Arcade shooters have been around pretty much as long as arcades themselves, but Alien Breed has worked well at advancing genre. The Alien Breed I.P. has been around since 1991, when Team17 first made it for the Commodore Amiga, and then in 1993 it was translated to MS-DOS by Microleague. You feel like a a left behind marine from the Alien movies, which were very popular when the game first appeared. Over the years the storyline has progressed, graphics have improved, and the atmosphere has been refined so that it draws you in and makes you feel even more like you are running through a movie – fighting for your life.
To help infuse the atmosphere, music only comes in when you are getting overrun by aliens or in a menu. That way most of the time you just hear your breathing, explosions and most importantly the calls of different aliens. Part of your weapon choice is supposed to be based on what alien is on its way and each alien has its own call to let you prepare the right weapon, though sometimes the aliens popping out of spider holes don’t give much of a warning. You hear a crash, a screech and you start spraying bullets. Don’t forget to dodge the flaming wreckage and collapsing sections while you are at it.
In Alien Breed: Impact you play Chief Engineer Conrad, who has just been notified that the ship has collided with a much larger ship. You are thrown right into the middle of the storyline but, eventually, you will clearly get an idea of what is going on, though there are multiple allusions to something in the story that needs to be resolved without giving any real clue as to what it is. This may be due to a story arc that is supposed to cover three games. The between-level cut scenes are done in an excellent comic book storyboard style with great artwork but in the end you wind up getting a bit annoyed by the mystery and just get down to the killing and problem solving.
The problem solving is nice and clues to solutions are given in tips throughout the game so you don’t find yourself lost for too long. Expect that every time you start up a console there won’t be enough power and you need to get a turbine or two going before heading back to the console, however the game will point the way. Fresh aliens and new obstacles may change your path, but the limited exploration you can do when paths change is how you find the secret rooms, so keep an eye out. A great deal of the items you need to solve given problems are picked up from corpses, lockers, and sometimes just lying around on the ground. Some of the items are credits which you can then use at the company vending machine to upgrade weapons, buy more ammo and get extra health kits or various grenades. This is one of the things which could add to replay value because you can try going through the levels using a different combinations of weapons.
There are three levels of difficulty so if you just want to see how fast you can finish you can try Rookie and run run run. If you want to immerse yourself and really challenge your skills, play through slowly and find the secret room on each level or play on a hard mode, which will challenge your ammo to kill ratio. The vending machines also double as save points and there are plenty of them which means you won’t find yourself re-exploring too much territory if you get a little too overwhelmed by screeching aliens.
I am a fan of both consoles and PCs, and have at least a couple of both (ok, a LOT of consoles). I like them both but keep them separated. If I am playing a console game, I am gripping a controller with both hands and locked on the screen across the room. When it is time to play a PC I slide my fingers onto the WASD and the mouse, lean forward to a few inches from the screen and play whatever MMO, FPS, or any other variety of game that has gripped my attention. But, I have always played with the controllers the game was designed for. I started off AB:I and the controls were a little awkward, the run is in an odd spot but the aiming system was spot on.
This was why I was very confused when I found a section I couldn’t beat. My fingers were flying over the keys and sliding the mouse like crazy – yet, time and time again, I died. The problem was in a section of forced perspective that required constant running while the forced perspective shifts and changes your required key arrangement. So, you are hitting the shift to run and the ‘s’ to head in a certain direction and suddenly you find yourself needing to hit ‘d’ for a moment then hit ‘w’, all while you keep pressing the shift key down and getting ready to adjust your view when it unlocks with the mouse. I thought it was meant as a challenge and after a lot of effort, worked past it. Then there was another almost exact situation right after that which results in the same issues, multiplied, and getting me killed and sent all the way back to the beginning. After a long night of trying to beat it I went out the next day and bought a console controller for my computer. And, subsequently, I beat the section in under 3 minutes.
I think there were strides taken to make the gameplay different between console and PC versions. The mouse aiming is better with the computer, so kill shots take less ammo and because of the awkward location of the run button, the game lasted longer, helping me feel more immersed in the atmosphere and I enjoyed finding the secret locations. Once I got the controller the gameplay was insanely smooth, I was able to constantly run and I blew through levels and ended the second half of the game before I knew it. My aim rate dropped, the damage I took shot up and I was done with the game in no time trying to figure out how I felt about it.
To truly get the most from AB:I I would recommend using the keyboard until you get to the above stuck moment. Get by the moment with a controller, then go right back to the WASD until you get stuck again. It will greatly increase your play time, help you immerse in the game, and I think improve your experience overall. I do suggest that if you don’t have a console controller for your PC, make the investment.
Since 1991, the graphics have improved every time a new episode of the game has come out. Even since Alien Breed: Evolution came out on Christmas, the graphics have improved and the variety of monsters have increased. Team17 has committed itself to improving each time to the point that some fans of the franchise have made videos and posted them on YouTube.com showing the change since 1991. The graphics are solid with realistic flames, well-rendered alien species, and never a choppy moment or graphic error on my rig. There could have been more species of alien enemies, but they are probably saving it for the next episode. I loved how the shattering glass was rendered too, starting off with spidering lines then falling to the ground in a tinkling mess. They paid heavy attention to those sounds which is most likely why the score you hear when overwhelmed or in a menu is used so sparsely. Team17 wants you to hear the different alien screeches beyond the line of your sight. They want you to hear the ‘skitting’ noise of the legs of the ‘facehuggers’ as they scurry across the ground, shriek in triumph and they leap at you as well as the sound of them exploding as your accurate sounding machine gun fire tears into them. In the end you find yourself hearing a certain cry and knowing you have very little time to cycle to the right weapon for a big job. My favorite audio was a section where you are in a space suit, explosions going off everywhere, and the only sound you hear is your respirator feeding you an ever dwindling supply of oxygen.
Just over an hour a level if you are running, if you are just moving along taking it in, who knows? But at a cost of $14.99 most people will probably feel they got their money’s worth. There is also a very short demo that can be played both solo and co-op to get a little taste of the game and a look at some of the aliens they could have screeching at them for hours.
Co-op is still a work in progress. There are three new levels and combing the various forums, I found some people to play it. But I had the results most people seem to be having, game crash after game crash, once with eerie voices speaking in strange tongues over a never ending working screen. However I am really looking foward to giving the co-op a try.
It was a fun ride for a great price. Another chapter in a series of alien-filled episodes dating back almost two decades. I am definitely looking forward to the next episode and I have my controller ready.
*DISCLOSURE: A copy of this game was sent to us for the purpose of this review.