Aliens: Infestation hands-on preview

It’s a bug hunt, man!

More than 25 years ago, Ridley Scott’s Alien hugely inspired the original NES Metroid. The parasitic monsters and claustrophobic alien world of the film translated perfectly into Nintendo’s moody sci-fi adventure, and years later, in Super Metroid, the tonal and atmospheric parallels between the two became even clearer. Today, the inspiration has come full circle, as developer WayForward is using Metroid’s explorative gameplay as the template for Aliens: Infestation.

The game begins with a series of Colonial Marines returning to the spaceship Sulaco (which was seen at the end of Aliens and opening of Alien 3) to investigate reports of survivors. When they arrive, they find the ship severely damaged and, more importantly, overrun with acid-bleeding xenomorphs. Thus begins a tense, methodical examination of the entire ship, always on the lookout for environmental hazards or the titular aliens. As in Metroid, certain areas are blocked off or inaccessible until you discover an item (like say a welder to cut open a fused door) that allows you to pass. However, it looks like your armament will more or less stay the same throughout the game; yes you do acquire a map and the ominous pinging radar from Aliens, but as far as weapons are concerned, it looks like you’re stuck with the assault rifle, pistol, grenades and special incendiary ammo that drops xenos fast.

In the time I played, the monsters were used quite effectively; they weren’t showered at you as they would be on Contra, but rather sparingly, making their presence more impactful. A boss battle with a Queen and her swarm of face huggers was equally stressful – and this was all in the first 20 minutes.

Part of the tension comes from way the Marines control. By default, they walk slowly instead of running (as in Metroid or Contra); this alone conveys a sense of caution and fear, especially when, as the players, you know how bad things can get in this universe. Should one of your 19 Marines (who all control and behave the same) meet their end at the hands of the xenomorphs, they’re cocooned and hidden somewhere on the ship. If you can get to them in time, it’s possible to save their life; if you take too long, you can still retrieve them, but don’t be surprised when they start complaining about chest pains…

At the end of the demo, the Marines find a survivor and naturally it’s an employee of Weyland-Yutani Corporation – which is feverishly trying to find a way to weaponize the xenomorphs. The survivor reveals that the corporation is actually down on the planet below (that’d be LV-426, also seen in Aliens), which kicks off a whole new area to explore. Sega said the full game should take about seven hours, and will feature five full-sized maps to explore.

Infestation continues WayForward’s trend of well-animated sprites and fitting SNES-style music, so naturally I enjoyed the hell out of my brief demo. It actually reminded me specifically of Metroid Fusion, as there are always goals and directives to consider instead of aimlessly wandering in search of a door that will now open. It’s a great fit for the Alien franchise, so I’m pretty confident this will turn out to be a worthwhile companion game to the big-budget Colonial Marines. We’ll know for sure later this year.

Aug 30, 2011

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