Review by Mageknight
"A bland grindfest with difficulty"
Space marines shooting up evil aliens is no stranger to gamers who grew up in gaming in the past decade. Alien Swarm, a free game on Steam (I kid you not!), was developed by some of the people hired by Valve that helped produce the hit game Left 4 Dead. It's easy to say that if some people from the Left 4 Dead team went to produce a similar game, it should be just as good and fun, right? Sadly, it is not the case.
Like every other multiplayer game, Alien Swarm has a barebones plot. Alien insects have swarmed various civilian facilities and it's up to you and your squad of space marines to clean them up. That is it and it probably won't be noticed by many players as they get busy killing aliens. Similar to Team Fortress 2, Alien Swarm has 4 classes. While they all handle and perform the same, each class has access to some weapons and items that is designed only for that class. Unlike Team Fortress 2, not everyone can be the same character, so if you want to be a Medic and someone already took the two Medic characters, you're out of luck. What also makes the characters a bit more diverse from one another is the bonus stats they possess. You could be happy playing as either Medic character, but sometimes you stop and think if you want the Medic who has better healing or the Medic that has a higher damage bonus. The marines themselves do not have much diversity in personality and will start to repeat themselves after you played the game a few times, unlike Left 4 Dead which had a larger pool of lines for the characters when playing the game multiple times.
The game is, surprisingly, not a first person shooter, but a top down view shooter, making it a mix of The Legend of Zelda and a shoot em up game. The controls are based on the map, so your movements are in a fixed position. Aiming is done with the mouse and it takes a bit to get used to when combined with the tank like controls. Every squad member has a weapon, a secondary item, and an offhand item. You can mix and match your equipment to however you like. At first, you start at level 1, so you won't have much in guns or items. To get the better toys, you have to grind for experience points, which can only be done by playing online with people and you get more points for completing maps on a harder difficulty. Guns range from standard assault rifles, sentry guns, mini guns, flamethrowers, sniper rifles, and many others. Almost every gun has some secondary ability like auto aim or an alternate fire. Offhand items help you out in a pinch like freeze grenades and healing beacons. Some of the weapons and items are restricted by class so sometimes it pays to play a certain class to help out with an item unique to them. Don't fret about grinding for hours to get all the best toys because even on normal difficulty, you can easily level up almost once per map and gain even more points for obtaining achievement multiple times. Unless Valve decides to add more stuff to unlock in a future update, it will be quite easy to unlock almost everything in just a few hours.
Most of the game involves going to a certain place on the map, destroy something, hack something, and then escaping. The maps are quite short, thus you will complete them in minutes. However, the game only has a handful of maps and due to the sci fi setting of the game, almost all the maps look the same. The game does have an add-on feature to let players play on custom maps, but being a freshly released game, custom maps won't be around for quite a while nor will there be additional campaigns from the community until people can get around to it.
The aliens themselves attack hard and fast. They come in different forms and such, such as a standard swarm, a towering bug that inflates then explodes, smaller bugs that fly around and make you stumble when hit, and parasites that latch on and damage you forever until you get healed or die. In the end, you just gun them down till they go boom. Unlike Left 4 Dead, if you get surrounded, you WILL die fairly quickly. Due to the game lacking a hit delay for the enemies, it can be too easy to get killed in a matter of seconds if you managed to get yourself trapped and unlike Left 4 Dead, you stay dead till the end of the map. This can cause many people to leave the game to find another one to play in if they get killed too often and are forced to sit and do nothing. On top of this, you can play the game with just two people if you wanted, but the game doesn't seem to adjust for this or adjust for this when the number of players in the game drop due to death, so don't expect the game to be easier if you have less people on the team. This makes team work a necessity and everyone will need to stick close together. Once you get a team that can do that, it becomes less frustrating and more fun.
Aside from easily being killed if things go sour, another thing that bugs me is how the game lacks marine bots to fill in for the missing players. You can literally play with just two people, but it is not a wise choice since the game seems to be made with 4 people in mind due to how many aliens swarm in. It does not make any sense since the offline practice mode has 3 bots for the player to play with. One could argue that the bots make things too easy with their godly aiming skills, but the difficulty balance between having bots and not having them is just too wavering. One thing they could have done was add bots for online multiplayer, but make all players gain less experience points, or even have an option to disable bots. Since there is no actual single player mode, you can't play any of the other maps offline. A fully fleshed out single player mode would be nice to have if you don't feel like playing with other people at the moment. One could argue that people can easily grind for experience points and let the bots do the work, but you can just restrict the grinding to the online portion.
Since the game is free, I can't really complain too much. The controls work well and the co-op is tight, but same looking environments, cannon fodder enemies that can quickly kill you if you're not careful, grinding for experience points to unlock better toys, lack of maps, no single player mode, no bots, and twiddling your thumbs when you die didn't get me on board with this game as much as I would've liked. It is worth checking out though and since it's free, you have nothing to lose.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 07/21/10, Updated 08/13/10
Game Release: Alien Swarm (US, 07/19/10)
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