Twin-Stick Bug Exterminator

While Housemarque have been renowned for their excellent work on Resogun and Super Stardust, one of their other titles, Dead Nation, was one that fell between the cracks for a lot of gamers. The games are somewhat different in style, of course, yet they continue to adopt the tried-and-true twin-stick shooter mechanic that the developers are so renowned for. Alienation, the team’s latest title, is quite reminiscent of Dead Nation first and foremost, but that’s not a bad thing. If anything, even just a small snippet Alienation had me glued to the screen, intrigued by a world occupied with aliens and the task of exterminating them all.

Assuming the role of either one of three classes, the Bio Specialist, the Exo Skeleton, or the Saboteur, Alienation drops you deep into a world completely overrun by aliens. In the demo I played, I was tasked with finding three units scattered throughout the map, all the while fighting and dashing my way through the alien horde.

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I elected to go for the Saboteur and straight from the outset it was evident that Alienation’s not a game that encourages dodging and dashing whenever an enemy encounter occurs. Depending on your class, you’re given some sort of dash ability, but it runs on a meter that can quickly exhaust if you aren’t tactical in the way you use it, which in turn can lead to a barrage of attacks from enemies. This changes up the formula from what I’d come to expect with previous Housemarque titles — in Resogun you’re given the ability to dash away from (and through) enemies to get away from a major swarm, and in Dead Nation you could always rely on the dodge button to get out of sticky situations — as Alienation’s movement feels almost limited in fluidity. It’s not what I expected from a game that seemingly requires a lot of quick movement and fast reactions, but it’s actually a welcome change to the rather static formula.

Perhaps one of the most striking parts of Alienation is how brilliantly detailed the world is. The stream of colorful lights and glowing neon gave a sense of wonder and prosperity to a world that’s occupied by hostile lifeforms, and that was really one of the most appealing aspects about my time spent with the game. The blue tint that Alienation uses, similar to Resogun’s green-ish tint, compliments the sci-fi theme and the subject matter really well, and combined with the Starship Troopers-esque enemies that plagued the world I investigated made for an exciting and extremely satisfying experience.

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While comparisons will inevitably be made between Dead Nation and Alienation, the latter ultimately feels like an evolution of the former. The two share many similar qualities, especially the fact that they’re both objective-based, they both rely on upgrading your character, and they are both twin-stick top-down shooters, but from there Alienation extends out to an incredibly deep and rewarding twin-stick shooter that’s ripe with customisation opportunities and exceptionally detailed worlds.

The developers also noted that Alienation is built with multiplayer in mind, and while I only ventured into the single-player component of the game and couldn’t test out multiplayer, it became apparent that the game would probably function better as a dynamic co-op title rather than just a single-player game. The enemies are more difficult this time around, and I constantly found myself being caught out by their attacks and the world around me. Alienation is definitely harder than other Housemarque games I’ve played, but that’s not a bad thing at all – if anything, I’d be very interested to see how the game plays out with two or three people co-operating in unison.

Throughout Alienation you’ll also earn various amounts of XP depending on what you complete. This ranges from the core basics of killing enemies to finding upgrade chests and other loot scattered around the world — almost everything you do in the game rewards you with some amount of XP. You can use this XP to upgrade your character’s passive abilities, which focuses on rush damage and physical knock backs, or you could choose to use the XP points to upgrade other weapon-based attacks like your damage multipliers or multi-attacks.

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Following on from that, you’re also given the ability to change out your character’s weapons and loadout prior to jumping into a mission. This ranges from the selection of a primary weapon, like the Revolver or the powerful Xenorifle, to picking a heavy weapon, of which only the Minigun was available in the demo. I found that it’s important to experiment with each of the weapons to get a good feel for them, as they all have distinctive attributes that help take out enemies in different ways. The Minigun, for example, was the obvious and most adequate choice when it came to mowing down hordes of the weaker aliens, whereas the Xenorifle was more beneficial against the bigger aliens as it allowed me to focus on precision shots and timing my dashes so I didn’t lose any health unnecessarily.

While Alienation is still a ways away, my time with the game was really positive. The game improves and evolves upon Dead Nation, with the brilliantly detailed world and excellent upgrade and XP system certainly looking like an enticing way of bringing players back for more and more. Alienation also quite clearly has a Helldivers aesthetic to it, but it ultimately feels much more in-tune with the experiences Housemarque have been known for: quick, intense twin-stick shooting action, and that’s exactly how it should be.

This hands-on preview was conducted at PlayStation’s booth at the 2015 EB Games Expo.