Alien Breed’s roots were – back at its 16-bit outing – and, are – with this latest remix – patently clear: this is a top-down Aliens themed shooter with just enough tweaks and changes for Yorkshire based Team 17 to escape 20th Century Fox nuking them from orbit. To us, as kids, Alien Breed was amazing, a chance to recreate pitched battles against xenomorphs from the comfort of our own sofas, staring into a 12 inch CRT thinking this was as good as games were ever going to get.
On the PlayStation Vita (the game runs on the PlayStation Mobile format, so will also work on some Android devices) the game has survived not just intact, but enhanced, carrying with it the changes made recently when a similar reissue was had on the iPhone platform. Of course, if you’re now playing it on the Vita there’s the added bonus of physical controls, although they’re not quite perfect themselves, but we’ll come back to that.
If you’ve never played Alien Breed (or its sequels, putting aside the somewhat shaky attempts to clone Doom which pushed the Amiga far too hard) it’s a top-down 2D sci-fi shooter that sees the player infiltrating an alien horde over a series of increasingly difficult levels, both in terms of complexity and the size and strength of the various enemies. The original was a two-player co-op game, but obviously given the current limitations of PS Mobile, it’s now just single player.
Back in 1991, when the game first released, the tension created by the limited amounts of ammo (and live) made for a very stressful experience, especially given that it was possible (especially in two players) to get locked behind a wall without keys as the screen scrolled away from you, or to close off airlocks with stray bullets. In this version the survival horror has been removed slightly with the insertion of in-app purchases for in-game cash – you’ll still find stuff on the floor (like ammo) but if you’re short, it’s possible to spend real money from your PSN wallet on more.
Gone too are the in-game terminals that dispensed such disposables – you can now jump into the ‘shop’ at any time and boost your arsenal. It’s not difficult to understand why these changes were made, but it’s a shame to see something of a pet hate on iOS make its way over to the Vita wholesale. You can, of course, make your way through the game without ever spending anymore than the game itself costs, but it’s tricky – the game was never easy back in the day and it feels a lot harder now than most modern games.
That said, this is still a remarkably generous package. For just over three quid you’re getting the original six Alien Breed levels, the full pack of 12 ‘Special Edition’ levels, the four extra levels created for the iOS version and another four just for this one. That’s a massive amount of content, and each has a score ranking after completion to aid that all important replay factor.
In addition, the Vita version also comes with the enhanced mode option, which significantly improves the graphics (and it’s at the Vita’s native resolution, so everything looks pin sharp) and the audio. The press blurb claims that the controls are enhanced too, but on Vita it’s the new controls for both normal and the tweaked mode – the right stick fires in whatever direction you want, making the game a slice easier than it was back on the Amiga, where you could only fire directly forwards.
There’s an issue with the right stick, too – there’s very little deadzone, meaning the tiniest touch of it will send a spray of bullets from your gun. Literally the slightest touch, which not only wastes ammo but risks activating those airlock doors mentioned earlier, and when that happens at no fault of the player it’s beyond frustrating. A simple patch will fix this no doubt, but it’s a strange one to get past quality control, especially when it’s the very first thing we noticed when starting a game.
That shouldn’t put you off, though, because Alien Breed on Vita is still a wonderful game. It’s a retro classic, it’s still supremely playable and soaked in old-school difficulty. Yes, there are concessions to modern gaming (levels unlock nicely as you make your way through the game for repeated plays, for one) but it’s a much more cohesive, entertaining game that any of the recent current-gen 3D Alien Breeds – this is more focused, direct and as a result, a much better investment.
- Plenty of content
- Stat tracking for each level
- Enhanced mode looks great
- Same solid gameplay
- Iffy shooting controls
- Some tension lost with the removal of the terminals and the introduction of IAPs
If you’re new to the series then this is a great way to experience the sort of games that formed much of the 16-bit era, with 2D visuals and a difficulty curve almost unheard of nowadays. For fans of the original this is a trip down memory lane well worth taking again, a title that still holds its own and not just something that is best left to rose-tinted glasses. With a patch to sort out the shooting (you can use the face buttons, for what it’s worth) and the re-instatement of the terminal shops this would be an unreserved recommendation, as it stands, though, it’s still pretty hard to say no.
Alien Breed is available now from the PSN Store for £3.19. A download code for the game was provided by the publisher for this review.