It must be a nightmare when it comes to delivering episodic content. While genres such as adventure games seem to manage it with ease (ably demonstrated by Sam & Max and Monkey Island) what do you do if your title is more action orientated? Team 17’s Alien Breed reboot from last year was always intended to be delivered in bite sized chunks but, with the release of the latest instalment (subtitled Assault), has it managed to keep pace with its ambition?
Picking up immediately after the events of the first title, Assault finds the games hero, Conrad, still attempting to dislodge his spaceship Leopold from the Alien Space Station that it crashed into during the first game, disgorging its vicious alien cargo in the process. The ship’s android, MIA, is still there to play foil to Conrad and assorted crew members pop up from time to time via the comic book style intermissions to flesh out the story. This has actually expanded in some really interesting ways, adding meat to the bones of the story arc.
Fans of the first game will immediately notice everything appears much more streamlined and honed, while the graphics also seem crisper, with a certain richness and attention to detail. Never before has an engine room looked so good and it’s the little things like this which help with the immersion; pistons motion up and down, while pots are dislodged from the cookers within living quarters, their gas rings remaining lit as they clatter away. It’s these extra touches that really draw the player in and allow them to invest in the world Team 17 have created. Even the way that you navigate around the different areas feels tighter and more focused, as interaction with parts of the structure (such as doors) has been tightened up.
A new upgrade system has been added to the Intrex save points, allowing you to improve weapon handling and reloading. This also extends to grenades and health packs and it really feels like a step in the right direction. The ability to buy ammo and upgrades with credits found along the way really has changed the dynamic of combat. While the first Alien Breed would encourage you to conserve ammo at every opportunity, now the player can stack-up some serious ordinance for their encounters with the aliens.
The main gist of the game was always centred around negotiating areas, solving environmental puzzles and decorating the walls with Xenomorph innards, as Conrad attempts to survive their relentless attacks – and now there are two new additions to contend with. The Screamer comes complete with a blood-curdling howl that brings to mind John Carpenter’s The Thing (the stuff of nightmares for whole generations of film watchers), while the Boney Shield uses two large claws to protect itself from attacks. Thankfully these can be taken down easily if caught relatively quickly.
With the last episode the Alien Breed reboot created the sense that, although the ship was crumbling around him, Conrad was not a man to be rushed and that he would get the job done. This hasn’t changed in Assault, but now it feels like it’s at odds with the improvements elsewhere, almost as if Conrad has been somewhat left behind. Of course he’s an engineer not a soldier, but it can be hard to shake the feeling that a bit more diversity in his actions would have improved the game no end. It’s especially frustrating because Conrad is such a likeable character due to his unlikely hero status, and to see a bit more from him would have helped flesh out his character no end. To his detriment he now he feels a bit aimless, like a man following his wife around Sainsbury’s on a Saturday afternoon.
This episode also ends abruptly, leaving the player hanging with a teaser trailer that advertises the next episode as “coming soon” and doing little to placate those who were hoping for a bit more. The trailer does hint at a more dynamic pace to the next instalment, but it would’ve been nice to have seen more of that contained within Assault, to help mix things up a bit.
In addition to the online / local multiplayer Co-op Assault mode, this release also features a survivor mode, where wave after wave of various aliens attempt to wear down the players health meter. It proves to be a surprisingly addictive addition, increasing the games longevity as the player looks to climb the leaderboards with more impressive times each session.
Above all, the overriding feeling from Alien Breed 2: Assault is one of frustration. Here’s a game that has had some very obvious care and attention lavished upon it but, while the new additions are welcome, it still manages to feel as if it’s taken a step back slightly and that Conrad should have been let off the leash a little bit more. The new additions and refinements it provides are most welcome, but whether it’s enough to hold people`s interest for the next title, is up for debate.