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Aliens: Infestation

Score: 86%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Sega
Developer: WayForward Technologies
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ Survival Horror

Graphics & Sound:

Few licensed games are able to capture what makes the license great in the first place. They usually get the look and feel right, but usually fail to "get it" when it comes to what makes the franchise what it is.

Aliens: Infestation "gets it." Although the Aliens license lends itself well to alien-blasting mayhem, shooting waves of enemies isn't the point. It's the tension created by knowing a sleek, black Xenomorph could be anywhere. The result is a great mix of Resident Evil and Metroid.

For whatever reason, as soon as I mention I'm playing Aliens: Infestation, someone inevitably mentions how terrible the game's graphics look. Either I'm blind, or people's perceptions of what substantiates "good graphics" have gone way off the deep end.

Aliens: Infestation has the look and feel of a 16-bit game. This is the sort of thing we would have seen on the SNES and flipped our lids over. The visuals capture the series' dark look, infusing the game with a constant sense of dread. Character animations are smooth, especially the Xenomorphs, which climb around the screen with all the acrobatic grace of their movie counterparts.

The feeling is pushed further by that game's subdued soundtrack and great use of sound effects to further ratchet up anxiety levels. It's something that is incredibly hard to do on a handheld, and WayForward deserves all the credit in the world for pulling it off.


Gameplay:

Aliens: Infestation takes place after the events of Aliens. You play as a four-man fire team of Marines sent to investigate the Sulaco and other iconic locations from the movies. Eventually, you fall into another conspiracy involving the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, which still hasn't figured out that weaponizing an uncontrollable species isn't a good idea. Following the theme of Aliens: Infestation "getting it," I loved seeing how deep some of the story elements go. It's not just a game where you're shooting aliens; there's something else going on that keeps you wanting to explore what the game has to offer.

Gameplay is very much in the vein of Metroid. Your fire team is dropped into massive locations and handed crystal clear directives of "Check out this room." What lies between your landing spot and "this room" is a complete mystery. Slow, methodical exploration is encouraged by your motion detector, which is located on the DS's second screen. Rather than offering a read out of what to expect in a room, you just see a series of dots. These could be anything, from mature Xenomorphs to a pack of eggs or even another Marine to rescue. You may even come across one of the stray cats roaming the area.

The sense of mystery is fantastic. I routinely found myself slowly creeping into rooms, praying the group of blue dots would be a group of eggs and not a bunch Facehuggers, or worse, a pack of large Xenomorphs. The one downside to the amount of exploration is the lack of real payoffs. The best thing you'll find are other Marines, extending your ability to explore the location. Other times, you'll run across much-needed ammo or weapon supplies, though these replenish every time you re-enter a room. The only worthwhile rewards are weapon upgrades, though you won't find many of these.


Difficulty:

The only way to really create a sense of horror in a game is to really up the stakes. In most games, death is just an inconvenient hurdle and doesn't matter much. Aliens: Infestation turns the idea on its head. Death is permanent and something you have to constantly think about before making some fool-hearted attempt at bravery. Once a Marine is killed, you lose them for the rest of the game. You can attempt to rescue a fallen teammate, though if you fail, you'll have to watch as an alien pops out of his lifeless body. The only other way to keep going is to find other Marines lost in the area, though even then there are only 19 Marines in total.

The one hitch in the idea is difficulty. Aliens: Infestation is brutally hard. Enemies absorb multiple hits before going down, which is a problem since your ammo is limited. There are a few areas where enemies are placed in just the right spot, forcing you to take damage no matter what. I like the slower pacing and feeling that I'm constantly in trouble, but not when its forced on you and not because I made a mistake.

Enemies respawn once you leave a room. This ensures you'll always have something to shoot at, but it is mildly frustration. I would have preferred free passage through rooms as reward for coming out of fights alive.


Game Mechanics:

Similar to Metroid, access to areas is limited early on, requiring the need to find certain tools to open up new areas. All tools are mapped to the touch screen and take time to use, pushing the tension even further. I had a major issue flipping between the item and map screens. While on the item screen, you just need to tap the map button to bring up the map. Flipping back isn't as easy. I eventually figured out you just need to tap the top of the map, but it wasn't incredibly reliable.

Aliens: Infestation borrows heavily from Metroid, but also manages to squeeze in some incredibly intense fire fights. Some battle situations are unfairly skewed towards enemies, though most fights are still a lot of fun. You'll uncover numerous weapons from the movies, including the pulse rifle and a flamethrower. You also get the chance to step into a power-loader to go one-on-one with a Queen. Weapons feature up to three upgrades, though you can only carry one weapon at a time, which is problematic in some situations - such as when you need a specific weapon to clear out a certain area.

The most interesting element of Aliens: Infestation is your platoon of Marines. All play exactly the same, though each has their own distinct personality. Over the course of the game, you'll actually start to pick your favorites and do everything you can to protect them. It's a better horror mechanic than all of the Xenomorph jump scares combined. Losing a favorite personality is heartbreaking.

Aliens: Infestation is a great game and should not be missed by any Aliens fan. Some areas are probably too challenging for their own good, but these areas only help to increase tension and build on everything that makes the series great.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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