We first learnt of Aliens – Infestation’s existence in May 2009 when gameplay footage was leaked online. Back then it was simply titled Aliens – Colonial Marines DS. Fast-forward to September 2011 and the now titled Aliens – Infestation is released. Developed by WayForward and published by Sega, Infestation is the last “Aliens” only title to be released for a home console since Aliens – Thanatos Encounter for the Nintendo GameBoy Colour in 2001.
As always, I approach these games as a casual gamer but as an Aliens fan. So when others looked at Infestation and saw Contra or Metroid, I saw the old Mega Drive or SNES Alien 3. So when reading this review please remember it from the point of view of someone who only picks up these consoles to play the few games that interest him, not as a hardcore gamer.
Aliens- Infestation is set just after Aliens and Alien 3 and is intended as a companion game to Colonial Marines. Sega and Gearbox approached WayForward for the project and according to our interview with WayForward, Gearbox did play a close role in ensuring that continuity matched between this and Colonial Marines. However, until Colonial Marines is released we wont be able to see just how well these two games work as companion pieces.
From loading the game up I was excited to see another new Aliens game. The introduction menu was simple and looked very Alien and the music was good.
Throughout the game we play as one squad of marines of many from the Sephora that is investigating the Sulaco. A lot of the game’s story revolves around the Sulaco which is easily the largest location in the game. We open on the ship where we proceed to unlock around 30 percent of the warship until we’re whisked away to the surface of LV-426 and thrown into a corporate conspiracy.
Infestation doesn’t break in the mold as far as Aliens stories are concerned. It revolves around Weyland-Yutani’s desire to keep the Aliens for their own bio-weapons division which is, as most Aliens fans will know, pretty standard fare. Infestation does introduce the gaming community to the Union of Progress Peoples.
The UPP were a communist rival to the Company first introduced in the very first unused script for Alien 3 written by William Gibson. They added a human element to the game to help vary the enemies you encounter. I was really happy with their inclusion as it really went to show that WayForward had looked deeper into the Aliens universe than just the movies.
We also play through a UPP facility on the surface of LV-426 as well as a very brief boss section aboard the derelict ship and the Phobos Station, a research station one of the moons of Mars. Otherwise, the majority of the gameplay takes place aboard the Sulaco.
It is disappointing that there are so few locations in the game (the section aboard the derelict is literally only just the boss fight) but thankfully the Sulaco is fully mapped out. You explore from stem to stern, through the Alien infected airducts, to the very exterior of the ship. It makes me wonder if WayForward also worked with Syd Mead to flesh out the design of the ship.
I loved the EVA section and everything leading up to. You were walking along the very interior of those antena at the front of the ship, as you approach the airlock an Alien drops down from the ceiling and takes out a nearby NPC marine. Infestation is chockablock full of cool little moments like this. You don your suit, looks just like a sprite version of the suits from Alien, and off you go on the outside.
Infestation is a side scrolling action game, very similar in appearance to the old Alien 3 tie-ins on the Mega Drive and Super Nintendo. It gave Infestation a very nice retro feeling. The environments and sprites are very nicely detailed and everything looked as if it’d fit well within the Aliens universe, just in portable form. The animations are all pretty smooth as well. It was a very nice game to look at.
The gameplay is split between the two screens, the main action taking place on the top and the bottom touch-screen playing a supporting role. You view your map, control your inventory and etc through the touch screen. I was very thankful that it wasn’t used too much as I liked the simplistic nature of it. I lost my stencil enough times without having to use the touch screen for do or die controls.
That said, for you DS fans the touch-screen isn’t abandoned all together. There is a segment where you drive an APC which requires you to use the bottom screen to control the turrets and destroy the hordes of Aliens. And a nice surprise was that you could unlock a mini game called “Knife Trick”. As the name implies, it’s based off Bishop’s trick where you have to use your stencil to stab around the graphic of a hand on the touch screen. You hit the hand and the game is over. It’s a fun little game that brought a big grin to my face when I loaded it up the first time.
The bottom screen also houses the map and motion tracker displays which I found to have both its advantages and disadvantages. The map can be an absolute charm when you’re playing through the huge Sulaco. It is a very helpful tool for navigating and is helped further along by the flare feature. If you come to a point of interest you want to return to, you drop a flare and it is marked on the map which I found to be another good nod to the franchise.
On the down side, once you pick up the motion tracker to go along with the map the game soon loses some of its tension. Early on in the game when I was without either, I found out the hard way that you don’t go charging through the rooms because you’ll find yourself surprised by the Aliens.
Once you’ve got the tracker and the map it shows you exactly in the room where the enemy is so you can simply pull your trigger and start walking forward, that Alien will be dead almost as soon as it appears.
And the spawn points always stay the same which made the later sections of returning back to the Sulaco very mundane, especially when playing through areas you already had. It would have worked better if the Aliens had some sort of randomized spawning so to keep you on your toes.
Or perhaps another suggestion would have been if the tracker had been inaccurate as it was in the older games. It would have kept the tension going. That said, there was a couple of “oh snap” moments where you thought you’d be fighting a bad guy but a cat jumps out at you but thankfully it isn’t over-used.
