Way back in the midst of time, deep in the shadows of the 16 bit home computer era, there was a series of top down shooters called Alien Breed. Developed by Team 17, they were considered to be rather good, and so after many years lost in space, Team 17 decided to give them a shiny make over and bring the franchise into the 21st century.
At the time of the original games, the influence of the Alien films was clear, and this still holds true today. You play as Conrad, the chief engineer of a large spaceship, who finds his craft emerging from hyperspace into a collision with an unidentified vessel. The pattern for the games is set early on in Alien Breed: Evolution, the first game in the trilogy, as you run from place to place, resetting switches, starting machinery and quickly annihilating xenomorphs. One thing is obvious; the modern aliens draw from wider influences, with the main species reminding me more of Half Life 2‘s antlions than anything gigeresque.
The game is powered by the unreal engine, and looks shiny. The graphics are uniformly excellent, with great visual effects, especially in showing the workings of the slowly disintegrating spaceship. The animation of Conrad is reminiscent of Gears of War, despite the isometric perspective, and is as polished as you would expect from an unreal game. One issue is the camera, which you can control with the left and right bumpers. Each press moves it round 45 degrees, but it would be nice to have more automation, as it can be disorientating to come out of a cutscene with the camera at an odd angle, and turning corners during combat can be a pain as well. Graphically, both the aliens and Conrad look good, although particle effects of fires or explosions are less realistic.
In terms of gameplay, not a lot has changed in the last twenty years. This is still basic run and gun shooter fare, with missions consisting of flip this switch, collect this item, occasionally livened up by a timed survival set up or an escort mission. There is not a huge variety in the type of aliens either, with the same ones turning up time and time again. That said, new species do appear, such as those that spit balls of acid at you, or fast scuttlers that are much harder to shoot.
The lack of variety is not always noticeable though, when the pace is so frantic, and this is helped by excellent audio, whether it is the groaning of stressed metal, explosions, or the chittering of out of sight aliens, it all helps to build a tense atmosphere. The story is progressed by comic book style panels at the start of every chapter, of which there are 5 in each of the games. Each chapter took me roughly an hour to complete, so you are looking at 15 hours or so gameplay on the single player campaigns. The weapons too are well realised, with sci fi standards such as the assault rifle and shot gun sounding great and also being clearly differentiated, each useful in different situations. One grumble with the game is that items such as grenades and health packs do take time to use, and the progress bar is interruptedevery time you take a hit, which makes the grenades pretty useless at times.
This is where one issue does raise its head. Rather than 3 standalone games, the three titles can be seen as episodic content, each one following on from the last. The gameplay does not change fundamentally at all, and neither do the enemies, so it can start to feel a bit samey. Boss battles liven things up a bit, which are great set pieces, but very old school.
Alien Breed Assault, the 2nd title, does introduce some new features, such as the ability to purchase upgrades for weapons, armour and items. This adds a much needed element of personalisation to proceedings, and the upgrades make a real difference to the weapons. These are paid for using credits you pick up around the ship, which also gives a point to exploring the gorgeous environments fully.
Assault and Descent also come with a survival mode, which adds some replayability, although it is pretty basic. It consists of 3 game modes, all a variation on the now familiar horde mode, which challenges you to stay alive for as long as possible against vast numbers of enemies within an arena. This also gives you the change to check out the better weapons before you unlock them in campaign. Finally, there is also a co-op campaign, which I have been unable to try, but this gives you an interlinked story to the main campaign in all 3 games.
All 3 individual games are also available on xbox live arcade, but if you are a fan of the series this is a nice neat package. I was disappointed that there were no extras, developer commentaries, artwork etc. on the disc, as it does feel like a lazy way of shoving this out to retail.
Alien Breed trilogy is an HD tribute to the run and gun shooters of yesteryear. It is simplistic by today’s standards, and anyone seeking a fix before Gears of War 3 need not apply. But if you are looking to relive your youth, or just kick back and shoot aliens without too much thought, it provides an atmospheric and well executed reminder of why gaming in the 80s was so great.
MLG Rating: 7/10
Platform: Xbox 360 Release Date: 25/03/2011
Editors note: We are currently running a competition for Alien Breed Trilogy. Head over here to check it out.
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Alien Breed Trilogy for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.