Before anything else, it must be mentioned that Alien Breed Evolution is a love letter to James Cameron's "Aliens." Almost every aspect of the game, from the visuals to the sound and background music, is an homage to "Aliens" in some way. Even the main character shares Ellen Ripley's recent loss of family and distaste for "synthetics." Alien Breed Evolution could probably remove the last two words of its title, and nobody would notice. While this may be a bit odd to fans of the film franchise, it gives you a good idea of the atmosphere to expect. Alien Breed Evolution captures the feel of a top-down "Aliens" shooter almost perfectly, and there are more than a few moments when I forgot I wasn't playing a licensed game. Alien Breed Evolution is a more faithful "Aliens" game than many of the titles that officially came from the franchise.
Alien Breed Evolution is set on a spaceship named The Leopold. Players take the role of Theodore J. Conrad, a space marine who recently lost his entire family and is still recovering from the tragedy. During a routine mission, The Leopold crashes into another spaceship, which turns out to be an uninhabited ghost ship. The crew quickly discovers that no human life is aboard the ghost ship, but it is swarming with a mysterious race of aliens that seems to exist to eat and breed. Conrad has to find a way to escape from the ship and save any survivors along the way.
While Alien Breed Evolution is a love letter to Cameron's "Aliens," the basic gameplay actually resembles Dead Space. As one of the lone surviving crew members, you're the only one capable of repairing the ship so that the other survivors can make an escape. Much like Dead Space, however, nothing is as easy as it seems. The crash into the ghost ship has somehow disabled everything on the ship in some way, so you're going to have to do a lot of patchwork repair jobs to get to where you need to go. At some points, it even seems as if the ship is conspiring against you. Getting from a room to an elevator is never simple. You may begin with a straightforward path, only to discover that the path is blocked by fire. You then travel to the fire extinguisher, only to discover that its systems are offline and must be rebooted from a generator room, and, of course, the generator is suffering its own share of problems. Keeping the ship intact long enough to escape would be difficult even in normal circumstance. The real danger, however, are the mysterious aliens that are swarming the ship.
Alien Breed Evolution is a fairly straightforward top-down shooter. The left analog stick controls movement, while the right aims your gun. The right trigger fires your equipped weapon, and the left trigger uses your equipped item. The d-pad will changes your equipped item and weapon. You can reload at any time with the Y button, although weapons will automatically reload if their clip runs try. In a pinch, you can also smack enemies with the butt of your gun with the B button. Against anything except the smallest and weakest of foes, though, this only buys you a moment and a bit of space. There are no real surprises here, and the only unusual gimmick is one that is reminiscent of Dead Space. While you have a health bar located in the lower-left corner of the screen, your character's armor also features a glowing light on the shoulder to indicate his current health status. Green means he is healthy, while yellow and red indicate he is doing quite badly. This is a nice feature, since it lets you check your current health without having to take your eyes off the action, something that can be fatal in the middle of an enemy rush.
The titular aliens are very similar to the Xenomorphs from Cameron's film. Similarly, they also attack in swarms and rarely come from expected directions. The creatures have burrowed their way into the underbelly of the ship and will burst from holes in the floor or wall vents to attack. There are a variety of these creatures, although it will take gamers a bit of time to learn to identify them. Some are small facehugger-like monsters that explode if they get near you, while others are large beasts that may claw at you or shoot spikes from a distance. Each one has a unique gimmick, and it's essential that you learn which ones to focus on. While it may be tempting to start firing away at anything that moves, shooting a ranged alien before a close-range one can save you a lot of health. The biggest danger from the aliens is that they're fast. They're fast enough to close in on your character almost as quickly as they appear on-screen, so this is where your motion sensor comes in handy. Borrowed directly from the Colonial Marines, the motion sensor shows the location of nearby enemies as red dots. It can't tell you what kind of alien is approaching, but at the very least, it can give you enough of a warning to aim your gun and starting firing before the aliens show up on-screen. If you wait for the aliens to become fully visible, you're likely to regret it.
