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Aliens is one of the greatest action movies ever made. It’s got a badass main character, aliens, guns, action, explosions, and Michael Biehn. What’s not to like? It was only natural that game developers would be inspired by movies like the Alien franchise and that was exactly the case with Alien Breed. Developed and published by Team17, Alien Breed was released for the Amiga in 1991. An expanded version known as the Special Edition ’92 was released in 1992 and the original game was eventually ported to DOS by MicroLeague in 1993. Alien Breed, the Special Edition, and three new level packs were all bundled together and released for the PlayStation Network in 2012, playable on both the PlayStation 3 and Vita. For this review I played Alien Breed on the PlayStation 3. This 2012 version in particular includes enhanced visuals and a new control scheme but you can also play with the original 16-bit graphics and classic controls. I never played Alien Breed when it released nor had I heard of it until I discovered the original DOS game several years back as abandonware.
The story mode consists of thirty levels total and you get to choose which pack of levels you want to play through. You play as Agent Stone and a backstory, in the form of scrolling text, is given before the first level in each pack. The story really doesn’t mean anything since the gameplay never changes. You must beat one level to unlock the next in the pack and you can replay any levels already completed. There’s six levels in Alien Breed, twelve in the Special Edition, and the three new map packs – Convergence, Valiance, and Synergy, consist of four levels each. Each level is a labyrinth that you must navigate to complete objectives before exiting via a lift deck and moving on to the next level. Every level has a primary objective that you must complete and you’ll be doing things like reactivating computer systems, destroying power domes, and shutting down reactor feeds among other similar activities. After completing your primary objective, sometimes a self-destruct sequence will initiate so you must get to the lift deck before the timer reaches zero. If you don’t make it to the lift in time you die and have to start the level over. This can get frustrating if you’ve spent twenty minutes figuring out how to get to your objective only to die because you didn’t escape in time.
There’s plenty of aliens to kill and they will endlessly spawn in so the real challenge comes from navigation the maze-like levels without getting lost. When playing with the enhanced visuals you’re given waypoints to help guide you through the levels but these can be toggled on or off in the options menu. There’s a wide array of weapons to use and the new dual-stick shooter control scheme makes the combat way too easy so playing with classic controls may be the way to go if you want a tougher challenge or something closer to the original experience. The Special Edition levels are easily the most challenging and the new level packs are just a joke. Convergence, alone, can be completed in under five minutes. The new levels don’t contain anything really new except new labyrinths to explore and I don’t understand why they didn’t just combine the new levels into one level pack. The length of the game is determined by how long it takes you to navigate the levels and it’s really not that hard. As you progress through each level pack the levels become more intricate and confusing but you can probably beat all thirty levels within a few hours. There’s no level editor or different types of gameplay modes so the replay value is pretty low which is a shame unless you’re obsessed with achieving the high scores in each level. Your score depends on how many aliens you kill and the accuracy of your shots. There’s no difficulty modes to choose from but you can play co-operatively with another player online but it doesn’t change the fact that the gameplay gets repetitive quickly.
Like many games of the 90s, Alien Breed is all about figuring out where to go, collecting keys, and opening doors. Doors play a major element in the game and the most common doors can be opened with keys or by blasting through them with your weapons. Considering that ammo never seems to be a problem and because I got tired of hunting for keys and wasting money on them in the shop, I found shooting my way through doors is the easiest way progress. Using keys is faster but I found that saving them for a quick escape later on was a better idea. What I don’t like is that you have no control over if you want to use the keys or not. If you’re holding a key and you’re standing close enough to a door, it will automatically open. That can be annoying if don’t want to use it. Fire doors require you to shoot or press a switch to open and close them, laser doors allow you to pass through from only one side, and arc doors restrict access to a single path but the arc can be altered by activating the switch. Both the laser and arc doors only seem to exist for the sole purpose of making navigation more challenging. As you traverse through the levels you can pick up keys, ammo, health packs, extra lives, and credits on the ground to aid you in your fight against the alien threat. Credits can be used for purchasing items in the shop including, health, keys, ammo, extra lives, new weapons, and a map. The map is extremely useful and even if you’re playing with waypoints turned off, the map can show you where to go if you get stuck. The ammo is used for all weapons and weapons can be switched out at any time with the press of a button. You start out with a rapid firing machinegun and can buy other types like shotguns, lasers, and flamethrowers among others. All of the weapons can easily dispatch the aliens so I never felt like I really needed better firepower. Your weapons, lives, credits, and health carry over into each level and you can keep grinding one level for credits to buy all the weapons if you wanted.
