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Aliens: Infestation Review

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On 10/23/2011 at 08:00 PM by Julian Titus

This review is 100% Hudson catch-phrase free.

This is a solid action/exploration game that falls just short of being a true don't-miss title for the DS. If you're a huge fan of Aliens, bump my score up by half a star and you'll probably be pretty happy.

The end of a video game system’s life is always an interesting one. While game developers, publishers, and fans are looking ahead to the new, shiny machine on the block, the older hardware has the benefit of years of development lessons learned. Consider that Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IX, and God of War all came out as their respective systems were waning, and each of those games are considered classics in their own right. Enter Aliens: Infestation, a game developed by WayForward for the aging Nintendo DS system. Is this a game that will go down in history as one of the best additions to the DS library, or is it a case of too little, too late?

Infestation takes place not too long after the Aliens film. You control a squad of marines as they investigate the USS Sulaco, which movie buffs will recognize. In typical Aliens fashion, it turns out that there’s nothing on the Sulaco except a lone survivor, some weapons, and a slew of xenomorphs.

This is a side-scrolling action game with heavy exploration elements, and borrows a lot from the Metroid series. Or, if you want a more modern example, this is very much like the recent XBLA game, Shadow Complex. At first, large sections of the ship will be closed off to you, but as you find your way, new areas will be accessible. Instead of power-ups like high-jump boots or missiles, however, the items you’ll be picking up to aid your mission will be things like grenades (for blowing open doors) and a wrench (for shutting off super-heated steamjets). For the most part, the game is paced pretty well, but things get a little dicey when the story takes you off of the ship. You’ll also go to LV-426 and a Weyland-Yutani facility on Phobos, but the reasons for going back to the ship seem rather contrived. Going to LV-426 in particular seems to be nothing other than fan service, and adds little, if anything, to the game. I would have been much happier if the game took place entirely on the ship, provided that the designers could create enough interesting places to go.

Interesting they are, because Aliens: Infestation is all about atmosphere. WayForward has really captured the look and feel of the Aliens universe here, and they make impressive use of the DS. Even though the Sulaco is ostensibly a ship with a color palette of grey, silver, and, um, gunmetal grey, each area looks unique and interesting. The animation once again proves that this is one of the best studios doing 2D graphics today, with all sorts of little touches that give Aliens that extra bit of oomph. The xenomorphs move with all the predatory power that you’ve come to expect from the movies, and the marines have some impressive idle animations. I want to be sure to point out the reloading animations, which not only look cool but add a level of strategy to fighting, as some of them are very long.

The sound design is part and parcel of the atmosphere, and in that respect, Infestation excels. Even with the small DS speakers (I didn’t have my headphones handy, unfortunately), the game managed to make me jump a couple times. The aliens shriek convincingly, the ambient sound effects don’t disappoint, and the music sets the mood well. In another bit of welcome Aliens fan service, the pulse rifles sound like pulse rifles, and when you finally get your hands on the smart gun you’ll feel every bit the xenomorph killer that you are as you mow them down one by one.

While the graphics, animation, and sound design come together to make this feel like the perfect Aliens game, some odd design choices keep this from becoming a “perfect organism” like the xenomorphs. Since Infestation borrows so heavily from the Metroid school of design, you would think that use of the stylus and bottom screen would be minimal at best. Unfortunately, you’re going to need to have the DS stylus out and at the ready at all times, because you’ll need it to switch between your status screen and map, use your welder on doors, and turn on your flashlight in dark areas, among other things. It’s all very inelegant, and took me right out of the game every time that I had to tap the touch screen.

Also, the ship isn’t seamless, and each time that you switch to a new area, the music resets. Sometimes, as you learn your way around and move between areas quickly, you’ll hear the music reset four or five times in a couple of minutes. Again, this took me out of the game, as it broke up the tension. One other tension breaker stems from the fact that the aliens pop out of the same places, every time. Once you’ve backtracked a few times (which you’ll do a lot), you’ll easily remember when an alien is about to appear. And eventually, it gets to the point where you can pretty much “time” when another alien is going to show up, so even unexplored areas lose some of that fear of the unknown. On top of that, the normal aliens aren’t really much of a challenge, and it’s only the bosses that seem designed to eat up your supply of marines.

I say “supply of marines” because Aliens: Infestation has a pretty unique death mechanic. As stated before, you start with a team of four. When a marine falls in battle, you’ll pick another member from your team, and they will be right where your last soldier died. Lose all four and you’ll have to reload your save. If you survive with even one marine, however, you have a chance. You’ll find other marines around, and they’ll join up with you, provided you have a slot open. But these aren’t faceless marines; even though they have the same basic animation and figure, they all have their own backstory and unique dialogue. I found myself getting attached to certain marines, especially if  they had been in my company for a long time. It helps that they all have that heavy-handed military jargon that walks a fine line between believable and cheesy. Of course, with this type of death mechanic, there does exist the possibility that you could basically run out of lives. Not all the marines are on the Sulaco; some are on the planet and Phobos. By the time I got to the end of the game, only one spare marine was available to me. Also, you’ll have to hunt them down, which can be a bit of a pain in a game that already has far too much backtracking.

Aliens: Infestation does a great job of putting you into the action of the popular film franchise. It’s a shame that certain design decisions will take you right back out of it, but overall, this is a fine action game. The adventure is pretty short, but far too much backtracking across the entire ship stretches the game out in a way that isn’t welcome. Even so, if you’re a gamer looking for something interesting for your DS, this is a worthy addition to your collection. And if you’re an Aliens fan, this is pretty much a no-brainer. There have been better Aliens games (Alien 3 on SNES is a personal favorite), and some of the Castlevania games do the Metroid thing better, but Infestation is worth a look.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



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