Low Impact Workout
Twin-stick shooters were gracing arcades when the industry was in its infancy (Robotron 2084 and Super Smash TV remain enjoyable to this day) and have seen something of a renaissance in recent years with the releases of Geometry Wars and Super Stardust HD. Modern developers have tweaked and refined the classic design a bit with the recently released Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light from Crystal Dynamics, the upcoming Dead Nation from SSHD developer HouseMarque, and Alien Breed: Impact. Eschewing the standard practice of having the right stick unleash a continuous stream of bullets/lasers/fire/pomegranates, these games use the right stick for aiming, but include an actual fire button to give you a bit more control, as well as grenades and a variety of healing and support items. They also feature light RPG elements through the upgrading of weapons and equipment, and larger levels and more fleshed-out narratives than their arena-based siblings. I've enjoyed my time with Lara Croft and Dead Nation, but Alien Breed: Impact can't keep up.
The action in the game is played out from a not-quite top down view across 5 sprawling levels that are each discrete locales (no traversing between them). When you start each new level, most of it is locked off for various reasons and you must complete a long series of tasks to get to the other side and reach the elevator that will move you to the next stage. You might need to activate some turbines to restore power, turn on Halon systems to douse fires, enter the security codes to release locks, or clear some aliens out that are threatening scientists. These tasks all amount to fetch quests, and keep you backtracking across the uninspiring levels multiple times. The game keeps things pretty linear by locking off areas that may have been previously accessible but aren't vital to your current task, which is important since it is hard to discriminate one part of the ship from another. While you are jogging though the hallways trying to go about your duties, a variety of aliens will pop out of the floors and vents to try and eviscerate you. I say "variety" because I can't pinpoint exactly how many types there were. I think maybe 4 or possibly 5, but they are all pretty similar and the models are not very large so it was hard to discern differences.
Difficulty discerning is a theme in this game. The story, told through comic-style paneled cutscenes between levels, is hard to follow and very brief. The rows and rows of corridors leading to small rooms all blend into each other and at the end you don't look back and find anything memorable in the level design. The graphics are certainly pretty enough, thanks to the ubiquitous Unreal 3 engine, but as is often the case in the genre the models are very tiny on the screen. The aforementioned aliens all seem identical except for the tiny spawn/zerg ones, and the only enemy that presents a challenge at all is the final boss. My biggest gripe with the game is that it does nothing to set itself apart from its competitors, and sticks a little too close to the roots of the 1991 Amiga-based original game.
Alien Breed: Impact isn't without a few really good ideas, especially in the interface. The addition of a rotatable camera is a welcome friend in the genre, and makes finding the handful of secrets scattered through out the game a little easier. In order to use many of your items, you must hold down the R2 button for a few seconds as a meter fills up to make sure you mean to use it. Yes, that means you might get slaughtered waiting for that medkit to activate, but when you are spraying fire in all direction during one of the inevitable swarm attacks it's nice to know that you aren't wasting all your health grazing over the wrong button. Co-op works well, playing through the same levels but with an altered storyline that has you and your buddy chasing down the single player protagonist, dogging his footsteps throughout the spaceship. I also enjoy trophies, and Alien Breed is a gift that keeps on giving in that respect. Throughout the course of my single playthrough on normal difficulty I unlocked 4 or 5 gold trophies, at least a dozen silver trophies and many bronzes. Yes, the way to my heart is through trophies.
It's hard to recommend Alien Breed: Impact when you could be playing Lara Croft or waiting a bit for Dead Nation, both of which do a great job of being more compelling and unique. If you played Alien Breed: Evolution on the Xbox, you should know this is essentially the same game (a prologue level was added for this release). Team 17 did their best to try and recreate the magic from 20 years ago, but they failed to modernize in the face of competition. Unless you vastly prefer the setting of a spaceship to ruined temples and apocalyptic zombie cities, you can safely ignore this release.