If the space stations in these games were real places, I would hunt down the architect and shoot that person in the face. Aliens or no aliens, you would clearly need a map just to get around these environments and I’m not a fan of mazes but that’s where the real challenge of the game comes in. Some levels contain environmental hazards like holes in the ground, acid, and these crushing mechanisms but they can easily be avoided. When playing with the new control scheme, the combat is also very easy to the point of becoming an annoyance because you’re just trying to get through the maze and move on and the aliens are just kind in the way. You may not understand why this game was even popular back in the day because it just feels so easy. The dual stick shooting feels great but being able to aim in any direction at all times changes things significantly and the combat becomes very unbalanced in your favor because of it. If you play using the classic controls, things begin to make a little more sense. You can only shoot in the direction your facing so running from the aliens will be a common thing. So not only do you have to traverse through maze-like levels but now you’ll need to be a bit more careful as you navigate. There’s a few different alien types, humanoid and these little crawling creatures, but they don’t do much except walk around and charge at you and if they touch you, you lose health. They don’t fire any form of projectiles and they just keep spawning until you complete the level. Every weapon can kill them with only a few shots or less so they don’t pose much of a threat in general. Some levels contain bosses, if you want to call them that, which are these giant alien creatures and these are by far the easiest enemies in the game since they don’t actually do anything. They just move around and that’s it, nothing else. It’s not hard to avoid them and you just shoot them until they die. I don’t know why they were designed like this but the bosses are extremely disappointing and that’s when I realized that this game isn’t really about combat. The constantly spawning aliens and the bosses themselves are just a way to hinder your navigation. The different weapons don’t add much to the experience since you can get through the game easily with just the basic machinegun. If playing with the classic control scheme, different weapons may prove to be more useful but it doesn’t change things up all that much.
When playing with the enhanced visuals, textures looks sharp and crisp, animations are bit smoother compared to the 16-bit original, and the aliens have a slightly different appearance. The levels are designed to look like space stations and do contain a very “tech-y” look. Computer stations, conduits, and other structures fill the environments but most of them look the same. Some have slightly altered appearances with different colored floors but there’s not a ton of visual variety. There’s different areas within a level, identified by text on the ground like different zones, maintenance, and storage for example. They can be helpful if you know the area in which your objective is. With the waypoints turned off, finding the objectives becomes significantly more difficult as is trying to escape before a level self destructs. Some levels allow you to walk up and down ramps and stairs and it’s very easy to fall off ledges, requiring you to walk to wherever the closest ramp is. Falling down holes and touching arc lasers are an instant death but extra lives are not hard to come by. When it comes to the sound work, there’s not much to talk about. There’s no music during gameplay and the sound effects are as basic as they come. Instead of music you’ll be listening to what sounds like the inside of a data center accompanied by the occasional sounds of beeping. I understand the game is dated but I still think they could have done a little more in the sound department for the enhanced version. The sound effects are of at least better quality but some music or the addition of more ambient sounds would have been welcome. The sound effects match the tech-theme the game is going for but I found myself drowning them out after a while. One technical issue I noticed is that the game’s display would sporadically cut out for a few seconds which was never captured in the recordings. Maybe it has to do with the PS3 outputting the game to 1080p, I’m not sure, but it gets annoying.
Overall, I would say Alien Breed is just dated. Maybe I had to play it when it first released for the Amiga because I know it was pretty popular in it’s day but I just found it to be boring after a while. It was fun at first but once I got the hang of things, I found the entire game to be way too easy and the only challenge offered is in it’s maze-like level design. I am not a fan of mazes but I don’t hold that against the game because if you’re into that kind of thing, this may be a game you can enjoy. The dual-stick shooter controls feel great but also remove all challenge from the combat. It wasn’t until I played this using the 16-bit graphics where the classic control scheme is defaulted that I discovered how the game is probably meant to be played and I definitely got a little more enjoyment out of it. The shop system is cool but, in the end, it’s not enough to save the game from extreme repetition. The bosses are easier to combat than the standard enemies and the enemy variety is just lacking. Because the game is dated I can let most of these things slide so with that said, my biggest issue with the game is the mazes. I just don’t care for them. But if you enjoy blasting away aliens and traversing through mazes, I would highly recommend Alien Breed.