Aliens: Infestation Review:
Aliens: Infestation may well end up being the last Nintendo DS game that you play. How fortunate then that it is also a good one. A Boy and His Blob remake developer Wayforward Technologies worked with Gearbox Software on what amounts to a Metroidvania adventure set in Ridley Scott's Alien universe.
Seriously. . .haven't you heard enough already to be convinced?
Your adventure starts aboard the Sulaco, with a squad of Colonial Marines arriving to investigate what's going on there in the aftermath of the events seen in James Cameron's Aliens. It's not the only environment you'll see over the course of the game, but it's definitely where the bulk of the big moments unfold.
"Every paycheck a fortune! Every formation a parade! I love the Corps!"
At the heart of Infestation is the 2D Metroidvania-styled experience. There's an open map filled with enemies and secret treasures just waiting to be explored and there's a full toolbox of gear for you to find and use to open up access to new parts of the environment. You'll be challenged but rarely frustrated, once you get the hang of the game's peculiar pacing, that is.
In most games of this sort, and really just about any story-driven game you can think of, death is a worry but never an outright fear. You might succumb to an army of enemies but, more often than not, your character will simply be whisked back to the nearest save or checkpoint. That's not the case in Aliens: Infestation. Death is very much a permanent thing here.
"Look into my eye."
You start with a squad of four marines, though only one of them is ever under your direct control. The rest pop up and can be switched between whenever you enter one of the game's save rooms, where you can also resupply and swap weapons. The marines all control in exactly the same way, but each one represents one of your "lives" in the game. If the one you're controlling bites the dust, you select a new marine to spawn in wherever you died, full up on ammo and fresh for the fight.
The natural response for many gamers will be to simply reload an old save, but I would encourage you to just roll with it. There are 19 playable marines in all, which will be more than enough for most to get through the six-or-so-hour adventure. Each one has his or her own dialogue too, so swapping soldiers actually serves to inject a fresh attitude into the experience.
These characters even become "collectibles," since you can only have a maximum of four marines in your squad. Any stragglers you find while you have a full crew will just stay where they are until you can pick them up. It's a remarkably clever and well-implemented way of giving you multiple "lives" in the game while imbuing each with its own, unique personality.
"Get away from her, you bitch!"
True to the Aliens vibe, you never really feel in Infestation like you've got a handle on things. Even as you find upgrades for your weapons -- which unfortunately cannot be swapped, so be sure you've got the gun you want to boost in your hands before you collect an upgrade -- you'll still frequently find yourself low on health and scuttling back to a save or searching for a pickup.
Wayforward makes excellent use of the Aliens license here, especially considering the limited graphical capabilities of the DS. The environments are easily recognizable as 16-bit(-ish) reinterpretations of what you've seen in the films. Light and dark is used to good effect, and there are some great moments in which you actually feel some tension building, a rare thing for a small-screen game such as this.
The film franchise is also nodded to enthusiastically in more specific ways. Whether it's a cat jumping out of the vents to startle you or the unlockable "Bishop's knife trick" minigame, or any number of other things, fans of the Alien series will definitely feel served.
"What the hell are we supposed to use, man? Harsh language?"
The only real downside is the predictability of it all. Aliens: Infestation, much like the classic Castlevania games that inspired it, always spawns enemies in the same locations. It's creepy to explore a new area and see a Xenomorph suddenly emerge from the shadows, but you'll be ready for it on repeat trips to the same location, which happens a lot. While this element works as a throwback to the games that inspired Infestation, it's a definite step away from what gives the game its Aliens feel.
The controls also feel a little clunky, especially if you happen to be playing on a Nintendo 3DS and using its analog nub. The D-pad offers a more precise set of inputs, though you'll still find cursing as something attacks you that could have been avoided with smoother controls. The touchscreen inputs used for swapping between gear can also be a pain in the heat of a battle, particularly with some of the tougher boss fights.
"Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man? No. Have you?"
Really though, these are minor gripes. Aliens: Infestation delivers an excellent take on the universe created in the films, and it should appeal to fans of classic video games of the sort that were coming out at around the same time. It may not be in 3D or introduce any radically new ideas -- though the 19 lives thing is very clever -- but it's a fun way to spend a handful of hours on the go, especially if you're an Aliens fan who loves a good, old-fashioned retro-styled video game in this new-fangled modern age.