Some people play first person shooters to get down and dirty with the story; Halo comes to mind as a game that places an emphasis on the narrative while, at times, sacrificing certain elements of the gameplay. Other people play first person shooters just to shoot a variety of things in their alien/zombie/Nazi faces and look like a badass while they’re doing it. The “looking-like-a-badass” style of first person shooter has died out over the years, but with games like Bulletstorm, Duke Nukem Forever (for better or for worse) and Alien Rage, the old-school shooter is making something of a comeback, even if it’s not always welcomed with open arms.
Alien Rage, developed by City Interactive, tells the story of nothing much at all. You’re a soldier, you’re on a big rock, and there are aliens between you and your objective. There’s not really much else to say, so strap on some ridiculously over-sized guns and make your way through the horde. It’s time to unleash some of that alien rage.
The year is 2242 and for years the United Earth company has been mining promethium, an incredibly rare fuel source that can power an entire planet, from Deimos 875, a lonely asteroid spinning through space. After a while, an alien race called the Vorus decided that they also wanted a piece of the pie and, although things were going well for a bit, they started to turn sour after a few years. The Vorus attacked the humans, taking them out while they were least expecting it, and now the United Earth company has sent in a team of soldiers to take out the alien race and the asteroid. In their own words, “If we can’t have it, no-one can”. Go ‘Merica.
Despite being of little addition to the story there are small one-liners here and there which add a little bit of colour. In typical “bad 80′s movie” fashion, they’re often deliberately – and sometimes not-so-deliberately – hilarious, so they’re worth listening out for nonetheless. The voice-acting throughout the game is passable, given that it’s supposed to emulate the feel of an old-school shooter, but don’t expect any of the actors to be nominated for any kind of award (even if the main character does sound a little like BioShock Infinite’s Booker DeWitt).
Alien Rage is a true old-school shooter though, so fans aren’t going to care too much about the story as long as the gameplay holds up – and it does. There’s something genuinely enjoyable about a game that throws waves of enemies at you, and then puts a massive amount of explosions next to them, which is exactly what Alien Rage does. There are two kinds of promethium in the game, orange and blue. The blue stuff is what most of the levels are made up of and is inert (doesn’t do anything when you shoot it) but the orange promethium is highly volatile and blows everything around it sky-high when it’s shot. It’s good news then that enemies tend to congregate around the orange promethium like moths to a flame, allowing for some rather impressive multiple takedowns.
As well as having the orange and blue promethium as a gameplay draw, Alien Rage also does one other thing that gets people like me playing for hours on end: it displays a score counter, coupled with numbers flying off of enemies when they’re killed. This combination makes sure that those people that want to get to the end of the level with the highest score will constantly replay levels, trying to beat their own high score or the high scores of other people, using the built-in leaderboard system. In order to get a better score, there are a couple of things you can do: you can kill multiple enemies in a single shot, kill multiple enemies with explosives, melee them, or any other number of combinations. When you perform any of these special kills, you’re informed of the fact through a Quake-esque message on the screen and an announcer broadcasting what you’ve just done.
Each of the 14 levels last about 15 – 20 minutes – depending on how difficult you find them – so you’re looking at a good couple of hours of gameplay, and that’s before you even start replaying levels looking for hidden audio recordings and trying to beat your own scores. One of the more impressive aspects to Alien Rage, and another reason to keep playing, is the perk system. With this, the more you play – and the more you kill - the more perks you unlock for your character. This is something you wouldn’t have seen in an old-school shooter but it’s an addition from modern shooters that feels very welcome indeed. There’s nothing that adds to that badass feeling more than upgrading your character in the midst of a warzone.
Graphically, Alien Rage doesn’t look as good as other games in City Interactive’s repertoire, but considering that Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 used CryEngine 3, and Alien Rage uses Unreal Engine 3, it’s not all that surprising. Still, the developers have managed to squeeze every inch of power out of the ageing Epic engine and Alien Rage still looks pretty impressive. The effect of the explosions (and you’ll see many of them) stick out as some of the most visually appealing aspects, but there are other areas of the game – such as when you’re in an elevator with a glass bottom, and you look down – where you can see that a lot of care and attention has gone in to making everything look as slick as possible.
VERDICT: Alien Rage feels like a love letter to first person shooters from the very first moment you’re dumped onto a giant rock hurtling through space. It pokes fun at the genre in all the right places but, when it needs to get down to business and actually feel like a decent shooter, it does that well too. There’s something incredibly cathartic about taking down hordes of enemies with explosions and seeing numbers fly off them, adding to your score. Alien Rage goes back to a time when the fact that you got to the end of the level at all was much less important than what score you ended the level with. You’ll find yourself playing levels over and over again to improve your score, beat your friends and – sometimes – just to experience some of the genuinely hilarious one-liners one last time.
Alien Rage perhaps wouldn’t have done very well as a full-priced game – it aims its sights squarely at a particular subset of gamer – but as a downloadable title at £14.99, you could do much worse. If you’re a gamer who likes their old-school shooters, you won’t want to miss this.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.