While it's not a new trend, remaking old video games seems to be very popular for developers and publishers who are venturing into the digital download game space. Prior fans get the chance to return to a game they love, but with a new coat of paint that covers up spots that didn't stand the test of time. It gives new gamers the chance to experience a now-classic game under the guise that it is something new. Ultimately, the developers become the big winners as they get to show off their classic games. Games like Serious Sam HD, Bionic Commando: Rearmed and Super Stardust HD have all shown us how good a game remake can be. Team 17, best known for its work on the Worms series, felt that the time was right to remake one of their titles that was more well-known to Amiga PC players in Europe. The result is Alien Breed Evolution: Episode 1 and, like the aforementioned titles, this is a prime example of how a good game remake.
The premise of the game will be familiar to fans of the sci-fi genre. You play the role of Theodore J. Conrad, a soldier assigned to protect some precious cargo aboard a spaceship named The Leopold. After a warp jump, the ship collided with a ghost ship, fusing both of them together. There were a high number of crew casualties, but a dangerous life form also appeared. Your job is to get the rest of the survivors to safety and wipe out the alien menace before it destroys all life on both ships.
While the original game won't be very familiar to non-Amiga owning players, it will certainly seem familiar thanks to its resemblance to Sega's classic arcade game, Alien Syndrome. Rooms of steel linked together by tiny sliding doors and presented in a top-down view instantly make old-school gamers think of Sega's classic title. Look beyond that, though, and you'll see that this game possesses its own style. Levels aren't as clean, with debris and fires conveying the chaos of the situation. Corpses litter the rooms while aliens crawl out of floors and walls to ambush and attack. There are only five levels in the game, but considering that each level can take at least an hour to finish if you're careful, Alien Breed Evolution can last quite some time.
The game has two elements that make it a classic even to this day: action and tension. The aliens tend to appear in swarms and due to their numbers and resilience, firefights are exciting affairs where you feel surrounded but know that you can survive it all. As for tension, your ammo and item supply are limited so those aforementioned firefights become more exciting since you're praying that your favorite weapon doesn't run out of ammo. After the fight, you're simply hoping that they don't pop up again; just when you think everything will be fine, they crawl out of walls and floors to surround you again. Couple that with random explosions and a computer voice warning you of different life forms aboard the ship, and your trigger finger must always be ready, waiting for the inevitable to happen.
The game may be filled with lots of action and tension, but it isn't necessarily a perfect package. Sometimes, Alien Breed Evolution can feel like a chore. At all times, the player will be given waypoint markers to tell him exactly where to go and where important items and switches are located. This may be helpful for those who hate getting lost, but for others, exploration and self-discovery are big parts to any game. Having that taken away makes the title rely on action a bit too much. The other complaint has to do with backtracking. More often than not, you'll be going back and forth between areas just to complete objectives. For example, you'll traverse to a room to activate a switch only to find that another one must be activated in another room. You'll go to that room and activate the switch, only to be told that another one nearby must be activated as well. Several switches later, you'll finally have to fight your way back to the original switch to get it activated and move on. Again, the action keeps this from being boring, but it does feel like the level design was artificially lengthened in the process.
The multiplayer mode shows off the game's old school roots while it attempts to put a new spin to it as well. The whole campaign can be played simultaneously with a partner in tow. The same can be said for Free Play mode, which lets you tackle any of the unlocked levels. Two-player gameplay can be done locally, but both players must stay on the same screen like co-op games of old. With aliens and dangers seemingly popping up out of nowhere, a lack of constant communication with your partner will ensure that you get killed. While it would be nice to say that things might be different when played online, the truth is that there wasn't anyone who could be found online during the time of this review. Unless you can arrange for games to be played online, your best bet for any co-op action will have to be done locally.
The controls are very responsive. The game has a dual-stick setup that people are used to nowadays, though you need to pull the right trigger to actually fire the gun. Weapon and item switching is done with the d-pad, while the face buttons handle things like melee, weapon reloads and switch activation. Camera controls are handled by the left and right bumpers but are locked in eight directions, as opposed to the full 360-degree pan available in most games. This might be a point of contention for some, but the other complaint people may have is with the melee itself. The button may be accessible, but melee seems to have no power in the game. When you're surrounded by an alien horde, the pistol seems more powerful than the melee, and that'll make this the least-used function in the arsenal.
The graphics become a great element in terms of making the game a much more tension-filled experience. Powered by Unreal Engine 3, the lighting really evokes terror. The environments are dark most of the time, and while you can still see your character in the darkness, it hides the aliens well enough. You can still see them, but you will be surprised by their sudden appearances. Areas that are lit by either fire or other light sources look good, with a great amount of detail seen despite the diminutive size of the objects on-screen. Most of the alien designs look to be heavily inspired by those seen in the "Alien" films, mixed in with some "Starship Troopers." It's not necessarily a unique look, but it does look good. Their movements also animate nicely, as does your character, especially when he drags himself along on his last sliver of health. This recent crop of downloadable games shows that they can be just as good-looking as their disc-based brethren, and this entry only solidifies that statement.
The sound does a good job of keeping the tension high. Voices are only prevalent during cut scenes, but they are delivered with the right amount of subtlety. You'll never feel like anyone is overacting his or her part or phoning it in. The sound effects for the weapons are as good as you can expect, but it's really the creature effects that stand out. The constant screeching and growling of the aliens as they get close to your location or before they burst forth from the floor really add to the fear. The sounds also keep you from running headfirst into a situation, not knowing whether it will be safe or overrun with aliens once you get there. The music, or lack thereof, really keeps the tension alive since the only time it appears is when the hordes are attacking or you've reach the end of a chapter. For once, silence is preferable since it means that you have a temporary reprieve from the action.
It may be a very straightforward journey and it may feel like a knock-off of Sega's Alien Syndrome, but Alien Breed Evolution: Episode 1 is still a darn fun and tense game with redone graphics and well-used sound. While there may not be an online multiplayer audience for the game, there's still great fun to be had for solo or co-op players who are looking for an exciting sci-fi action/horror game. It's a bit of a gamble to turn the game into an episodic one, especially since it leaves the developers with the opportunity to mess it all up further down the road, but if they can make future episodes as good as or better than this, then old and new fans will have something to look forward to and cherish. Fans of action and suspense games can do no wrong in picking up this title.
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