Alienation's premise might very well be one that you've heard before: Aliens are invading Earth, and the onus is on you – and up to three online multiplayer friends – to save the day. Okay, I might be foreshortening the plot down to a single line and missing some of its finer nuances, but that really is the nuts and bolts of it.
Things don't get any more original when it comes to the game itself. Alienation is a top-down, twin-stick shooter that deviates little from the standard run-and-gun design. Yet cliché-ridden though its story may be, and sporting very familiar gameplay as it does, Alienation is not a bad game. Far from it. It's the creation of Housemarque, the Finnish developer that previously brought you such great shooters as Resogun, Super Stardust, and Dead Nation, and fortunately that pedigree shines through to help the game transcend its hackneyed tropes and deliver a pulse-pounding, adrenaline surge of a shoot 'em up experience.
The proceedings kick off with a choice of one of three classes for your power-suited avatar. There's a Saboteur that's essentially the stealthy support class, a beefy Tank who's best set for front-line duty thanks to heavy armor and short-range weaponry, and a Bio-Specialist who can heal as well as dish out decent damage. Each class has unique signature abilities that are on cooldowns, such as a heal-over-time effect, calling in artillery barrages, and a shield that protects you while you take out swarms of enemies.
Once the choice of class has been made, it's off to a basic training level to learn the ins and outs of the controls, and then onto the action proper. Alienation needs little explanation when it comes to its gameplay. Players take on a series of missions that have them globetrotting across a variety of locales, from North and South America to Russia. Each mission takes place on a fairly large map that usually has a set of objectives, mostly involving following the helpful directional arrows on the mini-map and abiding by the on-screen instructions. It'd be very simple was it not for the absolute hordes of aliens that pack each level. You have to fight every step of the way through a vast menagerie of creatures that range from small creepy-crawlies through mutant humans to giant bug-like monsters.
The sheer variety of alien archetypes helps make the game plenty interesting. There are creatures that swarm you, some that sit back and snipe, while others attempt to flank and strafe you with projectiles. It makes for some very hectic action where you need to constantly keep an eye on everything that's going on – especially since the enemies attack from pretty much every angle imaginable.
Fortunately you're armed to the teeth with powerful weapons that you can use in anger against the rampaging hordes. The down-side is that you have very limited ammo, and managing your shots while scavenging additional bullets from the downed bodies of the enemy is very much a part of this game. The balance is quite tight, and oftentimes you're switching between your primary, secondary, and heavy weapons in an attempt to conserve your resources. This can make the proceedings quite nerve-wracking, and while I've never completely run out of bullets, there have been plenty of times when I've been dangerously close to doing so.
Shooting monsters and completing missions yield experience that levels up your character, and awards points as you progress. These can be spent to enhance your base cooldowns, as well as augment your character with passive traits. Like the rest of the game, the system is simple, but very effective, and it doesn't take too long before your character starts to feel quite well-rounded.
Alienation also features a loot system. There are crates dotted across its environments that contain new weapons of varying degrees of rarity, and secondary equipment like grenades and deadly boomerangs that you can use in the heat of battle. As you collect weapons, you can salvage unwanted items and turn them into raw materials that can be used to re-roll the stats of your favorite guns. Enemies also drop power-up cores that can be used to augment your weapons to make them even more powerful. The system works well to add additional depth to the game, and it feels very satisfying when you find a rare weapon that offers a significant DPS upgrade to the one that you might already be using.
Although Alienation can be played as a single-player game, I actually had the most amount of fun playing multiplayer. Hooking up with others is a breeze thanks to its very useable drop-in, drop-out party system, and I have yet to find a situation where I haven't been able to join up with at least one other player for any mission I wanted to tackle. Basically, you select a mission, and the game shows you a list of missions-in-progress, any of which you can join.
The game dynamically adjusts its difficulty to match the number of players involved (and their levels), and that helps keep the challenge keen at all times. When four players are fighting, it's absolute mayhem, with a myriad of aliens swarming across the screen. Indeed, sometimes it feels almost too much, and you have to concentrate hard to not lose sight of your character in the midst of the action. But then, that's what makes Alienation such an enjoyable shooter: It feels jam-packed with incidents. Not only are you shooting aliens and their emplacements, but the environments also feature plenty of destructible explosive items that are constantly going off, resulting in a really impressive display of alien blood spatters and colorful pyrotechnics. As you might expect from Housemarque, the particle effects are top-drawer, and combine with some exceptionally detailed, beautifully-rendered backgrounds to deliver a treat for the eyes. Alienation really is a splendid-looking game.
The proceedings do get pretty challenging as the game progresses, and I did find the final mission particularly tough. But for those who like a good shooter and are up for the challenge, I don't think the spike in the difficulty level at the end is too much of a complaint. Once you do finish the game, it basically starts all over again with tougher enemies and even better loot to grab.
The biggest disappointment for me is that Alienation doesn't feature local multiplayer at launch. It's the perfect game for couch co-op, and I'm amazed it doesn't offer that mode. Still, all is not lost: Apparently an upcoming patch will bring that feature to the game. Other than that glaring omission, though, Alienation is a thoroughly enjoyable, gorgeous-looking multiplayer shooter that delivers some seriously entertaining, high-octane action.
The Nitty Gritty
- Interface: A little clunky and lacking explanation, but figuring it all out isn't too difficult.
- Lasting appeal: The game is plenty challenging, and once you've beaten it, it starts over at a tougher difficulty level, and with better loot to find.
- Sound: A decent-quality soundtrack accompanies the action.
- Visuals: Outstanding. Highly detailed backdrops and very impressive explosions make this a great game to watch.
Alienation's plot and gameplay might lack originality, but that's soon forgotten as you get your teeth into its slick, addictive, over-the-top action. Along with gorgeous environments and absolutely spectacular pyrotechnics, the game features surprising depth thanks to its upgradable characters and loot system. It all adds up to a really enjoyable multiplayer shooter that's highly recommended.
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