Review by Azathoth
"Short, simple, and imperfect, but incredibly fun"
Realistically, one should never take in consideration the price of a game when forming an opinion of it. A 300$ Neo Geo cartridge can be just as fun as a 10$ Playstation game, and vice versa. However, A person's expectations of a high priced game are much higher than a budget title. I would feel much more disappointed when buying something expensive and it not meeting my expectations than I would if I bought something for pocket change.
Alien Front Online (or AFO) was released for 30$ as one of the last waves of new Dreamcast games, and included the microphone add on. Cheap price for a brand new game plus a peripheral. One would think that it incredibly sucks or is a steal at such a price. It's a nice game, but as I'll explain, I would have gladly paid the usual price of 40-60$ if it only included more. To me, it resembles more of the Simple Series/A1 series of games on the Playstation that were small budget games that were released with a small budget price.
AFO can be typecast as the next-gen version of Combat. It's an incredibly simple action game where you pilot either a human tank or alien craft and have one objective: kill everything that moves. It contains 2 one player modes: arcade and a mission-style mode with specific winning objective. The online mode has a 4-on-4 capability with the game options being death match, capture the flag, and fortress. Pretty much just bare bones stuff.
The graphics in AFO shine. Constant 60 fps and some very colorful backgrounds and textures. Lots of little details, like the swaying of antennas and little crap to drive over and smash. The sound in the game, in my opinion, is stellar. Excellent shots and explosions, accurate vehicle sounds, and some nice voice snips from the human/alien computer. Though, you will probably tire of hearing some of the clips over and over. One warning, if you pick the 4 legged Alien walker, the constant clog-clog of the legs will drive you to madness. Luckily you can adjust the individual sound levels on the options.
Amazingly, the music is very well done. It's all some catchy techno-metal that adds a lot to the atmosphere of the combat. The human side has some of their own specific army inspired tunes, complete with marching drums, bugles, and other pseudo-military audio. The aliens have a lot of the more techno sounding metal that for some reason sounds exactly like what alien elevator music would be. Overall, I was impressed by the musical score of the game. I have to say that there aren't a whole lot of tracks, so if you tire of them, they will definitely begin to grind on your ears.
Meat and potatoes of the game is, of course, the controls and gameplay. Controls are very straightforward and simple, analog stick moves and turns your aiming direction, A shoots, B uses your sub-weapon, X changes views, Y engages the microphone, and L &R strafe. Probably the very definition of ''pick up and play.'' The gameplay is equally as simple, navigate your vehicle to avoid fire and kill your opponent first. The mission mode will spell out specific objectives for you, all of which are clear and easy to grasp. You could get this game and never look at any manual or FAQ and still become very good at it. It's just a very simple game that has very straightforward objectives, easy controls, and very nice audio/visual presentation.
Now, down to the nitty gritty. What are the shortcomings of this wonderful game, do you ask? Why are you not giving it perfect 9's and 10's? Well, a lot of things, which may or may not sound incredibly critical to you.
The gameplay is incredibly slow. I mean, really slow. While I understand that this may be just the game's natural pacing, or maybe its some way of generating less lag for the voice-chat function, but it does get annoying after a while. Your vehicle just plods along, taking virtually all day to get across the battlefield. Pity the man who picks the SP Walker. Which brings up 2 other major points; the lack of varied stages and unoriginality of vehicles.
If you play this game for any large amount of time, the paltry half-dozen stages will get stale. 6 stages. That's it. Sure, each one has great, original, and clean textures with a ton of crap to run over and blow up, and a few short cuts to discover, but there are only 6 of them! I would definitely say they are larger in proportion to Outtrigger's stages, but don't look for any Q3A size scope in here. The stages reminded me of the Army Men series' multiplayer portion maps. Perhaps larger stages would have drug the battles out since the vehicles move so slowly, so I am not actually advocating larger stages, just more of them!
There are only 6 different vehicles in the game. 3 tanks for the human side, and 3 somewhat varied vehicles for the aliens. The only real appearance difference in the human side is the paint job on the tanks. The aliens get a 4 legged crab-looking thing, a 2 legged walker, and a small hovercraft. And, you guessed it, both sets of 3 follow the tired video game cliché of: 1) fast but weak, 2) average Joe, and 3) lots of armor but incredibly slow. How mind numbingly unoriginal.
And to make things worse, the vehicles aren't even in proportion to the human/alien side! The hovercraft way outclasses the weak tank in maneuverability, and anyone that would pick the 4 legged alien craft is nothing but a sitting duck. Everyone seems to pick the hovercraft because of its maneuverability. The human side gets another strike because when strafing, the tank turns horizontal to the turret and makes you twice the size target for someone to hit. Every vehicle seems to be incredibly weak, only taking a 3-6 hits before dying.
