Alien Swarm

5 Word Synopsis:

Co-operative Scifi Survival Isometric Shooter

What it tastes like:

Left for Dead


Just two days ago the renowned developer/publisher/wunderkind Valve released Alien Swarm on Steam. For Free. That in and of itself is pretty amazing. Originally, Alien Swarm was a mod for Unreal Tournament 2004, and the team that developed it was hired by Valve to make Left for Dead and Portal 2, and release Alien Swarm for kicks.

While the premise is a bit different (4 marines save colony from alien infestation), the comparison to Left for Dead has to be made. There are many of the same types of moments, like in Left for Dead Finales, where one marine is left racing for the exit, everyone elses’ skulls having exploded with alien, and the entire team screaming on their mikes. The difference is that as of now there is little to no randomization in the game. Unfortunately, this means that eventually the single campaign available will be reduced to an art form.

In terms of gameplay, Alien Swarm offers four different classes to choose from and a various selection of weapons, meaning that it’s possible to outfit your marine however you choose. (One word about the marines. Unlike in left for dead, each does not have a remarkable personality. I have found, though, that without the funny quips etc. the players who occupy the different roles in the “squad” take on their own personalities.) It’s fun to spend time on the mission selection screen, arguing with one another about who will take the welder, and who is going to take a sentry gun.

Adding to the stress is the deadliness of the aliens. While each one is pretty easy to kill individually, if a single one slips past the team, it’s easy to lose a team member in only a few seconds. Also, did I mention that there’s friendly fire? You really have to work to coordinate your positioning so there’s no way anything can slip through. And if someone messes it up, there’s nothing you can really do, unless you think opening up an autogun in someones face is worth the risk (It rarely is).

Along with the game, Valve has released the coding of the game as well. This means that while there is currently only one campaign (About two hours worth), hopefully the community will latch onto the game and create many more. This community developed set of campaigns would well offset the lack of randomization in the game now.

Like Left for Dead, Alien Swarm is full of emergent gameplay, the kind that creates stories. Like the time I had run out of ammo and had almost no health and jumped face first into a swarm of parasites in the way saving the day (I hope). Or when  our entire team had died in the Cargo Elevator level, waiting to reach the end, and one medic was left, who managed to shoot his way through a jillion aliens to stumble bloody into the exit room. Or how my team’s goal at one point was to get me to a chokepoint, because I had brought an extra sentry gun that we needed to survive, and I kept dying. A lot of the stories are about dying. (Warning: Stand far away from doors that the swarm is beating down. It’s only a little bit emasculating to be flattened by an exploding door.)

I would definitely suggest playing Alien Swarm. Find a good group of players and go through the whole campaign in one go. A mike is preferred. The level of teamwork achieved at the end is simply amazing, and wonderful. For a moment, that squad is all you have in the world. And it’s either them or the aliens. And you have a flamethrower.


~ by prolixpostoffice on July 21, 2010.

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