Alien Breed: Evolution Episode One did not exactly set Xbox Live Arcade alight when it was released last year, but it did set a lot of aliens alight and that pleased some people at least. It was an enjoyable take on a classic game, but it had nowhere near enough publicity and a few too many flaws. Luckily, fans of the game were keen to let Team 17 know what they felt had gone wrong, and like all good developers, Team 17 listened. When the gong rang, summoning Alien Breed to PlayStation Network and Steam, they were ready. Alien Breed Evolution had, fittingly enough, evolved into Alien Breed: Impact.
For those who did not experience the Xbox 360 version, Alien Breed: Impact is an isometric shooter set on a damaged and alien-infested space craft. Imagine Dead Space if it had been made in the early 1990s, you would sum up the general style. You play lone man Conrad with the arsenal of an army, desperately storming through beaten-up and dirty corridors and futuristic hostile environments in order to power up essential systems, rescue useful people, collect keys and items, and not get eaten. A female android, Mia, is on the other side of a headpiece, serving as your guide and user manual with a voice. Conrad is controlled with both joysticks, with one taking care of movement and the other taking care of aim, and shoulder buttons act as the triggers for guns and items, which include health packs, grenades and turrets. A map in the top right-hand corner of the screen is your closest ally, as it points you in the direction of aliens and plot.
Dark and sinister, Alien Breed’s aesthetic will make you feel very uncomfortable. It is intentionally difficult to see everything onscreen due to the despondent lighting, and what you can see often makes you want to turn off the lights. The jarring repetitive noise of gunfire, the blinking radar system and monstrous alien screams adds to this claustrophobic atmosphere. This is not to say it is an ugly game – in fact, the graphics are excellent for the price point – it’s just an disconcerting experience and should not be approached by gamers looking for an easy ride, or even just some colours.
If you’ve got the guts, Alien Breed has five levels and a Prologue ready for you in single player, which will take between four and six hours to complete on your first run through. The achievements will push you to play through the game several times (I reached saturation point after four complete games) and there are some secrets hidden away for extra longevity. The levels have a very uniform look but each of them has unique experiences and set-pieces, including monster chases and trips into space. There is really only one boss battle worth speaking about, but the game is tough enough for you not to worry about that. Impact comes packed with an excellent multiplayer mode, which offers three unique levels (as well as the Prologue) for two friends. This is great fun but it can be very easy and brief if the players are halfway competent.
If you have already purchased the Xbox Live version, you may be wondering why this one deserves the snappier ‘Impact’ title, while your one has the dreary-in-comparison, it’s-old-so-it-sucks ‘Evolution’ moniker. Aside from the Prologue which is exclusive to this new version and a graphical tidy-up, there is a Weapons Shop where you can use collectable credits to purchase and upgrade weapons. This is an excellent addition and it really improves the gameplay, both injecting some modern elements to it while simultaneously taking it back to the old school. The different types of alien have been visually signposted, which comes as good news to alien breeders who previously had trouble telling the acid-spitters from the healers and the shielders from the general maim-your-facers. In bad news, there is a difference in price – Impact is more expensive than Alien Breed Evolution Episode One. Still it’s great that PS3 and PC owners can now experience this title.
Alien Breed: Impact is just about long enough to give value for money, varied enough to just about prevent it getting dull and exciting enough to just about give you enough bang for your buck. It looks good and handles well. You will need a lot of tactics, which is refreshing for a twin-stick shooter, and the whole experience is very scary, both in a ‘Boo!’ kind of way and a ‘I’m going to die if I can’t get away from this mob of aliens’ kind of way. If you took away the atmosphere, you would be left with a very basic set of game mechanics (shoot, run, press buttons, shoot, run, press buttons, heal), but this is not such a bad thing if you want a dangerous, fear-inducing ride through hell.
The new and improved isometric run ‘n’ gun survival horror gets a good 8 out of 10.
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