The Aliens tend to appear from the floor or from the ceiling but there were several moments in the game where they appeared out of piping in the wall or from the Hived up walls. I’d just like to comment again on the graphics and how detailed the sprites look. Those moments really impressed me.
As I mentioned before, there are several enemies other than just the Aliens to face. You fight against UPP soldiers as well as UPP combat droids (which look like your typical robots so WayForward didn’t rock the boat in that design) and at some point you fight Weyland-Yutani…somethings. I think they were supposed to be synthetics from the white blood but they didn’t do much. I was punched by one once but other than that they weren’t a problem.
All your typical Aliens are there from the egg to the Queen but the Phobos mission also introduced a different variant in the way of Gorilla Aliens which were a lot faster than the others. Their introduction had me on my toes.
You also face five bosses throughout the course of the game. You fight three different Queens on the Sulaco, a Jockey-Alien on LV-426 and another hybrid on Phobos which was either a larger Gorilla hybrid or I’ve seen it referred to as the Rhino Alien. For the most part these bosses demand you sacrifice at least one marine to them as they require a fair amount of punishment which involves you constantly attacking a specific part of their bodies.
However, two of the bosses do require something a little more interesting. The second boss fight aboard the Sulaco involves you having to injury the Queen and then activate several terminals in the airlock to jettison the Queen into space. It was another fan service moment but it worked. Once I figured out what it was going to be, I had another one of those smiles on my face as I set about channeling Ripley.
Infestation features all your typical Colonial Marine equipment in the way of the M41A, the VP70, shotgun, flamethrower and smartgun. These weapons can be upgraded (improved damage and range) by finding upgrade boxes scattered throughout the game but you can only upgrade each weapon 3 times. I am starting to become disappointed at the lack of new weapons, however, as recently it looks like all Aliens related games aren’t expanding with new designs.
Like I mentioned before, you also find a motion tracker, a map, several variants of explosives (demolition charges, typical grenades and pulse rifle grenades) and the cool flare feature. Oh, and the torches and welder. Initially much of the Sulaco is blocked off by locked doors or dark areas that prevent you from progressing. Once you recover these items you can move further into the ship. It was a very nice way of structuring the Sulaco for progression later on.
One of the features that WayForward was really pushing was the squad feature which essentially acted as your lives. Throughout the game there are 19 playable marine characters for you to find and recruit into your squad. Your squad consists of a “point man”, which is the marine you play with plus three additional reinforcements.
If you have a full squad you can’t recruit these marines so it’s best to mark their position with a flare and return to them if you loose a squad member. All the marines have their own personalities which is shown through the story slides in the game and their little quirky animations when you enter the communication room, which is basically your save room.
This is the main replay draw of the game, the ability to have the story told 19 different ways – as long as you keep your point man alive. If not, then you shift to another marine and a different personality. The thinking behind this is also attachment to the characters you’re playing. I can’t say this particularly worked for me during my first play through as like I said, the bosses seemed to demand I sacrifice at least one marine to them so I was often swapping to a new character.
However, I do intend to replay and try and keep my point man alive so I can experience this feature as intended by WayForward. Which brings us onto another feature of Infestation that was heavily talked about, captured marines. If your marine is killed during the main sections of the levels then they will actually be captured by the Aliens and taken to their hive.
At that point you have three minutes to get to them and save them. This is a cool feature but the problem is they’re usually taken to the other side of the map that has you fighting your way back through the map.
The game respawns all the enemies you have killed when you move through a new section, resulting in a reloading of the section so you will find yourself continually fighting through the same locations and same enemy placements when you’re backtracking or rescuing your captured marines.
I must be honest in that this inconvenience had me just abandoning people as I wanted to progress through the game and not have to go back on myself. Bad gaming on my part? Yeah, quite probably but I tend to find people find it frustrating having to backtrack on themselves to often.
If you get there in time, the marine returns to your squad. If you’re slightly late he returns to your squad but will eventually give birth a few minutes later on. And if you’re completely off the mark then it’s “game over, man. Game over!”
When killed during boss fights or by humans, that marine is simply lost to the great beyond.
I think my biggest gripe with the game has to be just how short it is. It took me around a day and a half to complete the game. And that was with me having an afternoon away from the DS. From the sounds of it, this is the typical length of a shooter/action game for the DS so I can’t help but feel sorry for those DS gamers that prefer the genre but that sounds like a problem with the platform and the genre on the whole.
I honestly enjoyed Infestation a great deal but I feel that it would have benefited from several additional locations. Or even having another larger location like the Sulaco. But as I mentioned above, I do intend to go back and try and experience the game through the various personalities so that replay incentive is there.
Whether this is a good enough incentive for everyone, I can’t say. And this complaint is a result of really enjoying the experience of playing Aliens – Infestation. I could have happily gone on for several more levels.
Over all I thoroughly enjoyed playing through Infestation. Everything looked and felt right and it was fantastic seeing the Union of Progressive People. The majority of my complaints are small but the extremely disappointingly short playtime really brings it down for me which pulls the score down a little bit.
All the small things are there, it feels like a part of the Aliens universe, the love is there from WayForward and the sprites are wonderfully detailed. Amazon and Play have a much fantastic price that I can’t help but recommend you pick it up for. From Corporal Hicks, I award Aliens – Infestation with a 8 out of 10.