Submitted August 19th, 2012
by SPK

Aliens: Infestation

Sometimes things are all out of order: deadly extra-terrestrials burst out of people's chests, the government claims ownership, and the creative rights battle of the century ensues. Sometimes they make complete sense - this being the case with Aliens: Infestation. As the Alien movies inspired the Metroid series, the former now calls the latter in for a "you owe me one" redemption, and co-developers WayForward Technologies and Gearbox Software's Nintendo DS release Aliens: Infestation becomes a meta-homage. Its use of Metroid's non-linear exploration and progression by way of power-ups by no means cuts back on the decided Alien charm, it being specifically reminiscent of classic series gaming such as the Nintendo Entertainment System's Alien 3. The end result isn't a total knockout, but it's got a lot to offer.

Continuing where Alien 3 left off, the Colonial Marines of Alpha Squad has come to the USS Sulaco on receiving a distress call, and they soon find that an attack of some sort has laid waste to much of it - though it's hard to tell what exactly went down. They soon learn that alien lifeforms are aboard the ship and that those in charge are protecting this secret along with the aliens themselves for corporate gain. There are 4 characters accessible at the beginning of the game, each with his or her own dialogue, and as they perish they can be replaced with marines found in the game's different locations - up to 19 in all. The story is an adequate continuation of the trilogy, but its great achievement is how the varied perspectives contribute unique light to it. Since each marine is so different personality-wise and yet no different gameplay-wise, there's a party of 4 for every type of player.

There are a lot of buttons to keep track of, but there's nothing about the concepts behind the control scheme that are too difficult to get accustomed to. 'Y' makes the chosen character fire his or her main weapon, and when used in conjunction with the D-pad allows for it to be aimed up-left, up, and up-right in addition to left and right; 'B' jump; 'X' use grenades and other secondary items; 'Left' or 'Right' and 'A', when the blue meter is full enough, allows the interchangeable main character to perform a roll on the ground for quick low-level travel; 'L' has him or her stay in one place while firing a weapon diagonally upward; 'R' when held allows the player to run, gradually sapping the very same blue meter; and lastly, the touch screen can be used to select weapons and other items. No button goes unused, but it's all for typical functions. The 19 different marines aren't too convenient to control as: their basic abilities never change through out the game; the blue meter for the functions of running and rolling is limiting and unnecessary; and they aren't able to navigate and move quickly during a fight to say, swiftly turn and shoot a Xenomorph that has sprinted to the other side of the marine or has taken to walking on the ceiling. The controls are not what one would call clunky, but they are limited.

There really are no new abilities collected throughout the game's progress, but there are weapons which can be carried one at a time, along with explosives and items that make accessing new areas possible. Of the weapons, there are: the Pulse Rifle, which shoots consistent but weak bullets; the Shotgun, which has pauses in-between shots but is much more powerful; the Flamethrower, which spews forth a cloud of fire; the Smartgun, which fires quickly and effectively; and the Pistol, which fires weak but unlimited shots and acts as the main weapon when the player's current selection runs out of ammo. These weapons can be upgraded to have an extra stock of ammunition, and there are plenty spares of such upgrade so that missing one or two isn't a problem. The explosives are: the Grenades, which can be thrown to explode on contact with an enemy or after a few seconds; Grenade Rounds, which can be shot out at enemies in a quick, straight fashion; and Explosives, which can be set in place on a floor and blown from a distance. The player can also set Flares that mark a red spot on a map so as to remember to revisit it. Finally, there are a number of items that simply open a blocked path: the Welder, which can open doors that have been melted shut and close doors before Xenomorphs in the other room break through; the Wrench, which fixes pipes so they don't leak steam; and 6 Security Access Keys, which simply open different levels of blocked doors. The items don't really do anything beyond opening a path, and there being eight of them which basically do the same thing makes progressing repetitive and unrewarding, but the weapons certainly make the game easier as a play through lasts.

There are five parts to the game: visit 1 to the Sulaco, LV-426/Acheron, visit 2 to the Sulaco, Phobos, and visit 2 to the Sulaco. The progression is mostly based on unlocking parts of the map by getting key cards and other helpful items, and though its apparent aim is to stay true to the gameplay of Alien 3 while giving a much more Metroid-esque experience, the gameplay can get stale after a while. The atmosphere is dead-on, there are lots of aspects that should be familiar to fans of the film series, and overall there's a lot of redeeming value to the gameplay, but it certainly can't rival Metroid.

The fact that a lot of thought was put into the release by those at WayForward and Gearbox is easily seen in the Marine Roster: there are bios for each of the 19 Colonial Marines as well as their commanding officer, complete with his or her age, rank, status, and a rather in-depth bio. Each character is indeed unique and different, and one is motivated to find them all in order to fill said roster. Also included is the Knife Trick mini-game unlocked upon defeat of the second boss in the game. In it, a picture of a hand on a table is displayed, and as redness fills in the gaps between fingers the player must "stab"/tap them before the next one appears at a different spot; this all before the time runs out. It's a fun extra, though certainly not a game-changer.

The graphics are all very dark and grim, opting for a style true to the source material which completely contrasts WayForward's gorgeous, bright sprite work for Shantae: Risky's Revenge. The character designs by comic book artist Chris Bachalo are well-done and evocative of their personalities, and the sprites themselves are colored differently for each marine with their own pose while resting in Communications Rooms. The background music is quite effective at setting the player on edge. The ending credits theme by Guyz Nite is pure gold, being sweet and somber musically while not taking itself too seriously lyrically.

The gameplay isn't anything too fantastic, but all the atmosphere of an Alien movie, or a Metroid game, or both, is there. The possibility of losing all of a party of Colonial Marines and getting a game over makes each fighter that much more precious, and the varying dialogue between marines is fun and keeps things fresh. The game doesn't stand out among classics like Super Metroid or Symphony of the Night, but it's a significant Metroidvania game for the full circle it creates: here the emulator becomes the emulated.

- Appropriate Metroid basis for a game based on the Alien universe that initially inspired said series   - Uncomfortable controls don't make for easy battling against Xenomorphs
- 19 playable marines with unique personalities and dialogue; permanent death makes their lives more significant   - Attainable items have basically the same effect of opening a blocked path
- Faithful and familiar series atmosphere, environments, and elements  
- Many weapons to attain and use against those blasted aliens  
- Great character art by Chris Bachalo  

Final Rating: 4 out of 5

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