Previews// Alien Breed Evolution

Posted 9 Dec 2009 16:36 by
Alien Breed, to many in the SPOnG offices is more than a video game, it's part of our working lives. The game came from Yorkshire neighbours Team17, where both myself and DrDee worked in the 1990s. With this in mind, I decided to send both the good Doctor, and SPOnG's ace senior writer, Mark Johnson, who was still sporting short trousers when the game made its debut, to see the evolution of a classic. Here are their impressions.

Mark Johnson: the Relative Newcomer
I played Alien Breed Evolution back in the summer. I liked it then, I still like it now. Where last time I played it with the game's very (understandably) capable producer, Mark Baldwin, and was kept comfortably alive, this time I got a crack at Elite mode all on my lonesome. This is one step up from Veteran (the middle difficulty setting, which doesn't have a name that screams middling difficulty).

I did this after a spot of... I don't want to say 'goading', but, well, goading, from Mark. It's a bit of a game changer. Where the Rookie and Veteran modes play out fairly squarely as a shooter, despite the game's horror-ridden premise, Elite mode gives the game an added feel of survival-horror.

In Elite mode the pace changes and things get decidedly more frenetic and... well, horrible. There are more aliens and they become harder to kill. You might hope that, relationally, the amount of ammo and health lying around will also go up. No luck there.

Mark told us that their behaviour doesn't change, exactly, but because they stay alive for longer in the face of your spray of lead, laser and flame, you start to see them acting differently. It's not much consolation, knowing that if you were simply an inept Rookie failing to end them, they would start to behave in the same way.

The upshot of this is that things get a lot more heated. You become a good deal more anxious in the face of the Giger-esque nasties as they swarm towards you. Where previously I had been happy enough hosing the oncoming aliens with fire from whatever was in my hand, I was a lot more precious about my ammo. The fall-back hand gun, with its infinite supply of ammo, just wasn't going to cut it against anything but the face-hugger-like little bastards. Melee attacks, similarly, weren't going to help in the event that my ammo ran out.

So, it was that in the face of more and harder, aliens, I was left trying to make the most of every single shot and use the different weapons to their optimum effect. No longer was I happy to wield the shot cannon (shotgun, for all intents and purposes) against whatever came my way. Nope, that little, bad boy was reserved for the shielders, which will block regular fire and need something more heavy-duty to spread their green guts across the ship floor.

I also became exceedingly meticulous in my searching of the environment and the human corpses strewn across it. No room was left unsearched, no locker unlooted. Evolution went from being a fast, run-and-gun game to being a careful, studied exercise in survival.

Elite mode certainly adds to the (already impressive, for an 800 point game) lifespan of Evolution. With emphasis having been placed by Team17 on the online leaderboards, Elite offers plenty of opportunity to rack up more points, as well as changing the way you'll play the game.

Alien Breed: the first time around.
Alien Breed: the first time around.
Marcus Dyson: the Seasoned Veteran
There's something about XBLA and PSN games that lends itself to resurrecting classic gaming styles, or even classic games. Maybe it's the restriction on total game size - to keep download speeds acceptable. Or maybe it's the restriction on game budgets - to keep prices acceptable. Ether way, for ageing nostalgics like myself, it's a thing to be celebrated. Especially when it sees companies like Team17 bringing an old favourite like Alien Breed out of the cupboard, dusting it down and giving it a fresh lick of paint.

Team17 made its name in the early 1990s by taking well loved game genres and doing technically innovative versions of them for the Amiga. Alien Breed was the Yorkshire-based company's take on the top-down competitive/collaborative shooter, Gauntlet crossed with an alien invasion sci-fi theme.

The 3D Amiga version
The 3D Amiga version
The game has been rebooted once already, when a technically impressive (for the Amiga) 3D version was released. This new version is more of a return to the roots of the series. Although the premise and the viewpoint return to the origins of the series, the work that has gone into Alien Breed Evolution is far more than a lick of paint.

The game is ambitious and beautiful by any standards, especially those of downloadable games. But one thing that ABEvo does retain from the original is its easy to pick up, hard to put down gameplay.
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