A great twin stick shooter can be hard to come by in the age of first person shooters, sports games, and the open world RPG, but Housemarque have always embraced the age-old love of score chasing and ranking high up on leaderboards. It’s been their specialty, really, and their newest game, Alienation, is another great example of why they’ve developed such a great reputation as video game developers. It isn’t a big venture away from one of their other titles, Dead Nation, but Alienation’s refinement and new setting make it a far more difficult, more intense, and more fascinating experience than any of their other titles.
Earth has been taken over. It’s the end of humanity as we know it, as an alien life form known as the Xenos have taken hold of a once prosperous planet of life. The UNX, the military division still operating on Earth, are now trying to push the alien life form back and wipe them from our planet for good. It’s up to you, a captain fighting for humanity’s survival, to clean up the mess the Xenos have created.
Alienation, quite evidently from the outset, is not about swaying you with its story. From the six or so hours I played, that’s about all I could get out of the game’s narrative without diving into spoiler territory. It’s a bit Starship Troopers-esque when you get into the meat of it, and that’s not a bad thing at all. Alienation’s quick story set up gives Housemarque a canvas to create another addictive experience driven by gameplay, and that’s exactly what they do.
As you make your way through the game’s 20 main missions, you’ll be globe trotting around the world as a captain of the UNX, visiting various key locations on Earth so scientists and higher-ups can figure out how to repel the Xeno threat. Thinking rationally, if you’re playing by yourself it doesn’t seem all that fair to be thrown into the wild against hundreds upon hundreds of angry aliens, but after you start mowing down the bugs it becomes a little bit more obvious that you’re not your average, everyday soldier. Of course, if you make use of the game’s co-op feature, allowing three other players to join you online, you’ll become part of a squad of Xeno-killing super soldiers.
Before starting the campaign you’re given a choice of three classes: the saboteur, a freakishly quick, agile soldier, the tank (the name is self explanatory, here), and the bio-specialist, a healer of sorts who can also create poison trails that ensnares enemies. This will determine how and who you’ll be playing as throughout the game’s main missions.
Each class has distinct advantages and disadvantages, too. The saboteur, while fast, agile, and great in chaotic situations, has lower HP than the tank, for example. It’s all about finding a class that suits your play style, which will in turn make the experience all the more enjoyable rather than frustrating.
Similarly, making use of the game’s co-op will help alleviate the frustration you may feel while playing solo. Bringing in friends or colleagues online with an assortment of the game’s three classes creates a more balanced game, and communication becomes key.
Throughout the game’s main missions you’ll find yourself visiting various locations on Earth, ranging from the beautiful tropics of the Hawaii training base to the overturned ruins of Pripyat. Each area is distinctly different from one another, making for a great contrast during your various escapades to aid humanity’s survival. The world certainly feels decimated and rundown here, and the way Housemarque have designed each level gives a great sense of atmosphere and intrigue as you wander around completing a mission’s various set of objectives.
While you’re shooting the crap out of the Xenos, you’ll come across various loot, too. Housemarque have done a fantastic job incorporating a loot system into Alienation, with two main types of drops used: weapons and cores. Weapons are, quite obviously, your means of taking on the Xeno threat, and as you make your way around the game’s areas various enemies will drop weapons, ranging from primary weapons, secondaries, equipment, and heavies. Each weapon is defined by rarity, too, and taking on a bigger, tougher enemy will almost always result in better, rarer, and more powerful loot.
The other major loot drop are cores, which act as upgrades for the weapons you use. As you pick up various weapons throughout the game’s missions, some will come with a number of slots. Slots are where you can use the aforementioned cores, assigning them to increase weapon damage, clip capacity, critical hit chance, and so on. There are four main cores, too, each increasing a different stat of a weapon. When you have three of the same core you can level it up as well, making a more powerful core that contains better stats. Quite handy, really.
Similarly, as you play through the game your character will level up, gaining more HP and ability points to upgrade various skills and abilities attached to the class you’ve chosen. Some skills increase potency of attacks, whereas others give new abilities to make use of on the battlefield.
Having completed the main set of missions, Alienation allows you to continue playing on if you want in the vein of a new game plus mode. Unfortunately, it just feels like a retread from what’s just been previously played, just with tougher enemies and better loot to grab.
It’s a fun ride, though, and the spiritual successor of Dead Nation is a game fans of the twin stick shooter will no doubt enjoy. At its best moments it’s chaotic and largely fun, making for one of the best twin stick shooting experiences you can get on the PlayStation 4 at the moment. Housemarque never seem to disappoint, and Alienation dishes out the goods with great gameplay, great sound design, and a fantastic loot system. It’s a shame the story feels rather half baked, though.
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4
A review code was supplied by the publisher.