When we last encountered Conrad at the end of Alien Breed 2: Assault, it’s fair to say that things weren’t looking too good. His spaceship, the Leopold, had crashed into an alien space station and its AI, MIA, had gone rogue after being infected by the Kurtz-esque spectre of Klein, a literal ghost in the machine. To top it all off, there’s an incessant swarm of alien life forms looking to prise the spacesuit from Conrad in a none too friendly manner. Thus begins Alien Breed 3: Descent, the last (?) instalment in the series from Team 17.
Descent literally starts where the previous title left off, meaning fans of the past two games (Evolution & Assault) will feel right at home. What differentiates Descent from the others is its heightened sense of urgency. Gone are the scares and subtleties that the cramped surroundings brought with them, replaced with a need to either get out or to literally go down with the ship. In a lot of ways this shift, while welcome, exposes a few flaws in the game.
The incessant trudge around areas releasing valves, finding keypads to open doors, etc was starting to become slightly tedious in Assault, but in Descent it’s borderline obscene and feels like padding. In the grand scheme of things it makes thematic sense to create a sense of continuation within the storyline, depicting the fight Conrad is engaged in against Klein and the assorted aliens that swarm the corridors of the Leopold, but from a gameplay perspective it doesn’t work when the scares are cut off, leaving a very tired mechanic which could see players switching off long before the ending.
Ultimately this would be a shame because when Alien Breed 3: Descent changes its dynamic, it can be exhilarating. The space walk section, which reduces the action into a tight, zoomed in perspective (away from the top down, isometric look which Alien Breed typically uses), leads the game to take on a whole new dimension (no pun intended). The action feels superb as you get a feel for the size of the aliens in comparison to Conrad, while he searches for a nearby oxygen panel and attempts to negotiate wave after wave of beasties. You really do feel more engaged with him and his surroundings, and you’ll pine for more once it’s over.
As the game reaches its denouement, we find Klein’s disembodied voice echoing through the Leopold, taunting Conrad and, in turn, the player in an almost intimate manner. It helps to recapture that sense of tension which is missing elsewhere and something that has certainly been a high point of the series.
The final act has to be firmly tongue in cheek, with an unsubtle nod towards the second Alien film, replete with a boss battle that veers into copyright infringement territory. While it feels like a natural stopping point for the series, you can’t help but feel a little bit disappointed that more wasn’t made of such a well realised world, with some ingenious industrial design and real attention to detail in regards to sound design.
The Alien Breed games have cult classic writ large all the way through, but there’s no denying they won’t appeal to everyone. You get the sense that maybe the developers knew that too, as they attempted to do something which feels like a labour of love to either educate an audience who may be unaware of the original from the days of the Amiga, or just to give those who had forgotten it a chance to reacquaint themselves via something which pays homage to a true British classic, but with with a modern take. It’s been great to journey with Conrad during the course of the trilogy, one which is to be saluted and celebrated.