Developer: Team 17 / Publisher: Team 17 / ESRB: Teen (Animated Blood, Language, Violence) / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $10.00
What could be better than blasting alien scum to gooey bits in a ravaged space vessel? Why doing it all with a friend, of course! At least that is what Team 17 wants you to feel with its newest Xbox Live Arcade title Alien Breed 2: Assault, the follow-up to last year’s Alien Breed: Evolution. Riding on the retro-train, Alien Breed 2 aspires to be the downloadable co-op shooter experience for XBLA. The aliens aren’t going to exterminate themselves so strap on your gear, grab a friend, and get ready to grind your way to salvation.
As with the first in the series, Alien Breed 2 is a top-down shooter focusing on action and exploration. You play as Conrad, a one-man army, as he navigates a derelict and alien infested spaceship, trying to find a way to eliminate the monsters and escape alive. You begin with a standard pistol with unlimited ammunition and an assault rifle with only a few rounds. Searching rooms and corpses rewards you with more ammo and new guns, like the powerful shotgun and even a sentry gun you can deploy. Exploration is essential if you want to survive, because larger groups of aliens will swarm you relentlessly and if you don’t have a bigger gun you’ll die in no time.
Thankfully save stations are plentiful and you collect currency to upgrade your guns for more firepower or faster reloads, and even buy extra health packs and grenades. You’re assisted in your mission by MIA, a digital entity that places pointers on your radar, directing you forward. The majority of your goals involve clearing out a room full of aliens, finding a switch or giving power to something, and then moving forward to perform the same tasks again. After the first hour or so it all gets very repetitive. Enemies usually spring up out of the ground, creating a tense mood, but taking some cheap shots. Even the simplest fight can be deadly as health packs aren’t common and some of the bigger aliens can rip you apart in seconds.
The camera doesn’t help the situation either, sometimes positioned so you can’t see the enemy at all. The difficulty is curbed when playing with a friend but still offers a challenge on the highest [of how many?] difficulty level. Outside of the story a freeplay mode lets you jump right in to start the alien genocide, and a survival mode that isn’t anything to get too worked up about. Local and Xbox Live supported co-op levels are available and offer new challenges and levels not seen in the single-player mode. Quantity of content isn’t an issue but the caliber of the gameplay is spread thin and can be very monotonous.
If there is one thing Alien Breed 2 can claim it has nailed, it’s the atmosphere. The desecrated spaceship really does feel creepy as you move through dark corners, illuminated only by burning bodies, and navigate through a jungle of broken computer terminals. This is a double-edged sword, though, as many sections are so dark you can’t make out the details (or it is perhaps because of this the game looks good, by simply hiding its faults). The game can support a good number of aliens and objects on screen at once, and I experienced a small amount of slow-down during a particular skirmish where explosions were aplenty. As a whole the game looks great for downloadable standards, albeit a bit dark.
Alien Breed 2 is almost a dual-stick shooter akin to Geometry Wars and its like. I say almost because you move with the left stick, aim with the right stick, but use the right trigger to fire. I felt that it wasn’t necessary to have to hold down the trigger when I was aiming already and that it was simply a nuisance. Cycling through your available weapons and power-ups is allotted to the D-Pad. Grenades and health packs use the left trigger, while the two bumpers control the camera. The control scheme is too clunky and doesn’t lend itself well to huge firefights, particularly the pesky camera. It can be a chore to move to a new zone, rotate your camera around, select the weapon you need, aim, and start firing before the Zerg-like aliens are upon you. A better control scheme could have alleviated some of the difficulty problems as well as made for a more enjoyable overall excursion into space.
Alien Breed 2: Assault seems to revel in its throwback style a bit too much. There isn’t much incentive to go back and play the game again. Co-op helps make the experience more engaging but still succumbs to the same monotonous and dreary gameplay. If you’re looking for a fun cooperative game to play together with some buddies there are other choices out there (see Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light). Graphics alone can’t help this title be salvaged from the wreckage.