Alien franchise games have something of a chequered history, oscillating between the likes of the amazing (original) Aliens Vs Predator to the awful Aliens: Colonial Marines.
It’s with some sense of trepidation, then, that I approach any title in the franchise, especially when it’s one that has slipped somewhat under the radar.
Aliens: Infestation on Nintendo DS is a Metroidvania-style adventure casting you as one of a team of four marines set with the task of investigating various xenophobe-related incidents. Visiting a number of locations from the Aliens franchise, including the USS Sulaco and LV-426 as well as some all-new locations, you will slowly upgrade your skills and abilities as the game’s map expands and you explore further.
Anyone familiar with any of the games in the genre’s lineage will know how this one works, as upgrades and new skills unlock previously inaccessible areas.
What elevates this game about the familiarity of its mechanics, however, is the familiarity of its world. Its beautiful 2D graphics capture the look and feel of Aliens perfectly, enhanced by some fantastic sound effects. The bleep of the motion tracker still has the power to chill even on the small screen(s).
One area in which Aliens: Infestation both succeeds and fails is in its team mechanic. Nominally putting the player in charge of four different marines who can be switched between at either a save point or when a marine dies, on my initial play I expected this aspect to work in a similar manner to something like The Lost Vikings. I assumed that each marine would posses a different skill that would need to be juggled to overcome various puzzles throughout the game. When this turned out not to be the case I at least thought that keeping the characters alive would see them develop and become stronger as the story progressed.
Unfortunately the four marines are effectively a substitute for lives, and each time a new recruit is added to the team it merely grants an extra life. It seems a missed opportunity to add some extra complexity to the game, however what it does bring is some personality. Each of the marines you recruit has their own backstory and attitude, perfectly illustrated by their accompanying portrait, and it helps bring their beautifully rendered sprites to life.
Other areas were Aliens: Infestation stumbles are in its vehicle mission (a tedious journey in Aliens’ APC that requires you to control a turret and shoot aliens) and boss encounters. The various bosses require different tactics to defeat, but due to the player’s limited moves it proves difficult to avoid the alien queens and mutations, and the battles descend into a war of attrition. Taking hits felt unavoidable and each fight was won by sacrificing my stock of marines.*
However largely Aliens: Infestation succeeds thanks to its tightly designed levels and increasingly tense action. With a limited armoury available for the marines, which can only be changed at the widely-spaced save points, planning ahead to make sure you have the right tool for the job is essential. Reaching a door that requires the flamethrower to burn through the alien growths sealing it only to realise you’re going to have to track back to the safe room to make the change is a heart-stopping moment, especially when the route is lined with aliens and androids.
Throw in lots of secrets, weapon upgrades and hidden areas and you have a game that may not quite live up to some of the ideas it presents, but is a worthy addition to the ranks of Aliens games. Don’t let this one slip under your motion sensor.
* It’s just possible that I’m a bit rubbish at the boss battles.