Fortunately, you have a wide variety of weapons to handle the aliens. You begin with a default pistol and an assault rifle but quickly gather more weapons. With the exception of your pistol, each weapon has limited ammo, so it's essential that you make every shot count in Alien Breed, since running low on ammo can be catastrophic. Your pistol isn't a terrible weapon against small swarms but will quickly end up overwhelmed if you're using it against more than a few foes at a time. Fortunately, your other weapons are powerful enough to make up for it. The assault rifle is great against enemy swarms; individual shots are weak, but you can shoot a lot of rounds at a time, and it has solid stopping power. The shot cannon is more powerful but requires greater accuracy and close range to be as effective. The flamethrower, on the other hand, is fantastic for burning through entire crowds but lacks the stopping power of other weapons. Each weapon has its use, but you'll probably use whichever has the most ammunition, which must be scavenged from dead bodies or abandoned weapons.
In addition to your main weapons, you also have access to a number of inventory items that you can use to turn the tide of combat. Like weapons, inventory items are collected throughout the various stages. Stun and frag grenades are best used for clearing out crowds. Stun grenades are more common but less powerful; they create a giant flash of light that can kill weaker, light-sensitive aliens and stun larger ones for a few crucial moments. Frag grenades, on the other hand, just blow up everything. They're rare, but they can turn the tide of battle in an instant if dropped in the right place. Health kits come in small and large sizes and can be used at anytime, but unlike health kits in most video games, you need a brief moment to use it, so it isn't something that you can pop while being chewed on by alien creatures. You can use it while firing your gun, so as long as you plan ahead, you'll be fine. The last item is perhaps the most powerful, but also the most limited. The sentry gun is an automated gun turret that can be mounted to deal substantial damage to anything and everything in your path. It can only be mounted in certain power ports, so it's useful to set up a safe place to retreat when being swarmed by aliens, but only if you plan ahead. You can't remove a sentry gun once it has been placed, so if you waste your gun on an area you'll only visit rarely, you may not have another to place it in a dangerous area.
While the aliens are your primary threat, the ship is in the middle of a catastrophic breakdown and is also a hazard. Systems are going down and the ship is slowly collapsing in upon itself, so any exploration is dangerous. Explosions are common, as are burning fires and rogue electrical arcs. Wandering into any of these can cause serious damage to your character. As the ship's damage grows more severe, so does the danger the ship poses to you. There are even areas without oxygen, so you'll have to depend on an oxygen tank to keep you alive. On the plus side, the ship's damage can occasionally be turned to your advantage. You can blow up damaged or weakened walls with explosive barrels, and these weakened walls tend to hide weapon caches, useful inventory items or easier to reach an objective. Likewise, you can shoot out glass windows to create shortcuts into rooms that would otherwise be inaccessible. Learning to use the ship's ravaged state to your advantage can make it a lot easier to deal with the alien menace.
Despite being based on an old Amiga title and taking enough cues from the "Alien" franchise to be an honorary member, Alien Breed Evolution most resembles a top-down version of Dead Space. Everything, from the way the aliens burst from the walls to the green health indicator on your character's suit and the general atmosphere, makes the game feel like an isometric version of Visceral's game. While Alien Breed Evolution isn't set to win any prizes for originality, it brings a lot more atmosphere to this type of shooter than one usually sees. The usual non-stop action is replaced by a slower, more cautious pace to encourage players to plan ahead and keep an eye on their surroundings. This also establishes the atmosphere of the game and makes it feel surprising tense in places. Those looking for something to sate their desire for an Aliens-themed game until Aliens vs. Predator comes out will find a lot to like here. Even if you're just looking for a more atmospheric isometric shooter, Alien Breed Evolution has a lot to offer. Alien Breed Evolution hits the Xbox Live Arcade later this month and is due on the PS3 and PC sometime afterward.
More articles about Alien Breed Evolution