Aliens: Infestation Review
October 11, 2011 (USA)
September 30, 2011 (Europe)
September 29, 2011 (Australia)
Aliens: Infestation. An infestation of aliens. You’ve got aliens, and they’re infesting, and that’s what the game is about.
Okay, I’ll admit it. When I sat down to write this review, my head was full of thoughts on Metroid and Castlevania games. Rather than review the game titled above, I was prepared to talk about other games from the same genre. I couldn’t think of anything to say about Aliens: Infestation itself. It was a perfectly vapid game.
Not that I was surprised. WayForward and I typically don’t get along, aside from A Boy and His Blob. But the game received so much good press that I decided to buy it despite the developer. And hey, I’m always up for a Metroidvania. (Can we please think of a better name for that subgenre?)
Let’s start from the beginning. When I first started up Aliens: Infestation, I did so with trepidation, ready to receive WayForward’s latest project with cynicism. Initially, the game wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Find a save room, find a map, blow up robots en route.
But then the game gave me a curious upgrade. This upgrade displayed blips on the map wherever there was a living thing—even if I wasn’t in the same room. I found myself stopping at each door so that I could scan the map. If there were any blips in the next room, I’d make a battle plan for that room. Now, enemy AI in the game is pretty simple, so this didn’t take long. But still, it’s something that made me stop and think.
See, one way to evoke fear is by making a suggestion without giving away everything. When you see a blip on the map, it gets your mind’s gears a-grindin’. Is it a friendly marine? Is it a deadly robot? Is it a kitty-cat? Without realizing it, I was engaged in Aliens: Infestation’s mind games.
And at the conclusion of the game’s first act, I was put through a veritable gauntlet of super tough aliens while exploring the eerie maintenance shafts of the ship.
In all, anxiety was the name of the game. The fun kind of anxiety you feel when you’re enjoying horror entertainment of one sort or another.
That was my introduction to the U.S.S. Sulaco, a recurring setting in the game. You’ll explore a tiny portion of the ship during the first act. By the end of the game, it’s a decently sized maze, spanning several floors and taking up quite a bit of horizontal space.
Anyway, for the second act, I was shipped off to an enemy base so I could blow it to smithereens. This map was horizontally-oriented and straightforward, offering a nice change of pace from the mazelike Sulaco.
The action’s careful pacing was maintained, though. Grenades gave me the advantage I needed to overcome some awkward terrain, but they were in frightfully short stock, so I second guessed myself every time I used one. The second act also introduced a darkness mechanic, which obscured enemies without hiding them entirely. In all, I found myself enjoyably anxious throughout the second act.
Looking back, Aliens: Infestation isn’t the disappointment I sat down to write about. There’s some cool ideas here, and the game carves a nice space for itself amongst Metroidvanias.
One of those cool ideas is the game’s five-act structure. You explore the fairly large Sulaco in the 1st, 3rd and 5th acts. Over time, you gradually uncover more and more of the Sulaco.
(The 2nd and 4th acts are intermissions that take you off of the Sulaco. They keep navigation simple.)
The first act gives a whiff of the Sulaco, then the third act shows you how most of its passages fit together. That’s not to say you’ll see all of the Sulaco in the third act, though; some important bits remain just outside of your reach until the fifth act.
The first act is an introduction, where you get a vague idea of how the ship is structured.
The third act exposes the real meat of the ship, showing you all of its important passages. There are still a number of branches you won’t explore during this act, but you won’t miss any central locations.
Then, the fifth act lets you finish up and see 100% of the ship.
It’s a nifty reflection on the process of exploration in the Metroidvania genre. The first act mirrors the sense of disorientation you initially feel when you’re plopped in a giant environment. The third act captures the moment when you come to grips with the size and scope of that environment. Finally, the fifth act allows for full mastery of that environment.
Unfortunately, though the third act is conceptually interesting, it made for boring gameplay. Enemies didn’t change at all, which was a problem, given that Aliens: Infestation offered new guns and gun upgrades on a regular basis. The game also failed to introduce any new concepts that inspired a sense of fear or anxiety. As a result, I mostly waltzed right through the third act, dashing any tension the gameplay formerly had.
(Granted, I did forget that the A button swaps weapons in the save room, which made one puzzle a particular bother. I guess that’s what I get for skipping through the dialogue so quickly.)
And it didn’t get any better in the fourth act. In fact, I found the final gun here, which cuts through aliens like a knife through hot butter. The gun will also get you covered in alien acid blood if you don’t watch what you’re doing, but it’s not hard at all to dodge once you realize what’s going on.
Then it was back to the Sulaco for the game’s conclusion. While most of the fifth and final act was on the boring side, it did end with a really cool bit. I don’t want to spoil it, but I will say it found a new way to scare me.
And I guess that’s why I was initially going to dismiss this as a perfectly vapid game. The one cool part at the end of the game was like a drop of water to a person dying of thirst: too little too late. The third, fourth, and fifth acts—the majority of the game—neglected to build on the fascinating foundation set by the first two acts. In fact, I’d say those latter three acts undo the careful work of the first two acts. While not a complete failure, the game doesn’t live up to its own vision.
- The pacing of exploration is handled well through the game’s act structure. It even does a little to deconstruct what it’s like to navigate a Metroid-like labyrinth.
- There’s a twist of survival horror to the gameplay here, even if it fizzles out after the first two acts (roughly 40% of the game).
- There’s a fair amount of customization, so it’s easy to come up with different ways to play. Can you make it through while only using the shotgun? Can you avoid killing any of the diseased researchers?
- The ship is easy to navigate, and you’ll always know where to go. For those frustrated with stupidly complex Metroidvania maps, this will be a nice change of pace.
- Controls are perfect for gunplay, which you’ll be doing a lot of. Be prepared to use the shoulder buttons often.
- Graphics depict a “realistic” sci-fi setting without getting boring. Plenty of interesting backdrops.
- If you get stuck on a boss, you can let one character die and have another one immediately take over. The bosses can get pretty difficult, so it’s nice to have the option to just cheese it.
- The song that plays during the game’s final credits is amazing.
- Reminded me that BlowOut exists and is actually still in my XBox, waiting to be finished. Uh oh.
- When the game drops its survival horror edge, there isn’t much to fill its place. Bosses aside, the game goes on autopilot for the majority of its time.
- If you want some exploring to do, don’t look here. The game is chock full of hidden passages, but they are frequently stocked with health refills and ammo refills. The thing is, save stations refill both, and they’re also very conveniently placed. Thus, most of the game’s secret passages are rendered pointless.
There are a number of games based on the Alien franchise. Which is your favorite?