Dead Island (Post Impressions)

This is not a review, because I did not play Dead Island long enough to justify the writing of one. I played the game for a grand total of a mere 3.7 hours. This isn’t a terribly long time to spend with a game unless it is something overly simplistic such as Minesweeper, so I cannot and will not write about Dead Island as if I really even know what I am talking about, since I just did not spend enough time on the game to become terribly knowledgeable.

Why didn’t I play the game for any longer than four hours? There are a few reasons. Some of them may or may not be agreeable, but not of them are outright “wrong” since it’s all opinion and is therefore pretty subjective.

1. Collision Detection: What’s with this aspect of the game? Why is it so off? There is not much consistency with collision detection unless you’re using a ranged weapon or throwing something at a zombie. It just seems horribly off a lot of the time since I can kick a zombie in the chest when it appears to be several feet away from me, and then there are times when a zombie will be less than an arms reach away from me and my kicks will miss. I don’t know what’s going on here, but it gives me horrible flashbacks of Morrowind’s iffy dice/number based “hit or miss” battle system. I doubt that Dead Island uses the same method to calculate whether or not you hit since nothing in the game really indicated that it did, but at the very least the fighting mechanics seem a little sloppily coded.

2. Depth of Field: I’M GOING TO THROW UP! Maybe not quite, but this game is a pain for me to look at. The camera controls are extremely wonky and I feel it’s hard to look in certain directions at times. It can also be hard to judge just how close (or far) zombies are at times, which kind of ties in which my beef with the collision detection in this game. I just feel like the whole experience is awkward and disorienting. The way in which character movement is portrayed makes me feel a little confused and really messes with my mind. I don’t get motion sickness or anything, but there’s definitely something to this game that makes me feel a little “off” when I am moving around on foot.

Didn't I already cut this guy's head off? Like a few dozen times? Hurrah for repeating character models!

3. (Lack of) Enemy Variety: Walker, walker, walker, thug, infected, walker, walker, walker, infected… Rinse and repeat a lot. This game is an RPG, yeah? Even games such as Fallout 3 (which I can’t stand) boasts better variety. Fighting the same three enemy types, with a grand total of what feels like two or three different models in total for each kind of zombie, gets tiring fast. They could have done so much more! The variety truly is a little boring, and I would only accept shambling zombies if they came at the player en masse ala Dead Rising. When you run into one or two walkers at a time over and over, it just gets really boring. I am aware that you have more zombies attacking you at once later (such as several infected at a time), but really? Should we honestly have to work towards this? I’m playing a zombie game, I don’t want to be attacked by tiny little twosomes and trios for a few hours, especially when it is the same character models/zombie types over and over. I would have at least appreciated a few blood barfing zombies at the start or something.

4. Poor Atmosphere: This game just doesn’t grip me at all. I love zombies as much as the next guy, and a proper horror/scary game can certainly freak me out, but this game just doesn’t suck me in. The hotel at the very start was sufficiently spooky and I enjoyed it, but afterwards? I don’t know, roaming around a tropical resort wasn’t very scary even with zombies screaming and running at me. The environment still looked too pristine and untouched, and the zombies themselves weren’t very intimidating. Everything I was asked to do by the dull and personality-lacking NPCs felt very routine. I just struggled to feel immersed at all. Singleplayer mode ended up being ridiculously boring because of this, and the short time I spent playing co-op with a friend was slightly better, but still kind of sucked since he was a much higher level and was just rushing me through the game. There was no challenge at all because of this since he was running around killing everything in one hit with electrified weapons and such. My situation never felt particularly dire.

This guy has the personality of a cardboard box. He is so dull that I gave him an exciting nickname. Cinnamon. I'm serious.

5. Bugs & Glitches: While I commend the developers on being able to develop a game that would run on my laptop (it isn’t a set up as gaming machine, but it can hold its own pretty well), I’m a big disgruntled at the frequent black screens I would receive when quitting the game, along with various odd control issues. I’ve also noticed that others online have had quite a few issues with the game, especially with quest NPCs bugging up or with save files becoming corrupted. Dead Island does seem to be about as buggy as standard Bethesda TES releases (Morrowind, Oblivion), but I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the game is unstable as other games such Sacred 2. A lot of people have no issues with Dead Island, so I guess that counts for something.

