For the past few years, one of the dominant trends in videogames has been that of the retro remake. Games based on, built from, or openly aping classics from the past. The trend has delivered some great titles, some less so great and some so difficult that only staunch masochists would dare to engage them in a digital duel of wits and pain.
One of the most welcome of the swathe of tarted up oldies was Team 17’s twin stick revival of its classic Amiga era franchise, Alien Breed. Dressed up in a smart new set of Unreal Engine powered clothes, the download only series promised insectoid swarms of slavering space creatures, massive guns and a three episode story cycle.
Which brings us to Alien Breed: Descent, the final part of the revamp. Already released on Xbox 360, this instalment offers a conclusion to the story of Chief Engineer Conrad, who is quite literally having the worst day of his life.
Trapped on a crashing spaceship that’s infested with terrifying aliens, hampered at every turn by an insane super computer, Conrad finds almost every door in his path locked. As well as every corridor he needs to go down on fire, every key card he needs to pick up guarded by hostile turrets and every set of codes he needs underneath thirty foot of water.
Stoic to the end, you lead Conrad through the crumbling maze of the spaceship, blasting everything that moves, panicking every time you see a blip on the radar in the corner of the screen and slowly but surely making your way to a final confrontation with a giant alien queen and a massive hard drive gone bonkers.
Along the way you pick up an arsenal of ever more devastating weapons, from a super powered space shotgun to a top secret prototype cannon that fires out glowing balls of spiky plasma. You also collect health packs, hardened armour, various types of grenades, defensive turrets you can use to attack your assailants and credits that you can spend on upgrades for your kit.
Those credits are spent at terminals around the ship, where you can also save your progress and top up on ammo and other essentials. Thankfully, there’s also an auto save system that kicks in when you’re about to encounter something particularly nasty, making annoying track-backs through the levels a blessed rarity.
The game is split into five huge levels, each of which contains about an hour or more of gameplay. You can expect pitched battles against deformed robots who throw lumps of molten rock at you, frantic defences of computers as they call up elevators to take you to safety and cautious traverses of the ship’s hull, where oxygen is just as important as ammo.
The game creates a magnificent sense of tension with clever use of lighting, camera angles and the aforementioned bleeping motion detector. There’s a genuine sense of panic when the radar chirrups in a dark corridor, lit only by the front facing light on your gun. Quite often you’ll find yourself pivoting on the spot, expecting an onslaught, to be greeted by a single cockroach like broodling that can be taken out with a stomp.
As you progress through the different difficulty settings, you’ll find the tension ramping up to almost unbearable proportions. When ammo and health packs are scarce, you have to think tactically and sensibly, even when you’re surrounded by marauding creatures that can fire goo from their tails or club you to death with their foreheads, and that’s a difficult task for anyone.
As well as the story, the game offers a horde-style survival mode, replete with waves of aliens, a blinking timer and unique maps, alongside a solid co-op mode for those who want to play through with their friends. It’s a decent sized package, especially for the price you’re paying, and it’s a polished one at that.
The Unreal Engine is used to great effect here, creating a dank, unpleasant atmosphere that pays homage to some of the greatest sci-fi horror movies of the past. Every piece of the ship has a function, every blinking screen a reason to be blinking.
The sound too is impressive, building and releasing tension with some well crafted tunes and the constant bleeping of the radar. Guns sound meaty, alien howls sound terrifying and the clanks and creaks of the dying ship sound just as you’d imagine. The only problem here is there are a lot of repeated voice clips, which start to grate when you’ve heard them for the eighth time.
Some might find the old school play style daunting, and it’s fair to say that sometimes the game feels a little regressive. For all the current generation sheen that Team 17 have lovingly heaped on their title, underneath it still feels solidly based on twenty year old game dynamics.
Whilst it’s consistently fun, there’s nothing here you could describe as an innovation. The game is ruler-straight in its linearity, with only one possible route from waypoint to waypoint. There’s no sense of discovery, no sense that you’ve achieved something other than behaving exactly as the game wants you to.
Alien Breed 3: Descent, is a fitting conclusion to this gun toting trilogy, but it fails to add that much to the template already laid down by the first two games. It’s exciting and enjoyable, but there’s very little intrigue, and nothing that will propel it to the heights of its illustrious Amiga based forebear.
Team 17 have proved a lot with their new Alien Breed, and they should be championed for the bravery they’ve shown in leaving physical distribution and publishers aside and striding out into the field of DLC. Hopefully, with their next titles, they can show the same sort of bravery in terms of originality. If they do, then we’ll be in for something really quite special.
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