Alienation (PlayStation 4) Review

By Gareth F 24.07.2016

Review for Alienation on PlayStation 4

Early adopters to the PlayStation 4 platform hold a very special place in their hearts for Housemarque as for many of them it was their exclusive launch title, Resogun, that ushered in the next generation of gaming. Besides making voxel graphics briefly cool again, the slick, addictive 21st Century remix of the ageing arcade classic, Defender, ensured that Sony's new machine maintained heavy usage during a fairly lean period in its catalogue of titles. While ports of Super Stardust HD and Dead Nation (both PS3 titles) eventually surfaced on the PS4, a lot of eyes remained on the Finnish developer to see how it would follow up on Resogun. Well ... swapping out the word 'Dead' from Dead Nation and replacing it with the word 'Alien' should be indication enough that Alienation is indeed a spiritual sequel to Housemarque's undead themed twin-sticker shooter…

Ah, the alien invasion… a constant source of inspiration for videogame, movie, and television content providers ever since the need to be entertained became a fundamental part of day to day survival. The late, great comedian Bill Hicks once referred to the human race as 'a virus with shoes,' which, given the oft repeated incursion scenarios involving dear mother Earth, feels like a view shared by the majority of the neighbouring alien species looking down at us. It's fair to say that the extinction/enslavement of humanity, via the many tentacled hands of an advanced race of intergalactic visitors that are intent on mining our planet for resources, has been done to death. There aren't a great many angles left to explore that haven't already been covered, and much like its close relative, the zombie apocalypse, it's a well-worn cliché that provides the perfect excuse to tool up with outlandish weaponry and blast everything into smithereens.

Alienation is no different and mines a fairly formulaic story that feels like it's been told a thousand times before but that doesn't really matter as, ultimately, it's shooting aliens, so there's no excuse needed. The background? An extraterrestrial life-form known only as the Xeno has slowly but stealthily increased its presence on Earth. This hasn't gone unnoticed by the world's governments, yet the foolish decision to cover up all traces of its existence rather than tackle it head on, proves to be a fatal error. Fast forward a few years and mankind is on its last legs and reliant on a mechanised UNX infantry to try and claw back the last vestiges of civilisation for the few remaining survivors. Pretty standard stuff, then.

Screenshot for Alienation on PlayStation 4

Alienation follows up, fleshes out, and greatly improves on the original Dead Nation blueprint, adding an additional layer of depth to make it a far more engaging experience than its zombie blasting forebear. Much like its predecessor, it rocks an isometric perspective that provides a 360-degree vantage point over the ensuing carnage, but where Dead Nation followed a fairly linear, checkpoint laden route, Alienation instead opts for sizeable, open levels that can be freely roamed and explored, irrespective of the current objective parameters. There are still checkpoints scattered about the landscape, of course, but these act more like respawn beacons, so it makes sense to activate those nearest to the current objective to negate repeat strolls through dangerous territory should death occur. Speaking of objectives, they can range from clearing out Xeno nests and re-activating dormant equipment, to the classic 'scanning stuff' and reclaiming bases, all of which conclude by getting to the extraction point and calling in a chopper. Not a million miles away, in fact, from Sony's other top down shooter, Helldivers.

In-game events occasionally get triggered when in close proximity, which escalates the action to new levels of intensity via horde ambushes, high value target assassinations or even hijacking a portal to board a Xeno ship to eliminate its commanders. The mission control screen consists of a world map that opens up as the campaign progresses, highlighting new hotspots of activity as they appear. Operators can choose between three different UNX exoskeleton-clad character classes: the Tank (heavily armed), the Saboteur (stealth), and the Bio-Specialist (healer), each of which possesses both an active and a passive upgrade path accessed via levelling up.

Alienation unashamedly wears its influences on its sleeves and the more observant might spot a number of gameplay aspects and innovations that have already enjoyed success in other titles. First up… guns. Nothing too out of the ordinary there; however, the dungeon crawler-esque loot system Housemarque has implemented here is very reminiscent of the one used in the Borderlands titles, in that it consists mainly of weaponry… and lots of it, too, ranging from stock/common items to those rarer, much harder to obtain exotic firearms. Any guns surplus to requirements can be recycled and used to enhance other items in the player's arsenal, providing the relevant upgrade slots are present (Diablo-style), thus increasing the effectiveness in a number of key areas, such as damage, fire rate, clip size, and so on.