So, there you have it. These are the issues that I feel stopped me from playing more of Dead Island. I will admit that the game looks pretty nice and has some decent ideas such as the combo weapon system and co-op gameplay, but they weren’t enough to save the game in my eyes. I respect that a lot of people are enjoying this game, but Dead Island just doesn’t seem to be for me. I regret purchasing the game, as the money I used to buy it could’ve gone towards F1 2011 instead. Oh well, to each their own!

Dead Rising 2 (Review)

“A playful zombie game that most gamers should get their hands on.”

If there’s one thing that is hard to do wrong, it’s zombies games. I’ve played plenty games that star the shambling undead, and very few have been anything less than average. Dead Rising 2, from Blue Castle and Capcom, is not just a fun zombie game but a fantastic one.

As someone who never played the original Dead Rising due to not having a 360, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. All that I was aware of was that this game was supposedly very tongue in cheek, excessively gory yet hilarious at the same time. While the story behind Dead Rising 2 is certainly very serious, the way in which the game presents itself is anything but. Think Shaun of the Dead, only without the silly jokes and with a strong and masculine lead.

Dead Rising 2 throws you in control of ex-motocross ace Chuck Greene, who is taking part in a reality show called Terror is Reality so that he can get some money to purchase Zombrex for his daughter Katey. What is Zombrex? In a nut shell, it is over the counter medication that people who have been bitten by zombies can take daily to stave off becoming a zombie themselves. Katey was once bitten by a zombie, and as a result Chuck has had to give her a shot of Zombrex each and every day since the accident.

The game show that Chuck takes part in, Terror is Reality, is essentially a show in which contestants kill zombies on bikes that have chainsaws attached to them (called slicecycles). The winner is the contestant who kills the most zombies. The player gets to control Chuck during the game show, which is the first time you get to do so. It is not a mandatory part of the game and can be skipped, but it’s best not to do so for story purposes.

Anyway, disaster strikes as somebody lets the zombies loose after the show. Security footage shows that Chuck himself did it, which we know is a lie since we were controlling him the entire time. After rescuing Katey and fleeing from the building, Chuck finds the entire city (called Fortune City) overrun. After finding his way into a safehouse, the objectives of the game are laid out for you, and then you get free control to do anything and go anywhere. While the game is an open world sandbox game, the objectives are quite rigid. Inject Katey with Zombrex each morning (you have to find Zombrex throughout the city), find out who framed Chuck and clear his name, and rescue survivors that you find throughout Fortune City.

Finding out who framed Chuck and then working to clear his name is essentially the main story of the game and is provided to you in the form of “cases” (like detective work). The story is pretty linear if all you do is follow that, but you are perfectly free to muck up the story and miss cases. This just means that you won’t get a good ending when you beat the game, and will then be allowed to restart from the beginning with everything you’ve earned (levels, attacks, combo cards, and so forth).

Rescuing survivors is a pretty big part of the game as well, as saving them will net you lots of PP (prestige points), which are essentially experience points. Earn a certain amount and Chuck will gain a level, just like in an RPG. Leveling up will grant Chuck one or two bonuses each level, such as an extra life bar, a new attack, or increased speed. Survivors are pretty fun to rescue, as you have to guide them back to the safehouse on your own. Their AI isn’t too bad and, if you arm them with a weapon, their chances of being grabbed by zombies is reduced greatly. Some survivors will refuse weapons though, or will even need to be carried. Many survivors will also ask you to do something before agreeing to go to the safehouse. For example, one survivor is starving and wants to eat something first so you have to find some food for him before he agrees to follow you to the safehouse, while an embarrassed female survivor in her undergarments will only go with you if Chuck strips to his underwear as well. You will learn about potential survivors from Stacey, a character who texts Chuck and tells him what to look out for in Fortune City. She’ll often tip the player off with locations of survivors or things worth checking out, and Chuck will have a set amount of time to look into Stacey’s findings.

Between zombies and a few regular human enemies, there is a type of enemy called a psycho. Psychos are people who have gone insane from the zombie outbreak and are, most of the time, extremely difficult to kill and will trample over you with ease. Since you are allowed to restart the story at any time and keep your abilities and stats, it is best to leave psychos until you are certain that you will be able to take them down.

Going back to zombies, it is impressive how many can appear on the screen at any one time. It’s not uncommon for there to be well over a hundred zombies on your screen, provided you’re not in a very cramped location. This game doesn’t hesitate to give you the full zombie apocalypse atmosphere, and it shows. Unfortunately with so many zombies on screen at once, it’s easy to see a few clones shambling around. Even still, it seems that Blue Castle did a good job of keeping identical zombies to a minimum, as it seems like there are several dozen different zombie models to encounter. The graphics in Dead Rising 2 may not be pushing any boundaries, but they certainly suffice and the diversity among the zombies is appreciated.

In terms of weapons, it is pretty safe to say that anything that is not nailed down can probably be picked up and used as a weapon by Chuck. Common weapons include baseball bats, crowbars, fire axes, and sledgehammers. Chuck can use a few obscure items as weapons as well, such as golf clubs complete with golf balls, robot teddies, fuzzy dice, and pineapples. Pretty much anything in the game world can be wielded by Chuck, which makes exploring in Dead Rising 2 a lot of fun. Fortune City may not cover a lot of ground, but there are so many shops and rooms to check out that it feels so much larger than it really is.

Chuck can also find combo cards, which teaches him how to combine items to make special weapons. At the beginning they are rather simple, such as the baseball bat with nails in it, but eventually Chuck can do things such as combine a flashlight with gems to make, well, a lightsaber. It may not be very realistic, but realism should not be expected from a game that treats urinals as save points! It’s worth noting that the weapons Chuck makes are, most of the time, exceptionally powerful. Even the basic baseball bat with nails is a very deadly weapon that can be obtained very easily.

Also worth noting is the multiplayer. Dead Rising 2 offers two forms of multiplayer. First, there is the standard co-op mode in which you can hop into another person’s game as they play through the main story. Only the host’s story will progress, but both players in the co-op game will acquire money and PP. It’s a fun mode, and it is certainly very enjoyable causing havoc with another player in the casinos and malls of Fortune City. The zombies really don’t stand a chance against two Chucks!

The second multiplayer mode is Terror is Reality, the game show that Chuck contested in. In Terror is Reality, four players are pitted against each other in goofy minigames that all involve zombies being killed, maimed, or even just played with. One minigame involves sniping zombies that appear in random doors in front of the players, so it’s like whack a mole with guns. Another minigame forces players to don caribou antlers, which they use to throw zombies onto weights. Heavier zombies award players with more points. There are probably about a dozen different minigames in Terror is Reality to play, and fortunately most of them are somewhat enjoyable. Another bonus to playing Terror is Reality is that all of the prize money you earn playing the minigames can be transferred to the singleplayer game. Considering I’ve never finished Terror is Reality with less than $20,000, it’s pretty easy to rack up money fairly quickly which makes the minigames pretty beneficial to play.

Overall, Dead Rising 2 is a very good zombie game, and it’s not unusual to have a lot of fun laughing at the game due to crazy situations you’ll end up in with various weapons. The multiplayer is well worth it as well, as it is not only enjoyable but very beneficial to the singleplayer campaign. Dead Rising 2 is a zombie game that does not take itself very seriously, and I recommend it to anyone who needs a good zombie game to play through, or at least a game that likes to poke fun at it’s own cheesy nature.

Overall

9.3/10

Dead Rising 2/Sonic 4 First Impressions

So I’m playing two games at once right now, and they are Dead Rising 2 and Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1. These two games couldn’t be any more unlike one another, and this is reflected in my feelings towards them so far after clocking about two hours in Dead Rising 2, and about an hour and a half in Sonic 4.


I never played the original Dead Rising since I do not have a 360, so I wasn’t able to experience the exploits of Frank West. That did not stop me from wanting to check out the sequel, though.

Dead Rising 2 uses the Games for Windows or Windows Live sign-in crap, which plagues so many other PC games these days. I was a little upset to see that in here, but what really irked me was the lack of any sort of key configuration options, and apparently the only gamepads that this game has support for are 360 ones for the PC. I had to go into an ini file and remap the keys manually, which was fairly annoying. It took me about an hour before I was truly happy with the controls.

The gameplay so far has me hooked, and I can’t really fault it much. My only gripe is having to find Zombrex for Chuck’s daughter. I don’t even know where to start looking since I always have, literally, dozens of zombies lumbering after me at once. Taking the zombies down is a lot of fun, and is even downright gruesome in a few instances. If you have a fire axe, you can slice a zombie in half – and I mean VERTICALLY, so from the head and down. Ouch.

The characters are pretty good. Katey (Chuck’s daughter) isn’t too interesting, but the rest of the supporting cast is great so far. Rebecca is pretty much the most blatant use of sex appeal I’ve ever seen in a video game of this kind, but she’s also a well developed character personality-wise, so she has the looks and the character. Sullivan is cool too, I definitely like his no nonsense approach to things as he manages the safehouse/shelter. I’ve only talked to him a few times and he’s already changed his feelings towards Chuck twice. I like this guy.

I haven’t played the game enough to write a review, that’s for sure. Still coming to grips with a lot of things in Dead Rising 2, but I predict a pretty good score for it.


A new Sonic game in the original series, what’s not to like? Unfortunately, a lot. The game isn’t that bad, don’t be misled by what I just said. The problem with Sonic 4 is that it feels like the developers don’t know how to design Sonic levels anymore.

The Splash Hill levels were pretty decent, but they felt far too large and I never really knew how far into the stages I was. There are too many routes and secret passages, and it’s just far too overwhelming. Big levels are good in a lot of instances, but these levels are just too big.

I actually felt like the casino stages were really frustrating. Far too many stupid gimmicky props and such, and a few things, such as the cannons that shoot you around, really annoyed me. I felt that, in the casino stages, I was mostly just being pushed through the levels by the huge abundance of springs and other devices that would propel Sonic forward. Honestly, it’s a little questionable when you barely even have to press any buttons to progress through a level. In the casino levels, the game progressed Sonic for you.

The ruin levels seem promising so far, but I’ve only played the first one. It was a little Indiana Jones-esque, which I actually enjoyed. In a few instances, I had to flee from rolling boulders and then ride smaller boulders over bottomless pits. With the slower pace and the game not relying on springs and such to shoot me forward ALL THE DAMN TIME, the first ruin level was actually pretty enjoyable.

Aside from the weird level design and the game’s reliance on devices that constantly shoot you around the level, the other thing I did not like is the placement of enemies. A lot of them are positioned in places where, unless you’ve already played the level and know what’s coming, you’re going to get hit and lose all of your rings. A few enemies come out of absolutely nowhere and are positioned in spots where you are destined to hit them unless you are a remarkably fast thinker and can take them out in half a second. Unlikely.

It’s still early days for Sonic 4, so my feelings may change. At the moment, I’m going to say that this game is just fairly average overall. Despite it’s flaws, it is still fun. It’s just not memorable.


And that’s about it for these two games so far. I’ll be writing more detailed reviews on each later in the week. Sonic 4’s review should be Friday, and Dead Rising 2’s review will be over the weekend sometime.

Return to October 2010 Articles

Top 5 Favourite Resident Evil Enemies

Resident Evil has become quite an old series and, as such, we’ve seen some pretty cool enemies over time. Since it is October, the month of Halloween, I decided to shine a light on my top five favourite Resident Evil enemies. The list may be pretty predictable, but that alone surely says something for my choices.


It just wouldn’t be Resident Evil without the slow, shambling undead. Resident Evil 4 tried to shake things up by removing zombies, which I feel was a bit of a mistake. This very mistake would be repeated in Resident Evil 5. Fortunately there’s still a plethora of Resident Evil games that feature zombies. One on one they were not very intimidating, but in groups? Oh, you knew you’d have a good fight on your hands if there were several! Not to mention hearing the shuffling of feet or a dead groan in the first few games was always enough to freak out a few gamers.


It’s hard to attach a human name to the “thing” that William Birkin eventually becomes. There was no cooler encounter in Resident Evil 2 than the stand-offs with the mutating G-virus creator. His mutations started off threatening enough, and were very clearly intimidating looking. By the end of it all, Birkin’s final form was pretty much just a gigantic blob of mush. Looking at his mutation become something so powerful only to degenerate into such a pitiful form makes me feel a little sorry for the poor man. He served as a great antagonist though, and gave many gamers some fond memories of Resident Evil 2.


We see this guy in a few games, and he’s always pretty menacing looking! I like Mr. X because he defies the rules of what makes a Resident Evil enemy. Mr. X doesn’t moan or shuffle, nor does he have any weird pulsating body parts. With that stone cold face and gigantic frame covered by an old trench coat, Mr. X had a very original look that gave him a very clear identity in the Resident Evil series. It’s also worth mentioning that he was pretty tough to fight in a few instances! This guy could take rockets to the face and still keep moving. Considering the fact that he’s often a persistent threat, his durability makes him perhaps one of the most fearsome enemies in the entire series.


Resident Evil 2 gave us one of the most beloved enemies of the entire franchise, the licker. Skinless, giant tongues, brains exposed, huge claws… What’s not to love? The licker is just so disgustingly awesome! When they first appeared in Resident Evil 2, they were a bit of a big deal. These “things” were not the slow moving zombies that we were used to, oh no! Lickers were stealthy predators that possessed terrifying agility. Gamers who weren’t too skilled at playing Resident Evil games would find themselves dreading every single encounter with lickers. They’ve also provided us with a few scares throughout the series. Who could ever forget the licker jumping through the two way mirror in Resident Evil 2?


Pure evil in human form, figuratively speaking Wesker was Satan. His build up from suspicious ally to eventual prime antagonist of the entire Resident Evil franchise was a stellar ride, and his huge role in Resident Evil 5 was bittersweet. Wesker was truly manipulative as well as fiendishly intelligent. Many events throughout the series can be blamed exclusively on Albert. He became even more of a badass in Resident Evil 5 when he brainwashed poor Jill, and then went on to show Chris and Sheva his awesome abilities. Wesker’s fiery demise was a little saddening however, because I felt upset to see the greatest villain in the series finally perish. RIP Wesker, you made Resident Evil what it is.

Return to October 2010 Articles

The Most Epic Video Game Ever

So while I was cleaning myself up for work this evening, an idea hit me for a game that transitions between genres. In essence, it would be a game that has no defining genre. Imagine the following being shown at a demonstration at E3, the Tokyo Game Show, or some other conference.

The demonstration opens with what seems to be a futuristic racing game. Heavily armored jet-tanks (think Wipeout on steroids) barrel through a jungle landscape dotted with high tech ruins. An NPC portrait appears on the screen as the player speeds through the jungle, informing them via radio to pick up “abandoned weapon cores” laying around the environment. By running over one, players acquire high powered laser/missle weapons that anihilate the opposition when fired. The NPC urges the player to “hurry and beat that bastard to the checkpoint, the safety of the world depends upon it! Use any necessary force!”

The player immediately realizes that the message told the player to throw attack after attack at their opponent. After taking enough damage, the bad guy’s vehicle suddenly explodes, but it turns out that he ejected from the seat at the last moment! The NPC on the radio tells the player to “get the hell outside and stop him from getting away!”

The player gets out of their vehicle and gives chase, quickly catching up on foot. The bad guy feels their presence and turns around. He then indicates that, “You just don’t give up, do it? Fine, let’s settle this now. Like men.”

The camera transitions out to view the two men from a side view perspective as two bars appear at the top of the screen. And then it happens…..

Round one. Fight!!

The game goes from combat racing game to what seems like a full fledged fighter! The two characters go at it, performing combos, linking moves to form chains, performing breakers and parries.. And so forth. After two rounds of highly stylized fighting, the player wins.

As those watching expect a “(CHARACTER NAME) WINS!” message to flash up, they instead witness something else.

Victory! Mission Complete!

An experience bar appears as a score that is calculated basd on performance in the race and then the fight are converted into experience points. The bar fills. LEVEL UP!

The screen fades to black and the player receives a save prompt. After saving, a cutscene plays with the player character entering what looks to be a military operations base. The NPC who previously spoke to the player in their racer is here, revealing himself to be “the General” and the guy who tells the player what to do. The General informs the main character that they may have taken one one of the evil corporation’s main henchmen, but there are still several out there. The General brings up a map, pointing to an area of structures and saying “this is where we are, in this base.” He tells the player that they have to push northwest to a research station that likely holds some valuable information that they can use against the evil corporation. The main character tells the General that he can count on him and leaves the room… And then the game loads into what appears to be an RTS map. The player takes control of the base, building structures and training units to destroy the evil corporation’s defenses near the research station. The main character, as a unit, must survive and be the one to capture the station.

After capturing the research station, the main character enters and finds one of the evil corporation’s henchmen inside. He is waving a disc and saying, “looking for this?” he escapes in a racer. The player hops in one as well, and a sequence similar to the jungle race plays out. After the player fires enough power-ups into the bad guy, his ship will appear to start exploding. The bad guy laughs and says that he isn’t going to give up and… ESCAPES IN A POD INTO THE SKY! The General orders the player to pursue! With the press of a button in the racer’s console, it turns into a flying vehicle and flies into the sky!

The camera angle shifts to the side as the player gains control of the vehicle in the air. Reinforcements from the evil corporation arrive in the form of enemy aircrafts. The player, flying forward the entire time, must shoot them down and salvage their weapons before they explode. After destroying several waves, the player finds the bad guy in a giant robot that he retreived from the evil corporation’s base. Resembling a ship at least a dozen times larger than the player, the bad guy’s ship is capable of firing huge volleys of deadly projectiles. After getting in enough shots, the bad guy’s ship begins exploding. The General begins to congratulate the player when the bad guy cuts them off with, “NOT SO FAST! I’M TAKING YOU WITH ME!” The bad guy fires one last shot before exploding. The shot hits the player’s ship as the begin to spiral out of control. The General urges the player to land safely, but it is impossible. After spinning well of course, the player makes a light crash in an abandoned area.

The player crawls out of their ship to survey the damage and see where they are. As they are examining the hull of their ship, there is moaning… Shuffling feet… The player turns and looks back and there it is! A zombie!!

Suddenly playing like Resident Evil 5, the player is tasked with getting the hell out of what appears to another research station where all hell broke loose. With each zombie killed, a “+1 XP” message flashes over the fallen corpse. Eventually the player gets to the end of the station. Just as they are about to leave, a huge zombie horde attacks! As all hope looks lost, suddenly two people burst in and push the zombies back. Allies from the command base! After defeating the zombies, they introduce themselves as Sergeant Brock and Captain Sharp. They agree to get the hell out of there with the player and then this message appears..

– BROCK AND SHARP HAVE JOINED THE PARTY –

The party then leaves. Victory! Mission Complete!

An experience bar appears once more as a score that is calculated basd on performance in the race and then the fight are converted into experience points. The bar fills. LEVEL UP!

An overworld map appears. The research station they were at is greyed out. Ahead is a sparse plain. The player selects it and enters. The game shifts to a location that looks and plays like the Archylte Steppe from Final Fantasy XIII. The player’s destination is marked on their map as they must traverse through the open wilds. If they are unfortunate enough to bump into one of the local critters, a dramatic battle transition occurs. Rather than going to an RPG battle screen, the fighting system from before returns! Brock and Sharp appear as what seems to be tag-team partners (think Marvel vs Capcom). The creatures that the player is fighting? A series of wolves! While the player has three characters to alternate between, each with diverse move sets and special attacks, the opposing force is made up of approximately twenty wolves. The player characters seem able to take about ten hits from a wolf before dying (though it would be more if they gained more levels), but each wolf can only appear to take about four or five hits. After defeating all the wolves, each character is awarded experience points based upon how much they were used and how beneficial they were in determining the outcome of the battle. The player then continues, trying to avoid as many fights as possible….

And that is as far as my imagination went. So, what did we include here?
Racing? Check.
Fighting? Check.
RTS? Check.
Retro shooter? Check.
Survival horror? Check.
RPG leveling mechanics? Check.

How would something like this be defined? What genre would it fit under? I had an idea to add in a sort of Civilization or Sim City element to this game idea as well. Would that have been overkill? No, the “playable sports league minigame/diversion from the main story” probably would be, though. Or maybe functional online multiplayer?

Okay, that’s enough. I’m stopping now, I promise.

Return to August 2010 Articles

Alien Swarm (Review)

“Being outnumbered by murderous aliens has never been this much fun!”

Once I believe that nothing interesting can happen on the Source engine any longer, something comes along that blows me away. The latest game to do so is Alien Swarm, a top down shooter that plays much like some classic oldbies such as Machine Hunter, or the top down Contra titles.

