Review by RudeJohn
"Nothing r-Evolution-ary here, but a definite Solid"
Alien Breed Evolution: Episode 1
Released for d/l on XBL, Episode 1 is an isometric sci-fi action/adventure shooter. It is reminiscent of a thick, yet tender, slice of Dead Space seasoned with a pinch of Resident Evil, complimented by a cold glass of Baldur's Gate. And as such, it is greater than the sum of its parts while remaining modestly affordable at a mere 800 XBL points. No doubt the reader will draw parallels with other games, but these are the three that came immediately to mind.
Your controller and game play experience are intimately linked. Neither exists without the other and yet we constantly see games which ignore this simple and self-evident axiom: If the controls suck, then your experience of the game sucks. (Obviously, a sucky game can have great controls but who cares?)
Fortunately, in this case, the controls do NOT suck. I repeat, the controls do NOT suck. I would have appreciated the option to map the buttons to suit myself, but it's not a deal breaker. Although it would have been nice. Hint, hint.
Anyway, the controls handle well except for the following:
1. Sometimes, your line-of-fire tends to lock on at multiples of 45 degrees around your perimeter. This definitely hobbles game play when you're trying to fend off a gaggle of fast-moving little beasties that are just dying to latch on to you. Really, they're just DYING to. (Pun intended.)
2. The left and right bumpers rotate the camera angle by 45 degrees. It's almost 2010, can't we have smooth camera rotation rather than having it jerk left or jerk right? Seriously, there's no excuse.
Other than that, the controls are simple and perform an acceptable run-n-gun. If you equip a med pack, you can even heal while runnin-n-gunnin. Niii-ice!
It is just about impossible to become lost in this game thanks to the HUD's use of way-point markers. I appreciate all the help I can get as my sense of direction is poor at best. With way-points, you always know where you should wind up even if it takes you awhile to get there.
Switching out weapons, reloading, and equipping/using items is quickly accomplished with the D-pad, a few buttons, and the left trigger. Not a lot of menus to crawl through, and things like logs (and "secrets" which you acquire) can be viewed through your PDA (hit the Back button.)
Alien Breed Evolution is a predictably linear game. You can hang around most areas if you really want to, but once you've accomplished your tasks you'll probably want to move on to the next chapter. Still, finishing off the Achievements list provides some incentive for finding every last little item. Which isn't that difficult if you put some effort into it. As soon as you approach a locker or anything that might hold something of interest, a nice little text icon pops up on-screen. And don't forget to shoot all things that go BOOM, as this is the Universal Key to unlocking hidden areas that may, or may not, contain secret "stuff."
ABE offers both a Story mode and a Free Play mode, either of which may be set to Rookie, Veteran, or Elite difficulty. The menu for online play is not unlike that found in Left 4 Dead 2, with Quick Match, Custom Match, and Create Match, as well as Xbox LIVE Party options.
Surprise, surprise! Alien Breed Evolution follows an arguably coherent story-line. You don't really need a story with this kind of shooter but it makes for a much more enjoyable game play experience, and I for one appreciate the effort that went into it. Let's face it, a good story makes a shooter more fun.
2-D story-boards move the tale of our Hero (and our Hero's tail!) along as needed. I found them to be quite entertaining. You feel much more involved in the game when you're given a reason as to why you should progress from point A to point B while performing chores C, D, and E.
Most shooters become bleak and dreary rather quickly simply because they exist in a vacuum, devoid of background material. But Evolution follows the trials and tribulations of our Hero as he reflects on his past, present, and possible future. Rather archetypal, but still fun if you're in the mood for a troubled Hero who kicks alien butt with both feet. Oh, and he doesn't like humanoid robots. Go figure.
If you're wondering when I'm going to tell you all of the who-what-where-when-and-why, keep wondering. Because I'm not. Let's just say that our Hero begins his saga on a ship invaded by Breed. It all gets kind of blurry after that. And this is me, smiling. }:-)
The graphics are well rendered and easy on the eye. I've only seen a few instances of instability where the skin along an edge couldn't decide which intersecting plane it belonged to, waffling in and out of existence. I particularly like the use of fire, hot gas, smoke, and electric arcs, to name but a few of the effects, which give the game an atmosphere of desperation. Explosions are complimented by a shaking camera, and the screen blurs as you take damage. Once again, Niii-ice!
Color and lighting are used to good effect, different sections or rooms differing in appearance just enough so that you can navigate easily. The PDA map is useful, but I would have appreciated the option to mark areas that I'd already searched. The HUD is serviceable, and will ping approaching Breed so that you can track them. Not quite as helpful as it sounds, but a good effort nonetheless.
The Breed, on the other hand, are not so impressive. Well crafted, yes. But somehow all too familiar, too terrestrial, in appearance. It would have been nice to have seen something truly of an "Alien Breed." Really big bugs don't count. Do they?
Both music and sound effects are serviceable, but unremarkable. Nothing to brag about in the audio department. And I find persistent automated messages to be incredibly annoying and a serious detraction from my game play experience. Computer, shut yer pie hole!
Play Time/Replay Value
Here is where I will no doubt meet with some resistance from my readers. Quite frankly, my game play is best described as slow and methodical. Hence, any estimate I give may seem overlong to some, if not most. That said, I spent several hours on the first play-through and am not even close to finishing off the list of 12 Achievements.
With both local and online co-op, I would say that this game has considerable replay value. It's always fun kicking Breed butt with a friend!
Cost, given today's economy, looms ever larger in the minds of gamers. But this game certainly seems like a bargain. It is well fashioned, entertaining, and plays like some of the better shooters out there. The controls are relatively simple and you will be adventuring full-tilt within minutes of firing up this little gem.
I rate this game a 7 out of 10. It ain't great, but it's pretty darn good!
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 12/20/09, Updated 01/04/10
Game Release: Alien Breed: Evolution (US, 12/16/09)
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