Developer: WayForward / Publisher: Sega / Played On: Nintendo DS / Price: $29.99 / ESRB: Teen (Blood, Mild Language, Partial Nudity, Violence)
One of the worst ways to die has to be by a facehugger from the Alien franchise. As if having the creature violate your body to plant its seed inside you isn’t bad enough, after some time a baby alien bursts through your chest. In the new Nintendo DS game Aliens: Infestation there are plenty of gruesome ways to meet your demise, not the least of which is being orally assaulted by a facehugger. Aliens: Infestation is an action game that does the movie franchise justice while tossing in a good portion of Metroid-esque gameplay.
As a member of a squad of space marines, you are ordered to investigate an apparently abandoned spaceship. Before long you and your squad mates discover a host of aliens infesting every inch of the ship and you’re suddenly in a fight for your life to find the source of the monsters, destroy the threat, and escape. Most of the story is told via text between the space marines and their commanding officer as he debriefs them on the current situation and objective. When stripped with the Aliens guise the story is very bare bones and cliché: a fight to escape a spaceship while killing off foul beasts. Each marine has a different personality: the wimpy young recruit, the southern gentleman, and the hardened female veteran, but their personalities fail to capture any real emotion from the player. The atmosphere and setting are creepy and fit the mood of the Alien movies, but the story in Infestation doesn’t compare to the drama that unfolds in the original films and is passable at best.
Aliens: Infestation borrows heavily from gameplay elements pioneered in the Metroid series. As you explore areas of the ship you’ll encounter areas that can’t be explored until finding a certain item like a light, wrench, or security elevator keycards. Once you find the specific item you can continue exploring the ship until you run into another area that requires a different item to keep going. Rinse and repeat for about five hours to complete the game. The formula works well and that’s why many titles emulate this style of gameplay, Aliens: Infestation included. What it amounts to, though, is a lot of backtracking through areas you’ve already explored over and over again. All the backtracking becomes very tedious. You’re not always given directions on how to obtain your goal, and I found myself lost and confused many times before realizing I needed to go back to a previous room I’ve explored in order to continue.
At any given time you control one marine from your squad of four. After one marine dies, they’re gone forever and another marine takes their place on the spot. Since each marine plays exactly the same as the last, your squad ultimately amounts to extra lives. Having each marine play a bit differently would have made the game better, and actually made me feel upset when one of them was eviscerated by a Xenomorph. Each marine comes equipped with a pistol and an assault rifle, but you’ll soon discover a shotgun, minigun, and flame thrower to use instead of the assault rifle. Grenades and C-4 explosives can also be found and exploited to reduce aliens to an unrecognizable carcass. . On top of this, scattered throughout the ship are upgrade packs that improve the damage and ammo capacity of each weapon. The weapons work well and you’ll soon have a favorite gun you take with you like a safety blanket. Xenomorphs, facehuggers, ape-like aliens, and robots make up the standard array of enemies, but the handful of large boss aliens easily steal the spotlight. Alien Queens and super-powerful beasts take a lot more bullets to kill and present quite the challenge. Boss battles are the highlights of the game and it’s a shame they are separated by relentless backtracking and methodical slaying of the same enemies over and over. A knife mini-game of five-finger fillet is unlocked early in the game and is nothing more than a small distraction, but there is no incentive to replay the game unless you like the challenge of speed runs. Overall the game is at its best when fighting bosses or exploring entirely new areas, but too much backtracking bogs down the experience.
Atmosphere is what drew suspense from viewers when they first saw the Alien movies, and Aliens: Infestation has a good sense of atmosphere. Flickering lights and completely dark rooms recreate settings from the films and make you stop and evaluate a new room before entering. Backgrounds are eerie and reflect H. R. Giger’s artistic style well. Crawling through the corpses of fallen marines, fighting the queen alien in the hanger, and finding still-living allies ensnared to the wall by alien spit is both cool and unnerving. The aliens themselves are big and accurately reflect their big screen counterparts. The game moves quickly even with a multitude of enemies on screen at once. The visuals are a definite highlight for the game.
I had thoughts of Left 4 Dead while I was playing the game when I heard the music. High pitched chords play at the right moments to add to the suspense. The music is often drowned out by the radar, and through many parts of the game you’ll hear just the incessant beeping alerting you to nearby threats. Sound effects from each of the different guns and explosives sound as you’d imagine they should, and the hissing and screams from aliens send chills down your spine. The music is average but the sound effects add to the already stellar atmosphere.
Aliens: Infestation is a bit of a mixed bag: blasting through aliens in a desperate fight for survival that is both challenging and fun. Unfortunately these parts of the game are separated by a lot of backtracking that is both tiresome and frustrating. Visuals and sound create a truly ominous atmosphere but a mediocre story and uninspired characters leave more to be desired. When at its best Aliens: Infestation is a decent game but the best parts are few and far between.