Originally released back in 1991 on the Amiga, Alien Breed has more recently made a return to fame with an Unreal Engine 3 powered sequel that hit the PS3 and Xbox 360, and now the original has been spruced up for the Playstation Vita and PS3. I have to admit I never experienced Alien Breed first time round as I was only five years old when it was released, but I can say with reasonable confidence if you played the original and it holds a fond place in your heart, it’s definitely a title you’ll want to delve into once again. As a fresh set of eyes it could be fairly easy to overlook the now simplistic gameplay on offer here, but the heavily Aliens inspired (it’s as close as you could get without a lawsuit; in fact, one of the tophies is actually called “Ripley”) art direction and tight twin-stick-shooter re-imagining really hit a nerve with me, even if it wasn’t for as long as it could have been.
Alien Breed, despite releasing at the low price of £6.49/€7.99 packs a fair bit of content and has bags of replayability. The original Alien Breed is included, plus the special edition that was released the following year, and three new level packs with four levels each brings the total up to thirty. Each level is fairly small and won’t take that long to complete, but after finishing the game in the new, enhanced version which uses the left analog stick for movement and the right stick for aiming and shooting, you can tackle “original mode” which contains the Amiga classics, plus the new level packs with the original art style and difficulty. The original alien breed is controlled with just the left stick and a fire button, so the difficulty is much greater and will certainly appeal to those after the nostalgia, and effectively doubles the length of gameplay that’s on offer here.
The game is played from a top-down perspective reminiscent of Gauntlet, and has you moving through tight corridors, searching your way through mazes while you try to reach the goal for each level, which usually involves destroying something or flipping switches. On your way you will face hordes of aliens, ranging from face-hugger clones all the way up to boss queens. Most levels require you to quickly back-track to the start once you’ve completed the objective, often under a strict time limit before the level explodes, and this adds a healthy amount of tension to proceedings. To aid you in your quest, there are numerous pick-ups throughout. Guns all use the same, universal ammo, and keys can be collected to open doors (though you can fire through doors if you run out) as well as money and occasionally health packs and extra lives. The currency you collect in game can be spent in the in-game shop to buy new weapons, lives, ammo and keys and can be accessed any time. Purchases also carry across to whichever campaign you choose, so you can replay levels if you wish to build up more stock to tackle later levels. It’s worth noting that this is a departure from the original which had in-game terminals, and while the instant access shop has been implemented for accessibility it detracts from the difficulty of the original. You can also buy a map which works in all levels which helps minimise frustration as the levels are often claustrophobic and confusing in layout and contain lots of dead ends. As I said before it’s all fairly simple stuff, but it makes for gameplay that works well in short bursts. Every level in the game can also be played with a friend or stranger via the internet or wi-fi ad hoc too, so you needn’t play alone if you don’t want to.
The enhanced visuals are fairly simplistic and remind me of a flash game, but they still have a lot of character and things run smoothly. There are lots of little machines with flashing lights, and slimy alien cocoons and oil pits, so although things are so simple the graphics are fairly varied and you’ll certainly notice a lot of similar environments to those in the Aliens series and other sci-fi classics. Sound effects are very basic and there’s no real in game music, but the sound effects don’t offend and are ripped from the original so have a nineties blip-blop vibe to them. This certainly isn’t a game you’ll show your mates to showcase the graphics of the Vita, but the entire game only comes in at 120mb so it won’t take up much space on your memory card either. Splattered throughout levels are acid pits, black holes and moving machinery, so there’s often danger around every corner, but despite this I found the game was far too easy in the enhanced mode, so it didn’t really feel as balanced as it could have been. By the time I was at the end of the special edition (about half way through the game) in enhanced mode, I had 35 clips of ammo and 9 lives, so a lot of the tension that came from the high difficulty and sparsity of the ammo in the original is lost in the enhanced version. I can understand why Team 17 have done this as games are no longer anywhere near as difficult as they used to be (if you ignore Demon’s Souls), but each mode is like a polar opposite with little middle ground. Although killing aliens and blowing stuff up is good fun, ramping the difficulty up on the enhanced version could have made things more enjoyable.
Alien Breed has a fair bit of content at this price, but whether you enjoy the game or not is going to rely fairly heavily on whether you enjoyed the original or have a particular addiction for twin stick shooters. It’s not a bad game, and it’s good for a quick blast here and there but it gets old fairly quickly, especially if you decide to play through in one long session. It’s a slice of history and undoubtedly a retro classic, but I don’t feel it’s aged as well as some of the other classics from the 16-bit era, and as such it’s difficult to recommend as a must-buy. There just isn’t enough variety on offer here, but if you’re stuck for things to play at the moment it might be worth a go and it won’t hurt your wallet as much as the majority of other releases. It is also a cross buy title, so you can play it on PS3 for no extra cost.