Come back with me, if you will, through time. Back to an era before the ascendancy of EA, Ubisoft and their like. To the age of the Commodore Amiga, where if it wasn't made by Team 17, the Bitmap Brothers, Bullfrog or Sensible Software, we didn't want to know. Back then, before FPSs, MMORPGs and RTSs, videogaming generally consisted of playing football with a live grenade, inflating a small boy's pocket, or chucking a shiny chrome sphere at your mates while bellowing "Ice cream! Ice cream!"
The teenage joystick-wagglers of the nineties are the responsible adults of today, and don't entertainment companies know it. Star Wars prequels, A new A-Team movie, videogame remakes of all our old favourites... the one thing they all seem to have in common is that they fall flat on their faces - at least in terms of capturing that nostalgic feeling of yesteryear. You can never go back, ladies and gentlemen.
So it was with pessimistically low expectations that I plunged into Alien Breed: Impact. I was not disappointed. It was exactly what I thought it would be.
Set predominantly aboard the Leopold, a starship that has recently stacked into the side of a ‘mysterious' drifting space hulk (spoiler warning: the space hulk is infested with aliens.). As Conrad, the ship's grumpy engineer (who just happens to be a decorated war veteran and all-round action hero) it's up to you to try to save the ship, which is now plunging toward the ice planet Plotdevicia.
And it's no wonder that Conrad is grumpy. The impact of the game's title has knackered just about every system on the ship, at least insofar as you have to leg it from one end of the deck to the other over and over in order to get anything on-line. Now I understand that, in order to make a game, they needed to create a series of mission ‘beats' for the player to respond to. However, was it really necessary for almost every single one of these to be "the samoflange isn't working. You'll need to reroute power from the flux capacitor in order to get it on-line"? Would it really have killed the designers to just let you successfully do something once in a while?
The environments themselves were a definite high point in the game. Darkened, cramped corridors filled with futuristic-looking debris; laboratories and medical bays are filled with ominous-looking tanks containing crewmembers in stasis; disarrayed cabins, storerooms and offices are creepy and dark. Armed only with a flashlight and an improbable number of weapons, your explorations of this dying ship are, inevitably, interrupted by a ton of mutant space freaks.
There are acid-spitters, face-huggers, torso-renders and bulletproof squealers among the extraterrestrial ranks, but they're all dealt with in the time-honoured way: stand there and shoot them. And they'll all die. I played the entire game through on veteran (which is the middle of the three skill settings) and I was never once killed by non-boss aliens. Not once. The only boss that killed me (once) was as a direct result of the camera shifting unexpectedly into a ‘chase' scene. Now I'm not boasting here (after all, there was a harder skill setting), but that seems a little... not good. I should have died more. It sounds like a fairly strange complaint to make against a game, doesn't it?
Just like in the original nineties classic, the floor cracks apart unexpectedly and aliens spew forth from the unexplored areas beneath the ground. Unlike the original, however, these hordes are by no means limitless: once you've blasted everything that comes out of the hole, it all quietens down. Therefore, with a little time and patience, things rarely get out of hand. Thus is some of the frenetic panic of the original lost, and another part of the child within me dies.
Welcome to Intexx Systems! The computers from the original still make the greeting when you log on, but the cold computer voice is not a patch on the one from the original. It's just a sound sample, and it would have done so much to rekindle the Alien Breed feel. The other sound effects, particularly the music, is very much in keeping with what I'd hoped for, and I even felt a little surge of nostalgia the first time a countdown sequence started and the music picked up. Weapon powerups make a token appearance, but there is no real powerup variety between the weapons, and the choice of powerup for each and every weapon is a no-brainer. The survival horror feel that was pretty much born in the nineties' Alien Breed, where ammo and keys are always scarce, has made a departure in this series - I never once felt even close to running out of ammo for any of my weapons.
Of course, if Alien Breed: Impact had been released in the nineties, looking and playing like it does today, we'd have been stunned into amazement, and would have bowed down before our new god. But time and changing expectations have not been kind to the top-down alien blaster as a genre, and now even the relatively low price of £12.99 through Steam seems high for this lacklustre shooter.