Alien, the 1979 horror classic, has long captivated the minds and nightmares of many of those that have seen it. Having continued to spawn a number of iconic sequels and spin-offs, fans have become more than accustomed to its most relentless and cunning breed of xenomorph creatures that impregnate a living host to further expand their numbers. It was a horrifying concept at the time, yet Ridley Scott’s expertly crafted universe has proven to be a popular narrative world to expand upon with the video game medium having provided many with an opportunity to do so.
Nintendo DS release Aliens Infestation, developed by WayForward in collaboration with Gearbox Software, is the latest game to face such a challenge and places players in control of a squad of four marines that are sent to LV-426 following the events of Aliens, having traced a distress beacon from the Colonial ship, Sulaco. Upon their arrival, they discover nothing but complete destruction within the spacecraft hulk. With no leads as to who, or what caused the death of the Sulaco’s crew, the Marines squad sets out to search the ship for clues.
Aliens Infestation has clearly been inspired by beloved classics such as Metroid; the player often required to hunt out key cards or tools that allow them to progress deeper into levels or overcome particular obstacles. Along the way you’ll, of course, encounter the series namesake foes, as well as other enemies such as Robots/Mechs, and will soon notice the game isn’t averse to posing you with a challenge. You can lose health relatively quickly if you’re careless, and those that approach this game with bravado will soon learn that caution often results in a better outcome.
A unique concept to the game is that each Marine in your squad equates to a single life. Once they’ve been mercilessly cut down by the swarming xenomorph, that’s it. Dead, and gone forever. Whilst you are sporadically able to stumble upon new Marines to join you, there are only 19 within the entire game and such a design element means that even the most cold-hearted player will begin to become even the slightest bit emotionally attached to your squad. It turns Aliens: Infestation into a true game of survival, players fearing the loss of squad members because, in turn, the consequences of losing them result in the game becoming ever increasingly difficult.
Alas, in certain instances Marines aren’t killed outright – instead taken and cocooned so that their corpses may then be harvested by the dreaded Facehuggers. Such cases provide the player with a short window in which they are shown the location of their fallen comrade and have the opportunity to dash across to cut them free.
Combat is relatively fluid, players able to roll out of the way of oncoming attacks, dependent on a Stamina Bar, whilst utilising a range of weaponry including the signature Pulse Rifle, as well as the Shotgun, Pistol and Flamethrower amongst others. The Flamethrower in itself serves a double purpose, upon first collection allowing it to be a method of removing bizarre alien growths that have sealed doors shut. Weapons are also able to be upgraded three times through the collection of Upgrade Crates whilst wielding them. These incrementally make them stronger and, especially in the case of the disappointingly weak Flamethrower, becomes a necessity for survival.
Boss battles also feature, although these, for me, are one of the weakest parts of the otherwise incredibly tense game. You’ll suit up in the iconic Power Loader suit and hope that you deal more damage to the enemy boss than you receive yourself. Later on, you’ll also enjoy a section in which you flee in an APC whilst attempting to keep a swarm of pursuing Xenomorphs at bay. It’s frantic, adding to the overriding tension.
Whilst WayForward has kept information that is a continual necessity on the upper screen; health, ammunition, primary and secondary weapons, much of the intuitive approach taken to utilise the Nintendo DS’ touch screen easily demonstrates the developer’s handheld expertise. You’ll be able to keep a watchful eye on the number of available squadmates and their vitals, as well as to use the series of weapon icons to switch freely between primary and secondary weapons.
Using tools such as the welder, a necessity to unseal doors, or the wrench, which allows you to turn off punctured steam pipes so that you may progress, may also be performed with a simple tap. Yet the most significant functionality is the map, allowing players to continually track which rooms they have visited and where they need to head to next. You are also granted an infinite provision of flares, which may be placed at any location to mark them as an area that you need to return to at a later point – a red icon appearing on the map to indicate where they have been dropped. This is further enhanced once you collect the Motion Tracker, an item which became synonymous with the films, that keeps you on your toes.
Aliens Infestation provides a relentless pace of adrenaline-fuelled side-scrolling action, that perfectly suits the Aliens universe that it coincides with. Proving that there is still plenty of quality to be squeezed out of the Nintendo DS, it provides a blend of retro nostalgia through its 2D design that hides a gruelling challenge for even the most seasoned of gamers.