Speaking of strafing, this game aims more like the Twisted Metal series than an actual tank game. Your crosshair is always centered in the middle of the screen, so the game makes up for this by giving you a type of ''lock-on'' feature. You don't have complete control of your crosshair and independent control of your movement at the same time. Big shock for me, as I was coming off from playing UT and Q3A. If you are standing still, you can rotate your turret 180 degrees, but the only way you can change your course/aim while driving is to use the lame strafe option. Maybe its just my greenness, but I have yet to find an effective way of doing something as simple as this: drive North, rotate turret to face South, continue driving North while shooting South. Know why? Because it's not possible in this game. Once you complete a 180 degree turret turn, your tank's base starts rotating with you.
The poor, poor strafe option. I lied, as this is the one thing in this game you will have to get used to. Unlike most games, where strafing usually works the same. Not here. Perfect example: any game in the world you press up to walk forward. Now, of you pressed the right strafe button, seems like you would walk to the right while aiming forward, just like every other game known to man? Nope. Pressing right strafe does nothing but move your legs/treads to the right. You then press up on the controller and you will strafe right. What it boils down to is that it actually controls simple, nice, and tight, yet doesn't control like a tank. Nor does it control like anything I expected it to. That's more of my gripe, than the actual controls themselves. It makes the variety defensive strategies extremely small since you have limited (and extremely) slow maneuverability with your vehicles and you don't have complete control of your aiming.
Here's just a couple more annoying gameplay nuances. You only have 2 viewpoints, and one of them is almost useless since you are looking more at the ground that in the horizon. You only have the 6 stages and 6 vehicles, because there is absolutely NO hidden goodies to find. Every gameplay mode online or off is a timed game (around 200 seconds I believe) which is the bane of my existence, and another reason you will tire of looking at the same stages and hearing the same music since they cycle so quickly. The one player modes are very shallow and you will tire of them very fast. Any, they didn't include any 2 player offline mode?!? This game absolutely screams multiplayer, and they didn't put it in?
''Ahh,'' but you say. ''What is this game's redeeming value?'' That would have to be the online mode. You connect, pick a game (or start your own) and begin to kill and audibly degrade your opponent. The online portion is actually very entertaining. You have up to an 8 player match, with the aforementioned 3 modes. There are a few bad things though. Every match has to be a humans versus aliens match, which really boils down to every thing being some sort of team match. (side note, you can substitute the computer for any opponent, so if you and a friend want to be the aliens, you can assign the CPU to be the humans). CTF mode is more like ''hold the flag'' since there are no bases to return it to. The object is to get the flag and hold on to it for a certain amount of seconds. Fortress mode is mediocre, as you try to take over a small base of your opponents by killing a fort they are holding down. Deathmatch is self explanatory.
The much touted voice-chat option is just what it says it is. You can talk to your teammates or everyone by pressing Y. Its only in 5 second clips and has a slight delay, but comes off rather well. I can't really say that I would prefer it over keyboard chatting in the long run. Too many people who enjoy farting and playing annoying music and sounds over the mic, especially those who do it constantly over and over. Its also a bit disturbing when you hear some 9 year old boy who hasn't even hit puberty yet call you names that would make a drill sergeant cry.
AFO doesn't have a ''chat lobby'' interface, which I am very thankful for. You log on, see the names of the games going on, and can check to see who is in them and what type of game they are. Probably the only shortcomings of the online mode are that you can't use the keyboard to chat in any way, every type of match is timed, and even though you create a game you cannot password protect it or kick anyone out. One nice perk, which I haven't seen in any other online game I have played, is that when you connect, it tells you what speed you connected at. See, it's the little things that count.
Oh yeah, and no BBA support. Seems like it would have dawned on someone that an 8 player simultaneous game with voice-chat would have been a bigger bandwidth hog than say, oh, Tetris Online. But who am I to criticize.
And before you ask, the servers in AFO are very spotty as of this writing. There is no way of telling any ping results for each particular game. There also seems to be this annoying bug in the game that when you lose connection with the game server for a short amount of time, rather than it removing you from the game and returning to the game listings, it completely drops your ISP connection and forces you to redial. I usually remedy this by pausing the game when I see its locked up and about to drop me, then exit the game via pause screen and return to the server listings.
You're probably wondering why the hell I'm playing this game if I find so many shortcomings with it. Well, it's fun. It has that thing that a lot of other games don't. One of those games you could get into and play for hours, or pick up and play for 5 minutes with no commitment. It's slow, short, and very simple, but it's still fun. The voice-chat option is also pretty cool, especially when you use it with someone you actually know.
Like I said, I know you shouldn't take a games purchase price in consideration when reviewing it, but I can't help it on this one. It has a dozen things I'd like to see done more with, but it's a very fun game and a great bargain. Absolutely don't buy it unless you plan on playing it more online than off, and don't let the insane chatters and gameshark users destroy your online experience.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 09/07/01, Updated 09/07/01
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