The city of Glasgow reaches far back, it’s origin a rural settlement in medieval times, that has become a major city of Scotland and one of the largest seaports of Britain. What is not so well known is that deep beneath Glasgow are hidden ruins of an ancient alien civilisation, discovered twenty years ago during excavations. Now, these ruins have been opened to the public, and our guide, Lieutenant MacGregor, after drawing attention to the safety notices outside the chambers, assures us that despite incidents two decades previously, any threat has been contained and neutralised, before leading us into the darkened labyrinth beyond the security door.
Alien War first appeared at the Glasgow Arches in April 1992, and following a successful three year run in London and a return trip to Glasgow’s SECC, it has returned to the Arches to celebrate its 20th anniversary. Essentially a variation on the dark ride, better known in Europe as the ghost train, an entertainment dating to the late 19th century, Alien War is a cross between a dark rides and live action role playing a modern, urban version of ghost train.
A simple but effective concept of running through darkened corridors from an unseen menace is enhanced by using designs and motifs influenced by the Alien movie series, the black walls of the claustrophobic underground chambers featuring impressively designed interiors, unknown hieroglyphs and strange sculptures, all of it shrouded in gloom and smoke, distant alarms sounding, and somewhere in the darkness is the alien, its breath audible, always near, always following.
Lasting only around quarter of an hour, the time is sufficient for the minimal narrative, and while it is effective and great fun, it is disappointing that in twenty years it has not developed beyond the original blueprint to become more interactive. As the majority of the time is spent accompanied by only one unassisted guide, it would not require great reworking to include tasks to be completed in order to progress, for example locating a power cell prior to entering the escape pod, possibly to be retrieved from a room where an egg is about to open or asking a lookout to either scout ahead or remain behind for a moment, forcing the participants to face and overcome their fears, becoming a hero, if only for those fifteen minutes of fame.
Through the many iterations adapted to different venues there have of course been changes, and while it is disappointing that the M41A pulse rifle sound effects of the London version are absent, the Colonial Marines who act as escort are more physically convincing – and better actors – than the teenagers who performed in the original Glasgow days.
A more immediate criticism is the final exit from the complex, which deflates the illusion that has been so well created until that point. Yes, the audience must leave at some point as the final stage of the story rather than having a door opened by a venue usher to a painted white corridor; at the very least it should have been a costumed performer posing as a rescue party. As it is the stated intention of the producer that the show should evolve, it is hoped that as this run progresses, or on the inevitable next appearance, that it should grow and improve in creativity and terror.