by William Thompson
reviewed on NDS
Get away from her, you bitch
The Aliens series of movies starring Sigourney Weaver is one of the most loved by fans of the sci-fi genre. The plots involving the parasitic aliens known as Xenomorphs are ones that nightmares are made of. And now the face-huggers and Xenos have made their way to the portable DS, in the form of the Metroid-style 2D side scrolling shooter, Aliens: Infestation. With the game set in a number of locations from within the Aliens universe, the game is a fan’s dream. From the USS Sulaco, to the planet known as LV-426, and the exosuit cargo loader used by Ripley to battle the alien queen, there are plenty of references to the movies. The game has attempted to stay true to the movies, even down to the weapons that are used to battle the extraterrestrial creatures.
They're coming outta the walls
Aliens: Infestation is one of the tougher games on the Nintendo handheld. Gamers start the game with a squad of four, although you only ever control one character at a time. When the unfortunate happens and your current avatar dies, the next marine is chosen to complete the mission. Run out of marines, and it is game over, man. And you will need to reload from your last save, or start again. And you will die occasionally. The boss battles are difficult and it’s highly likely that you will need more than one marine to take down the bosses, so it is definitely an idea to have at least one in reserve. Luckily, throughout the levels are marines from other squads lingering around. If you are down a squad member or two, these marines will join your squad.
But having said the game is tough, it does seem to get easier as you progress. Weapons with better firepower become available as you wander around the various facilities, and those such as the flamethrower require less frequent or no reloading, help to dispose of stronger enemies. Weapon upgrades also make lighter work of Xenomorphs and other various foes. Each weapon (including your secondary pistol) can be upgraded three times, essentially giving the impression that the aliens become easier as you progress.
In Space, no one can hear you scream
The dramatic background music definitely sets the tone of the game, giving off a suspenseful tone as you travel throughout the locations. The tap, tap, tapping of your current avatar’s footsteps as well as the blips from your movement device fill the corridors as you await for something to jump out at you from the walls or ceilings. The sound of the combat rifle or shotgun discharge feels wonderful as you see the enemy drop, or hear the squeals of the Xenomorphs as you torch them with your flamethrower.
Visually, Aliens: Infestation does a more than decent job with the hardware. The 2D side-scrolling works extremely well, and combining with the superb background music, sets up just the right amount of atmosphere. With your comic book style squad member walking through the dark corridors, there is always the fear that a Xenomorph will appear from the floors or ceiling. But, with all the gameplay occurring in the top screen, it is quite easy to see when something is coming at you. The characters are a decent size and the alien creatures and other foes are easily to distinguish from each other. Not too hard I guess when there are only a handful of alien variants and a couple of non-alien enemy units.
I got signals. I got readings, in front and behind.
The bottom touch-screen works well visually for the most part too. With details on your current squad, weapons and inventory clearly visible on one page and the map of your location (once it has been accessed) on another page. The map is particularly important as it indicates both your location and various important sites throughout the current setting. Important sites can also be identified with the use of flares that are indicated by red dots on the map.
One of the important areas marked by the map is the safe rooms. There are no automatic saves apart from those when starting a new mission branch. Saving is done at any one of these safe rooms. For some reason, Xenomorphs and other foes have not yet learned how to enter these rooms. These rooms also allow your marines to replenish their health and refill the ammo packs, as well as switch weapons. This is one of the few gripes I have with the game. If you want to switch weapons, you must do so in theses safe rooms. You cannot switch weapons in-game (apart from switching between you primary weapon and your pistol); meaning that if you want to change weapons you have to trudge back to your nearest safe room.
The controls are smooth and intuitive with the only exception of having to switch between the map and the weapons screens if you want to manually reload. Throughout the game, especially when using the shotgun, it is an idea to manually reload so that you’re not caught short when battling an alien or other foe. Although it is simply a matter of touching the touch-screen to switch, it could have been simpler to attach a button press to do so, rather than switching to the weapons screen and touching the weapon.
Game over man, game over
But these complaints are minor and do little to reduce what is an otherwise enjoyable game. Although the game is largely linear, there is a non-linear feel to it due to the fact that you’ll spend time visiting locations on multiple occasions. Most of the game is spent on the USS Sulaco, but areas are off limits until you have unlocked new items or found the right key card. This gives a sense of replayability despite the linearity. But once completed, there isn’t necessarily the need to play through the game again. And the unlockable Knife Trick mode (think Bishop at the beginning of Aliens) feels tacked on and is unexciting. But the main game is a fun experience, especially for fans of the movie series. The ambient background music really sets the tone for this tougher than normal and more mature DS title. If you’re a fan of the Aliens series and own a DS, then Aliens: Infestation should certainly be on your shopping list.
Love the difficulty level...tougher than most DS titles, especially early on. Audio sets the tone beautifully.
Switching between the map and the weapons screens to reload can be a pain. Cannot switch weapons in game, only in safe rooms.