Whenever a console reaches the end of its life there are usually a couple of games that come out right at the eleventh hour, a last "hurrah" if you will. However, Nintendo seems content leaving their immensely popular DS/DSi to fade into memory with barely a whimper, instead focusing all their energy on the 3DS (which, to be fair, had a less than stellar launch). But there was one game that just came out for the older models that I had my eye on: Aliens: Infestation. I've written before about being wary of licensed products, and especially after the disaster that was Aliens vs. Predator, I was worrying about encountering a similar debacle. In the end I decided to give it a shot, and while there are some noticeable flaws, I found it quite fun.
The premise is pretty straightforward... after the events of the film Aliens
another attachment of space marines are sent in to check out the Sulaco
(the massive ship from the movie) and try to figure out what the bloody
hell happened. The game plays in the old school 2D fashion reminiscent
of the older Metroid titles. You'll find yourself crawling around
various locales from the films while monsters jump out of the shadows
and try to eat you. Naturally, you're given a wide range of weaponry to
dispose of the xenomorphic threat. And like Metroid, you'll
immediately notice there are a lot of areas you can't access
immediately. Seek out access cards to move elevators, keys to loaders to
move debris, and even a wrench to turn off steam vents that block your
progress. Your search will take you to all levels of the Sulaco, as well
as down onto the infamous planet LV-426 and other areas as well.
The development teams at Gearbox and WayForward have set up an
intriguing squad system that serves as the basis for the game. You start
with four marines at your disposal. However, you'll only use one at a time,
and each plays the exact same way. Everyone has access to whatever
you've unlocked so far; there is no class based system here. So why
bother, one wonders? Well, if a Marine dies in combat... they die. As in
dead dead. The game ends when you run out of marines. As you
explore various areas from the movies, you'll find other soldiers
(usually well hidden in out of the way areas) you can recruit to replace
your fallen comrades. If you have a full complement at the time, the
newly discovered soldiers will wait patiently in the spot you found
them in case you need them later.
xenomorphs of this particular franchise have an annoying habit of
keeping their victims alive for future impregnation. On occasion, if a
you'll be told they are still alive and it's a race to get to them
before the unthinkable happens. To be honest, each time I tried to mount
a valiant rescue it ended in tears... I never got there in time, only
finding a mangled corpse for my efforts. Apparently, if your timing is
just off, you can actually put them out of their misery... or watch an
alien birth before your eyes.
This is an interesting
system that works surprisingly well on multiple levels. Firstly, each
squad member has their
own preset responses to dialogue prompts, which lends them a small
amount of personality. On its own, this isn't a big deal, but I found
myself becoming strangely superstitious about my squad, or rather the
survivors. While I never felt a connection to individual marines
(something other reviewers have espoused), I certainly had my
"favorites." Because boss battles are so difficult, being down to your
last marine is a common occurrence. There were a couple of times I
remember thinking "Boy, it's a good thing I've
got three in the squad at the moment or that queen would never die!" But
what I find intriguing is that you really start to pay attention to
and the like... is it wise to not save if you're down to your last marine?
is key, but also what makes the game so fun. I like the map, which
appears on the bottom of your
screen. For each new locale you explore, your first task is to download
schematics early. Shaded areas show where you haven't been. You'll find
yourself making mental notes, dropping flares to remind yourself which
areas you need to return to, the location of Marines to supplement your
squad, or which areas are still blocked. There are also a lot of hidden
areas, access tunnels and the like, that
you can explore. These don't appear on the map, and can lead to
alternative routes and hidden goodies, as well as lots of bloody aliens.
I like the fact that the developers clearly tried to
pay homage to the movies. Even with these graphics it's still possible
to see recognizable locations (including a surprising but very welcome
moment with the infamous "Elephant Man" from the derelict ship on
LV-426). Other than that, the graphics are perfectly functional and
that's that. However, seemingly all of the effects are ripped straight
from the movies and sound great. The screams of dying aliens mixed with
the distinct chatter of a marine issue pulse rifle while a motion
tracker is "beep beep beep"ing in the background is classic.
as clever as some of the design is, there are some curious choices that
detract from the experience. I mentioned earlier how you can drop
flares. However, I really don't like how when you transfer between the
Sulaco and LV-426 those flares disappear. As a result, you're forced to
re-find everything (and everyone) all over again. This is annoying when
you're down to your last marine and you can't remember where the hell
the others were!
For the most part the controls work
well. Aiming at angles can be a little difficult, but I think that's
more a limitation of the 3DS controls set up than anything. It is easy
to get turned around though, especially with aliens and face huggers
jumping all over the place. Just keep in mind that you can't take a lot
of damage before winding up KIA. Exercise caution!
minor issue is that enemies respawn immediately upon leaving an area.
This can be a pain when you have a marine who is on his/her last legs.
You have to be very careful and remember from where the baddies pop out.
Paying attention to the motion tracker is important! Also, multiple
save slots would have been nice. I get what they
are trying to do by allowing characters to die, but getting down to
your last marine is more than a little harrowing.
But my biggest complaint about Aliens: Infestation
is the story... or lack thereof. It's relatively straightforward as
these stories go (see every movie since the first). The problem lies in
the fact that everything is text-based. A lot of the marines are overly
stereotypical characters, and as you
roll them into your squad, you'll learn just a glimpse at what their
personalities are. But for me this never evolved into any sort of
compassionate relationship, a connection with the soldier in question. I
know this is par for the course for DS games (and admittedly I haven't
played a ton of DS titles to this point) but the dialogue is worse than
awful, and every single plot point is predictable to the point that you
can set your watch to it. It's not bad as such, just... boring.
nice to see developers putting in the time and effort (especially for a
system that has reached the end of its lifespan) to not only pay
adequate homage to a beloved series, but create an intriguing gameplay
mechanic that drastically increases the replay value of the game. I want
to find all the marines, and see how each responds to the increasingly
desperate circumstances! Sure, I may not feel the emotional investment
others have felt, and the story disappoints beyond serving as a vehicle
to shoot space bugs, but despite some flaws I find myself recommending
this game. It's something different (with just enough old school
panache) for a wider audience to enjoy beyond fan-boys of the franchise.
Score = 7.7 / 10
P.S. Oh, and I have to channel Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons briefly... this game has the WORST ENDING THEME MUSIC Eh-VER! Honestly, it's insulting.