Developer: Team 17
Publisher: Team 17
Release Date: 11/14/12
Team 17 has kind of an odd track record; while these days they’re basically known for producing hundreds of games in the Worms franchise (and depending on how bitter you are, Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust), they started off as a smaller European Amiga developer with the Alien Breed series. While the resurrection of the franchise on various download services may have been confusing to US gamers, European gamers loved the original Alien Breed games when they game out back in the early nineties, so much so that it’s almost surprising the US wasn’t really exposed to them earlier. With modern consoles offering so many options for retro gaming and digital distribution, however, it stands to reason that Team 17 would want to try and bring the game back, as it did well for them back when it first launched, and a sizable amount of players have likely never seen it. After a trilogy of updated releases, Team 17 have finally opted to bring the original Alien Breed to the online marketplace, as a single release stuffed with updates and expansions, to make the game more robust and friendly to modern gamers. Unfortunately, however, Alien Breed doesn’t hold up particularly well as an experience, partially due to archaic design choices in general, and partially due to updates that end up making the game less enjoyable as a result.
All of the games included here have the same basic plot, which is about as minimal as one would expect: you play as LPC Agent Stone (or, in co-op, Johnson), who is on a mission to obliterate aliens who have infested various research stations. The plot is generally very bare-bones, mostly coming down to “go do this and shoot aliens to survive”, though there are five different modes through which to do so with theoretically different stages in each. Further, the game also offers co-op play, both locally and online, allowing two players to take it to the alien hordes in combat, as well as the option to swap between the Enhanced version of the game and the Classic version, which changes the visuals, audio, controls and gameplay to varying degrees. As such, while the plot is basically extremely limited and unimportant, the game offers you a decent amount of options to work with, alone or with a friend, so it manages to make itself interesting through content over narrative.
Visually, Alien Breed looks acceptable; it’s certainly not pushing the visual limitations of the PS3 or the Vita with its visuals, but it looks adequate for the most part. The updated visuals are generally clean and give you a good idea of what’s going on, and the different stages make some effort to look different from one another depending on the package you’re playing. The boss monsters also look interesting, though the grunt enemies don’t showcase much variance from one level or game to the next. The game also washes out the visuals heavily when a level goes into ALERT status, turning everything various shades of red, which can make it difficult to see what you’re doing or what’s in your way at times. Aurally, the game has limited musical score, and what’s here is very basic; it’s fine as a soundtrack to accompany the game, but there’s nothing especially memorable about it overall. The sound effects are also acceptable, if unspectacular, and generally sound fine enough, both in the updated and classic format. There’s a voice that pops up to announce when you really need something, be it health, keys or what have you, which sounds good as a computerized announced, but otherwise there’s no voice work here to speak of.
Alien Breed is a simple enough game to play, whether you’re playing in Enhanced or Classic mode. In both modes, the left stick and pad can be used to move your character around, with Enhanced mode offering full three hundred and sixty degree movement, while Classic limits it to the eight common directions. In both modes, the right trigger and X buttons allow you to fire your gun in the direction you’re presently facing (with the other three face buttons handling weapon swapping), but Enhanced mode allows you to also use the right stick to fire in whatever direction you want, ALA most Smash TV clones these days. You start off with a machine gun and a little bit of ammo, but various power-ups you can find allow you to improve your fortunes. Cash can be saved to buy more power-ups and better weapons, like flamethrowers and plasma guns, ammo packs add to your stored ammo, keys unlock locked doors around the floors, health packs heal the damage you take, and extra lives give you one more chance to respawn and try again if you die. You can also purchase most of these power-ups from the shop, which can be accessed via the pause screen at any time, so if you desperately need a key or extra life, you can buy one immediately and go on with your day. There’s nothing overly complex about the mechanics, honestly, and you should be able to work with them even if you’ve somehow never played a game of this sort in your life.
The game follows the same basic pattern at all times: you start at a specific objective point on the map and have to complete some sort of mission, be it destroying a computer, setting a bomb, navigating to another elevator, or what have you, before you can move on. Many floors require you to start an explosion of some type and escape as a timer counts down, and failing to do so is instant game over, but beyond that there’s nothing overly involved about what’s expected of you. Occasionally you’ll have to face down against boss monsters, but otherwise you’re facing various respawning aliens through the different stages, either off-screen or from holes in the ground you’ll need to be mindful of lest you walk over them and damage yourself. This is basically the same thing across each of the five different campaigns, with level designs and such being the primary difference from one to the next over anything mechanical, so you don’t have to expect any sudden changes.
