Alien Breed PS Vita Review
Alien Breed is a series of games that started on the Amiga in 1991, and now, over twenty years later, the original classic has been remastered and updated with a few new extras. It’s the year 2191 and specialist I.P.C agents Stone and Johnson are sent on a series of missions to derelict space stations, to learn what they can about the experiments that were taking place. They must kill the monstrosities that have been created, thus containing the outbreak and not letting it spread throughout the now colonised galaxies. The story is like an 80s sci-fi action flick but does the job of explaining the player’s motivation simply and quickly. Clearly taking a lot of inspiration from the popular Alien franchise, Alien Breed is an arcade-like, top-down, 2D run-and-gun game consisting of the original six levels, twelve stages from the expanded 1992 version, and twelve completely new stages for a total of thirty levels.
Alien Breed lets the player switch from the new enhanced version, which includes updated graphics, audio and analogue shooting controls for a much better experience, to the original, where fans of the classic can jump back in time to how they used to play. The best feature that has been added to the enhanced version is an objective compass, which directs you where you need to head instead of you just running around aimlessly. The new audio sounds great and much better suits the sci-fi theme, whereas the graphics are simple improvements that just smooth out the originally pixelated sprites. Analogue shooting allows you to run forward and shoot back, making it easier to escape and smoothing out the flow gameplay; as the classic mode requires you to turn around, shoot in the direction you’re facing and then continue running, which can often lead to being hit or even killed. The new version also allows cross-play between the PS3 and PS Vita and the incredibly simple cloud saving and loading makes it easy to pick up where you left off, even if it was on a different system. It also brings back the single-screen co-operative gameplay that the classic Alien Breed is often praised for.
The controls are incredibly basic, only allowing the player to move and shoot. Instead of taking on waves of enemies or facing increasingly stronger enemies, the game is more about finding your way through maze-like stages. Each level generally has one of three objectives: reach the exit; head to a room with a boss, defeat it and then rush to the exit; or make your way to a specified area and then back to the exit. There are some instances – usually in the newer stages – where this isn’t quite the case, but more often than not you’ll be tackling one of these repetitive tasks. Starting out with a simple machine gun, you’ll be facing just three enemy types: small worm-like creatures, main alien enemies that bear a striking resemblance to Venom, and bosses that all look slightly different but are basically giant bugs. You can’t upgrade weapons, but you can purchase a good variation of new ones (all equal in price) from a shop that players will quickly recognise as the core game mechanic. It is from the shop that the player can purchase everything they need, such as extra lives, ammo, new weapons, and, most importantly, door keys and the electronic map.
Most doors require a key, which can be found scattered around the levels but will more than likely need to be purchased, as you can run out of them incredibly fast – especially if you don’t know where you’re going. The map is mandatory unless you want to scream at the game when you keep hitting dead-ends and using all of your door keys for nothing. The map shows the whole level’s layout, which allows you to plot a path of where you need to head instead of just attempting to follow the objective compass arrow. The reason I didn’t have fun ‘exploring’ is because there’s really no reason to explore. Every level looks the same and the only items you’ll find are money, keys, ammo or extra lives, so there’s simply no reason to go off track. Also, exploration is nice when you know how to get around, but constantly running into dead-ends and one-way doors, then having to make your way all the way back for nothing, is simply infuriating. On the other hand, when you do have the map and the only thing stopping you is one-way doors (they aren’t marked), the game is way too easy because you can simply follow the shortest route and there’s nothing to stop you – least of all, the enemies.
The enemies do very little to get in your way, as they are incredibly weak, and with the right weapon, you can take out a full room of them with a single shot – not that it’s common to find more than two in a room together anyway. Even the basic machine gun only takes several bullets to kill, so there’s simply no tension or reason to slow down, instantly killing the idea of this game being in any way survival horror. You can just run through a stage with your course in mind from a single glance at the map and nothing can stop you from clearing a stage in under a minute. I distinctly remember one level that had no enemies or doors at all and was literally a maze. Without the map, it would have driven me insane; with the map, it was pointless to even exist.
The bosses (if they can be called that) are just boring – there’s nothing to stop you from standing at the bottom of the boss room and firing up at them. They have no ranged attacks and move about slowly within a certain area, allowing you to just blast away until they explode. That’s usually when the screen goes red and a timer starts, meaning you have to run for the exit or die. Usually the path you took to get there is blocked, forcing you to find another way back. But running through a maze on a timer is not my idea of fun. A game is either a maze or timed – you can’t do both. It’s simply unreasonable to have players rush to the exit whilst bombarding them with dead-ends and traps, especially when there’s barely enough time to reach the exit even with the map. It forces them to start the whole stage again instead of just repeating the countdown sequence.
Besides the one-way doors, there’s also a number of other traps that will either halt progression and force you to find a different route, or will outright kill you instantly. These traps include holes in the floor that open and close, electric fields, and mechanical crushers that are sometimes necessary to navigate. I often died from falling into holes, as they blend in with the background perfectly. To make it even more confusing, there are plenty of other holes that you can walk over – the same holes that enemies spawn from. More often than not, it’s right as you’re walking over them that some major damage is dealt. These commonly indistinguishable, insta-kill traps almost render the health you have pointless by taking off a full life at a time, which aren’t cheap or frequently found.
In its prime, Alien Breed was a classic, receiving critical acclaim and high review scores. But playing it now, it’s easy to see that the game – the whole experience – has not aged well. The story and setting are generic, exploration is not rewarding but actually punishing, and as the levels are designed like mazes, they are either aggravating to navigate or are too short when the map is used. Even the enemies are uninteresting to fight and are too weak to control the player at all. The updated features and new additions are great for fans of the original, but the gameplay is simply not up to standard with other available PSN titles. It’s a shame that such smooth controls, great audio and classic visuals were wasted on a game that is just so outdated.