Aliens! ALIENS EVERYWHERE. That’s the premise of Alienation, a PlayStation-exclusive twin-stick shooter from the makers of Super Stardust HD, Resogun and Dead Nation. Of course, there’s a little more to it than that. I think there’s some alternate-history stuff that happened during which there was an interstellar invasion of sorts, and the result is a version of Earth that’s crawling with extraterrestrial critters of all shapes and sizes. Bummer.
But none of that’s really important, is it? I’m just here to shoot things. And in Alienation, I’ve done an awful lot of sweet, sticky thing-shooting. It’s fun, and I like it! I should probably elaborate though, so let’s get on that.
You’re an exoskeleton-wearing super-soldier tasked with travelling the globe and using your super-soldier abilities (along with an arsenal of weapons) to deliver super-soldier justice to the alien menace. The core of it’s pretty much as you’d expect from a twin-stick shooter: move with the left stick, aim with the right stick, shoot everything with the right trigger. There are three different character classes from which to choose, each with their own unique specialties and abilities. There’s a dash/charge move to help get you in and out of trouble in a hurry, and you’ll collect various grenades and mines and deadly electro-boomerangs that’ll aid you in thinning out the horde when you’re being overwhelmed.
Naturally, you’ll amass a vast array of weaponry as you journey between the game’s various regions and missions, split across primary, secondary and heavy weapons slots. The primary slot contains things like the standard assault rifle. Secondary weapons include shotguns and revolvers. Heavy weapons are things like flamethrowers, miniguns and rocket launchers. Various enemy types charge at you in droves, and the weapons are plenty satisfying to use in mowing them down. Alienation is a mighty attractive game, with partially destructible environments and an assortment of excellent particle, smoke and weapon effects that help make the action feel thick and immediate and intense. The controls that power everything are slick and responsive, although there’s a bit of tricky finger gymnastics to be done when situations get really hairy and you’re fumbling to aim and reload in between frantically switching weapons and trying to remember what button does which special attack.
There’s a progression system in Alienation. It’s simple, but effective, and is quite similar to progression in action RPGs. Your character gains levels as you accrue experience points, and this allows you to unlock a range of passive and active abilities that’ll assist you in being not-dead as the difficulty ramps up. Which it does. Quickly. Alienation starts off fairly sedate, but a few missions in you’ll start to feel the heat as enemies evolve and new challenges present themselves. Death isn’t much more than an inconvenience, as you’ll just respawn at the nearest active checkpoint without needing to redo any of the objectives you’ve already completed – but the level is repopulated with enemies, and more distressingly, your XP multiplier (which obviously affects how quickly you gain experience) is reset. Which is devastating, because big numbers are good and I like them. In other words, lots of swearing happens on death.
Another thing it’s got in common with ARPGs is its loot system. Weapons are colour-coded by rarity, with rarer weapons generally being better by boasting special characteristics and the option to upgrade them using cores that improve their attributes. Again, it’s handled simply but elegantly, and proves yet again that you should never underestimate just how effective even the most basic of loot mechanisms can be at dominating your attention and your desire to keep playing.
As entertaining and occasionally overwhelming as Alienation is when played solo, it becomes a mad mess of colourful, unbridled chaos when buddies drop in for some cooperative carnage. Up to four of you can play together, but sadly there’s no local co-op. The fact that it’s so geared towards playing with companions has led to an annoying “feature”, however – there’s no way to pause the game, so when you’re digging around in your inventory and spending upgrade points, aliens are still free to snack on your vital organs. This makes total sense for cooperative sessions, but it quickly gets old when playing the game solo. I’d like to be able to pause the game if I want to go outside and, I don’t know, stare at the sun for a few minutes, thanks.
I like Alienation a lot. It’s an incredibly slick twin-stick shooter that’s really good fun whether you play it alone or with friends. The core mechanics are well-executed and the action RPG influence makes for an interesting twist on the usual formula. Simply put, it makes shooting, burning and exploding aliens and alien-type things very exciting, and that’s excellent news for anyone who likes shooting, burning and exploding aliens and alien-type things.