Review: Alien Breed 3 – Descent

Alien Breed has been around for a few years short of forever, heralding back to the much-loved Amiga days and has been cropping up on various formats ever since. With Alien Breed 3: Descent, Team 17 have brought to a close their latest Alien Breed trilogy on Steam and XBLA, with a PSN version coming a litte later down the line.

Fans of the series will know the score by now, and even those who are new to Alien Breed won’t take long to work out what’s going on. A useful “previously on Alien Breed” comic style introduction updates you on the events on the previous 2 episodes, letting you know that you’re all alone and still hunting down Klein the bad guy while your ship, the Leopald, is heading for the icy planet below that you’re about to crash into. Let’s face it, we’ve all been in that situation at least once.

Early parts of the game break you in gently, letting you get to grips with the controls and work out what’s what. Conrad has somewhat clumsily lost all of his weapons since the last time we saw him, so you’ll spend much of the early stages of the game hunting round for a decent weapon with the hope that you don’t have to resort to your pistol, which deals almost as much damage as giving the enemy a dirty look. The weapons are varied enough to be interesting, starting at a simple assault rifle and getting far more interesting with the very cool flame-thrower and the new electro gun. Ammo for the more beefy weapons is in short supply, but when they’re fully loaded they’re beautifully destructive. There are also terminals dotted around that let you upgrade or re-stock your weapons in exchange for credits that you’ll find scattered around the place, or found by searching the many human corpses lying around. It also doesn’t take long to realise how noisy your journey through the ship is going to be, with explosions going off frequently, causing lights to flicker and setting areas on fire. It’s can be a little off putting with the camera constantly shaking and jolting from the explosions, but that’s the point, and it’s another way of making you realise how urgent the situation is. What does work undeniably well though is the ambient sounds that are more than enough to freak out even the most solid-nerved gamer, with aliens scratching at the walls and scuttling around in the dark ahead. The voice of Klein is also suitably freaky, and it all comes together to work brilliantly together. Plug yourself in to a decent set of headphones and you’ll wonder if there’s even one sat next to you on the sofa.

The way the aliens are presented doesn’t offer much variety however, and if you wander into a dark corridor or room, you can pretty much guarantee to stumble across something who fancies a slice of your head for lunch.  But luckily you’ve got a handy radar showing where all the nearby aliens are, as you’re working your way through the ship it’s a genuinely enjoyable affair. Using one stick to move and another to aim isn’t a new control mechanism, and with the recent release of Dead Nation isn’t even a unique feature at the moment, but it does work well. Being able to run around while shooting in any direction is a handy tool to have, and it fits the almost-top-down view perfectly, although once you start sprinting you’re limited to only firing straight ahead. It feels natural too; creeping round a corner to fire a few shots before dashing back out of the way is a piece of cake. You can spin the camera round at any point if you need a slightly different angle on things, which is useful considering there are occasions when a wall obscures your view of your enemies or Conrad himself. In this sense you really need to be ahead of the game and know where you want to go before you go there so you don’t miss out on seeing something important. It’s also worth experimenting and hunting around to find extra ammo, weapons and other pickups which are quite often vital to get rid of what lies ahead. Not only that but you get to see every corner of the ship which on the whole looks pretty good, with damaged cabling hanging from the ceiling, sparks flying from broken control points and blackened walls where fires have previously been burning.

Unlike previous titles in the series, you actually get to go outside the ship to hunt down more bad guys which looks mightily impressive (and as strange as it sounds, the silence sounds amazing), but does little more than give you a slight diversion from the main action. Not that there’s anything really wrong with the main action, it’s entertaining stuff and the story plugs away reasonably well to keep you interested in carrying on to the end, but it does get very samey. This though tends to be a criticism aimed at many games of this genre, and surely one day someone will work out how to make them varied enough to stop the repetitive nature, but Alien Breed certainly doesn’t quite manage it, and you’ll need to be strong willed to cope with the constant “surprise” of aliens in the next room with just a single shotgun shell and a pea shooter to take them on with.

It’s not that the effort isn’t there though. In addition to plugging away by yourself there is an option to play through using a 2 player co-op system, either locally or over XBL, which certainly makes it more entertaining in the long run. In addition to this is a survival mode, which pits you against endless numbers of aliens with no objective other than to shoot what you can before succumbing to the masses. It gives you something else to come back to once you’ve finished the main campaign, although how long you’ll continue to come back is questionable.

Another big issue I had, especially when getting killed a few times by the same boss, was the cut scenes. First time round they’re fine, but you can’t skip them and having to sit and watch the same scene every time you die almost makes you not want to bother trying again. And considering the first boss battle is quite tough in comparison to the rest of the opening stages of the game, this sudden leap in difficulty is a frustrating moment when you have to repeat the last 10 minutes over and over.

So where does that leave us? Well it looks nice, sounds good and you get to shoot a huge number of aliens, which is great news, but it can get overwhelming at times and some will find it a bit of a slog to get to the end, especially considering how easy it is to run out of ammo and be a sitting duck until you find something else to help out. Ultimately though you’re getting quite a lot of game for your 800 points, and if shooting aliens is your thing, the chances are you’ll enjoy it, but there’s no denying that this isn’t for everyone – a Marmite game you could say. Those that haven’t played top-down(ish) games before might need some time to get to grips with it, and you can expect to run out of ammo and die a few times en route, but if you enjoy it and stick with it you’ll find a fairly enjoyable game that brings another chapter of Alien Breed to a close.

For now.

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