Where pure-blood first person shooters are concerned, Alien Rage has exposed my dearth of experience with the genre. Some limited time spent with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 1 and 2, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Fallout 3 represent my only experiences in this direction and I much prefer the latter thanks to their ability to offer progression choices beyond peppering my enemies with bullets via roleplaying elements. Having spent a few weeks with Alien Rage the appeal of a more straight forward run-and-gun campaign is very clear and it is very enjoyable in its strongest moments. But there’s not much to this title beyond the visceral thrill of watching enemy body parts tear asunder and even then the game’s many rough edges and tremendous lack of polish threaten to, and often do, mar this primal pleasure.
What I have also gleaned from this experience is just how ironic the game’s title really is. Unlimited is a completely misleading word to describe the title; rather the game is very constrained and narrow in its scope and ideas.
You are cast as a space marine – bald, of course – sent to clear out the alien population that attacked a mining site in order to protect humanity and their interests. It should sink in quite quickly that this is all one big excuse to blast aliens in the face with a wide variety of guns, and that the paper thin plot has practically no sense or value to it whatsoever, as do the mumblings of the protagonist or of your uninteresting AI advisor.
The game moves very quickly; quickly enough that you’ll forget what is going on in the grander scheme of things as you traverse along multiple identikit metallic corridors and gangways blasting your enemies to smithereens, and you are encouraged to do the same. Rather strangely the game doesn’t consistently reward you for this style of play, as enemies soak up a fair number of bullets even on the base difficulty setting, headshots aside, whereas the same cannot be said for yourself. Enemy AI for non-melee enemies plays much more defensively when you are up close playing the aggressor or at mid-range, making the balance between quick kills and avoiding fire too difficult to achieve, and when you decide to stand still, use your iron sights and/or hide behind a wall or crate, the enemy seems all too content with rushing you and exposing themselves to a one hit kill.
Boss encounters are best handled by the methodical playstyle too, with running around in circles and occasionally stopping to shoot – a tactic I like to call ring-a-ring-a-roses – proving especially effective. In a game that pushes you towards up front aggression, this tactic simply does not work, both mechanically and practically. The game feels confused at the most basic level, and flits wildly between design choices that are meant to bridge the gap between old-school throwback gameplay (e.g. Bulletstorm) and modern sensibilities such as cover and iron sights. Why is there a cover system for enemies but not for the player? Why should we get up close and out of cover with a shotgun when this is a near death sentence?
As much as the design choices meander, the same cannot be said for the tone and variety of the gameplay. Go to waypoint marker. Shoot horde of enemies. Go to next waypoint marker. Rinse and repeat. The game is repetitive and predictable to a fault, throwing up an on-rails section with a minigun and controlling a mech as the only wrinkles to the formula. Otherwise, be prepared to fight the same few enemy types over and over again in the same narrow dull grey corridors and gangways and wide open laboratory and storage spaces that couldn’t possibly signify an ambush. Shooting those red glowing barrels surely wouldn’t result in an explosion right? Right!?!? Yeah…
The game becomes more irksome still because of various bugs and other annoyances that can easily break the flow of gameplay and its immersive quality. Pivotal doors and computers next to waypoint markers may have no advancing prompt, forcing you to restart from a checkpoint (which are often poorly spaced). Collectible items may just be uncollectable. Enemies and even bosses may completely freeze, giving you an easy kill. Collected weapons suddenly disappear when you start a new level, reverting you back to your starting default set. The game’s audio logs, providing a scientist’s insight into the plot, can only be heard by standing right next to them, completely breaking any sense of pace. I could go on, but you should understand me by now. Safe to say there is a huge lack of polish in the title.
All the above is really a shame, as there is a semi-decent shooter here beneath the mess. The gunplay feels weighty and satisfying, and is not far removed from the likes of Call of Duty, so players of this series should settle in quickly. An arcade style scoring system that rewards you for killing enemies using various means is a nice touch, if not to my personal taste for an FPS. This also fuels a perk system, a system traditionally confined to mutliplayer modes, providing benefits such as increased defenses and ammo capacity, but perks are so slow to unlock, and the fact that you can only use three at once, means that one of the title’s more unique cornerstones feels largely inconsequential.
Backing up the solid gunplay and adding to its viscerality is a very pretty graphical look, with sharp, crisp texture work to be found on both high and medium setting. You can expect a solid FPS performance even on mid-range graphics card such as my AMD Radeon 7870 GPU. Where the gunplay feels solid, it looks a treat as well, and this contributes very positively to the experience through enhancing immersion, thus increasing the thrill of the fight.
On the topic of how well the game runs, stability issues are frequent especially during canned animation sequences that may induce migraines or motion sickness with unnecessarily jerky camera movements. My modest AMD Trinity Dual Core CPU may be in part responsible for the issue but problems such as these have been reported on machines with higher-end CPUs, as have frequent desktop crashes.
Multiplayer performs just the same as in single player, only with a resolution restriction of 720p and character movement animations becoming much more stiff and robotic. Extensive testing of this mode was not possible due to empty servers but this mode should offer some decent quality gameplay without worry of the campaign limitations. There’s nothing here that you haven’t seen in other multiplayer FPS titles however, so the appeal is liable to be short lived.
At the end of the day my main takeaway from Alien Rage is that it misfires on numerous levels; both on the level of small print and its holistic design, and these issues are what I will remember most strongly from my experience. Where the game truly shines, it is often preceded or followed by events or moments that can irritate to no end, and this stops me from recommending this title over more recent contemporaries or the old FPS games it seeks to pay tribute to.