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Alien Breed 2: Assault

Score: 81%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Team 17
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Action/ Third Person Shooter/ Shooter

Graphics & Sound:

A decade and some change between releases, you expect a few improvements. The first Alien Breed update since '96 was last year's "Impact," which we downloaded along with the rest of the faithful. It was a great throwback vision from the days where top-down gameplay could hold our attention for an almost infinite time span. Less than a year later, we have Alien Breed 2: Assault to play with, and it's definitely more of the same. The game's camera can now be moved using the shoulder buttons, allowing for better control and ability to see approaching threats. That said, nobody really enjoys more than the occasional tap on those shoulder buttons, so working them in as an important element during the game is a bit of a misfire. Love the feature, don't love the controls. Otherwise, the explosive action of the first game is recreated here, and even though the relative scale of the game hasn't changed, things just seem more expansive. Creative level design and puzzles that force you to range through certain areas in search of key-cards or other items contribute to this, along with the fact that everything is shrouded in darkness.

If you get into the format of the game, you'll find that little touches like the light cast from your weapon as you aim add lots of atmosphere to the proceedings. The sounds of enemies as they mill around in nearby areas, or come screaming out of the darkness, never failed to creep us out. Sure, these seem like obvious devices, but play Alien Breed 2: Assault late at night with the lights off and tell us you don't jump a few times. A testament to the game's effectiveness, we found ourselves walking around aiming the gun more than we'd like to admit, just because that flashlight helped lower the creep-factor. Intelligent visual cues prompt you for everything, including flashing when you approach items you'll need to proceed. A flash on the motion-sensing radar installed at the top-right of your heads-up display tells you that something is moving out there, and nothing sends your adrenaline racing like watching multiple red blobs appear in quick succession and converge on your position. The interludes - done in a simplistic animation style - are good for moving the story forward, but don't show nearly the same level of polish as the main game.


If you didn't catch the first entry in this recent relaunch, don't worry that you have to play "Impact" to catch up with Alien Breed 2: Assault. Yes, there's continuity between the two episodes, with your character still trying to extricate his home ship after its collision with the mysterious, alien-infested ghost ship. If this seems a bit like Ridley Scott's dark vision for close encounters, it's not just your imagination. The first Alien Breed games drew from this source, not necessarily for narrative, but for the overall flow of action. Perhaps the end of the first Alien movie is a starting point for what became more videogame-fied with James Cameron's action-packed Aliens sequel. Alien Breed 2: Assault feels very much inspired by Cameron's vision, except that you don't have the benefit of a platoon of Space Marines... No, in this game you'll either face the alien threat alone, or in the company of a partner. Single Player branches into the basic Story Mode, Free Play, and Survivor Mode. You'll play through a larger campaign this time, opening up levels you can also play individually in Free Play. Jump in with a friend via XBox Live or for local play, and you have the basics of the game's Co-Op Assault. There's a huge advantage playing with two players, in areas that can otherwise become a deathtrap. And if you like deathtraps, just check out the branching Survivor Mode. It serves up three variations on the classic "stay alive" gameplay, with wave after wave of alien attackers amidst scattered power-ups, health regen items, and environmental hazards. The big payoff here, besides earning an achievement, is the grisly sight of alien carcasses piling up as you destroy one wave after another.

Alien Breed 2: Assault can feel a bit like Survival Horror, except you're ridiculously well-armed compared to most titles in that genre. Really, this is a dose of action and mission-based gameplay where you'll run and gun through level after level, chasing down small objectives that you hope will eventually lead to your freedom. By small, we literally mean gathering items like key cards and codes, but it stays strangely exciting because of the unpredictable appearance of aliens, bursting from the floors and walls around you. There are some puzzle elements you'll find along the way, but mostly it's a game that challenges your reflexes more than your gray matter. The options for weaponry are vast, and include upgrades that can be purchased at special terminals scattered throughout the game. You can also purchase items like ammunition and health kits, but where's the fun in that, when you can loot dead bodies? At various times in the game, you'll backtrack to collect items and restart power to some random generator or bridge array, but Alien Breed 2: Assault does a fine job of moving you forward. Each level feels slightly different from the one before it, but the game does induce cabin fever from time to time. In contrast, diversity among the aliens you'll combat is impressive. It seems like you're constantly coming across some new horror that introduces a slightly new play mechanic, and there are even handy log entries you can find along the way to help you understand what you're up against. Even if the overall narrative is derivative, the underlying detail in the game is impressive. There are just enough secrets and extra objects like the logs hidden away to reward brave explorers, but clearly marked waypoints keep less adventurous souls on the straight and narrow.


