When Alien Breed first landed in 1991, its origins and influences were clear. James Cameron’s 1986 movie was obviously the basis for the game, although the developers, Amiga darlings Team 17, were careful enough to ensure that the top down scrolling blaster had an identity of its own. It did – there was more than enough to make Alien Breed stand out as an original shooter – but for me it was an excuse to pretend I was Hicks, running about on my own personal bug hunt.
Sequels and expansions followed – more maps, more weapons, and the game got better and better each time. There were some truly stand out moments (not least the Alien-esque power-off panics as you rush back to the exit under the threatening glow of the red emergency lights and the deafening siren) but it was a brilliant two player co-op experience regardless of the version.
When the game was rebooted for current gen machines, the viewpoint changed, the mechanics changed and the game, whilst pretty enough, ended up not being all that great, with the all-important shooting and survival mostly replaced by oddly tedious backtracking and heavy signposting that pretty much managed to remove all the tension.
The recent PlayStation Mobile version was a solid port of the original, though, although it suffered from a lack of multiplayer and the presence of in-app purchases where there used to be in-game terminals. This somewhat spoiled the flow of the game as players could buy the heavier weapons and ensure they were sufficiently protected enough to not really need to worry about the difficulty level, which, on the Amiga, was devilishly tough. When Team 17 announced they were bringing the game to the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita, hopes were high that the studio would get everything just right.
The promises are there: multiplayer, more levels, online co-op, trophies. Has to be perfeect, right?
Well, yes, nearly. Playable, like the recent Mobile (and iOS) versions, in both ‘old school’ and newly revamped visuals (and tweaked control methods) Alien Breed can be both soaked in retro goodness or viewed in super crisp (but not quite as characterful) HD. Are the new visuals ‘enhanced’ as described? Possibly, but it’s well worth trying out both to see which suits. It’s also worth mentioning that the Amiga graphics retain the much trickier shooting (you can only fire forwards) whilst the new visuals let you use both sticks to aim where you want regardless of direction.
Curiously, on the Vita there’s an annoying issue carried over with the right stick – there’s no deadzone, so the slightest of movements will cause you to fire. That’s an issue when ammo is low, or when you’re near a door that’ll trigger if shot. Quite why this wasn’t fixed is anyone’s guess.
This version does feature more levels – the original six from Alien Breed, the updated set from the Special Edition (which came out in 1992) and three sets of four more levels created more recently. To be honest, the tilesets are largely duplicated throughout, and it’s the original set that are the most fun to play through – I also found the newer levels to be ridiculously easy – one ‘rush’ to the exit involved having nearly 40 seconds to spare, and I was hardly sprinting either. Ammo and cash wasn’t sparse, so there wasn’t much need for tactics.
The game feels slightly bitty too. In multiplayer, which once in a game works flawlessly, both players are booted back to the main menu after a single level – you can’t do a run of levels in sequence, and you can’t stick with the player you just played with. When we tried the cross platform chat we had to just let the game’s matchmaking pair us up – the option to invite and join a PSN friend failed each time, largely because the PS3 thought the Vita was offline.
A teething issue with the game being played before release? Hopefully.
The game supports local multiplayer though, which is probably better suited. On the PS3 this is on the same screen, on Vita it’s (obviously) Ad-Hoc. The developers have added a nice zoom out feature to the game so that players can be further apart, but you do both need to generally stick close together. Progress through the game on one platform can be echoed across to the other via Cross-Save, which is handy. The game also supports leaderboards and trophies.
So, how is the game? Well, it’s better than the PS Mobile version, and on PlayStation 3 it’s easily the best it’s ever been. Team 17 have done a solid enough job, although it’s not free from the odd niggle – the touch interface on the Vita is pretty much horrible, for example – hopefully any issues can be patched out down the line. For fans of the original this is a welcome trip down memory lane – especially if you play the game in Amiga mode – and nicely timed against SEGA’s Aliens: Colonial Marines next week.
Alien Breed releases in Europe tomorrow for £6.49 (with a 20% Plus discount) and next week in the US. It’s a Cross-Buy title, so you only need to buy it once to get both versions.
Copies of the game were provided by the publisher for testing.