‘Alienation’ Review

Platform PlayStation 4 Genre Twin Stick Shooter

Developer Housemarque Publisher Sony Computer Entertainment

Alienation feels like a true evolution of developer Housemarque’s arcade game expertise.  Alienation captures the addictive and responsive twin stick shooter elements of Dead Nation, while combining the gorgeous neon visual display from ResogunAlienation combines these elements into an impressive package that will keep you hooked for dozens of hours.

The world has been overrun, the Xenos alien threat has become overwhelming, and the world government has sent in an elite task force armed with combat exoskeletons to end their reign over the planet. As interesting as that plot may seem, the narrative takes a back seat throughout the campaign. Most narrative information is provided through mission briefings before an assignment, or presented through audio communications during each mission. The issue with presenting generic alien story information in this matter means that the storyline ends up being ignored; not by choice, but simply due to the fact the hectic gameplay on screen requires your full attention. Throughout the campaign’s 20 missions players get to visit a variety of different locations such as Alaska, Hawaii and more, offering unique settings for chaotic alien aggression. But the storyline itself never becomes anything more than a generic alien threat, which acts more as a reason for visiting these locations rather than producing memorable events.

In Alienation gameplay is king. Every aspect of combat within Alienation feels polished and responsive.  Alienation’s addictive gameplay is due to the impressive amount of depth spread across all three character classes, whether you decide to deal overwhelming amounts of damage as a Tank, heal your team as the Bio-Specialist or simply play a stealth type roll as the Saboteur – there is a class for everyone.  Alienation is at its core an arcade twin stick shooter, but unlike its predecessor Dead Nation it feels like a fully featured experience that can easily rival the amount of content available in your typical AAA shooter.

Each character class has their own unique skill tree, featuring a range of unique abilities. Each skill point gained can be reassigned to a different ability at any time, which allowed me to constantly pick and choose different ability options to fit my own unique play style. Once you finish the initial 20 campaign levels, players can continue their journey as the world around them levels up. Essentially this is Alienation’s New Game Plus option, which allows players to revisit locations to encounter stronger enemies, larger amounts of experience and higher chances of elite loot. At the end of the campaign I would have appreciated an option to choose a new class, allowing me to experiment with all three different classes throughout my one save file. Unfortunately Alienation forces players to exit one game, create a new one and then have the option to play as one of the other classes. It’s a small gripe sure, but easily accessing all three character classes without exiting and reloading a new game world would have been a feature I used often if it were available.

Alienation also doesn’t pull any punches offering a large selection of enemy variety, that are more than willing to overwhelm and devour at any chance they get. These range from invisible creatures, mammoth tank monsters and lethal gun-toting aliens with shield protection. Unlike Dead Nation where slow and steady movements could see players survive most areas, Alienation does not allow this luxury. Even when you may think you have an area under control, Alienation will randomly introduce a horde of alien creatures that will test your ability to think on your feet, and utilise your skills. I cannot think of an experience that relies so heavily on perfecting active reloads, with even the odd mistake usually resulting in death. That overwhelming sense of dread and tension makes each combat encounter exciting. Alienation also doesn’t feature a pause game state, which means death can come at any moment a player decides to visit the pause menu – keeping tension levels high. The impressive combat system kept me coming back to test my skills at higher difficulty levels,  while the addictive loot and upgrade features made me keep playing until the early hours of the morning.

Earning loot is an addictive cycle in Alienation, providing a system that makes each and every item valuable. Every piece of loot in Alienation can have its statistics rerolled, which can instantly make one of your weakest items evolve into your most powerful alien weapon. Rerolling weapon statistics is done by using salvaged weapons, creating a constant cycle of earning loot, salvaging parts from weaker weapons, and then utilising them to create the ultimate killing machine. It is a brilliant system that made every piece of loot vital to my cause.

Alienation also encourages every player to attempt missions at a higher difficulty level, with the added risk also including added rewards. I found testing my skills on higher difficulty usually increased my enjoyment and the amount of loot I received; and as I said each piece of loot is important. Alienation’s kill, loot, salvage and upgrade cycle is addictive and rewarding. Even when players reach the level cap and find themselves with an influx of legendary items, the loot quest is not over, as there are treasure dungeons available offering a bigger challenge for even bigger rewards. These dungeons end as soon as your squad dies, increasing the tension of each loot run and making each bullet vital to survival.

Alienation is a challenging and addictive adventure on your own, but it becomes an entirely new beast when playing online with up to three other players. Ripping through hordes of the alien menace alongside other players is a beautiful spectacle, which eventually turns into a destructive and chaotic affair as dozens of aliens, explosive particle effects and rapid laser fire flood the screen. Impressively Alienation never drops a technical beat during these moments, despite the sheer volume of action on screen. