Demo Driver 8: Alien Rage (#85)
The first installment I did of this feature was about Alien Breed 2: Assault. I wouldn’t say I critiqued that game harshly for being generic, but the acknowledgement was there. Yet for all that, the nature of it didn’t make the game bad. It was what it was, and it certainly would win no prizes for originality, but I try hard to point out that there’s a distinct difference between games that scratch an itch I don’t care for (DRIVE ’07, Eschalon Book 1), games that are generic but solid (Alien Breed 2: Assault), and games that are actually not very good.
I bring this up because Alien Rage is sipping from the same well as Alien Breed 2: Assault, but where the former feels kind of bland but eminently playable and solid, Alien Rage is a game that made me lose interest before I had even gotten to shooting anything. I almost wish I had stopped there, because I knew it wasn’t going to get better, but in the words of Macbeth, bear-like I fought the course. It is a game best used as an object lesson about why “generic” doesn’t mean “bad” but it certainly doesn’t mean good either.
Why did I lose interest so quickly? Well, I looked across a section of scaffolding to another segment of the area I was infiltrating and remembered a similar setup in one of the Mass Effect games. I remembered approaching it with quick chatter from my teammates, falling into cover, followed by a shootout that didn’t rely so much on enemy numbers as one that involved choice of tactics. The single bridge over the expanse was devoid of cover, but if I could get across, I could do serious damage… at the same time, if I sniped across the bridge, I’d be safer. Risk versus reward, a set of tactical choices reinforced by the nature of the game.
Here, there was no firefight, there was an AI and a pilot bickering about whether or not he could successfully urinate in the toilet bowl. Followed by my descent into the game’s Exploding Barrel Factory.
Let me just say that if you like shooting exploding barrels around enemies, you will be in heaven here, because this place is littered with all of the exploding barrels you could ever want and enemies that can’t realize they shouldn’t run near these things. Remember in Half-Life 2 when exploding barrels were here and there, sometimes to your advantage, sometimes to your detriment? Remember when enemies would roll them toward you, about to explode, but a skilled player could snap off a quick shot and make the trap backfire?
Yeah, here it’s just dumb enemies standing by barrels. They’re glowing orange, too, in case you needed more indication. I suppose you could also shoot the aliens themselves instead, if you have to, but they tend to shoot you about a million times and take a remarkable number of bullets to put down. Meanwhile, your health plummets in about half a second, even on the normal difficulty level, which is helpfully labeled as “hard” next to “challenging” and “brutal” and “oh God please notice me I am so intense.”
I’ve said before that handing out more damage does not make your game more challenging. It just makes it seem that way. That’s more or less this game’s bread and butter as Manheap Shooterguy moves forward and shoots a whole lot of aliens because um aliens and doy. The story fed by the opening cutscene is that those stoopid science dorks did things and blah blah now shooty times.
And I’m already bored. It’s one of those games that reeks of being science fiction just so the designers don’t have to worry about real weapons or anything, with no real rhyme or reason beyond it. It’s a generic shootfest with bland filters, lots of explosions, and a protagonist that may very well be actually named Manheap Shooterguy. And the true people to be blamed here aren’t the writers, but the designers.
I mentioned that walkway before because the game is laid out in such a way that suggests the designers aren’t really sure how to design a level. A set-piece existed there that seemed custom-made for an interesting shooting environment, but instead it’s just a walkway. Your actual shootouts take place in warehouses with conspicuously placed points of cover (not that you can actually take cover aside from darting behind something), ones that don’t even feel like actual warehouses. The game apes all the generic stupid choices made for games like Gears of War and then carefully excises the balanced gameplay, i.e. the one thing that made the game engaging despite the generic nature of itself.
Or, to put it more simply, this is a game with one thing to do – shoot aliens. But shooting aliens here isn’t fun, it’s mostly just boring.
Bright points? Well, due to the nature of the Unreal Engine, the game at least looks nice if you can ignore the fact that every single moment of the game has the same three colors in varying mixtures. And I suppose you could give it points for being dumb without being too actively dumb, maybe? I’m reaching here.
The fact is that this isn’t a good game, at all. It’s doing something that other games have attempted to do and have done better, and the one thing that its genericness seems to promise – shooting aliens – isn’t all that fun to do in this context. There’s nothing actually wrong with a game that’s generic but does it well, but this game doesn’t do it well. It’s not balanced, it’s not polished, and it’s certainly not all that fun.
I suppose if you’re desperate for an FPS that lets you shoot at things in an exploding barrel factory and there’s some reason why you won’t look into the hundreds of other games that do the same thing a great deal better, this one can almost justify its price tag? That’s as positive as I can get here.