Okay, it's just no fun playing on "Rookie" setting... why don't they just call it the n00b setting and get it over with? Although you can hate the label, you will appreciate the ramp up to more extreme settings. If you'd like to try the game a bit tougher, Free Play Mode helps you try things out before committing fully in Story. There's also Survival Mode, which ends up creating enough mayhem to make a grown man or woman cry. It's at these moments that the game's controls begin to seem a bit clunky. Sure, anyone can learn to do anything, but the mechanics for switching sub-items and reloading weapons tend to favor slow-and-steady rather than extreme action. During the frenzy of Survivor Mode, you'll realize how Alien Breed 2: Assault trains you to move deliberately and conserve ammunition in the other modes. It's nothing to burn through 1,000 rounds of ammunition using the imprecise but powerful rifle, or to burn up a flamethrower tank in no time. Waves of aliens tend to become more mixed, and each type of attacker requires a slightly different strategy. Some will tank while others hit you from a distance, and the surge of small creepers can easily overwhelm you if you're caught exposed. Using your surroundings intelligently tends to make the difference between life and death in the game, and we liked the fact that most levels can be cleared in different ways. Ambitious explorers or thrifty players can find themselves in possession of an auto-gun, that can be mounted at special power points. The guns are hard to find and expensive, so you'll mostly use the power points as predictive tools, letting you know a wave of aliens can't be far away. Really, you are just as likely to be jumped in a blind alley or small room, as you are to get advance warning of attacks. The motion tracker is cool, and it can sometimes save your hide, but it mostly just helps you figure out which way to run. Just a hint: You'll want to run away from the action until you find a good place to hole up... or until you get too tired to run.

Game Mechanics:

Running is not the only thing about Alien Breed 2: Assault that comes in a limited quantity. Almost everything except your trusty pistol will eventually be depleted. Get over-eager with your health packs, and you'll find yourself quickly in the yellow or red. You'll find lots of cool items like frag grenades or flash-bombs that can be used to pull you out of a bind or deal with larger oncoming enemy clusters. The problem is that these items are fairly rare, even when playing on the "Rookie" setting, so you'll end up falling back on your guns. The experienced Action gamer will realize that the infinite-reload pistol is great against most of the enemies in the first stage. Especially when dealing with the small wriggly types, a pistol is all you'll need. As the aliens get bigger, so should the guns you pack. The shotgun-equivalent is a nice option, if limited on ammo. Opening up the flamethrower and more advanced weapons doesn't feel like an extravagance as much as a necessity. Not only do the bigger enemies come more often, but they start coming from more directions. The basic controls are movement on the left-hand and aiming on the right, both using the Analog Sticks. Firing weapons is handled on the right trigger, while the other trigger controls equipped sub-items. The remaining buttons are used to reload, to pull of a close-quarters physical attack that becomes useless when you're surrounded. You can cycle left/right/up/down to select just the right combination of weapon and sub-item, but don't try this in the heat of battle. Boss battles are few and far between, but they'll test your resolve and deplete your artillery.

From one angle, Alien Breed 2: Assault breaks no new ground and relies too much on repetitive gameplay. From another, it's a compelling download game that doesn't make any claims it can't back up. If you're looking for fun arcade-style action with a hint of mission-based gameplay, Alien Breed 2: Assault fits the bill. It's bigger and more involved than its predecessor, and the co-op multiplayer just never gets old. Wanton destruction, especially when it involves cleansing your surroundings of slimy alien life forms, is a sure bet for some folks. We happen to like what Team 17 is pushing, although we realize that players may come with unrealistic expectations. The elaborate puzzle action of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light doesn't factor in here, although the basic gameplay is similar. What both games have in common is making you feel you're getting more than your money's worth, and it's that quality that will draw more and more of us to download titles in the future.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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