Whether it’s the gorgeous visuals, the tight gameplay or the endless loot, there’s a lot to like about Alienation. The problem, however, is that it doesn't quite come together into a great package.
Alienation is the latest title by Housemarque, developer of acclaimed titles Resogun, Super Stardust, and Dead Nation. Like those games, Alienation is a fast-paced shooter, this time taking the form of an isometric twin-stick shooter. The game tells a story we're all familiar with. Aliens have secretly invaded Earth and slowly taken over, leaving humanity with little choice but to fight back. A unit of exoskeleton wearing soldiers has been activated as humanity’s last chance to defeat the alien invaders. The originality of the plot is rather indicative of the rest of the game.
When booting up the game for the first time, players are offered the choice of one of three classes: the bio-specialist, the tank, and the saboteur. Each class has unique abilities and skill trees to unlock as you progress through the story. The bio-specialist can heal allies or attack enemies with a swarm of nanobots. The tank, naturally, can deal a lot of damage and take more of a beating than the other classes can. The saboteur, a more stealth focused class, can call in airstrikes and has access to a sword-based melee attack. Once a class is selected, it’s off to a brief training mission and then the campaign begins.
The campaign takes the form of twenty missions that take players through five different main locations. Each mission has you spawn in and fight through endless hordes of alien creatures in an attempt to complete an objective (and any optional side missions you wish) and then evacuate out of the mission zone. Though missions tend to feel a bit derivative after a while, the stunning visuals and the variety in enemy design helps keep things interesting. Some enemies will rush to swarm you while others will sit back and dump countless projectiles into the chaos. The game can get hectic at times, with whole sections of the screen covered with gunfire, explosions and enemy corpses, but never once does the game hitch up or drop frames.
Killing enemies and completing missions will net experience, and as the character levels up the player will be awarded points that can be spent on the character's skill trees as wanted. The basic skills on each character unlock very quickly, and it becomes a choice of how you want to use those abilities in battle. It’s not a very deep leveling system, as once you’ve unlocked the base abilities they don’t really change much as you progress further besides offering tweaks like more damage or a larger melee radius. Alienation as a whole would have benefited greatly from a deeper leveling system offering players more customization.
The loot system, much like the leveling system, is relatively bare-bones. You’ll find loot in crates hidden throughout levels or get drops from enemies, and soon find yourself digging through menus of weapons coded in familiar colors signaling rarity. Like any loot system, it’s exciting at first, but after getting another SMG with just slightly better stats for the hundredth time it starts to lose its appeal. More weapon variety would have been great, because as it stands your primary weapon will be your primary weapon throughout the entire game, with only basic things like damage output and rate of fire changing depending on the drops you’ve gotten. Considering this is a game about fighting off an alien invasion, it would have been nice to be able to use some alien weaponry throughout the missions.
You do also get the option to break down weapons you don’t want and use the scrap parts to upgrade or reroll weapon stats. The reroll mechanic is interesting as it gives you the chance to either have your weapon become hugely powerful or much weaker than before. It’s a fun gambling mechanic to mess around with for a bit, but ultimately doesn’t really make weapons you’ve already used all game any more interesting in the long run.
Alienation is a game heavily focused on multiplayer, for better and for worse. While the game does allow for single player, some missions end up feeling a bit too difficult without other players to lighten the load. It’s good then that multiplayer is so easy to access. When you select a mission a list of lobbies will be presented for the player to join. Click one and you’re instantly in. It’s that simple. The game feels best balanced with four players, though it is manageable with even just one other player. What’s a shame, however, is that multiplayer is completely online. There is no local co-op present, even though Alienation is a game just begging for it.
The biggest disappointment, however, comes upon completion of the game. Rather than unlocking new modes or something else to sink your teeth into, Alienation wipes your campaign progress and beckons you to start again. You keep your weapons and experience and are told to do the same missions again except this time the enemies will be stronger and you’ll be given bonus bounties to complete as you do those missions. It feels all too similar to Destiny. What’s worse is that there’s no clear reward or reason for doing the campaign again. Destiny has raids and other endgame content players can look forward to. Alienation has no such thing. Sure, you might get some more loot, but is it really worth it to see the same SMG with slightly better stats drop again and again?
Alienation is a game worth checking out if you’re a fan of Housemarque’s brand of shooter action, and especially if you have a group of friends who want to run through the game together. Don’t expect it to last forever, though, as after beating the campaign in five or six hours you may find yourself drawn towards deeper experiences rather than playing it again.
Alienation was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the developer.
While Alienation does everything it tries to do well, it fails to be as deep and rewarding an experience as it tries to present itself as.