The unique thing about Alien Swarm is that it combines fast paced top-down shooting with heavy team play that is very reliant on tactics. The icing on the cake is the game’s very prominent survival horror overtones. In Alien Swarm, you’re plunked down onto a planet that has been infested by deadly aliens. There are thousands of them and only two to four of you.

The survival horror aspect of the game comes from not knowing where the aliens are lurking, or what’s going to happen next. You never know when aliens will burst through objects or suddenly flank you. Fortunately, the game isn’t scary at all due to the fast paced shooting gameplay. You rarely have time to relax unless you literally kill every single alien in a specific section of a level and stay there. Of course, nobody would want to do that. In games like Alien Swarm, you are pressed hard to keep moving.

Alien Swarm is mostly online, and you can play with strangers or your Steam friends. There is an offline practice mode that runs through the game’s campaign, but killing aliens and completing levels will not grant you any experience points. Online play utilizies a leveling system where, whenever you clear a stage or get game over, you and your pals are taken to a screen where experience points are distributed based on the performance of each player in the level. If you kill tons of aliens and assist the team greatly, you’re bound to get a motherlode. When you acquire so many experience points and gain a level, you are rewarded with access to new weapons and accessories. The higher your level, the better the rewards.

Gameplay can be very unique based on what class you choose. There are four to choose from and they are Officer, Special Weapons, Medic, and Tech. Officers are fantastic front-line gunmen with all around decent stats. They aren’t particularly bad in any fields and are a welcome addition to any team. Special Weapons characters get access to high powered guns with vast amounts of ammunition. They are essentially mobile tanks, strong and extremely deadly when used appropriately. Medics are the essential healer class. They are able to deploy health regenerating beacons and can heal their squadmates with a gun that restores health. Bizarre concept, but it works well and you will find yourself falling in love with the medic on your team as they keep you alive. Finally there is the tech, a class that is able to hack doors and consoles. Techs can also use a prototype assault rifle with slight auto-aim properties, and they are able to set up sentry guns quickly. They also carry handy motion sensors.

It is imperative to form decent teams when playing online. Two people alone are probably best off going with a medic/tech team, while variety improves slightly on three player teams. I have never played a four player game except with AI bots in the offline practice mode, so I can’t judge it too well. All I am aware of is that four player teams offer lots of variety and tons of potential. Medics and techs are usually the only required classes, so make sure that you have them on your team when you play, especially on the higher difficulty settings.

The alien swarm is a lot of fun to plow through. Initially, you will only encounter one kind of alien that bears a slight resemblance to the antlions of Half-Life 2. Eventually, you will encounter larger and more dangerous aliens as well as poison spitters and small parasites that resemble facehuggers from the Aliens series. Parasites are exceptionally annoying as they can sneak up you quite well, and aren’t always easy to hit. Flamethrowers are typically the best way to dispatch them. Once you hit the third or fourth level, there’s a fantastic variety of aliens and it is difficult to predict what you will find around every new corner.

The sound in Alien Swarm is passable. Most of the player sounds are forgettable, including the guns they use and commands they shout out. An NPC who seems to be in charge of your mission also informs you what to do in each mission as well as providing updates on things that change in the levels. He sounds a little bit like Craig T. Nelson, which is really awkward, but what’s worse is that he sounds like a Craig T. Nelson who isn’t really sure of the role he’s playing and delivers a very fake sounding performance. The only sounds in Alien Swarm that are particularly nice are the growls and hisses that the aliens make. The poison spitters are especially cool sounding, as they let out these slow, raspy demonic growls that immediately identify them.

The graphics are quite nice for a Steam game. If the game was played in the first person view that most Steam games take advantage of, the graphics would probably not be as impressive, but from an overhead view they look quite good. The lighting is especially nice, and flashlight beams are very convincing and realistic looking. A lot of environmental effects such as smoke and steam are also pulled off well and are definite positive in Alien Swarm’s favour.

The game also comes with an SDK, allowing devoted modders to create brand new levels. Considering that the main game is only one campaign with about seven levels, it’s certainly a good thing that modding is a possibility.

If you like games that involve survival horror, squad-based team play, or just fast paced shooting, then Alien Swarm is probably worth checking out. The best part of the game, though? It’s free. Hop on Steam and give it a download. Since it’s not putting a dent in your wallet, I fail to see how giving this pleasant game a go could ever be a bad thing.

Final Score

8.2/10