Alien Breed: Impact, is a remake of Team 17 (who you’ll probably remember as the makers of Worms) 1991 game Alien Breed. The original was a top down shooter in which you cleared a spaceship of Aliens one by one, it had much in common with Gauntlet and, camera angle aside could be seen as something of a precursor to 1993′s Doom. It’s now 2010, games have moved on a lot in the last nineteen years, so can the new Alien Breed put a modern spin on a classic formula?
The short answer? No it can’t. The long answer? No, and it doesn’t even try.
The story, such as it is, puts you in the role of J Conrad, engineer on the good ship Leopold. The Leopold crashes into a mysterious ship, damaging it heavily, and swarms of alien creatures come aboard and start attacking the crew. Conrad is given objectives by a female android (gynoid, to show off my linguistic skills) called Mia, who gives him advice over the radio throughout. Conrad trawls through the derelict ship, killing aliens and occasionally pressing buttons or making repairs to systems in order to clear a path to his next objective.
That’s it. That short paragraph summarises the entire plot of Alien Breed. If this plot seems somewhat familiar to you, it’s probably because you’ve played any games at all in the last fifteen or so years, because there is literally no part of this plot that we haven’t all seen a million times before. While I understand the Alien Breed is a remake of a game that came before the likes of Dead Space or System Shock 2, at some point during the writing process one would think the writers would at least stand back and ask ‘does this seem a little generic to you?’. The only saving grace of the story is that it is told not through cutscenes, but through hand drawn comic panels, offering a nice little visual break from the rest of the game.
The thin plot however, is a minor affair, the game is clearly designed to be gameplay reliant, so how does it do in that area? Well, honestly, not very well.
Gameplay alternates between mowing down aliens with a hail of gunfire and holding down the space button to fulfil an objective (typically repairing something or using a console). The shooting itself is much like the rest of the game, not actively bad, but simplistic and uninspired. There’s a standard selection of weapons (you’ll spend most of the game with a pistol, assault rifle, shotgun and flamethrower) all of which feel largely the same in combat. The game info suggests that they are intended to work on different targets, but they all seem to kill enemies with equal speed, you can also upgrade weapons along simple lines (damage, rate of fire, etc), and can also use a standard set of items (grenades, armour, health packs) and… well that’s it. It’s all extremely standard, extremely basic, it’s the most simplistic kind of shooting people in the face you’ll ever see this side of Doom. Meanwhile you’ll intersperse this killing with pressing buttons and re-routing power, all of which involves holding down the space button. Irritatingly this will often involve giving you a very obvious run around, you’ll go to use a door only to find that the power is out, or a keycard is needed. You’ll take a side route, find the card, go through the door and then the next door will break, or be locked, and you’ll do it all again.
Even the few changes to this incredibly basic formula involve some of the oldest gameplay tricks in the book, like the miniboss that chases you down a corridoor, forcing you to sprint ahead of it, something most of us found old hat back in the Snes/Megadrive era. Really, apart from the top down view, there is absolutely nothing that distinguishes Alien Breed from any other shooter.
Then there’s the top down perspective itself, what does it really add to the game? Well not much really. In fact it’s something of a frustration, with very little control of the camera beyond strictly controlled rotation you’ll often find yourself shooting at targets on your radar screen, despite the fact that Conrad could clearly see them from that distance. Worse yet, the rigidly enforced angle serves to make the bland visuals the game offers even more underwhelming, robbing the developers of the ability to use framing in lieu of interesting environments.
The game offers two player co-op, which certainly livens things up (as it will in any game) but rather than following the main plot with two players, it instead offers unique, shorter missions for co-op players, severely restricting the superior playing mode. Even this, however, has it’s own bizarre errors; despite playing on two separate PCs, the two players are forced to share a screen, limiting their movement arbitrarily.
Alien Breed isn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, there’s not much actively wrong with it, but it simply offers nothing whatsoever to encourage you to play it over any other shooter, top down, side on, first person, third person or otherwise. With a little effort the co-op mode could perhaps have offered something, but the developers chose to hamstring it instead. In the end, only die hard fans of top down shooters are likely to give Alien Breed much notice at all, and even they could probably find more interesting games elsewhere.