“He exits pursued by a bear” is probably the strangest yet most delightful stage direction ever given to an actor in a piece of theatre. It is even more delightful when you compare it to all of the mediocre exits one might be more akin to when witnessing a piece of Live Action. The true art then to all this manipulation of the willing souls that grace the stage is to make that which is planned look like it is all happening ad hoc. Directing the action so that it appears that the bear has his motives too and is not just a hapless work experience kid trying to make his first sweaty steps into dramatics. The best theatre directors and indeed game designers are able to curb the unexpected and deliver it to be natural and ordinary. Even the extraordinary in the best of cases is so well planted within the ideals of the game we wouldn’t even question why the bear is there at all, and just know that we need to peg it, or soil our trousers, or both.
There is not much trouser soiling that goes on in Alien Breed: Impact by Team 17, but it is a game that could certainly give you cause for maybe putting down a towel or two before you play, but not for the reasons you might think.
When something crashes into the space craft Leopold strange things start happening and a space crew that was intended for safety now have their very lives threatened by non-human life forms that are prowling the ship and tunnelling their way through its crippling hull. As the buff and one dimensional Theadore J. Conrad it is your job to investigate and if possible get rid of the threat.
So the stage is set and the lights are up and everything from the outset of this isometric space blaster seems to be putting things all in the right place. Storyboard animations kick off the story with just enough subtext to narration to start questioning that the events are more sinister than a simple mid-space collision. Also there is something about starting up AB:I for the first time that does feel increasingly fresh and interesting, even though it is essentially a reboot of a former game on the Commodore.
The lighting is moody and severe and the impact of the crash on the Leopold has had all the right consequences you would expect with such complicated and sensitive machinery in tow. Explosions kick off all around you, and make you realize not only the necessity for speed but also the fragility of the ship you’re on. None of the equipment works how it should, pathways are blocked by fire or leakages of fuel. Power has shut down in sections and doors are crumpled shut making some of your routes that were once clear a second ago, impassable.
To make getting from A to B a little more difficult of course any game with Alien in the title couldn’t come without a nice gaggle of extra terrestrial life coming to join the party. Burrowing through the very fabric of the ship, areas you thought were empty suddenly collapse only to be filled with large cockroach type creatures and small face-huggeresque creatures. They may not have any unique attributes or really intelligent attacks but any foe attacking on mass is a deadly one and one to be pelted into orbit with anything you have to hand.
Team 17 have really done their homework when it comes to capturing the unique environment that is slowly descending into ruin on a burning space craft brings. They may have only watched Alien a couple of times, but any homework is still homework. Sounds are threatening and ominous and the atmosphere, lighting and design in the game are parts that feel genuine to the situation and make impending doom seem imminent and that the scene could shift on a knife edge, even though any conclusion to the action might still be a few hours away.
Defending yourself in AB:I is also a solid mechanic as there is plenty of opportunities to rifle through dead bodies and lockers to find discarded guns or ammo and the weapons are good at doing their job on the pesky miscreants.
The issue with AB:I is that what it does well, it does a lot, and that is in no way a good thing. Elements that shocked and startled you in the first level begin occurring with such frequency that it becomes impossible to walk into a room and not resist the chance to start guessing which part of the floor will collapse or which new console will explode when you walk towards it. What starts off as a novelty starts to become a pest and feels almost awkward to play against as you are made to feel like you’re cheating for correctly guessing where attacks are coming rather than complaining in some way for lazy design.
Like holding an ice cream that begins to melt and there are no tissues to hand, it is the same with AB:I . You want to enjoy it, but that cone design should of been changed years ago and no one has even noticed or cared! In AB:I not only are all the environments largely the same and the use of them in terms of attacking and exploration recycled over and over. Also the main purpose of the game is so lacklustre and trying that it feels like this butch mechanic holding the laser rifle is doing the chores of the part-time janitor.
It is understandable that on a ship that experienced such a massive collision to expect your path not to be a smooth one as you start making your way to survivors and getting your ship back up and running. However, on this ship, absolutely nothing works at all, and it ALL needs to be put back online before you can even progress one inch. Coolants need to be reconnected, fires put out, gantry’s raised and all of these have to be done using the same click and wait mechanic on every single level. Each stage then becomes complete in its complacency to let you run, shoot, turn that on, run back, shoot, turn something else on. The frustrating thing is that this method of drawing out the game becomes so utterly predictable that you’ll be trying to fix any problems before they are even diagnosed and it is just a shame that Team 17 seemed to have ignored any problems with AB:I all together.
The enemy A.I is somewhat sharp and the combat is good and challenging, but when a niggle becomes so frequent like it does in AB:I it becomes more and more potent . The ultimate testament to how indolent some of the development has been on this title is only more evident when actually traversing onto the alien ship that crashed into you.
The ship’s design is exactly the same as the Leopold but green. The aliens that at first seemed like intelligent beings, smart enough to design, fly and build a working space craft suddenly start acting like blundering fools. From top of the class in attack they are, on their own ship, stupid enough to still employ the same attacking tactics used when infiltrating the Leopold. You would have thought that a creature with such obvious intelligence wouldn’t weaken the already fragile structural integrity of the vessel by crawling under the floor and popping out from underneath you, but they do. Time and time again.
It is such a shame that a game that looks and feels like a space shooter should be so rife with repetition and recurrent design. Every room feels staged and scripted to such an extent that any atmosphere or surprise encountered in the first hour will be worn away scene by scene after each of the five acts play out. There is online co-op available in AB:I and maybe sharing the experience of the title with a mate would halt some of the tiresome mechanics but that would just end up feeling like sharing your melting ice cream with a dog. Still the same mess, but just with another tongue to berate it.
MLG Rating: 5/10
Platform: PlayStation 3 (Xbox 360) Release Date: 01/09/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Alien Breed: Impact for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of five days on a PS3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.