Platforms: Xbox 360
Publisher: Mastertronic Games
Team 17's Alien Breed trilogy delivered some slick and attractive shooting action over the last few months... but since the first episode was definitely the weakest of the three, many gamers justifiably felt uncomfortable with taking the plunge. Luckily Mastertronic Games have bundled the entire affair onto a single disc retailing for around £18 at launch: providing a slight saving (£2.40 by my count) as well as a way of netting the whole adventure in a single purchase.
Right off the bat, let's spotlight the biggest advantage of buying the Alien Breed Trilogy edition over the individual downloads. Many gamers refused to buy into an downloadable episodic series, but the experience makes much more sense as a whole. We've already reviewed Alien Breed: Impact and Descent, but now that they're all in one place rather than seperate games, it's a different beast as well as a more worthwhile package.
When the Starship Leopold crashes into a mysterious "ghost ship" populated by extraterrestrial horrors, it's up to the heroic chief engineer to repair the stricken vessel, investigate the situation and attempt to purge the Breed from existence. To do so, players will guide him around a number of isometric maps, using a variety of weapons and the tried-and-tested twinstick shooting mechanics to get the job done.
And they certainly do get the job done. Alien Breed offers a selection of horrific, interesting adversaries who attack in increasingly intense hordes - as well as some truly satisfying ways of putting them down. The weapon selection runs the gamut from a machine gun, flame thrower, blaster and a rocket launcher; and they all feel pleasingly meaty and hefty to wield despite not being particularly inventive. You'll feel truly powerful and simultaneously vulnerable as the hordes pile in, which is a tricky balance to pull off. There's no denying that it's extremely repetitive though.
The twinstick mechanics and controls are sharp, tight and solid - with little touches like a sprint button and melee attack going a long way to set it apart from its more basic peers. Aiming is especially precise. However, it's worth noting that the camera sometimes gives a poor view of the action regardless of how you choose to rotate it, and the shoulder buttons would have been much better served as weapon selection keys. Players will need to remove their thumb from the left stick (and hence will be unable to move) in order to select guns and items using the D-Pad, which is a thoughtlessly inconvenient design flaw in pitched battles.
As a straightforward shooter, then, Alien Breed Trilogy is really rather good... but unfortunately it suffers from delusions of grandeur. Instead of offering a balls-out gunslinging showdown à la Smash TV (or, dare I say, the original Alien Breed games), Team 17 have strived to create a mini horror adventure in the vein of Dead Space or System Shock. But nowhere near as good. The plot, such as it is, plays out through ratty comic book cutscenes (despite the fact that the Unreal Engine could have been used) and doesn't offer any interesting characters or memorable moments.
In this reviewer's opinion, there's nothing wrong with a game glossing over or plain leaving out a weak storyline... but there's nothing worse than trying to make a big deal of it in an inappropriate genre. The narrative hangs like a millstone around the juicy, lovely action; dragging it down and meaning that we have to do other things beside making mincemeat of the alien hordes. This usually boils down to trying to open a door, finding it locked, trudging to a console, discovering that it doesn't work, locating another console, going back to the start... and frequently, there won't even be any enemies in the way!
This mindless busywork also undermines the universe that Team17 have tried to create, and players will need to constantly suspend disbelief in order to engage with the experience. Why doesn't the Chief Engineer have a keycard to his own mess hall or engine room? Why does the same turret have to be activated by two different control panels? Why don't crew members give you full access to the ship rather than only unlocking one door at once even though you're the only capable combatant around? Why, why, why. Why didn't they just leave all of it out and just let us kill some stuff without pretence?!
Luckily, the latter half of the campaign focuses much more on the carnage and less on the drudge - and even so, it isn't enough to break the game. This is mainly down to the aforementioned excellence of Alien Breed's combat, but the Unreal Engine also does a fantastic job of creating a consistently moody and tense atmosphere. Excellent lighting effects and high-resolution textures make for solid and eyecatching visuals (though a little more colour would have been nice), and whilst it never truly scares, surprise moments will frequently make you catch your breath.
Multiplayer hits and misses in equal measure. Sadly it's impossible to play the campaign with a mate, which is a disappointing missed opportunity that would have lightened many of the problems with repetition and pacing. Even the horde mode-esque survival levels can't be played cooperatively, meaning that only a handful of forgettable designated cooperative campaigns are on hand to satisfy more social gamers.
When all is said and done, Alien Breed Trilogy is an infinitely more appetising prospect than buying its individual components. Before we wrap up, it's important to note that the collection offers something that a downloadable game never could: resale value. It's strange to discuss trading in a game that you haven't even bought yet, but if you're the kind of gamer who tends to view his collection as fleeting commodities rather than permanent shelf fixtures, this physical option is definitely the way to go.
- Meaty core combat
- Excellent visuals
- The trilogy makes more sense in one box - at a lower price
- Pointless busywork and numerous minor issues undermine the action
- Undeniably repetitive
- Weak multiplayer
The Short Version: Alien Breed Trilogy is the definitive way to experience Team17's alien slaughterfest. It's a solid, capable and above-average shooter, but the relentless drudgery and several poor design decisions hold it back. Team17 will need to go back to the drawing board to create a series that can hold a candle to the originals.