Saturday, 15 March 2014

PC Game Review: Alien Rage

Platform: PC (Steam)
Released: 2013
Genre: First Person Shooter
Developer/Publisher. CI Games
Buy on Steam

There are games out there that label themselves as expert games. Games you seek out for the challenge and sheer bragging rights of completing them. Alien Rage has put itself in that league, selling itself as a shooter with old school gameplay and difficulty. Does it hold up to its promises? Let's find out as I take a look at a game that almost make my top 10 games of 2013 list.

The story in Alien Rage is paper thin and doesn't really have much impact on the game, basically giving you a setting, though the game itself is pretty much going from level to level in a linear fashion. I do like the writing though, as the use of humor and witty writing offsets the somewhat harsh difficulty of the game, giving you some relief between tense moments.

At first glance, you might look at the game and think "wait, that's not old school, this is Call of Duty with aliens". Well, that would be doing the game a disservice. Sure, it might have aiming down sights, it might have a 2 weapon limit and health regen. But the oldschool elements are there, just a bit subtle and requires you to actually play the game a bit to get them. The oldschool elements come in from the fact that the game gives you scores for skillshots, similar to Bulletstorm. The game also has a rather high difficulty which comes from the fact that the weapons are all really powerful and you aren't really that good at resisting them since the bad guys ALSO use those weapons.
That's why using skillshots and using your head as much as your gun is essential to surviving in this game and it requires that you do more than just shoot at the enemy. Sometimes ingenuity, awareness of your environment and timing can be more important. The fact the game does not have any mini-map and doesn't hold your hand in any way, shape or form means you have to rely on your senses and skills the entire time, which is where a lot of the more oldschool difficulty comes from.
Being limited to 2 weapons really doesn't have that much of an impact anyway since all of the weapons, as stated, are powerful and fit all situations. They just lend themselves to different play styles. I played through the entire game using almost exclusively the alien and human assault rifles. Even the boss fights were handled with those guns so what weapon you use doesn't matter all that much. Find a favourite and stick with it.

The game also has another modern element in that as you play and get scores, you level up, and each time you level up you gain a perk. Perks are, needless to say, modifiers that give you certain boosts that can benefit your playstyle and a lot of the fun comes from earning new perks, trying them out and finding the right combination. A little tip is that once you get the Mega Pistol perk, it makes the side arm pistol you have (which doesn't count as one of your 2 weapons btw) essentially the most powerful gun in the entire game and gives you a much needed edge over your enemies. Combined with other perks such as projectile damage bonus and Mega Health, it makes for a highly lethal combination that makes the brutal difficulty seem possible to overcome. I strongly suggest playing through the game on the easy difficulty to earn these perks before tackling the normal or hard difficulties. The mega pistol perk also makes it much more likely to get the achievement for completing the game using only the pistol.

All the weapons are also equipped with an alternate fire mode that uses up special ammunition that you can find in limited quantities around the levels. The alternate mode usually works as a grenade substitute as it usually leads to a lot of explosions. Keep in mind though that the enemies also have these alternate fire modes and will exploit them to kick your ass hard. The AI in this game is actually surprisingly impressive for a shooter and behave a lot like real players would. Another strategic tip is that if you have no other option but to shoot the enemies directly, aim for the head. Headshots are insanely OP in Alien Rage and can lead to a lot of easy kills, and you get bonus points for them.
The bosses all have their own techniques in how to take them down and figuring them out can take a while so prepare to be slaughtered a lot before you actually manage to take them down. Once you figure it out though it's sometimes astonishingly easy.

The level designs are fairly linear and save for searching for a few secret items there isn't much exploration possible which I think is fair considering the game is more of a linear arcady on-rails shooter for the most part, but for it to be truly oldschool they should've taken a cue from the recently released Shadow Warrior and give you secret locations and easter eggs to find. I don't know why so many game developers nowadays shy away from this. But that being said, the levels are fine and lend themselves to some pretty intense battle scenarios. I especially found it cool that the enemy can shoot through cover and even blow it apart so you are never truly safe in one spot for too long, forcing you to move from cover to cover a lot.

I haven't played much of the multiplayer but what I've played was pretty standard TDM fare. It doesn't really stand out all that much and I don't think this game is worth getting for the multiplayer. In fact it's near impossible to find people playing the game nowadays anyway as I think most people are playing the single player mode or are playing other and better multiplayer shooters that offer more variety. I would've loved a co-op mode or something here to really bring that oldschool arcade feel to it, so there's a bit of a missed opportunity there. All in all, the multiplayer feels pretty tacked on and could easily have been left out.

The graphics are absolutely one of the best things about the game. The game oozes style and I especially love the limited colour palette which for some reason reminds me a lot of early Amiga games in how it's focused very much on the contrasts of blue and orange, similar to a lot of 16bit games, which really does help give the game an oldschool style about it. The enemy designs are really cool and I especially like the huge boss designs that give them a true sense of menace. There's  a lot of subtle details in your field of view and the use of harsh lighting gives the game a dark and intense contrasting atmosphere which makes all the colours pop all the more. This game is absolutely gorgeous and definitely feels next gen when you play it. Despite looking this good it runs surprisingly well on my computer, even if at launch the game had some optimization issues.

The soundtrack is a bit lackluster in my opinion. It falls into the trap of trying to be a bit cinematic so it ends up being largely forgettable. It works well to compliment the constant action and I did enjoy the slightly electronic feel to it, but it just ended up being not memorable enough for me. Would've loved some driving techno or dubstep here to really push the action to the next level, and I think the devs should've gone for that personally. The voice acting is great however and brings a lot of the humor and wit out of the script, giving the protagonist a much needed personality that made him stand out a bit. I also loved the sound effects, all of them having a nice sound design to them. The game shows a lot of polish both in the sound and graphics department.

Alien Rage is a great shooter but hard to recommend if you only have a casual interest in shooters. It's definitely for you if you want a challenge and liked more oldschool arcady shooters such as Bulletstorm. It does try to find a true balance between the oldschool and modern game mechanics which might throw some people off if they expect it to be more like Half-Life or Quake. But for what it is, it's a great looking and awesome sounding experience that is fun while it lasts and the brutal difficulty makes the reward of completing it all that higher and I felt pretty f*cking good when I had completed it. But like I said, hard to recommend because this game does NOT hold your hand at all and REQUIRES you to THINK about how you play it and use the environment and your skills to survive.

Story: 5/10
Gameplay: 8/10
Graphics: 10/10
Sound: 8/10