by Travis Fahs2
Alien Breed Review
A classic reborn, warts and all.
Alien Breed was perfect for its moment in time. Released in 1991, it combined the arcade action of games like Gauntlet and Alien Syndrome, with the labyrinthine stages and exploration of a dungeon crawler. For the Amiga, a computer with a knack for arcade graphics, one could ask for no better flagship. It spawned two direct sequels, a couple first-person shooters, and a more recent reboot trilogy, but now Team 17 has finally decided to revive the game that started it all with a proper 2D remake.
Team 17 has chosen to stay very faithful to their early hit. Heavily inspired by James Cameron’s Aliens, it places you in the role of a soldier tasked with clearing out a space station overrun with creepy insectival humanoid creatures. You have to make your way through these corridors with limited ammunition, as well as limited keys used to open doorways. Keys are unique and occasionally frustrating element in an action game like Alien Breed, and can theoretically leave you trapped without a means to explore further. This makes Alien Breed a more careful, methodical game than similar arcade efforts like SEGA’s Alien Syndrome.
This repackaged Alien Breed offers up two modes, Enhanced and Classic, that modernize and recreate the original, respectively. Either way, you’ll find the same maze-like level layouts and enemy creatures, but each has different graphics and gameplay mechanics. The new enhanced mode features higher resolution art that stays faithful to the original’s aesthetics, without copying it exactly. This is easier said than done, and Alien Breed succeeds in recreating the feel of the original while being a whole lot easier on the yes than the jagged pixels of the Amiga version.
This mode also features a “twin-stick” control scheme that allows players to aim and shoot in different directions where the original never did. This feels intuitive and while it occasionally allows you to take out enemies more safely than the old scheme, it doesn’t seriously upset the balance of the action. Item shops, previously only accessible through computer terminals found throughout the stages, can now be accessed at any time through the pause menu. This solves some of the previously mentioned problems of key shortages and makes the game a lot more accessible, but it also allows players to inexpensively buy health or ammo at any point, which seriously upsets the game’s challenge. Interestingly, this change has carried over to the games’ otherwise faithful Classic Mode as well.
That one potentially contentious change aside, Classic Mode seems to be a perfect recreation of the Amiga classic. Apart from some basic UI elements, the graphics are spot-on, the sounds are perfect (and have aged very well), and everything seems much as I remember it. The touch controls work well with the game’s simple control scheme, although they can occasionally obscure the action, and everything has been made friendly to the different aspect ratios of modern screens. Both the original 6-level campaign, and the 12-level 1992 “Special Edition” are present, along with a brand new 4-level campaign and the promise of more to come – everything a fan of the original could hope for.
Apart from the aforementioned shop issue, Digital Application’s conversion is pretty much perfect. It offers a faithful recreation of the original, and an enhanced remake that manages to stay true to the original with some nicely remade graphics and new features. The most disappointing part of the whole experience, it turns out, is the game itself. While Alien Breed was a great experience at the time, it feels dated and simplistic now. While playing through its corridors has been very nostalgic, it isn’t nearly as much fun as I had hoped. Games like Age of Zombies do a much better job of providing the kind of retro-style arcade action I crave without the 20-year old baggage. Alien Breed is sure to please anyone who still enjoys the original, but the dated action is probably not likely to make many new fans.
Is it Hardcore?
Summary: Alien Breed is an excellent treatment of the Amiga classic, with a great remade mode, and a faithful original mode. This terrific conversion is hindered only by the fact that the original game is not as much fun as it once was.