strike. This is why I said some attacks seemed to come out of the proverbial left field.
Furthermore, some enemies seemed to have cancel windows that were ever-so-slightly too restrictive for me to incapacitate them before they ate chunks of my health bar. I haven’t yet decided if this is a fault of the game or mine. (My guess is it’s the latter.) Regardless, shooting hordes of alien guys is an enjoyable affair.
Boss fights are exactly what you’d expect from a modern Raw Thrills outing. These encounters play out as slow-motion “bullet time” sequences, with the player shooting circled points on a given foe’s body before time runs out to defeat it. I think this is a fine enough way to handle bosses, but I prefer more traditional altercations.
Shooting isn’t all you’ll do, though. Your solider dude comes equipped with a limited supply of grenades that can be replenished at various intervals. Being the resource hoarder I am, I hesitated to utilize these until near the end of the game, and I regret it. There’s no “perfect” time to use grenades. Just go for it!
Did I mention the killer special weapons you’ll wield along your journey? I got a real kick out of these bad fellas, especially the turret and flame thrower. Similar to Halo: Fireteam Raven, weapon pickups are entirely scripted, a point that conflicted me greatly during my run. Yeah, I like guaranteed time with every single weapon—but I like the challenge of picking up special weapons in the environment just as much.
Speaking of pickups, there aren’t any of which to speak. I adored the amber bonuses tucked away in each level of Jurassic Park Arcade, so I wish Aliens Armageddon offered an equivalent. There’s no harm in giving dedicated players the option to scour for hidden goodies, even if casual players may completely overlook them.
Unlike newer shooters, Aliens Armageddon employs a reloading mechanic to keep players on their toes at all times. Ammo management is crucial to survival, as even the default weapon tends to deplete somewhat quickly. I found it easiest to reload during transitionary periods between hordes of enemies, but I couldn’t always count on having that opportunity.
Driving replayability is an excellent scoring system, which factors in your total kills, maximum kill streak, and accuracy per level for your final sum. By the end of the campaign, I’d racked up 1,078 total kills, a highest streak of 65, and an average accuracy of 41% resulting in a clean 74,050 points (and second place on the local high score table). I’m positively itching to jump back in and top my own score ASAP.
While we’re on the subject of scores, allow me to shamelessly plug Arcade Sidekick, my friend Rich Rumsey’s score-tracking app. I’m currently one of two individuals who’ve submitted scores for Aliens Armageddon on Arcade Sidekick, the other being my friend Adam Pratt. The dude’s got me beat for now with a whopping 102,740.
Circling back to the actual review, I’d say the overall difficulty is pretty fair. I only spent $8 (at $1 a pop) to complete my first blind playthrough, which equated to exactly two continues per level. Playing solo, I don’t consider this total egregious in the slightest, but I’m sure the dollar amount would’ve doubled had I played with a buddy.
Of course, your mileage may vary, primarily because Aliens Armageddon has an operator-adjustable “minimum game time” setting. The default is 2 minutes and 30 seconds. I was able to earn just under 4 minutes of gameplay on average per credit. Your average game time will likely be dependent on both the machine’s settings and your own skill.
I mainly complain on principle, as I wholeheartedly believe video games should be crafted with a deliberate difficulty curve in mind. The operator shouldn’t be able to screw around with the creator’s intention willy-nilly. Whether the experience is meant to be grueling or inviting that intention should shine through in the finished product.
My absolute most favorite aspect of the difficulty—without a shadow of a gawdern doubt—is the signature “Raw Thrills ultimatum” thrown at the player amidst the final mission. Successfully subdue the boss in one go—or face him all over again with depleted health. I found this challenge harrowingly heart-pounding in the best possible way.
It goes without saying I had a ton of fun with Aliens Armageddon, despite my handful of qualms with its design. Provided you dig rail shooters as much as I do, there’s little doubt in my mind you’ll feel the same.
Much like a great album, Aliens Armageddon packs a heaping helping of entertainment into its 30-minute runtime without ever overstaying its welcome, and the arc of progression from beginning to end is incredibly satisfying to sinch.
The campaign is divided into four chapters, much akin to forebear Terminator Salvation. If your goal is to play one chapter and duck, you may find the duration excessive. But if you’re here for the long haul, I think this is the most effective segmentation possible. (I’m more inclined toward this approach than the bite-sized levels of Jurassic Park Arcade.)
I’ll reiterate in this section how much I would’ve appreciated the inclusion of in-game collectibles. I know they’re ultimately meaningless in the long run, but they go such a long way toward incentivizing repeat play. At least the online leaderboard contributes to replayability to some degree—only if the operator has that feature enabled.
While the available content stands tall on its own, I think additional modes could’ve taken this package to the next level. I’d totally jive with endless wave or boss rush modes to get some more mileage out of my skills. This is less a criticism of the game than it is a general suggestion for future rail shooters, though.
If you’ve played Terminator Salvation, you’ll have no trouble picking up the controls. Why? Because Aliens Armageddon uses the same gun, smartly decked out with a trigger on the bottom, a grenade button on the side, and a “clip” on the bottom.
For those not in the know, the depressible clip is the primary means by which you’ll reload your ammunition when it runs low. Slapping that bad boy in the heat of combat in Aliens Armageddon is every bit as fun as it was the first time around. (Now, I wish Raw Thrills would bring the system back for a new game.)
One aspect that will vary based on per-machine basis is whether or not you can reload by shooting offscreen. Since I didn’t know this was thing until I read the manual, I didn’t try it for myself during my playthrough. I’m just glad the option is there for those who are used to the “old-fashioned” way of reloading.
