Alien Breed 2: Assault review
The Leopold spaceship crashes into a massive vessel. Now it's up to the ship's engineer to fight his way through an alien menace and get the ghost ship's engines running before it crashes into the planet below. Where have I heard this story before?
Alien Breed has nearly 20 years of history in Europe, but US gamers know the genre all too well through top-down shooters such as Gauntlet, Smash TV, and the more recent release of Alien Swarm. Everything about Alien Breed 2: Assault is overshadowed by a cloud of deja vu; the generic name, the old-school gameplay, and most certainly the story. Take out Assault's high-end graphics and you might swear that you're back in 1991, for better and worse.
I love old-school shooters, partially because I can pop in, blow up some bad guys, and maybe take down a boss in less time than most games spend on cutscenes. Assault tries to expand the established formula and ends up playing with fire. Each stage is a gauntlet of infested corridors to begin with, and artificially extended by a plot that finds joy in forcing you to backtrack through entire sections just to flip a computer switch. I rarely felt like I was making progress, so much as following waypoints on the radar.
When the aliens arrive, it's almost always as a full-on swarm. These moments, when you stop thinking about reconnecting power supplies to raise elevators and open doors, are when Assault succeeds. The insectoid creatures come from all sides, bursting through walls and skittering across the floors, making it all too easy to waste precious bullets in panicked bursts.
There are numerous types of aliens and each has a unique attack, but the results are generally too subtle or too ineffective to notice. The tactic is always the same in the end; shoot and shoot some more. Since enemies show up as red blips on your radar, it's easy to kill many before they have a chance to hit the edge of the screen. Shooting early is especially important with Assault's assisted targeting. It refuses to work on occasion, even when the enemy is happily munching on your face.
Item management is one of the high points of Alien Breed 2. Cash looted from lockers and forgotten corpses can be spent on ammunition, health supplies, and upgrades. You might add an extra boost of power to your assault rifle, a larger magazine to your shot cannon, or take the defensive route and increase the effectiveness of health packs. Money can be tight though, so there are some very difficult choices to make.
The core game is the same on both the PC and Xbox 360, but differences in movement and camera-controls have distinctive pros and cons. On Xbox 360, the camera can only be shifted one jerky 45-degree angle at a time. This, combined with the analog stick for aiming, makes the problems with assisted targeting more prevalent. On the flipside, the PC uses the mouse for aiming and camera controls. This makes it easier to target enemies with precision, and just as easy to send the camera into a dizzying whirlwind.
Developer Team 17 makes great use of Unreal 3's visual capabilities, but a facelift can't change what's inside. Alien Breed 2: Assault stays very close to the roots of the genre, which gives it a touch of old-school charm, but it feels archaic next to newer offerings like Alien Swarm and Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light.
[Reviewed on PC and Xbox 360]