The Alien franchise has spawned a series of inter-galactic survival titles over the years, ever since Ridley Scott captivated audiences with the original science fiction tale back in 1979. The spine-chilling tension returns with players once again thrust into the midst of an overrun outbreak of Xenomorphic horrors.
The latest iteration brings the series to the Nintendo DS for the first time in its cult history. With WayForward taking command position and adopting a platform shooter formula, can the well-established developer inject fresh life into the Nintendo handheld for one last hoo-rror?
Platform: Nintendo DS (Reviewed)
Genre: Side-Scrolling Platformer
Release: (EU) September 9th 2011, (NA) September 13th 2011
The story takes place with players in charge of a four-man squad tasked with investigating the space-ship USS Sulaco after communication is lost with the cargo freighter. Upon arrival, you quickly uncover an ‘Aliens Infestation’ (hence the name) that you must dispatch before the abominations are allowed to breach safe territory and destroy humanity. Spanning across key locales with inspiration drawn from the Alien universe, you’ll have to battle your way through familiar environments, trekking from the USS Sulaco to the planet known as LV-426. WayForward does a phenomenal job paying homage to the legendary Alien series, creating a backdrop for terror which hardcore fans will certainly relish.
The gameplay has a Contra mixed with Castlevania feel to it which is hardly surprising given WayForward’s history in producing side-scrolling titles. What separates Aliens: Infestation from other side-scrollers out there is once a teammate dies in battle, they are gone for good. No reviving, no resurrection…dead. This adds an extra degree of difficulty with squad members limited in supply. At any one time, you can have up to four marines at your disposal, however you will only be able to take control of one marine at any given instance. Once he/she dies, you are given the option to take charge of another hardened marine until you run out of available troops. Lose all four in battle and it’s game over. Sound tough? It isn’t all bad news. Throughout the course of the game are a total of 20 playable characters scattered throughout, who are more than willing to fight for your cause given your current inventory of expendable soldiers hasn’t reached the max cap of four.
Despite the marines all looking alike with just a simple colour swap, each character is given their own personalities and distinctiveness with portrait art drawn by renown comic artist Chris Bachalo, unique stance and individual banter making for engaging dialogue, in between mowing down alien filth.
Heightening the unease of trudging through a hostile, desolate space environment are the scarcity of save points. Bucking with modern day gaming convention and making a return to retro arcade gameplay of years gone by, the sparsely placed checkpoints removes the sense of security of being able to record each little bit of progress. Instead, in its place are periods of distress as you tentatively chaperon your little space marine to safety. The distribution of safe havens make reaching a save point that much more satisfying, highlighting just how vulnerable each trooper really is. Save points allow for the obvious saving of progress, replenishment of health and the option to switch out marine and/or weaponry.
The arsenal available includes one primary slot for swapping out a main weapon, ranging from a movie classic pulse rifle, smart gun, to a Ripley favourite flamethrower. In addition, a standard secondary pistol with unlimited ammo is always at your side for when things get a little bit hairy, plus the classic grenade. Unfortunately only the primary weapons can be interchanged at save points and only one primary weapon is available at any given time. Progression unlocks new key items such as access cards, high-powered explosives and a welder to reach previously unreachable areas in the labyrinth of levels, rooms, hidden areas and vents.
The DS touchscreen is well utilised, providing access to map reference, weapon selection menu and key items at a press of a finger. Noteworthy spots can be marked with deployable flares that show up as a red blip on the map interface. This is particularly handy for keeping tabs on marines encountered and location ‘hot spots’ that are worth re-visiting at a later time. The system is fairly easy to use and read, making long expeditions manageable and minimising spells of ‘where the hell am I?’
Graphically Aliens: Infestation visuals are solid and the animation is consistently smooth, despite the limitations of the aging DS hardware. A dark colour palette set alongside a frightful soundtrack conjures a sinister atmosphere and eerie ambience that delivers genuinely creepy moments.
Roaming through the catacombs combine walking, sprinting, rolling and jumping to maneuver, dodge and weave against oncoming attacks from acidic predators and unsavoury inhabitants. Rolling and sprinting expend an endurance bar which slowly regenerates when not performing these move sets so careful monitoring is required to prevent overuse at critical moments, say for instance: boss battles. On the topic of boss battles, these encounters are tough. More often than not, you will require the assistance of more than one marine to tackle, what is at times behemoth confrontations.
Bosses are adequately spread out over the 10 odd hours of gameplay with a vehicle segment thrown in to break up the pace. The availabilty to mount an exosuit cargo loader as used by Ripley to battle the Alien Queen from the movie is also a nice touch. Ultimately, Aliens: Infestation culminates with a final stand against one mother of a Xenomorph fight that’ll leave you barely clinging to life and ammo. As the credits roll, you’re treated to the musical stylings of Requiem performing Holy Light Demon and an unlocked knife trick game upon its conclusion. Those familiar with the Alien movie may remember Bishop playing the menacing party trick. In spite of how cool it looked on the big screen, it doesn’t quite translate into fun with a paltry stylus tap, tap, tapping away on the touchscreen.
Aliens: Infestation expands on the success of the franchise, merging action-centric platforming with snappy dialogue and comic inspired design for an immersive experience that’s easy to sink your teeth into. Replayability is high with multiple playable characters to explore, even after the credits roll on your first play-through. The timing of its release is somewhat poor given the decline of the Nintendo DS of late but thankfully; the 3DS backward compatibility could see this hidden gem further appreciated well into a new generation of handheld gaming. If wandering derelict spacecraft, foreign planets and extra-terrestrial bloodbaths are your cup of tea, Aliens: Infestation will curb your thirst for animated violence one last time before the superseded handheld disappears into obscurity.
8 – Great. An enjoyable experience, fans and newcomers of the genre will be entertained. Any noticeable flaws are largely outweighed by the positives.