The second installment of Alien Breed's episodic revival emerges with a big, big desire to not respect your personal space. Better prepare for some crowd control.
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Digital distribution has opened up a lot of avenues for both developers and the way that digital products can be presented. Being able to simply download games has meant that new content can be available to users virtually as soon as it's made. It's certainly made episodic gaming a possibility and an actuality.
It also made it possible for Alien Breed to return. Just how well does it use the medium though? Alien Breed 2: Assault is presented as a sequel although it seems more like a continuation of the same game. Despite taking place directly after the ending of Impact, none of the upgrades carried over, and the weapons have been given a revision, which involves replacing half the arsenal rather than simply adding to it. The game is still the tried and tested “run around shooting things and collecting objects" game of Impact.
However the game does begin by pitting you against a giant squid lurking in engine coolant, so maybe that isn't such a bad thing.
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Alien Breed 2: Assault changes little about the formula from the first installment, which makes sense if you think of it as the next part of the same game that Impact was. A recurring device is that the camera shifts the view in multiple scenes, to give a greater emphasis on how nice the environment looks or to change the tone of the segment. All the parts where giant aliens are fought use this, and it makes the scenes a lot more tense, probably because you are closer to the action, so you feel more involved. Because these occasions range from isometric views to claustrophobic third person they also open up a bigger range to aim with, because they use a bigger range of depth.
These scenes often bring up the question of "What if this was a third person game?" It would probably do the shooting greater justice, but it would overall change the dynamic of the game. Whether or not it would be for the better would depend on how well it utilized the camera.
Other new things include a survival game mode which encapsulates Alien Breed 2: Assault's love of overwhelming numbers, and will add some replay value for those who love mowing down tides of vicious critters. There are a few new additions to the breed also, including one new recurring swarm monster which looks like a cross between H.R. Giger's Aliens and a panther. It also spits some sort of toxin that slows movement to a crawl. Which seems... strange, since it doesn't pounce at all, like a big catlike creature would.
Then of course there are the new weapons, which replace the overly science fiction weapons of Impact with more understated, future versions of existing weapons, more thematically in line with the others and giving the arsenal a more consistent aesthetic. The hyper blaster (minigun), for example, is supposedly based on Gatling guns of the 20th century and is a pretty obvious and ideal anti-swarm weapon with its ridiculous rate of fire and generous spread. As great as they are, it doesn't explain what happened to the old weapons. Ran out of ammo? Too unreliable? Magnetic polarity of the nearby planet made them unstable? They didn't just disappear. Oh wait, they did.
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Synthetics Welcome - Control & Interface
The controls and interface are both the same as they were in Alien Breed: Impact, although the use of the third person perspectives makes shooting a more varied experience.
As ever, the interface is sleek and unobtrusive, the map is easy to follow, and items are helpfully labeled when close to, meaning they must be sought out, but will be impossible to miss when in collection range. Items, looting, and interface consoles all have set up times for use, which is reasonable, and adds a touch of thematic realism, even if the animation is a bit limited. One thing that is annoying though is that the Intex consoles, where games are saved, take time to log into and if a game is saved, it logs the player out. What if they had more things they wanted to do post saving? They have to log back in again.
Then of course there is the fact that games can only be saved at these points. Arguably it adds tension, but sometimes it's just irritating.
Thanks for nothing, Intex.
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Aural Assault - Sound
Like everything else, the sound in this Alien Breed PC game is the same as it was in Impact- atmospheric and immersive. The only real difference in this Alien Breed PC game is that there is an antagonist who taunts the protagonist during game play. While that is an immersive new element, unfortunately Conrad and Mia still aren't voiced in game.
Everything else sounds authentic as it did previously; the score is the same and the new weapons sound imposingly destructive.
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The Milky Way is Forbidden - Graphics
Alien Breed 2 still uses the Unreal engine, and it still looks great. As great as it looks, some of the character models let the overall aesthetic down; close up, the character model for Conrad (the player character) does not look like how he is depicted in the illustrated story sections. He doesn't even look like the same ethnicity, though I couldn't tell you which ethnicity he is supposed to be. According to the game he is 'Vegan', that is, he is from the planet Vega, and not that non-meat and non-dairy eaters have gone off and formed their own colony. Though it's never explicitly said that they did not...
On the subject of story sections, some of the panels in them are bizarrely overwrought and out of place with the rest of the pages, though that is more to do with the writing than the art perhaps. In all, the illustrated sections look good and the pulp science fiction graphic novel style meshes with the overall theme of and stylistic approach of the game well.
A couple of the larger beasts could have been more detailed as one final gripe, but the game is just as visually impressive as the last installment was. A new addition to the effects available is the delightful disintegration effect, courtesy of the more powerful weapons, in case you didn't find the ceaseless piles of bodies empowering enough and were holding out for atomization. I know I was!
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Ancient Evil - Gameplay
Good old reliable Alien Breed is still pretty much the same game as Impact at its core. Arguably, it's the same game(s) that it was back in the 90s when you strip down all the outer layers. There are times when all the shooting and endless errands and backtracking felt overly simplistic and tortuously repetitive, as if the series really hadn't moved on from 16 bit days. There are other times though, when it's inexplicably compelling and the core concept is as solid as it's has ever been. Thinking back; the middle of the game has the biggest lull, and the beginning and ending chapters have the most concerted and visible effort to mix it up and do something different, as well as nailing the atmosphere and setting so well.
The last two chapters of the game, in fact, are leagues ahead of the first three, partly because of something happening story wise, partly because there's a lot more interconnectivity between the game and the setting, and partly because by that point you'll have enough credits to start upgrading weapons, which alters how they handle, quite dramatically in some cases. Perhaps the main reason the latter section is so much better is its tendency to delve into event and spectacle along with the rising threat level; these sections are both hard fought enough that they have a sense of climactic importance, yet enjoyable enough that it's almost disappointing when they end.
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This Is Not The End - Conclusion
Alien Breed 2: Assault shares the flaws of its predecessor, but it also shares its strengths as well as possessing a few of its own. Its core is that of a type of game which was seemingly extinct, and at times, feels archaically monotonous, and simplistic. But at other times, this very same simplicity is seamless, quick paced, arcade inspired fun. The difference between these examples is level design and atmosphere.
When it gets going, this latest Alien Breed PC game is compelling in ways that defy its obvious shortcomings; the setting really comes alive, and it feels like there are actual stakes. Not to mention that the quality of the game's various elements all take a step up. While the upgrade system still isn't as detailed as it could be, it works in the context of the new weapons, and overall, Assault visibly unlocks some of the potential that Impact showed, even if it's only partially.
While Assault isn't particularly original and is at times intensely frustrating, it has a level of style and panache that make the assault of the title challenging and worthwhile.
Much like Assault, this review will end on a cliffhanger ending; OR WILL IT?!