Developer: CI Games | Publisher: CI Games | Played On: Xbox 360 [Also available on PSN] | Price: $14.99 | ESRB: Mature [Blood, Strong Language, Violence]
When you first boot up the Alien Rage campaign, the game asks you to pick a difficulty—challenging, hard, or brutal—and I thought this foreboding screen was just an attempt by developer CI Games, who also developed Sniper Ghost Warrior and Enemy Front, to be edgy.
Boy was I wrong.
Alien Rage is hard. Not fun hard (for some) like Dark Souls or Super Meat Boy, but unwinnable hard, like trying to play the ring toss bottle game at the carnival. And with the edgy difficulty select screen, CI Games tries to sell Alien Rage’s wonky difficulty as a feature. Just like the carnival ring toss the whole damn system is rigged. Alien Rage makes itself difficult by trapping you in limiting, linear hallways, and throwing so many dumb enemies at you that the basic gameplay loop turns into a dull juggling match.
You play as a generic space marine, who looks strikingly similar to the Warhammer Space Marines, tasked with saving a mining colony under attack by aliens… I think? Really, you play as yet another bulky dude killing aliens to, I assume, save humanity. I didn’t really pick up on many of the story details because 95% of the story is told through recoverable audio logs that play at a really low volume during combat scenarios, and can only be heard from a few steps away. Whatever the backstory, it requires a real commitment to an inhospitable enemy to figure out who hates what, and how much.
And I was always more concerned with survival.
See, in Alien Rage you die quickly, even on the lowest difficulty setting. The enemies rush you constantly, the combination of grenades and a lack of available cover make the idea of taking cover all but useless, and 90% of the game’s combat scenarios take place in narrow hallways and boxed-in environments, severely limiting your strategic combat options. As a result, the most effective strategy in most situations is running backwards through the level to a safe choke point and mowing down each enemy as they blindly run toward you one-by-one. Trying to play Alien Rage like a traditional cover-based shooter only leads to frustration and broken controllers. The AI doesn’t play fair, constantly barraging you with bullets and grenades from both sides with no sense of self-preservation, which again leads to more turtling in combat situations. And turtling just isn’t fun.
Alien Rage isn’t all bad; when the game gives you relatively open areas and multiple options during combat it can be a bit fun. The weapons, though they aren’t terribly varied, are responsive, with an effective weight to them. The shooting alone plays a bit like a first-person Gears of War. Not surprising, given that it’s an Unreal Engine game. And technically, the graphics have the look of a modern Unreal Engine shooter, which is impressive for a downloadable game—even if the look is terribly generic. In fact, when playing Alien Rage I couldn’t get the phrase “next-gen” out of my head. Not PS4 and Xbox One next-gen, the “next-gen” of 2006. A time of macho meat hunk marines in power armor, shiny textures, repetitive dull color schemes (the game only has two colors: blue and orange), and a ton of explosions from very little player effort. Alien Rage checks all those boxes.
Alien Rage is littered with confusing controls. For example it has a completely worthless jump button. Your beefy character can’t even jump over the lowest of crates, and any attempt to explore the environment by straying from the narrow combat hallways is met with an invisible wall. Combine this with what I found to be unfunny “adult” humor (“Learn to shoot straight into the bowl, then criticize my targeting”). and generic sci-fi art, and the experience fails to rise above the very mediocre.
Alien Rage may have made a positive impact if it were released in 2007; however its ambition isn’t matched in execution. The shooting and technical graphics work well, but a lack of distinctive moments fail to distinguish Alien Rage from a sea of same-y space-marine, sci-fi, alien shooters. Then you factor an uninteresting story, linear level design, and enemy AI that’s challenging in every way that isn’t fun, and it becomes a real tough sell.
Alien Rage is available on XBLA right now for $19.99.