I feel vaguely tempted to argue that Alien Breed 3: Decent is a fundamentally bad game, but I just can’t find the soul. In every possible way, it’s at the very least decent: in terms of a game that lets you play as a little man that wanders a crusty, decaying spaceship shooting space-born monstrosities in their ugly, angry alien faces, it does a largely decent job. Sadly, just like my performance in middle school, you can’t help but think it should be doing better.
By sticking to convention though, the third opus in the series succeeds at least in being entertaining. Once more, as the surprisingly testosterone-pumped and energetic engineer Conrad, you’ll fight your way through the apparently “doomed” shaceship, the Leopold – the fact that the Leopold seems to have gone through three entire games while doomed seems to have escaped everybody – and murder an entire species-worth of aliens along the way.
It’s top down, it’s frantic, there are many guns, and all the more aliens – most of which are largely unnoteworthy. There are machine-guns, shotguns, miniguns and laserguns, and there are fast aliens, shooty aliens, clawy aliens and jumpy aliens. By pointing the guns at the aliens, you’ll be rewarded with a bloody corpse – generally green – and the opportunity to advance, collecting cash that seems to be lying around in case of alien-apocalypse, and looting the bodies of the poor souls that didn’t quite make it, like the dirty vandal that you are.
It’s never particularly original, but it is, by and large, satisfying: the xenos scum are numerous and diverse enough to maintain a sense of tension during most of the encounters, and the primal satisfaction of turning crawling critters into oozing craters is something that will probably keep some gamers blasting away for awhile. It’s a shame it’s so utterly devoid of any variation to the basic formula – while you’ll upgrade your arsenal and move to even more degraded areas of the Leopold, it’ll rarely require any real thought process beyond the caveman-like GUN + ALIEN = HAPPY. It may appeal to my inner angry child, but as a critic, I can’t help but think that, for a series that debuted twenty years ago, Team 17 have done very little to bring Alien Breed up to speed.
Only in the boss fights will the challenge ramp up, and while the difficulty spikes are often so worryingly large as to be vaguely ridiculous, the bosses inject some much needed change into your otherwise largely unimpeded journey to the core of the Leopold. It’s a shame then, that you feel totally unrelated to who they’re actually meant to be – perhaps it’s because this is my first foray into the Alien Breed saga, but I felt completely disconnected with these crumbling AIs and gargantuan monsters that seemed so blindly intent on crushing me into a pulp.
In fact, I found the narration, or lack of narration, to be Alien Breed’s most glaring flaw. I’m a sucker for a decent story, and will gladly power through inhumanely ridiculous gaming challenges to uncover some twist or plot device, even in the gaming industries much overused tales of space-marine heroism, but any semblance of story in Descent seems completely lost to me. You’re introduced to Conrad’s plight with a brief comic-book exposition, which failed abysmally to bring me up to scratch as to what in god’s name had been happening for the last three games, and that’s about as far as the narrative gets. Rarely bad, but so lacking in spark or ingenuity of any type, you can’t but be slightly saddened.
There’s potential here. The basics are there, and, thankfully, undeniably solid – as you’d expect from a series that’s been around for twenty years at this point. But there doesn’t seem to be anything else to convince you to finish Alien Breed, or care at all about any of it’s characters. Undeniably decent, it remains nonetheless completely uninspired, and while that may be enough for the Xbox Arcade, over on PC, where we’ve been spoilt by Valve’s far superior, and free, Alien Swarm, it just doesn’t cut it.
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