Alien Breed 3: Descent is the third and final chapter in Team 17’s reboot of their early 90’s arcade hit. Being a relative youngin, I was too busy chilling in the womb to catch the series first time round. YouTube tells me that the game involved navigating a series of corridors, picking up cards, opening doors, and blowing away dodgy xenomorph lookalikes. Nineteen years later, and Team 17 has advanced to exciting new heights. They’ve left the Alien franchise well alone, now ripping off the Zerg instead. Aside from that, well… It’s prettier.
Yes, I must say that of all the top-down shooters I’ve played in recent years, Alien Breed 3 is the easiest on the eyes. The Unreal 3 engine adapts nicely to the perspective, providing some crisp and tasty explosions. These are complimented by solid lighting effects, which cast dynamic shadows. My only real gripe, here, is an admittedly strange one: I couldn’t tell whether or not my guy had a moustache. Perhaps it was just me, but it seemed as if he alternated between clean-shaven, and sporting that glued-on cat hair stache you have when you’re fifteen. As a result, I spent countless hours trying to catch a sneaky glimpse of his philtrum (Google it, perv.)
This facial fixation was probably due to me being severely out of the loop – story wise. Though this was my first experience with the series, I didn’t feel at a terrible disadvantage. You’re on a spaceship, things have gone wrong, there’s aliens, and there’s a fella that keeps talking about “power” between laughing maniacally and slagging off your Mam. Something like that, anyway. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wouldn’t much care, even if I had played the previous titles. At a glance, it’s a tale of sci-fi generica – hyperspace grit and the bravery of a qausi-tached baldy hard-man. You get the feeling that the developer didn’t think it was terribly important, either, as most of your character’s in-game dialogue is simply presented in text. When he does decide to chirp up, you’re treated to someone best described as David Hayter’s very distant, very low-budget cousin – Flaccid Snake.
To dismiss this game on a shit story alone would of course be missing the point. Alien Breed 3 is clearly proud of its arcade origins, focusing on fast paced flashy combat. It’s perplexing, then, that Team 17 come across as hell-bent in slowing you down. There’s so many daft little pace-breaking design choices that I quickly began to resent. Want to frisk a dead body? That will take you two seconds. Start a generator? 4. Putting this down now, I feel unnecessarily whiny, but I just think it was needless. The objectives rarely stretch beyond pressing buttons and following waypoints; extra padding only emphasises the dreariness.
Indeed, pacing isn’t the game’s strong suit – a particularly notable downfall, given the simplicity of its core mechanics. In the opening chapter, I found myself getting rather bored, as it was a long wait for decent sized hordes. While I can acknowledge the intention of building atmosphere through suspense, the only thing I truly began to fear was yet another identical corridor. Some aspects of the level design are deserving of praise, though. A particular highlight for me was an outdoor space-walk section, in which the camera shifts to a nearly third person perspective. In silence, you rush between oxygen refuelling points, muted explosions raging in the background. Naturally, just as I started enjoying myself, the game stepped in. While I very much appreciate a switch in camera perspective, given the rather samey nature of levels in this genre, Alien Breed forgot to compensate for aiming. I’d fire half my clip before hitting the baddy, just because the targeting was well off at that particular angle. How annoying.
In term of how the game actually plays, it’s a mixture of corridor skulking and combat. The killing itself is serviceable enough, having you hold off the gooey green waves with a mixture of beefy boomsticks and tactical grenades. While the more conventional weapons such as the assault rifle and shotgun offer a tangible force, I was rather disappointed at the more exotic end of the spectrum. I’m particularly referring to the… electric thingy. On paper it sounds pretty fun, allowing you to turn enemies into electrical conduits, zapping all around them. In practice, I found it to be a rather fiddly affair, leaving me wanting more in the way of advanced armaments. Don’t get me wrong though, the basic fighting mechanics are competent enough -higher difficulties offering a decent challenge.
Separate from the campaign levels is survivor mode, a selection of challenges in which you fend off waves of alien attackers for as long as you can. These can also be played online, however I’ve been unable to test that feature, as neither friend nor stranger seems keen on sampling that aspect of the game. I can’t say I blame them. Survivor mode is fun for a couple of goes, but I found little to keep me coming back. While I appreciate the extra content – particularly because it cuts to the chase – it’s hard to really recommend it having played Nation Red; a top-down survival-style shooter that does things so much better, given a huge variety in weapons and power ups.
This brings us to the elephant in the room. Where Alien Breed 3’s survival mode is thoroughly outdone by Nation Red, I can’t help but feel the incredibly similar (but free) Alien Swarm does away with the rest. Swarm has a substantially more complex class-based system, alongside a fully fledged co-op campaign – all this costing zero pounds and zero pennies (at exchange that’s 0 US Dollars, at time of writing). For me, Alien Breed 3 stills wins in terms of presentation, its good looks supported by the more cinematic elements. Still, given the price issue, I find it very hard to recommend.
All in all, if you’ve been with the series longer than I have, it can’t hurt to see it through. I’ll say the same to those of you with an insatiable urge for the top-down arcade experience. Alien Breed 3 is at times fairly enjoyable, and for the price, the story will last you a decent number of hours. I wish I could say the game is an example of a simple concept done right, but a mixture of niggles and quite frankly dull stages culminate in an underwhelming experience. If I were you, I’d give it a miss. I, however, am not you, so if you still fancy the game, it can be downloaded on Steam for for just under £7.