Over the years, Housemarque have often led the way for PlayStation gamers. Super Stardust HD was one of the first major successes to grace the PlayStation Store on PS3, delivering pitch perfect arcade action, and Resogun served the same purpose for the PS4’s launch, while Dead Nation set a very different tone with its zombie shooting and more co-operative focus. But what if all of these were combined together?
That was the initial pitch behind Alienation, to see what the lovechild between Resogun and Dead Nation would be – as it was put during the PlayStation Digital Showcase. As gaming mash-ups go, it’s one of the safest bets around, and leads to a fast-paced action-filled shooter that feels almost sure to become a new fan favourite.
At the heart of all of this is a renewed co-op focus, with up to four players teaming up to take on the hordes of aliens that attack you. On your own, it’s entirely possible to find yourself outnumbered and overwhelmed as you’re backed into a corner by large numbers of lesser enemies or discover that you’re simply no match for the larger aliens that attack you. You can very easily find yourself downed and waiting to be revived or for your respawn timer to tick down.
Even just within the sample level, there was plenty of variety to the types of alien that you encounter. Ranging from small ones that head straight for you and those that are wont to explode if you let them get to close, to those who leave a destructive trail as they perform teleporting attacks or are simply hulking great big beasties that will take and dish out a lot of damage. In some cases, you’ll need to work together with any teammates you might have to be able to divide and conquer or skirt around to find a weak spot.
Having said that, you have a fair amount of firepower of your own. The guns at your disposal can happily dish out a steady, seemingly endless stream of bullets without the need to reload, whether a conventional weapon or some form of energy weapon, while grenades have large explosions that you’ll need to wield carefully, as they deal damage to all and sundry. Firing freely and constantly brings that arcade feel to the game, but you will eventually find yourself clicking on empty. Your bullets regenerate automatically, but when your weapon runs dry, you’re left shooting at but a fraction of the rate you once were and suddenly find yourself much more vulnerable to attack.
That’s where the looting and RPG-like progression come into play. You’ll initially be limited to just a single gun and a single type of grenade, but the aliens drop a number of weapons for you to pick up, each of which seemed to have a variable rarity and capacity to deal damage. Diving into the menus allows you to switch to another, potentially more powerful gun, but you could also unlock a second, third and fourth weapon slot, spread across the four face buttons with four grenades switched via the D-pad.
There’s a certain rawness to the pre-alpha build that was on show, with things like the guiding line that points you to the next objective very much a work in progress. Some of the abilities have placeholder effects, and it’s difficult to get a handle on how the three character classes will differ, but it’s an enticing new addition to Housemarque’s previous games that will put a different spin on the co-op dynamics on show.
Whatever the classes in use, with four of you together it’s a recipe for unmitigated carnage, and the game manages to look quite stunning in the process. Where Resogun wowed with its voxels and vast cuboid explosions, this will push the PS4 hardware in different ways, with quite gorgeous lighting effects through snowy wastelands or the greenery of nature reclaiming what was once a build up area, and particle effects like rain or snow aplenty.
Yet, with the surge of co-op gaming in various forms over the last year, I fear that Alienation loses some of the individuality that Housemarque games tend to have. Helldivers has a similar sounding set up, top down four player co-op and procedurally generated levels, and there are countless games with the hook of an endless stream of loot and RPG-like progression that try to keep you coming back for more.
In the end though, this is Housemarque, and after the excellence of Super Stardust HD, Resogun and Dead Nation, you can practically put money on Alienation being of the same calibre. There’s just something that I find so appealing about their games and though it’s still early days – the build on show was pre-alpha – this could be their best yet.