Stuff tends to blow up spectacularly in Alienation.
It’s no surprise developer Housemarque was picked to anchor Sony’s six-title Launch Party 2016 event given its history of cranking out top-notch exclusives dating back to the PS3. Its last title, Resogun, was solid, but with Alienation, the pseudo-sequel to Dead Nation, Housemarque slides back into its comfort zone with another scintillating twin-stick shooter.
Waste not, want not is the approach here as pretty much every single function of the controller has a use. The twin-stick basics of movement and aiming are in place, and you’ll fire your gun with the right trigger and toss your equipment (grenade, mine, etc.) with the left. On the shoulders, right is your melee attack, and left is used to contextually mantle objects or use an evasive dash.
Other core actions include a dynamic reload — clicking the right stick starts the process, and if you click it a second time when the meter is in its sweet spot you’ll reduce the time a la Gears of War — switching through your three equipped weapons and interacting with items in the environment, such as activating stationary turrets or planting explosives.
Your two remaining face buttons and the touch pad are then used for powerful operator-unique abilities that can change the tide of an encounter. Each one works off its own cooldown timer, so you’ll need to carefully consider when to employ them as they generally take quite a while to refill.
Everything handles very efficiently, though you may occasionally find wires getting crossed in the heat of the moment. For example, years of clicking the right stick to melee enemies has certainly engrained that functionality in our brains, so there was a number of times when we meant to pummel enemies in danger close position and instead reloaded our guns. A bit more maneuverability would’ve been nice as well when it’s time to dodge projectiles.
Although there are only four main locations in Alienation, the game’s 20 levels never make it feel like you’re covering the same ground over and over again. There’s a lot of good detail work that brings the world to life, but that takes a backseat to the constant barrage of gunfire, laser sight guides, explosions, neon-coloured alien viscera and more. It’s busy in the best sort of way.
There are a few moments when the top-down perspective sabotages your efforts, however, usually as it relates to enemies with long-range weaponry (flamethrowers, snipers). It’s not uncommon for foes to shoot at you from off screen, which feels like dirty pool. There’s also an isolated section that takes place after you cross an active force field. While it’s up, action close to field is incredibly hard to see.
Most of the auditory highlights occur in the destruction around you, whether it’s from weapon fire or the untimely demise of would-be alien attackers. Voice acting and music are fine, there’s just not much to sink your teeth into on either front — in fact, we were so zoned in on the action that most of it came across as little more than white noise.
Aliens have come to Earth and are kicking some serious ass. In our desperation, humans have made robotic exo-suits to help turn the tide. That’s where you come in. You’ll pick between three character types (tank, saboteur or bio-specialist), each with unique base weapons and upgradeable skills, and jump into the fray in a last desperate attempt to save humanity.
There is an actual story arc in Alienation, but the plot is such straightforward stuff that there’s little reason to pay attention. This is all about the action, dropping you in and then delighting in throwing wave after wave (after wave) of aliens at you — bugs that explode when they die, mutants that phase in and out of the visual spectrum, gun-wielding bipeds, hulking goliaths and so forth.
Missions routinely provide four-digit kill counts, and the satisfaction comes from your ability to handle everything the game throws at you with increasing competence and style. Leading a horde of 100-plus aliens into a choke zone and mowing them down with a few well-aimed blasts from your powershot is awesome, as is deftly stepping around enemy blasts and beating them down with a melee attack.
It’s clear Housemarque learned from some of Dead Nation’s missteps, as the game feels better paced, and the constant acquisition of new loot — as well as leveling up — creates a tangible sense of progress as you go. Finding rare and legendary weapons and then buffing them out with upgrades allows you to tailor the experience more to your play style.
Unfortunately, the longer you play the more you’ll see a few items that haven’t been addressed, such as the utter dependence on overwhelming the player with sheer numbers. No matter how big or bad a single alien was it never got the better of us. Instead, our deaths were typically the result of some mass of enemies, and usually they made us retreat into another mass. It made deaths feel cheap.
In terms of replay value, there’s a fair amount. Completing the 20-stage campaign will take you from World 1 to World 2, where the enemies are considerably stronger. Each character type can be upgraded to Level 30, which is a lengthy process, and, of course, there’s grinding for loot drops. Online co-op is pretty smooth and easy to connect. On the downside, local co-op is not available.
If you’re in the market for a slickly produced, high quality twin-stick shooter, Alienation has you covered. Sure, it misfires here and there, and no local co-op is a notable omission, but it’s still some of the most fun we’ve had with our PlayStation 4 this year.