Aliens: Infestation surprised me. Not in the “Hey guy, what’s wrong with your chest? Looks like something’s trying to burst out of it!” sort of way – rather, it was surprisingly difficult. I died repeatedly, found myself stuck trying to decide whether it was worth pushing to find the next checkpoint, or safer to back track to the last. It’s not often I find a game that fills me with such a sense of trepidation that I pause for thought.
Aliens: Infestation is a 2D shooter for DS, based in the timeframe of the second movie in the franchise. You start with a squad of four marines. Some resemble the crew from the movie, others take on the form of action movie commando clichés. Each one has glimmers of different personalities in their text and waiting animations, but unfortunately none of them handle differently whatsoever. I assume this is because the game doesn’t want you to become too attached to them, as you they can have a very short lifespan. This isn’t a spoiler, they will die. You will get them killed.
There are some chances for rescue, as marines can be taken away and cocooned, but most will come down with a serious case of permadeath, never to be seen again. Although there are enough marines to get you through the game, I couldn’t get past certain bosses without losing at least a couple of the bastards. And when I say certain, I mean any. When a marine falls, instead of restarting the mission, or loading the last save point, you’re thrown into the exact place where you just died. This can be an advantage as the boss damage carries over and you might be a grenade or two away from the win, but it can be a huge disadvantage if the reason you died was being trapped in a corner being torn apart faster than you could say “Lance Henriksen”.
It feels like they are completely aware of this “expendable marine” phenomenon and throw you straight back into the action as a way to finish a section. In Infestation, as you are moving backwards and forwards through installations, they chose to let aliens and items respawn when you leave an area. This mechanic forces you to be careful about your approach to infested corridors, and makes you really think about conserving ammunition. This also means when you enter a so called ‘safe room’ to replenish health, ammunition and save the game, it will reset every alien and enemy trooper on the level. You can exploit the mechanic by leaving and re-entering areas which have bullets or health, bringing you back to a respectable level, but this doesn’t help the fact that you’ve also reset every enemy you just killed to get there. Unfortunately, this is the downfall of Aliens: Infestation, as killing the same mobs in the same situations gets pretty repetitive pretty quickly.
Once you start learning the location and attack of each alien as you run back and forth trying to find mission items, the only thing that really threatens you between bosses is your own impatience. If you step a little too close, it’s easy to get caught and knocked down by an attack. The aliens seem to have an uncanny ability to catch you during your standing animation to administer fatal maulings, making the game require a little more caution and care than your standard, run-of-the-mill 2D shooter.
Staying true to the movie, you can pick up the pretty much all the weapons they used, from pulse rifles to the splattering shotgun and ‘incinerator units’. Each one has different capabilities: The shotgun is powerful, but needs reloading. The machine gun fires rapidly, but supposedly weaker and the handgun has infinite ammo, but is pathetic. Unlike the other useful guns, the incinerator has unlimited ammunition. It takes a bit longer to crispify the xenos, but the damage over time and general ‘usefullness of fire’ far outweighs the drawbacks. The only real disadvantage is when you’re purging the unclean from the room – it can be quite easy to lose track of their actions when all you can see is fire. Did I mention you won’t actually get the incinerator until you’re more than halfway through? I’m pretty sure I did.
Though Infestation was easy enough to play, I did notice a few speed/lag issues when action got quite frantic. Rolling past an alien would sometimes work, and sometimes damage you. When approaching a roof-crawling alien with the intention of commando rolling underneath it, only to get up and blast it into oblivion (in the manner of an employer), I found myself shooting in the direction I had rolled, mowing down the various wires and plates attached to the walls. This may have been human error, but given the severity of the other minor interaction/animation issues I’m willing to call shenanigans.
At first glance Aliens: Infestation has all the fun and character of classic 2D action games I played when I was a lad, complete with supercharged bosses, splattering gore and simple, fun action. At second and third glance, you start to realise you’re a bit bored of glancing at the same guy you’ve killed 8 times. The game still has plenty of charming attributes which will attract and delight people, but only a few will be willing to push through the tedium and feast on its gooey insides.