Housemarque has been making twin stick shooters since before we played games with twin sticks. They’re best known for for the Stardust series of the 90s but more recently for the sparkly particle effects of PS4 launch title Resogun and the highly addictive zombie shooter Dead Nation. Most recently it’s brought us Alienation which is yet another top down, twin stick shooter that combines Dead Nation’s abundance of enemies with a loot system akin to that of Borderlands.
The premise of Alienation is a simple one. Aliens, or Xenos as they’re referred to in-game, have invaded our world. A war has raged for decades and Earth is almost defeated. With the help of robotic/mechanised power armour, you (and possibly three other soldiers) are the last hope of saving our planet. But really, in a game like this who really cares? The TL;DR version is: shoot all the things. Don’t die.
While on the surface Alienation appears to be standard fare for this genre, there’s a surprising amount of depth to the whole experience.
First, it should be known that the game has been designed to suit up to four players, each choosing one of three available classes. The Tank has a devastating ground pound ability for clearing a swarm of enemies, a super OP death ray and the ability to share a light shield with nearby players. The Saboteur sports an invisibility cloak, a laser sword and the ability to call in air strikes. Finally, the Bio-Specialist can heal squad mates, leaves a trail of alien face melting poison gas and can call in a swarm of microbots to weaken approaching enemies.
To add further depth to your preferred class, each ability can be upgraded with experience points which are earned as your character levels up. With separate points awarded for active and passive abilities, your character will be a far-cry from its former self by the end of each playthrough.
As is generally the case in a game such as this, the three classes are designed to complement each other. With their powers combined, Alienation is at its best (and worst, but we’ll get to that). The Tank may seem like the obvious choice when playing solo, but on an individual basis, each class performs excellently on its own. This shows that during development a great deal of thought went into the differences between the three.
To add even further depth there are a large number of weapon types to collect. As a player you can carry a primary (usually assault rifle), a secondary (shotguns, revolvers etc) and a heavy weapon (launchers, flame throwers and miniguns). With each weapon there is what appears to be a Borderlandsesque weapon stat randomisation system. Weapons are coloured based on their rarity and in most cases the higher the rarity, the better the stats.
Going even deeper, weapons can be upgraded to increase their damage, clip size and fire rate both with the use of specific upgrades and with the ability to reroll specific stats. Between levels and whilst sheltering under a shielded checkpoint area you’ll find yourself upgrading and customising your weapons not even realising 10 minutes has gone by. See what I mean when I this game has a surprising level of depth?
On the other hand, what isn’t surprising is the gameplay you’ll encounter. It’s just a twin stick shooter — but it’s done perfectly. The surgical precision that Housemarque has become known for makes for responsive manoeuvrability of your character and aim that you can always rely on. As a result, deaths never seem unfair. Further to this the missions — of which there are multiple, taking place in 8 locations — have a range of objectives to keep things interesting such as retrieving ordinance, destroying alien targets (both living and otherwise) and searching for survivors. Throw in random events such as mini bosses and times challenges, invading live players and additional goals upon repeated play throughs there’s heaps of replay value here.
There’s also a decent number of enemy types to contend with, from typical cannon fodder grunts to huge beastly thugs that take several hits from the most powerful tools in your arsenal — and boy, are they huge in numbers. In the later stages of the campaign there are occasions where it feels like there are hundreds of Xenos swarming towards you and taking them out in droves is oh so satisfying — especially when their bodies go flying through the air. If you can perfectly time the active reload — similar to Gears of War — and hold them at bay the sense of power will have you maniacally laughing at your screen. To help keep the action going and to add to the strategy of the combat, ammo is scarce enough to force you to frequently switch between your primary and secondary weapons without ever having you in a situation where you’ve completely run out.
In regards to eye candy, Alienation looks excellent in almost all aspects. Thanks to a cool X-ray like effect there’s never any issues where your view is obstructed by walls or other objects and even when the screen is literally full of enemies not a single frame is dropped. The lights of your weapons cast beautiful God-Ray like effects and shadows through trees whilst explosions and smoke effects are a joy to watch with silky smooth animations.
The only big criticism I have with Alienation is that when playing with any more than two players, being overrun by Xenos results in very confusing situations where you can easily lose your bearings and not know where to fire. I often found myself just spinning in circles randomly firing my weapon like a mad man with terrible gun safety training. That aside, Alienation is a must-buy for any fans of twin stick shooters. Featuring fun gameplay, a deep weapons system (for the genre), smooth visuals and plenty of reason to repeat missions it’s certainly worth your $30.00 AUD.
Alienation was reviewed using a promotional code on PS4 as provided by the publisher.