February 18th, 2010, 12:56 Posted By: Bratman Du
Genre: Top Down Shooter / Shoot em up
Players: Single-player, Co-op
Age Rating: ESRB: Teen
I never had an Amiga back in the day, I had always been confined to Gameboy, Nes and Snes in the early 90s, so games like the original Alien Breed passed me by. But what I gathered from any Amiga owners I knew, was that it was quite good. Essentially a top down shooter, it had a dark appeal, and clear to all was the influence of the then recently released Aliens film.
But it was far from a non-official cash in on the Aliens franchise, the top down shooter was a popular genre of the late 80s/early 90s, with Gauntlet and Smash TV proving very popular with their simple game mechanics and graphical style able to allow many enemies on screen at once. The top down viewpoint permitted enemies to attack the player from all sides of the screen, leading to some frantic shooting action. Since you viewed the action from above, players had more freedom of movement than say, a side scrolling shooter where your only movement is forward and back.
Whilst Gauntlet and Smash TV were simply chaotic frag fests, Alien Breed took a more subtle approch, with haunting visuals, and adopting enhanced game mechanics like many rooms interlinked with creepy coridoors, and keycard collection, as well as thick enough narrative to keep your objectives in sight (namely - shoot everything that moves). The game would change from quiet, nervous wandering around, from suddenly having Various types of Alien coming at you in their droves.
This remake/re-imaginging of the long neglected franchise follows suite, and essentially consists of the player wandering around in the dark collecting keycard, re-activating generators and opening doors, intersparsed with bouts of frantic hordes of aliens coming out of the walls and floors for several minutes at a time.
One early section has you re-ignite some computer system, which, once activated, take a couple of minutes to boot up and allow access to the next section through the locked door. Of course, you know once you hit the switch and the the door-open timer starts counting down, you're in for some chop. So begins the running and the screaming.
The Unreal3 engine gets a fair bit of use these days, in games like Gears of War 1 and 2, and Batman Arkham Asylum, and in Alien Breed Evolution it shows how the aging engine can still work great with remakes and XBL Arcade games.
The action is viewed from a semi-top-down-semi-isometric perspective, and you can rotate the camera through 8 angles (up, down, left, right and the diagonals), which is handy if the scenery blocks your view, but it can be disorientating. Fortunately the levels are fairly intuitively laid out.
Left stick is your movement, and right stick points your character in the desired direction, making it possible to strafe and circle, unlike the original 90s version, where strafing was the ramblings of a madman. Pointing the right stick in a direction not only aims, but also shines your torch out, which is essential as large portions of this game are played in near complete darkness. It's fantastic when you whip the aim round and your torch catches the greasy head of an alien scuttling towards you. Catch em with a shotgun blast to the face quick! In larger battles you'll have many aliens coming at you from all angles, and whipping around to shoot from all angles is something you'll be doing alot if you want to survive.
I played on hard difficulty, and ammo quickly becomes scarce, leaving you to rely on your infinate pistol - which is not ideal. You learn to conserve ammo, and use melee on smaller beasts instead. But the tension and atmosphere is enhanced tenfold when you have to carefully balance your ammo types. It makes your shotgun more fun to use if you save it up for one of those moments when you get surrounded, the control scheme is quick enough so that turning around to blast your hot lead in multiple directions is a breeze. It's these moments where the game shines.
It's definately frightening, and there's an element of survival horror. But it's mostly hot and heavy blasting action. I didn't get a chance to do co-op, but as a single player experience this stands up on it's own.
The main gripe is the camera movement and distance. It's often too close to you, which is fine for showing off the graphics, but lousy for seeing the fast approaching horde offscreen. It's a big problem in a game like this, and a zoomed out camera would have been better for moments of intense fighting, also, as mentioned, being able to rotate the camera is a solution to the player being obscured behind objects in an isometric viewpoint, but on larger levels with many similar looking areas, it can be tough to remember which was is North, even with the handy radar.
Also saving is important, with death coming so quickly due to the alien hordes, you must manually save often at the savepoint terminals. Whilst these are mercifully abundant, you can often forget, in this modern day of auto save checkpoints, to save your game, which as you would imagine, leads to much gnashing of teeth.
Overall, there's not much to Alien Breed Evolution, you move through darkened coridoors, collect weapons which get progressively meatier, shoot everything that moves, and shit your pants frequently. But to be fair, there's nothing more to expect from a game like this and it's a lot of fun to play, with a slick enough control scheme. As a piece of nostalgia, souped up with today's graphics, I find it hard to fault this game.
If you were a fan of the original, I'd say this is definately worth a punt. If like me you never played the original, there's a lot of atmospheric, frantic, shooty action to be had, if you like shooting lots of things in a scary environment, go for it!
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