Review by Energo
"In this case, you definitely get what you pay for"
Alien Swarm is Valve's latest game, from the team who made Left 4 Dead. It's got a similar premise, you and 3 other people going through a series of levels, except this time you're shooting aliens and it's from a top-down perspective, unlike pretty much every other Valve game. Unfortunately, it's nowhere near as entertaining as the L4D games.
The controls are decent enough - like pretty much every other PC shooter, you aim and shoot with your mouse and move around with the keys. Since it's not first-person like Valve's other games, there's a laser sight attached to your gun so you can see where your bullets will hit. You can choose from 8 characters to play as, with two as each "class", i.e. Technician, Medic, Special Weapons, and Leader, each with somewhat different stats/attributes and weapons they can use. This goes a long way towards making the game interesting, since the Leader can give a damage boost to every teammate nearby, the Technician (more on him in a bit) can weld doors shut so alien bugs have to break them to get through to you, the Medic has a few ways to heal people, and the Special Weapons guy has a few different ways to kill the bugs. Once you get your friends together and pick what character you want to play as, you get to make your way through this abandoned mining base, killing aliens throughout. It's really straightforward and easy to pick up, feeling a bit like a co-op arcade game.
Like L4D, you're going to have to work together if you want to win, and it works pretty similarly, except you've got more to do than just make it to the end of the level, fighting off any enemies that come your way. You may need to hack a computer or plant bombs to kill off all the aliens in the vicinity, or so on. It's not that much deeper than Left 4 Dead as far as this goes, but considering it's an effort, and it's a free game, it's commendable.
The problem with this is, for most of the levels you need a Technician. So if the Technician(s) of your group die, you have to start over, since there's no respawning. This is going to happen a lot, since it seems like there's no attack delay for the aliens and, the melee attack seems to be rather inconsistent in how it works. Friendly fire only makes it worse, since most of the corrdors you go through in the game are too narrow for more than 2-3 people to walk through side by side, someone always ends up shooting someone else, because there's no room to move out of the way. At least they made it a bit more complex than Left 4 Dead where the only objective is "get to the end of the level". And if you can't get four people, you're out of luck. There's no bot teammates, so you and your one buddy are on your own and it's way easier to lose your Technician. This doesn't make much sense, since there's an offline practice mode that has bots; why couldn't they be included in the main part of the game?
One of the most obnoxious parts of the game is the forced slow-mo it goes to at certain points. After the first time see it in a level, it's not unexpected, but it's still annoying and only serves to extend the time you're going to spend in a level. The other big problem is that the graphics are quite lazy. The lighting is very poor, which makes sense for atmosphere, but it makes it so you can miss a lot of things, like aliens. Everything looks bland and nondistinct, so it's also easy to walk by or just not notice an objective. Height differences are also hard to make out - I've had my own teammates walk into death pits multiple times because it was impossible to tell what was there. The reload system of losing the rest of the ammo in your magazine is also a peeve: guns in games tend to not work like that because it makes the game less fun, and Alien Swarm proves why this is. Reload frequently (it's easy to forget that you lose bullets from this, and you will forget because most games don't use this mechanic) and you'll be out of ammo very quickly; reload whenever your clip's nearly empty and you'll often find yourself surrounded with very little ammo and a reload to go through before you get the chance to shoot some more.
Finally, there's only one campaign. I dislike making so many comparisons to Left 4 Dead, but they work here: there's not much to do aside that. Left 4 Dead has the same issue, but at least it has multiple campaigns, the weekly "mutation" modes, and a bunch of different game modes. After you go through the single campaign in Alien Swarm, there's very little to do aside go through the campaign again on a different difficulty, or to level up and get better weapons or achievements. It just feels kind of shallow.
Overall, Alien Swarm is an... okay game. It's not really horribly-done, just flawed and boring; there's nothing at all about it that makes me want to keep playing it. If it weren't free, this would get it a worse rating, but as it is, it doesn't hurt to download and run through once or twice. Just don't expect much more entertainment than that.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 07/26/10
Game Release: Alien Swarm (US, 07/19/10)
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