Screenshot for Alienation on PlayStation 4

Loot is in plentiful abundance, courtesy of the regular drops by downed foes and handy crates scattered about the landscape, meaning that the ordnance scales accordingly with the character's level and progression through the campaign. Dark Souls/Bloodborne fans might love (or hate) the fact that player invasions are very real occurrences within the Alienation universe. It can be totally disabled, of course, but having the option to jump into somebody else's game to cause havoc and, likewise, being at the receiving end of an unpredicted incursion, adds another layer of chaos to the experience. The active-reload system from Gears of War has also been re-appropriated, meaning that one slight error in timing when refilling an empty clip can lead to a quick demise. None of these elements feel like they have been shoehorned in for the sake of it and, instead, serve to enhance the already solid core to form a well rounded, cohesive package.

While Alienation would normally be grouped into the 'twin-stick shooter' family, it's more of a 'twin-stick aimer' in practice. Ammunition isn't unlimited, so Housemarque has wisely eschewed the steady, unwavering stream of bullets that normally makes up one of the main characteristics of the genre in favour of a manual firing mechanic mapped to the right trigger. Unsurprisingly, the relatively small ammo clip really helps amp up the tension at times, thanks in no small part to the aforementioned active reload, which is initiated by pushing down on the same stick that's used to aim. This sets off a rapidly moving marker across the reload gauge that needs to be stopped within the designated sweet spot via a second press of the stick to ensure a successful clip refill. Get the timing wrong in this simple procedure and it's a fumble that adds precious seconds to the process, which can be a matter of life and death during the more intense bouts of action (hate to be that guy… but probably death). Cooldown timers on both the melee and dash also serve to complicate matters further, making the right time to reload a tactical decision in itself.

It's a well thought out and intuitive control scheme that works smoothly and rewards competency. Good players soon figure out how to use the environment advantageously, although as low walls can block enemy fire, narrow alleyways prove effective for managing the hordes more efficiently and setting off a chain reaction of explosions from the abundance of abandoned cars scattered about can be a particularly satisfying way of despatching the interplanetary invaders.

Screenshot for Alienation on PlayStation 4

Fans of co-operative multiplayer will be happy at the inclusion of an online drop-in/drop-out system that enables up to four players to team up and take on the alien menace together with relative ease. Selecting any mission on the map shows the number of people playing it at that precise moment in time, as well as its skill level (from Rookie all the way up to Master), making hopping into a session in progress a swift, pain free procedure. While the option to play offline is available for those that prefer to go it alone, having random players jump in to lend a hand (and revive when necessary) can definitely help tip the scales during a particularly arduous tear up. A recent patch also added a much needed local couch co-op, which again caters for up to four participants on a shared screen. The very same patch also implemented a league table system (Bronze to Diamond class) using ammo colour customisations as incentive rewards to further encourage competitive play.

Nine other UNX operators are plucked at random to compete against, with the table position determined via the amount of XP earned during a seven-day period, leading to either promotion or demotion to the next/previous tier once the deadline is hit. The 20 campaign missions can be played through relatively quickly but Alienation is a title very much geared around repeated replays. Once the final mission has reached its hectic climax, the entire world resets and moves up a level, everything becomes that little bit harder and UNX assignments become available to provide further task-based XP earning opportunities. Completing the game a second time unlocks access to the ultra competitive Ark ship and once a character eventually attains Level 30, a further set of Hero levels open up to extend the challenge.

Aesthetically, Housemarque has lavished a lot of detail on the crumbling, ruinous landscape of future Earth and, in the process, has created a fairly convincing fallen civilisation, heavily scarred by the years of alien conflict. The Xeno character design is as varied as it is deadly given that it appears to assume many shapes and sizes, some of which may have even been human at some stage or other - it's hard not to approve of an alien species with a recycling agenda. Knowing the enemy can definitely help defeat, so making use of the available Bestiary as a handy reference tool is advisable given that the many different Xeno strains get logged in here upon first contact. Weaponry feels solid and lights up the screen impressively and considering the number of Xeno, explosions, particle effects, and so on, happening at any one time (more so during four-player co-op), the PS4 doesn't skip a beat and maintains a rock-solid frame-rate throughout. Sonically, the beefy audio marries up to the frenetic action perfectly, yet the din of battle does have a tendency to drown out the radio chatter from HQ, which wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't the main thing driving the story forward. This issue could be easily alleviated by providing the option to route all radio communications to the speaker on the DualShock 4.

Screenshot for Alienation on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

While Alienation might lack Resogun's instant hook, it retains its visual flair and stacks enough firepower in its core to keep even the most ardent shooter fans busy for a long time to come. Sure, the storyline might be somewhat hackneyed, but it's a genre that doesn't really require a deep narrative and its robust play mechanics, competitive/co-operative multiplayer options, and deep layered rank progression more than compensate for any shortcomings in plot. Housemarque has once again remained true to its arcade roots and delivered a solid twin-stick that channels its many influences into a game far exceeding the sum of its parts.









C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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