I love a good twin-stick shooter. From games like the recent Alien Breed reboot trilogy and Helldivers, to different takes on the genre like the Lara Croft spin-offs, The Guardian of Light and The Temple of Osiris, they often provide fun-filled adventures – usually accompanied by thousands of bullets. Just to be safe. Alien Shooter arrives on PS4 (with Cross-Buy for PS3 and Vita), a 2D, isometric shooter attempting to join the ranks of those mentioned above.
Does it succeed? Well…no. The game’s major failing is in its awful, awful aiming system that only seems to use eight directions and so doesn’t fit 1:1 with the direction you point the right stick. This means that you often won’t hit enemies that are right next to your character unless you turn on auto-aim, which removes almost all skill as simply pointing the stick in any direction will result in the game doing all the aiming for you. Strangely, this at least makes the game playable and even quite fun, at least for the first couple of hours.
Upon loading up the game you are prompted to pick your character from the male/female selection (the female choice looks identical to Lara Croft circa Underworld, I kid you not) and difficulty, then you’ll jump right into the action. There’s a story available, about aliens, monsters and viruses, but it’s so wafer thin as to be unnecessary, the main thing you need to know is that you need to shoot everything that moves. Looking like a 90s game, particularly those of the SWAT 2 era, Alien Shooter has a charm about its visuals that will appeal to some older gamers and a few others, too. There’s a budget look to the game that helps to keep things running smoothly when the action ramps up – and it will ramp up. Considerably.
The action starts off slow with tiny, dog-sized aliens being the only fodder for your dual pistols (the opening weapon, with infinite ammo, further enforcing the Lara Croft vibe for the female character), and even some nice hints of atmosphere when the power cuts out and the screen gets…well, it gets a little darker. Those hints of atmosphere tend not to last. Let’s not forget that this is an action game, so when the thumping soundtrack kicks in and the increasingly larger enemies begin pouring in, things get pretty hectic. With nine different weapons on offer, from a shotgun to a Magma Minigun (a stupidly powerful minigun), how you fight the hordes is completely up to you, offering a little freedom to an otherwise linear blaster.
The difficulty curve is handled nicely throughout the first of the game’s three episodes, handing out access to the full weapon set with just enough of a gap between them to keep things fresh. You will learn which weapons are best against each enemy type, always being mindful of your surroundings at the same time (you do not want to find yourself cornered, it will end badly) and you’ll soon be wading through gallons of alien blood and viscera in a crazed state. Occasionally the game gives you some TNT, oddly primitive for the futuristic setting of the game, and tasks you with shutting down teleporters by blowing them to hell. Apparently a rocket launcher just won’t cut it. These teleporters, as you may suspect, are swarming with aliens that constantly beam in from wherever they originate, and this poses its own set of challenges as you attempt to fight your way through the violent mobs and plant the explosives. Later levels rely on this mechanic a little too often however, turning the game into a slog and actually ruining episodes two and three.
The other, frankly bizarre, design problem here is that you cannot carry your progress from episode to episode. You can buy weapons and items between missions, even upgrade your ability to carry more ammo or do more damage, etc. so it makes no sense that these upgrades are not kept when moving from episode one to two, for example. With the ludicrous spikes in difficulty it almost feels like this should have been a thing, but apparently not. Simply baffling.
Alien Shooter could have been a great, fun twin-stick shooter in spite of its abysmal aiming, instead it ends up being a decent bit of mindless fun for a couple of hours. It’s all downhill after the first episode, as the difficulty ramps up to ridiculously unfair levels during the latter half of the game’s trilogy of episodes, and the novelty of watching hundreds of aliens splattered across the floor quickly wears thin.
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