XBLA – Alien Rage

Seems to be a good season for XBLA titles at the moment.  Last week Alien Rage was released, it’s another FPS in space like so many others you’ve played, but it only costs £10 and it’s surprisingly decent.

There’s a story told with respectable FMV which describes how humans and aliens are both mining an energy rich asteroid in relative peace, until relations break down for whatever reason.  Since humans are such good losers, we decide that if we can’t have it nobody can, and send a big bad marine to go and blow the place into tiny little pieces.

After the FMV it goes straight into the obligatory controls tutorial, nothing too taxing and very standard, but with a few flaws that I noticed.  Firstly you have to hold the left thumbstick down to sprint, you can’t just press it and release to stop running.  In a game where you do sometimes need to run away this is an annoyance.  Secondly pressing triangle switches weapons – you carry two plus your pistol, but really the pistol should be on a different control, or a Y hold – often I’ve died while running out of ammo on one primary and switching to a peashooter.  The controls are a bit hefty too, you have a bit of inertia on most movement, and guns typically have a fierce kickback.  The jump is pitiful but I’ve not found anywhere I needed to use it yet.

You’re dumped into a topside refinery entrance, everything looks futuristic and a bit blue.  There’s a lot of detail and the frame rate isn’t too bad, mostly 30fps although it looks fairly obvious due to all the hard edges.  As you get further into the game, things do look a bit repetitive but everything is nicely designed and sparse areas are few and far between.  The sort of people who regularly claim that ‘jaggies’ make their eyes bleed will want to look elsewhere.  I prefer being able to see what I aim at.  There’s some pretty workmanlike backing music and the relevant noise from all the weapons – the positional sound mix is very good though and I’ve frequently turned to face something accurately based on the sound.

The rest of the game is running through the 14 levels, trying to find as many bonus pyramids and audio logs as you can and trying to stay alive.  That whole staying alive part is the trick though – this game compared to most of it’s peers, is brutally hard.  The game will happily one shot you in certain circumstances, the one boss I’ve reached so far took 9 or 10 attempts and some very serious abuse of AI and cover to pass, and basic soldiers will run you down in a few seconds if you give them the chance.  Some of them are cloaked and can stun you.  Some of the cover will start breaking down as it takes fire too, so thin railing walls should be used with caution.  In fact if you check out the end of the video below you’ll see what can happen even when you’re playing carefully.  Charged shot through a gap in the railings.  It’s essential to learn how to abuse power cells which have been left laying around – these explode when shot and can be a good source of safe kills and … points.

To try to even the odds a little, the game has a scorestreak system – and the more points you earn, the more perks you can add to your character – for some reason this isn’t mentioned at all in the tutorial.  Don’t expect to be able to go on a shopping spree very quickly though.

I’m in stage 5 at the moment, thankfully it doesn’t seem to keep track of how many times you’ve continued, but it’s .. a lot.  I’d recommend checking this out if you want a game that really is happy to punish you repeatedly.  It’s old CoD on veteran difficulty in places, except you can’t cheat by dashing to a checkpoint and hiding.