Platforms: PC (reviewed, £14.99) | PSN & XBLA versions incoming
Developer: CI Games
Publisher: CI Games
We love games that push the boundaries of this interactive art form, that challenge our preconceptions of what the medium can deliver. We gorge ourselves on experimental, radical new experiences that tug at our heartstrings, that teach us about new perspectives and even ourselves. However, every once in a while, we also love shooting aliens in the face while listening to rock music.
This simple pleasure has been all but washed away by a tide of zombies and dubstep, but here comes a new challenger. Alien Rage promised little more than an army of ravening aliens, an arsenal of massive guns and plenty of grinding metal to enjoy while combining boomstick A with enemy cloaca B. Frankly, we couldn't have been more excited about this self-styled "oldschool" proposition, even though City Interactive's past form can be charitably described as inconsistent.
Unfortunately the trailers lied and Alien Rage fails a full half of its remit right off the bat. For the vast majority of the game, you'll barely hear the plaintive cry of a guitar beneath a monotony of generic strings, synth and brass that could have been lifted from the bottom of Jason Graves' wastepaper basket. So everything rests, then, on whether it lets us shoot aliens in the face.
Well it does, and it's beautiful to boot, but the new-school music is just the first in a long list of compromises.
Alien Rage has old-school pretensions, and certainly makes no bones about it. Playing as a burly space marine who lacks the discipline to either be funny or silent, we're thrown into an industrial mining facility to shoot everything that moves, for totally important reasons. Though the appallingly clichéd protagonist (wait, isn't he the guy from Shadowgun?) and his hateful support staff constantly spout noxiously idiotic drivel at every opportunity, the setting is just an excuse for some refreshingly hardcore action. As mentioned, we're here to shoot aliens in the face, and Alien Rage wastes little time in getting down to business.
At its best, Alien Rage plays like an old-school FPS from the Quake 2 classroom, as opposed to the big arena battle royales like Serious Sam or Painkiller. Throughout over a dozen meaty levels, you'll storm down some linear corridors against waves of bloodthirsty extraterrestrials who push the advantage with brutally fast movement and unpredictable AI, packing a range of deadly weaponry. From grenade-lobbing troopers to jetpack-wielding shock troops and minigun-toting mechs, you're constantly harried and harassed by a stream of remorseless adversaries.
Luckily Alien Rage gives you the tools to fight back, and fight back hard. Your ten weapons may be fairly conventional (a range of human and alien assault rifles, shotguns, a sniper rifle... you know the drill), but they each feel pleasantly weighty to wield and pack a secondary fire mode with differing effects. Most of which are explosive. As Alien Rage ramps up the odds, you'll ramp up your game, reducing the hordes to ragdolls and greasy smears, dodging between cover points as you exploit volatile glowing scenery objects to create enormous fireballs. It's often as intense and refreshing as you'd want from a classic shooter, a glorious orgy of straightforward ultraviolence that revels in its simplicity.
A simple yet functional scoring system ties it all together, gradually unlocking some useful perks while giving you a little extra satisfaction for every kill. Indeed, you'll even get bonuses just for blowing up inanimate barrels. Which is absolutely fine by us.
CI Games made an effort to provide a little gameplay variety from time to time, and to their credit, most of it works fairly well. Even the dreaded overlong turret section is enjoyably over-the-top thanks to an abundance of explosives on every surface, while some visceral mech segments and minigun rampages are cathartic enough to earn their keep. Eight bosses are also ripe for the slaughter, a mixed bag of fun arena fights and incredibly boring slogs against very predictable opponents.
Where Alien Rage really shines, however, is in the presentation. It's easily one of the most beautiful Unreal 3-powered budget games on the market, both due to some jaw-dropping lighting effects, sharp texture work, outrageous particle effects and sumptuously alien art design. Everything is exquisitely over-detailed, and it looks magnificent in motion, the air thick with bullet trails and particulate matter. There were moments when I had to double-check that it wasn't running on CryEngine 3, an impressive feat for a £15 title that only supports DX9. Be aware that many players have reported major performance problems and an inconsistent frame rate - though I personally enjoyed a consistently smooth experience on maximum settings (Core i7, 3.9GHz, 8GB, GFX 660) after a day-one patch.
Alien Rage certainly looks like a 21st century game, but it's a shame that other modern contrivances work less well in this old-school experience, or don't make any sense whatsoever. Case in point: a bizarre two-weapon limit, Aim Down Sights, limited sprint and regenerating health that actively encourages you to take cover and retreat as opposed to bravely taking the offensive. Indeed, I actually suspect that Alien Rage might have started life as a third-person shooter before being re-purposed into an FPS, with many of its stages containing an embarrassment of waist-high cover points to hide behind, while not giving you quite enough room to manoeuvre. It's often tempting to just turtle up behind a wall and pick off foes with ADS rather than circle strafing straight into hell, especially when the jump button might as well not exist since it lifts you only three centimetres off the ground.
CI clearly understood that these issues had to be addressed to avoid the game becoming far too easy, but rather than rebalancing encounters, increasing lateral movement speed, boosting the jump and introducing health packs, they managed to overcompensate in the opposite direction. Alien Rage is unpleasantly, shockingly difficult on anything above the easiest difficulty setting (which is called "challenging" and lives up to its name); absolutely fine in theory, but woefully frustrating in practice. We love a challenge from classic shooters, but Alien Rage takes the cheap and lazy route to punishing difficulty. One-hit kills.
Regular enemies can kill you with a single rifle grenade. Grenadiers will ruin you even if you're on the other side of a piece of cover, spamming your position with explosives that detonate immediately rather than letting you quickly relocate (see also: Quake's Ogres). Bosses godstomp you without mercy, often without warning, their attack telegraphs blending into all the visceral visual feedback. Nine times out of ten you'll just... die... with no real idea of exactly how it happened or how to do better next time. This could have been acceptable if Alien Rage let us quicksave, but no such luck, because even this "old-school" notion has been ignored in favour of obnoxiously-placed checkpoints that are either too far apart or on the wrong side of unskippable cutscenes.
Ultimately Alien Rage is still fantastic fun in parts, but fails to fulfil its potential because it just can't let go of all those recycled modern conventions that bloat the genre today. Two weapons instead of ten. Checkpoints in a game designed for quicksaves. Useless jumps, limited sprint, regenerating health, ironsights and objective markers. Hell, we can't even keep the minigun. At the end of the day, we wish Alien Rage was as "oldschool" as its product description claims.
- Refreshingly honest and straightforward FPS gameplay at its best
- Graphically beautiful and aesthetically gorgeous
- Fun mech and (gasp!) even turret sections
- Regenerating health, two-gun limit, ADS and other modern contrivances feel out of place & hurt gameplay flow
- Cheap, vicious, frustrating and unfair rather than hardcore; an embarrassment of one-shot kills
- Repetitive; restrictive level design
- Multiplayer suite offers nothing new, will likely be abandoned quickly
The Short Version: A beautiful yet vindictive compromise of old-school and modern ideas that never quite comes together. Good brutal fun in parts, but Alien Rage would have done well to learn from the classic shooters of the past, instead of compensating for its 21st century foibles with punishing difficulty.