Housemarque is one developer that has shined thanks to the advent of digital marketplaces. Ever since 2007 they’ve managed to provide quality experiences such as Super Stardust and Dead Nation. The Finnish developer’s stock has been at an all time high thanks to the success of their PS4 launch title Resogun, and now they’re back to once again tackle the twin stick shooter genre with Alienation.
The top-down shooter is a class-based affair that has players fighting aliens on all corners of the globe. Those who have experienced other titles in the genre, such as Dead Nation or Halo: Spartan Assault, will feel right at home here, as the game controls as you would expect a modern shooter to. The only real unique mechanic is that each of the 3 classes has a trio of abilities that can be triggered by using the controller’s face buttons, but can’t be spammed due to each one having a considerable cool-down period.
The active reload system from Gears of War also makes an appearance here, although it’s awkwardly triggered by pushing in the right stick. It doesn’t feel nearly as natural, but I eventually got used to it.
You’ll need to master those controls in order to complete the game’s 20 mission campaign, which starts off in icy Alaska and naturally ends up in space, where you’ll be battling the intergalactic foes on their home turf. Not much time is spent telling an interesting story though, as Alienation‘s main appeal is the loot grind, not the lore behind the pretty pedestrian looking enemies from outer space.
Each level is around 10-15 minutes long, and will have the player completing simple tasks such as destroying alien nests or gathering intel. This feels like busywork, as the objectives are strictly designed to get you to move all over the map. The real challenge is actually getting from point A to point B, since there are hundreds of enemies in your way. If you’re playing solo, you’ll quickly find that the game is more tedious than fun, as you become overwhelmed by dozens of deadly bugs and mutants.
Thankfully, this problem is solved when playing with a group (which can range from 2-4 players). While Alienation is a poor game to play by yourself, it’s actually quite fun when you’re co-operating with other people. This is because in order to succeed, you’ll really need to work as a team and use strategy to defeat the giant waves of enemies that are constantly attacking.
There are 3 different classes to choose from here, and each of them has some unique perks to use gameplay-wise. The Bio-Specialist, which I spent most of my time with, is the healer class, but one that can also get in the thick of the action. It’s not as combat efficient as the aptly named Tank, though, who can deal massive damage and even shield itself from projectiles. Finally, the Saboteur class is the most agile of the three, and can temporarily turn invisible to launch surprise attacks.
All three offer up valuable abilities, and you’ll ideally want one of each on your squad (with maybe two healers, as health can get low quickly). There’s not really much penalty for death in Alienation, as you simply get sent back to the last user activated checkpoint (which are beacons that litter the map). This means that perseverance will eventually win out, which is good since no matter how much great gear you find for your character, the game never gets any easier due to it always balancing missions to the host’s skill level.
That balancing ultimately makes the loot grind seem sort of useless. Yes, you’ll see your gear’s power rating balloon up to crazy high numbers by the time you hit the level cap, but the enemies you were able to beat at level 1 are still giving you the same troubles dozens of hours later. Instead of making me want to replay missions to get better weapons, I instead felt like I never really accomplished anything.
This feeling really encapsulates the last few missions of the story. There’s no gigantic boss battle that ends Alienation‘s campaign (instead, you face a slightly more difficult version of an enemy you’ve dispatched before), nor is there an awesome final moment that makes you feel like what you did matters. It’s just another mission that you’re supposed to want to replay over and over again.
While I was never truly hooked by Alienation‘s loot cycle, I was looking forward to replaying some of the missions I enjoyed in order to complete my character’s skill tree. Sadly, that just isn’t possible as once the campaign is finished, it resets the player’s progress. After all that work I found myself right back at where I started, Alaska, and couldn’t select the 19 other missions I had access to just 30 minutes before. Instead, I was offered a bunch of Destiny style bounties to complete, and was expected to finish the campaign again except this time, against higher levelled enemies.
Quite frankly, that sucks. I’ve never felt my time feel so disrespected by a game, and seemingly punished for fending off the alien threat I was supposed to defeat. Housemarque’s goal was likely to keep players wanting to come back for more after the 6-hour campaign was over, but instead, it killed any desire I had to ever return. Why it didn’t just unlock an alternate set of levels to complete, instead of overwriting progress, is a baffling choice.
Ultimately, Alienation fails to be as spectacular as it could have been. It makes a great first impression due to the solid gunplay, but over time that luster wears off. It becomes too repetitive, both visually and mechanically, and Housemarque’s latest goes out with a whimper instead of a bang.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 exclusive, which we were provided with.
Alienation is a solid shooter that halfheartedly ends and then asks players to do it all again. The hooks just aren't there though to make it a game that you want to replay after completing its relatively short campaign.