On the flip side, you’ll always have an onscreen reticle to aid you in targeting enemies spread across the massive widescreen display. Those who come from a classic rail shooter background may not like this in practice, but I can assure you the reticle doesn’t completely dimmish the art of precise aiming.
We’re five paragraphs into the controls section, and I’m only just talking about shooting? Well, the bottom line is shooting feels smooth as heck, though the calibration wonks out if you stand too close to the monitor. Having lived through the tail end of the CRT-based light gun era, I have a tendency to creep forward to improve my aim. Don’t do that.
The only other issue I could possibly foresee is some children might find the gun too heavy. Not being a child, that’s not really my problem, but I try to analyze things from every conceivable angle. Aliens Armageddon controls great regardless.
With its cel-shaded, Borderlands-esque art style, Aliens Armageddon definitely stands out among other Raw Thrills rail shooters, and in my appraisal, the blend of realistic models and black outlines works fairly well.
I’m a bit mixed on the game in terms of its technical performance. While the framerate and resolution are remarkably consistent, the number of polygons per model appears low for 2014, mostly in the human NPCs and environments. The visuals aren’t quite what I’d expect from a title released at the advent of the PS4/Xbox One era.
I will say the textures and reflective effects on xenomorphs look crisper than in any Raw Thrills game release up to that point. No matter how up close and personal I got with those nasty dudes, I never noticed any degradation in quality of the browned patterns and glossy sheen upon their mantles.
What Aliens Armageddon lacks in polygons it makes up for in sheer spectacle. The environments are endlessly vast. The near-constant rain literally dampens the atmosphere. The scripted events—often headlined by towering boss xenomorphs—are tremendously thrilling. Color me impressed by the sheer intensity of it all.
Since I’ve never seen the films, I can’t speak to the accuracy of Aliens Armageddon as an adaptation of its source material, but I recognized oodles of familiar visual motifs. Fans of the franchise will undoubtedly pick out even more winks and nods, as Raw Thrills tends to be pretty spot-on with this stuff.
The presentation of the story was the only part that really disappointed me. In lieu of lengthier, House of the Dead-style cutscenes, the narrative is driven by brief text blurbs lining the loading screens followed by even briefer dialog exchanges once the level loads. This admittedly isn’t the most gripping means of investing players in lore.
Still, Aliens Armageddon provides a foreboding visual experience that’s sure to rope in newcomers and veterans alike. Don’t let the mildly dated graphics put you off from one of the better arcade shooters in recent memory.
Much to my dismay, I couldn’t hear but the slightest hint of sound from the Aliens Armageddon machine I played because the volume was set too low compared to the adjacent Terminator Salvation. (The Terminator Salvation attract mode theme is phenomenal, but it shouldn’t singlehandedly accompany an entire playthrough of Aliens Armageddon.)
On the bright side, the entire Aliens Armageddon soundtrack is accessible via YouTube thanks to the always awesome RandomAccessGamer, and boy does it delight. While you likely won’t jam out to the music while blasting baddies, you’ll hopefully get a kick out of the industrial beats What the Hale Music throws down.
Since we’re on the subject, I may as well indulge in a tangent. I dearly wish Raw Thrills would hire in-house composers to handle their music like they did in the so-called “good ol’ days.” I routinely wonder why they don’t work with such industry legends as Vince Pontarelli and Deepak Deo (apart from the fact that both are currently employed by different companies). A unique score does wonders to help a game stand out.
As for the rest of the sound design, it works great. The minimal voice acting is perfectly acceptable; the guns have a satisfying “umph” to them; and the Xenomorphs are as terror-inducing as ever. I’ve always noticed sound effects tend to come through more strongly than music in Raw Thrills games. That seems to be the case here.
In many ways, Aliens Armageddon represents the end of an era. Since its release, Raw Thrills has yet to release another rail shooter in an upright cabinet with free-hanging guns. I’d be lying if I said this isn’t dismaying for me as a fan of that particular form factor.
The “legacy” status of this cabinet makes it all the more appealing to me. I love standing while I play video games. Aliens Armageddon checks that box. I love pointing and shooting a gun versus pivoting it on a fixed axis. Aliens Armageddon checks that box. Heck, I’ve even developed some sort of bizarre nostalgia for the AAMA Parental Advisory System labels. Wouldn’t you know it? Aliens Armageddon checks that box, too.
Helping matters is the delightfully sinister cabinet. The Xenomorph topping the marquee is the obvious highlight, but I’m particularly partial to the side art depicting the iconic monster in action. The rounded molding of the cabinet is also quite unique relative to the more rectangular shapes employed by other uprights.
Whether you play the 55-inch deluxe version or 42-inch mounted gun version—which admittedly checks one fewer of my aforementioned boxes—you’re guaranteed an epic experience. I only wish I could rate the quality of the speakers, but alas, you already know the story behind that shortcoming.
There you have it, boys and girls. Only 7 years late to the party, I’ve finally completed and reviewed Raw Thrills’ Aliens Armageddon. The game played almost precisely as I expected—barring some token surprises—but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, all you need after a global pandemic is a little comfort food.
Although Aliens Armageddon stumbles into some unfortunate pitfalls of the modern coin-op landscape—such as bullet time bosses and minimum game time setting—it’s a very solid experience overall. I derived a whole boatload of fun of out the $8 I spent that day. There’s something to be said for such.
Anyway, that’s my review. I truly hope I exceed all your expectations and more. For more of my kooky commentary, make sure to follow me on Twitter or join my Discord server. (Fun fact: In doing so, you’ll be privy to behind-the-scenes content, including but not limited to my thoughts on Taylor Swift.)