Monday, 21 January 2013

Overhead Run 'n' Gun Games #9

Alien Breed (1991)
By: Team 17 Genre: Run 'n' Gun Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Commodore Amiga First Day Score: 71,800
Also Available For: CD32, PC

There was a period during the early 90's when being an Amiga gamer was nearly as great as being a console gamer with regards to arcade-style games (I know, hard to believe - hee hee!), and this was largely thanks to Team 17. Although not founded until 1990 - quite late for an Amiga developer - they made an immediate impact. Their releases were rarely very original but were almost always technically impressive and highly playable. One that remains among their most celebrated works is Alien Breed, an almost legendary overhead run 'n' gun blaster. It was reminiscent of many such games before it in concept and also took a good few cues from a certain sci-fi film, but was immediately successful nonetheless. This would indicate that it's very good but when I gave it a quick try in my younger days I found it annoying and flawed. It's reputation endures though, so maybe I judged it too quickly and too harshly. I shall now find out...

The game casts you and an optional second player in the roles of Johnson and Stone, two members of the Inter-Planetary-Corps (IPC), an 'elite band of tough mercenaries' whose job it is to clean up the universe's scum. On their way home from a long mission, they're ordered to investigate the nearby 'Intex Space Research Centre 4' which has stopped responding to messages. This means landing their craft and scoping out the complex on foot, but they may have guests! Sound familiar? Indeed, there was a rather popular movie directed by a certain James Cameron released a few years before Alien Breed which has a very similar premise, and many more things will sound familiar by the end of the review as well, but that's okay - a lack of innovation or imagination doesn't necessarily mean a lack of enjoyment! The complex consists of six decks comprised of interconnecting rooms and areas. You have a set objective on each deck which is detailed before you start it. Once it's complete, you need to find the lift and move to the next.

You start on the first deck which is a docking bay, and a quick stroll around reveals a tidy, mostly metallic, and eerily quiet gameworld. The action is viewed from directly overhead and you can move freely around the decks in eight directions. There are lots of doors between areas which each require a key to open, and there are various bits and pieces dotted around the stages from barrels right up to active (but grounded) spacecraft, but it doesn't take long to discover some slightly more dangerous stuff too - namely, the aliens - which look exactly as you would expect the Giger variety of xenomorph to look from above, and there are a lot of them. To help you reduce their numbers you start the game armed with a machine gun but the aliens, once onscreen, gravitate towards you, can move very quickly, and are infinite, so prowling the stages trying to take out every one you encounter will be a never-ending pursuit. Actually, it will end as contact with them depletes your energy quickly!

Some things that are worth looking for include cash, keys, ammo, and health, all of which can be found laying around on the floor and all of which is necessary to make progress. The cash can be used to buy one of six different weapons (flamethrower, plasma gun, missiles, laser, etc) from the Intex computer terminals you'll find now and then, all of which have finite ammo. The terminals also offer a map of the stage (which looks dauntingly large and intricate!), various stats and information screens, a game of Pong to kill time, and you can also buy a portable map, extra lives, and more of the stuff you can find on the floor in case you've developed a habit of squandering the existing supplies (although since that must also include cash, I guess you'd still be in trouble). They're in fairly abundant supply though, so careful play should mean you can save your money for the arse-kicking weapons. Which are very much needed!

Later stages introduce a few new features such as ramps and pools of acid (alien blood?), but most of Alien Breed's six stages are pretty much the same thing - running around seemingly infinite corridors collecting stuff and shooting up evil creatures! Playing it reminded me several other games, notably Alien Syndrome and my old favourite, Gauntlet, both of which are very enjoyable but rather repetitive overhead shooters. Team 17's game should be much inferior to these two classics too. Although playing similarly to them, its visuals vary less than both. With the exception of the final stage, the graphics only change slightly from one mission to the next - usually a slightly different colour scheme, and there are very few different enemy sprites (facehuggers and two different 'full size' alien creatures). That said, the attention to detail is great and, along with the largely silent gameplay punctuated only by gunfire, occasional speech, and the screeches of dying aliens, helps create a pretty creepy atmosphere which does a lot to alleviate the repetition.

When I first played this game all those years ago on my trusty A600, I recall my main problem with it being its high difficulty. I remember running out of ammo quickly and having difficulty finding more. Playing it this time was much more enjoyable and leaves me wondering what on earth I was actually doing wrong the first time around! It's a pretty damn tough game for sure, mainly thanks to the infinite aliens (there's not even any Gauntlet-style 'generators' to stem the flow), but it's not hugely unfair as I was expecting it to be either, even if you get trapped - you'll probably often find yourself running away from aliens down a corridor only to find more coming from the other end! They do seem relentless to begin with too, but practise, as well as learning your way around the initially-confusing stages (buy a map!), will see you make steady progress. The first stage eases you in (giggity) and should be completed with minimal hassle but it's just a 'practise mode' really, compared to the rest of the game, which I still can't finish without cheating, incidentally (and there are a lot of codes too). Alien Breed is still a rather repetitive game but the great atmosphere and addictive action make it one that's worth spending time on. Especially if you're a fan of the film it's (unofficially) based on!

RKS Score: 7/10


  1. Always found this game damn hard, total 'Alien' rip of course but good stuff. Great sound effects too.

  2. Yep, agreed - it's atmospheric and enjoyable but it's a blatant rip-off and a bit too tough for me (>.<)