The Amiga bore plenty of top tier games, and one that still stands tall as a great example of the games of the era was Team 17’s Alien Breed, a top-down two-player shooter that closely resembled the Alien movies (Aliens in particular) with some great level design and tension in spades. The follow ups grew progressively better, too, until they peaked with the Doom-inspired Alien Breed 3D, which, in hindsight, pushed the ageing hardware well beyond its limits. Last year Team 17 kick-started the brand with the start of a three episode series, to varying levels of critical success, and this week released the second: Alien Breed 2: Assault, riffing off the subtitle of the third Amiga game: Tower Assault.
Assault’s problem, though, is that it’s essentially the exact same game as the first episode of the Alien Breed reboot – and frustratingly Team 17 have rumbled on, ignorant and seemingly oblivious to the criticisms levied at it. Sure, the first few seconds are promising – Assault features close up in-engine cut scenes for the first time – but then the remaining hour of the first level plays out precisely to prescription. Running about in the dark shooting at Giger inspired aliens should be fun – and it probably would be – but your time and focus is generally lost in the hokum of some borderline ridiculous and often insulting to and fro sub missions that normally revolve around the dumb and arbitrary – press a switch, find out the switch needs a fuse, get a fuse, go back to switch. Repeat ad nauseum.
This backtracking and thinning of an already wafer-like plot wasn’t an issue in 1991 because back then it was wrapped up in tense, desperate encounters with an enemy both terrifying and powerful, with ammo sparse and health packs light – but here it feels like it’s Team 17’s primary objective is to eat away at any carefully constructed atmosphere by forcing the player to spend most of his time performing the sorts of tasks that would be more at home on The Sims. It’s like the storytelling and action is lost amidst the need to pad out each of the game’s five levels, peppering the plot with glowing waypoint markers leading the player by the hand at every junction. It gets better during the game’s length, gradually upping the pace, but not by much.
Alien Breed 2: Assault also isn’t terribly scary, whether the fault of the game’s top-down elevation or that of the creature designs, most of which haven’t changed from their biomechanical leanings in last year’s first episode. The former’s obviously a self-enforced throwback to the Amiga classic, but it’s when the camera shifts downwards to follow the player (or, indeed, switches to first person when manning a mounted gun) that the game offers real tension and fear; otherwise you’re just taking out skittering aliens that only ever threaten in number, never in design. Even the bosses fail to scare, with the game’s first even casting aside the previously enforced fact that red barrels are dangerous to the monsters by making them unhittable.
It’s not all bad, though – Assault’s highlights include some improved graphics, a couple of new weapons and the much more entertaining co-op mode. By upping the number of enemies and sharing the spoils, the lovely two player mode eschews the rigmarole of the single player and offers up a great diversion, with the shared screen rewarding skilful teamwork. Likewise, the nods to the 16-bit original, such as the Intex terminals where you can buy upgrades, ammunition and save the game are fun and much welcomed fan service, but we suspect fans of Team 17’s sprite-based classic will find the multiple, poorly structured objectives a bore when a singular, focused goal worked so well twenty years ago.
- improved graphics and lighting help build the atmosphere
- great, creepy sound design
- multiplayer is much better than the single
- survival mode, a new addition, is fun
- repetitive gameplay all but spoils the single player tension
- cut-scenes have the annoying habit of leaving the camera facing the wrong way
Team 17’s second episode of such a well loved series could have been much better, but the game’s main mode is hamstrung by poor pacing a lack of new features making it hard to recommend to anyone that didn’t find favour with the first. That said, if you’re new to the series Assault is a more complete game and certainly doesn’t rely on the player having already beaten the previous, but it’s a better rounded experience with a friend, either locally or over Xbox Live, where the game shuns the dull back and forth and instead presents a streamlined, more energetic piece of entertainment.