The game isn’t terribly lengthy; you can basically blow through one of the two main campaigns (“Alien Breed” and “Special Edition”) in a couple hours, and the remaining three expanded campaigns (“Convergence”, “Valiance” and “Synergy”) in about an hour or so each. The game offers the Classic and Enhanced modes to play with, of course, so you can have fun in the retro and updated designs if you’re into what the game does. Further, you can play the game online and off with another player if you have friends you’d like to play with, and since the game offers full cross-play support between the PS3 and PS Vita you can easily keep your data going across both. The game functions more or less identically across both platforms, aside from some minor touch screen control options on the Vita, so there aren’t any obvious issues playing one over the other either. There are also various Trophies to unlock as you play for those who are interested in this thing.
Having said all that, well, as you might have guessed, Alien Breed is a short, simplistic, repetitive experience from jump, so that’s going to be a problem to start with. Locations change aesthetically, but there’s basically no change or distinction from one stage to the next; collect stuff, shoot aliens, repeat as needed. This would be fine if the core experience were one that held up especially well, but it’s not really a game that’s stood the test of time, pre- or post-update. In a general sense, the game can be tense with the timers and such, but for the most part feels like a more involved Alien Syndrome, but its additions are, frankly, frustrating and silly. The game doesn’t do anything interesting with its key collection concepts, it just locks a couple hidden items behind as many as six doors at times just to do it, and the experience feels like an endless maze of key hunting and item collecting. Further, the Enhanced mechanics are actually less entertaining than the Classic mechanics. The dual-stick shooter elements remove some of the potential challenge from the original release (even if you needn’t use them) and feel touchy, and even trying to use the Classic controls you can still aim awkwardly in Enhanced mode, making Classic generally more accurate, if less visually interesting. Also, the spawning holes that exist often spawn enemies right on top of or next to you, leaving you to take a hit or incessantly time movements around spawn points. It’s not that the game is particularly difficult because of this or anything, since it’s certainly not, it’s just an annoying design element the game could’ve done without. The always available shop also removes most of the challenge from the game, since health packs are cheap as dirt and keys and ammo aren’t terribly pricey either, so you’re rarely challenged or anything. Oh, and it’s also annoying that, when playing in co-op, both of you are stuck on the same screen, as it makes the game more annoying than it should be; ToeJam and Earl was able to work around that back in the nineties for crying out loud.
Alien Breed is basically unexciting in the end; you can certainly play it and if you’re desperate for something that does what it does it’s okay, but there are so many dual stick shooters on the market at this point it’s hard to see what the point is, since everything about it is archaic and bland. The single high point is that the game is functionally acceptable and it’s playable enough that you can mindlessly have fun shooting aliens and buying new guns as you see fit, with the adequate visuals and audio taking a close second overall. However, there’s basically no plot, the five different mission packs are basically all the same from one level to the next, the game is very short, and it’s basically all about navigating the same maze, shooting the same enemies, and collecting the same collectibles for hours until you tire of it or do everything. The game lacks any real tension, as the Enhanced Mode makes it into a standard dual stick shooter, and not an especially well designed one at that, and many of the design elements are archaic in a way that’s annoying less than charming, both alone and with a friend. The elements that have been added either aren’t added especially well or remove what challenge the original game likely had, as well, making the game even more mindless. If you’re a huge fan of the series or you’re severely hard up for a retro overhead shooter, Alien Breed might be fun enough to buy, but overall it’s not an especially interesting release, and genre fans will likely find it to be unable to satisfy their interests.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Alien Breed is a classic game for its time, but its port to the PSN ends up being a basic dual-stick shooter that’s too archaic, too limited and too simple to be entertaining for any long period of time. The mechanics are fundamentally easy to understand and work with, and the game generally looks and sounds adequate on the PS3 and PS Vita all in all. However, there’s almost no plot to speak of, the five different campaigns are functionally identical across the board, the game is rather short overall, and the experience is a repetitive blast through the same mazes against the same enemies as you collect the same pickups from start to finish. There’s no real tension or challenge here, between the Enhanced Mode addition of dual-stick shooting (which works, but takes getting used to) and the shop offering easy access to instant power-ups and health, and the game is designed in an archaic fashion that’s more annoying than anything else, either alone or with a friend. If you loved the original Amiga games you might find some redeeming value here, but Alien Breed on PSN isn’t a good first introduction to the series, as it’s really a product of its time that simply doesn’t hold up in general, let alone in this incarnation.