Housemarque are responsible for the many late nights I stayed up playing Super Stardust HD. The frenetic yet precise combat and stunning visuals brought an electrifying experience to the PS3 that was second to none for the platform. Alienation is the new twin-stick shoot n’ loot from the Swedish studio and though it feels devoid of any sort of any memorable style, it makes up for it in tenfold with slick combat and a healthy amount of alien butt to kick.
The story of Alienation is one told a thousand times before; an alien threat brought humanity to its knees. The only thing standing between salvation and destruction are human soldiers wearing battle-suits that grant them special abilities. There’s plenty of substance in the level descriptions but the game lacks any kind of unique style. Characters spout quips and exposition that fall flat during missions as most of the time you’re too busy staying alive to care about a ginned up war with aliens in the first place.
When creating a new character you’re presented with three different classes; saboteur, tank and bio-specialist. The saboteur is your glass-cannon, the bio-specialist is your support and the tank is as named. Each class plays relatively the same, leaving only your preference for how much damage you feel like taking the biggest deciding factor. The problem Alienation has with each class is teaching you how to play them. The tutorial leaves a lot to be desired by showing you how to vault over objects, shoot, throw grenades and dash. It then throws you in the deep end without teaching you the basics of how to use each class for higher level of play.
For example, my trick for the saboteur I played was using their agility to zip in and out of danger to deal massive amounts of damage given the class abilities favoured close quarters combat. Coupling these skills with a shotgun and flamethrower or rocket launcher meant little got in my way, but these revelations came after a lot of frustration getting to grips with the way the class plays. It would have gone a long way to have the tutorial for each class be a little more polished with pointers to avoid such problems.
I felt this was compounded with how lacking Alienation’s mission structure was. Throughout the 20 missions your main objective is destroying alien resources or specific creatures. There’s little variation on how each mission goes, and while the combat and loot drops are sufficient distractions, the objectives were simply reasons for the developers to create large locations and have players revisit them to play new missions or repeat them once they’ve entered the New Game+ equivalent. Upon reaching endgame you’re granted access to randomized dungeons and challenges for better gear and crafting resources. For what it is, Alienation’s endgame serves those wanting more action and loot but lacks a varied experience to maintain the attention of anyone less than enthralled.
The gear aspects of Alienation is about as standard as it gets. Primary weapons are exclusive to each class, however there is a range of ancillary weapons and equipment to toy around with. Weapons have randomized stats and abilities that can be upgraded or re-rolled with the crafting system though there’s a real lack of flexibility for players looking to maximize each character they play. Weapons, upgrades and materials don’t carry across characters, forcing you to slog through the progression on each one hoping for better drops. Obviously this stops you from boosting characters with the best loot you can find, but that’s something games in a similar vein like Diablo or Borderlands have fixed by allowing that. Making players hit a grind to what is essentially endgame progression from the beginning is a daunting task for players used to these systems.
Playing the pre-release I tested out some of the online co-op and it seemed mostly fine. I was never disconnected from games I had joined but a lot of players joining me were disconnected quite a few times. Whether or not this was my internet connection (which is solid) or not is anyone’s guess, but the game handles lag well enough for it to not be a major problem.
You can also be invaded by other players and that in itself wasn’t very fun. I was invaded by players that completely out-levelled me, so to be killed in one hit and cancelling out my progress thus wasting my time was well… a waste of my time. You can turn them off but for a feature that exists in the game, something like balancing or a level window should have been considered for the folks who might want that stuff.
It’s noteworthy to mention the game currently lacks local co-op. It’s understandable that with the precision and speed of this game such a feature would impact on gameplay. The only problem this has is convincing friends to spend the €19.99 to come play without being able to showcase why playing together makes the game a lot more enjoyable. Housemarque have stated they intend on adding local play as a feature down the line, so if that’s what you want from Alienation you’re best served holding off until then.