‘Back in the day’, games were largely simple, satisfying affairs. Occasionally you’d get an Elite or a Legend of Zelda that pushed the basic technology to its limits, but most titles had you scrolling left to right, obliterating blocky enemies either by shredding them with an obscenely huge gun/axe, or by jumping on their heads if it was a Nintendo game. Sometimes a vague attempt at a plot would be introduced: “The President has been kidnapped by Dracula! Unfortunately, due to staff shortages, we can only afford to send in one guy to rescue him - you!” Still, despite the cheap production and often repetitive gameplay, those games were ridiculous fun - all the more so with a good friend playing alongside you.
Game developers seem to be going through a nostalgic phase at the moment, with old classics such as Bionic Commado and Gauntlet receiving updates and the likes of Alien Breed undergoing the same treatment. However, Sigma Team have taken things a step further, producing an entirely new (albeit highly familiar) retro experience with their Alien Shooter series. With a name like that you know just what you’re in for, and their latest title, Alien Shooter 2: Reloaded, doesn’t disappoint on that front.
Alien Shooter 2 bills itself as a ‘unique’ blend of action and RPG, which implies that Sigma Team have spent the last twenty plus year living in a ditch somewhere in Afghanistan. Regardless, the RPG elements are admirably implemented and complement the action gameplay nicely. When you start a game, you need to assign a perk to your character (anything from leeching life from enemies to having a super-powered punch) and set up their stats (strength, speed, etc) which can be upgraded as your character levels up. It’s all very straightforward, as you’d expect from a hybrid game.
With that out the way, we’re on to the action. Alien Shooter 2’s ‘story’ sees you arriving at a military base just as a huge heap of alien dung hits the fan. Almost instantly you’re surrounded by hordes of enormous arachnids, and your aim is to fight your way through them and meet up with another group of luckless soldiers. This is as complex as the game ever gets. Occasionally you’ll have to find an item or flick a switch, but you’ll mostly just be blasting apart countless armies of disgusting creatures that seem to only hang around in groups of a hundred.
At first you’ll have little more than a peashooter to protect yourself, but thankfully this doesn’t last long. Soon you’ll pick up a basic shotgun, followed by assault rifles and machine guns, and then the really fun stuff - rocket launchers and flame throwers. The variety of weaponry in Alien Shooter 2 is near perfect, as is the satisfaction from using them. Each gun comes in increasingly powerful flavours, with the most lethal shotguns and rifles actually pushing back huge enemies as the slugs tear into them. In addition to weapons, you can find or purchase armour and other items to help boost your chances of survival. A miniature drone that hovers over your head and blasts incoming swarms proves incredibly useful, as do the implants which boost specific stats to almost godlike proportions.
Alien Shooter 2 is undoubtedly an enjoyable experience for the first couple of hours. Mowing down endless waves of aliens is strangely satisfying, especially given the carpets of gore you leave in your wake. Controls are simple - move with the keyboard, shoot in any direction with the mouse. There’s the occasional vehicle or turret section to add a little variety, and ramp up gore levels even further. The game even manages to conjure up some atmosphere in places. The dark, claustrophobic interiors of the base are a perfect shooting ground, open enough to allow huge swarms of aliens to rush you, yet enclosed enough to make you feel trapped. You’re often relying on the narrow beam of your torchlight to pick out any approaching monstrosities, and the tension really becomes unbearable when the surrounding lights flicker and die, or a door is slowly pounded inwards by some enormous beastie on the other side.
Sadly, the atmosphere all but disappears when you leave the base and head out into the city. From then on, you’re simply shooting lots more aliens, and from this point they’re so powerful that even two or three rockets up their jacksie isn’t enough. The result is endless back-pedalling as you frantically try to take them all down. Shooting endless waves quickly becomes tiresome, something gratuitous violence never should be, and little niggles such as your character snagging on scenery are suddenly a lot less forgiveable. And I know this is a retro experience, but does the AI really have to be quite so awful? Every single alien literally crawls/scutters towards you in a direct straight line, and any corners or obstacles in their way will cause them to fit and turn in endless circles.
But the most unforgivable oversight is Sigma Team’s failure to include any kind of co-op mode. All the old classics had the option to play through with a friend, but Alien Shooter 2’s campaign can only be played on your lonesome. There’s a basic survival mode bundled in, where you can play as either a soldier or a turret struggling to survive an endless onslaught, but it’s not nearly enough to provide any kind of replayability value. It’s a damn shame, as Sigma Team were pretty close to providing a worthwhile retro experience. Here’s hoping the new Alien Breed can succeed where Alien Shooter 2 fails.
Any gamers who simply can’t resist the thought of killing thousands of alien creatures in horrifically bloody ways will need be happy to know the system requirements of Alien Shooter 2 are predictably light. You’ll need nothing more than a Pentium 4 with half a gig of RAM to get a smooth and gory experience.