Aliens? Like, Sigourney Weaver?
I have a confession to make. As someone who suffers from a condition known as "scary bladder", I have never watched an entire Aliens movie. I've seen bits and pieces, but I couldn't sit through a whole movie… horror movies just make me cringe, and the gorier they are, the further away I want to be. So, as a result, I was scared off by the prospect of aliens that not only have acid for blood, but have a tongue with teeth and incubate their young in the guts of people. That kind of thing, along with too much blood, makes me squirm.
Which brings me to Aliens: Infestation. It's about as close to a horror game as I can handle. And I'm glad I can, because the simple nostalgia that I've experienced has made me giddy as a schoolgirl. A blatant mash-up of Contra character and Metroid formula, the game has the goal of gathering the right hardware, collect the right keycards to unlock more and more of the environment, and blow the living hell out of those outer-space, impregnating bastards! Roaming around a massive ship and underground bio-lab/military base, players have to find certain people, baddies, and markers to move forward and destroy the aliens before they hit Mars and start doing some real damage.
The whole package has me squealing for SNES goodness; while the graphics are better and the animation is as fluid as I've seen the DS pull off, everything has that mid- to late-1980s vibe to it. From the pixilated character designs to the environments, something about the ambiance is so totally fitting—both for the source material and the genre—and can easily draw a player in. The sound only amplifies the effect, with familiar-sounding tones and musical style, which is bother inspiring and dramatic with a classical flair. It's like big orchestra music but with more green blood.
Actual play is straightforward, just as it would appear when you first fire it up. Each character moves left or right, up or down ladders and elevators, firing guns with one of four options unlocked and powered up throughout the game or blowing stuff up with a choice of grenade, explosive round (if the assault rifle is chosen), or C4. The touch-screen is only used to change your weapon or explosive of choice, but it's a bit of a pain to use; the stylus is almost mandatory to do anything that way, including using the map or, when necessary, blowtorching a door open. So playing with a finger to poke through for the map is irritating.
The "lives" system is reminiscent of the NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game: Lose one, and you're gonna have'ta find one. There are Marines scattered across the environments, waiting and "trying to find" their own squad (though never straying too far on their own), and each have their own backstory that's unlocked as they're found. When they're wearing their helmets, they're drawn exactly the same, but when it's off, it's surprising how much detail is put into each of them. There are 20 characters to find, and each has their own characteristics, posture, and dialogue. That's a lot of care for characters that are usually just an avatar with some backstory and a face picture. Since the game isn't too difficult, it's unlikely you'll get to see any extra dialogue, so while it's nice, it does feel like a bit of a waste.
The game isn't too long, just a few hours, and there's really no reason to pick it back up when it's finished; the only reason would be to find and unlock a Marine that wasn't found the first time through or the hand-stabby knife trick game unlocked about halfway though (which is the only real reason for the touch screen). It controls well enough, it has enough story and conversation to move things along, it hits the nostalgia button beautifully… what more could I ask for in a classically-inspired game?
Oh, yeah, replayability. And maybe some kind of co-op. But I don't know how they should've accomplished that, so this'll do.
Review based on DS copy, of course. Copy provided by publisher.