Previews// Alien Breed Evolution

Posted 9 Dec 2009 16:36 by
The premise, for those too young to remember the original, is that you wander around a space vessel or planetary installation and shoot the living crap out of most things that move. Because, in this game, most things that move are not friendly. You have a series of constantly developing objectives: obtain keycard to access restricted areas; activate fire suppression systems to put out fires so that you can access areas; shut down reactor cores and the like. Typical sci-fi shooter mission objectives. They are never cerebral enough to be considered puzzles, but they do keep you moving, and when you move, you enter areas that have more aliens. You have to kill the aliens. That's the central dynamic of the game.

The creatures in Evolution bear more resemblance to the bugs in Starship Troopers than to the extra-terrestrials from Alien. which the earlier games were more redolent of. And this time, there are more varieties of creature. There are the little face-hugger style ones, that you can defeat with a simple melee manoeuvre, shrugging them off and crushing them underfoot. Then there are the larger ones, the alien foot-soldiers, that require firepower to dispense with.

Beyond this, there are the special powered ones that add to the tactical elements of ABEvo. Shield Aliens can deflect your standard weapons with their heavily armoured fore-limbs, healers can send a ray of regenerative energy at other members of their horde, and the whacked out time-distortion ones can bend space time in a way that is rarely (if ever) helpful to your cause.

The selection of aliens is matched with a selection of weapons; from basic blasters through laser rifles up to the Ion Spike - a kind of rail gun better used at range than close up. Weapons themselves and ammo are found either on the corpses of earlier and less fortunate characters, or in lockers around the installation. Accessing either takes time, and is best done when you are not under attack, though obviously the time you often most NEED health and ammo is when you ARE under attack.

The action takes place in either a single-player or local and online co-operative two-player campaigns. Single-player is fun, but the two-player game reveals new strategic elements. Simply wandering around wildly blasting at anything is not a recipe for success (as L4D2 should have already taught this reviewer). Instead, sharing access to lockers and stashes found on bodies can be as advantageous as falling on it all ravenously and selfishly. There are many times when you'll need your partners assistance - catching an alien in crossfire is particularly effective at killing it. If your companion has no ammo or no health, he's not going to be in a position to back you up.

That about sums up Alien Breed Evolution - but it hardly does the game justice. For a mere 800 points, 360 gamers get "around eight hours" of exploring and shooting action. Producer Mark Baldwin explains that pricing was an emotional, and by no means easy, decision. T17 is convinced that at 800 points the game represents outstanding value for money. But the full title is Alien Breed Evolution: Episode 1, and the developer hopes to lure gamers in for the long haul. Two more bug-blasting episodes make the game a trilogy, for 2,400 MS Points in total. The company is sure that's a fair deal, but is conscious that many gamers might have found 3,600 points too much of a stretch. Mr Baldwin also points out that anyone who bought 2,000 points to buy a 1,200 point game can pick up episode one with their "change".

Gamers tempted to splash on the game are expected to include a fair few older gamers like this writer who not only remembers the first game, but was even involved in level and packaging design for the third Alien Breed game, Tower Assault, not to mention the "cast of Emmerdale do Star Wars" FMV intro of that same title. Embarrassing intros have been put aside this time, and instead the story is developed panel-style like a dynamic comic book, with voice overs and speech bubbles to guide viewers through the sparse but effective intro sections.

Once in-game, frankly pretty graphics combine with an impressive dynamic soundtrack to deliver an involving gaming experience. The score, most of which was written by former SPOnG staffer, Jay Waters, swells and picks up when you are in danger, dropping back to a more subdued tones when you are simply exploring the ship. It's a good way of building and maintaining the tension. For oldies, there's a specially re-worked version of the Alien Breed title by original Alien Breed soundman and 8-bit video gaming legend, Allister Brimble.
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