Review: Alien Shooter: Vengeance

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While I make no bones about wanting to see a little more game design innovation from developers these days, sometimes it is the simplest of games that wind up hooking me more than anything else. Case in point, Sigma Team’s arcade shooter/action-RPG Alien Shooter: Vengeance (AKA Alien Shooter 2) is among the most downright entertaining games I’ve played, and it does nothing that even an older classic like Diablo didn’t do. But that’s the beauty here; Alien Shooter revels in its identity as a straightforward guns-blazing action-fest without care of pushing any design boundaries to their breaking point, and because of that it’s easy to dive into for some serious alien ass-kicking fun.

For everything Alien Shooter: Vengeance gets right, its only real “weak” point would have to be its largely forgettable plot — although with this type of game it’s not like some epic story is to be expected anyway. As the game starts, you get to choose from one of eight different characters hired as a mercenary by the M.A.G.M.A Energy Corporation, and then you are immediately called into one of their facilities that has been overrun by an invasion of aliens after some experimenting with fusion power goes terribly awry. From there, the mission is to survive the assigned task and cash in on your contract, and in order to survive you’ll have to delve into dark underground facilities, dank sewers and brooding forested environments all infested with hordes and hordes of aliens seeking to rip you limb from limb.

But certainly you don’t just stand by and let the aliens have their way with you. What would be the fun in that? Instead, you shred through the alien swarms using a diverse arsenal of high-powered weaponry, from traditional firearms like handguns, shotguns, rocket launchers and machine guns in various makes and models to more advanced weapons like flamethrowers, freeze guns and laser rifles – you even get to spend select moments plowing over the alien scourge in a few vehicles. Controlling all of this frantic dungeon-crawling action, which unfolds from a top-down isometric viewpoint similar to games like Diablo and Baldur’s Gate, couldn’t be easier to control either, with the usual WASD keyboard controls handling character movement (though you can also use the right mouse button if you prefer the point-and-click method), the left mouse button being your trigger finger, and the mouse wheel your scrolling holster for swapping weapons on the fly.

Don’t let the simplistic play structure fool you, though, because this game hearkens back to the old-school days when games actually put up a hardcore challenge. Although the alien AI is rather rudimentary, their outnumbering forces swarming at you from all sides in never-ending waves are enough to overwhelm your puny little mercenary if you should so much as blink an eye. Compounding the difficulty is the lack of mid-mission checkpoints or the option to save game progress, so if you run through all allotted lives before completing a mission, it is back to the very beginning for you. This system may be a little too unforgiving for some players, but the game does offer a variety of difficulty settings to choose from, and on the easier settings the degree of challenge is noticeably subdued for those who aren’t so masochistic.

In an effort to introduce at least some form of depth to the gameplay, Sigma Team added a basic RPG levelling system to Alien Shooter: Vengeance. Via the time-tested, gamer-approved flow of killing creatures, gaining experience and increasing in level, you are able to customize your virtual alien-slaughtering avatar by building up various weapon skills and physical attributes over time, gaining access to more powerful weapons and equipment in the process. By smashing crates and uncovering hidden secret areas, you also build up a heaping pile of cash to finance the purchase of new weapons, equipment and ammo at shop terminals normally provided at the beginning of each mission.

Containing a prolonged string of 15 tough missions, Alien Shooter’s story mode lasts a good long while before it comes to an end, with optional side objectives and hidden areas to uncover adding more to the replay value. But once the campaign has concluded, there’s still so much more fun to be had. Two survival mode variants are offered to seriously test your abilities at surviving the alien opposition for high-score bragging rights in retro arcade style. After completing these different modes you can upload your scores to an online leaderboard to compare with other players, and even though there is no support for full online play, you can prolong the fun even more in some competitive and cooperative multiplayer action for up to six players via LAN and/or direct IP.

As intense and long-lasting as the game is, what officially makes Alien Shooter work so well is its outstanding atmosphere, both in graphics and audio. From strictly a technical perspective, there is no denying that this game is dated compared to any of the current cutting-edge PC titles with its extremely low resolution textures and awkward-looking character animations. However, to me there is so much more to great graphics than polygon counts, bump-mapped textures and other graphical mumbo jumbo. For one, the game’s art direction is perfect for its subject matter, with insect-like alien designs that are both creepy and cheesy at the same time like a B sci-fi action flick. What’s even better is how these aliens explode into satisfying chunks and splatter all over the environments’ floors and walls in a fireworks display of gore (yes, this game is rated “M”, so parents keep this one away from the kiddies!). And on top of that, the game’s 3D special effects truly cap everything off with flashy explosions and dynamic lighting effects that generate a feeling of frightful seclusion as you walk down tight corridors with only the glowing cone of a flashlight lighting the way. On the down side, small blips of slowdown do crop up from time to time when screen activity is in full force. But when you see how many aliens this game’s engine can render on-screen at once, you’ll hardly care.

Rounding out the other half of the game’s atmosphere is an incredible overall audio package. Despite lousy voice acting, Alien Shooter: Vengeance is packed with rich sound effects and ambiance. A sinister musical score flows in the background as you quietly trudge along on pins and needles waiting for a batch of aliens to pop up behind you, at which point the music kicks into gear with heavy rock riffs and techno tunes blaring as the action intensity rises. Resounding over the music to even more satisfaction are high-impact weapon blasts that thud and explode with each tap of the mouse, all pulling you into the action that much more, especially when you play wearing headphones.

In this era of big-budget, hype-driven game productions, it’s always a joy to see a game sneak onto the market under the mainstream’s radar which unabashedly embraces its old-school roots and unexpectedly dishes out a comprehensively fulfilling play experience, and Alien Shooter: Vengeance is a clear example of this type of sleeper hit. As a no-frills action-RPG, this game knows what it is and does what it does exceptionally well in all areas, and it remains a blast to play even a few years after its original retail release in early 2007. It was only $20 back then, which was already a steal. But nowadays you can find the game for no more than $5 on digital download services like Steam and GamersGate or in bundle packs with other Sigma Team titles for a little more. So what in the hell are you waiting for? Killing aliens has never been so satisfying (or affordable)!

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Game Info:
Platform: PC
Publisher: CDV
Developer: Sigma Team
Release Date: 2/16/2007
Genre: Action/RPG
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-6
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!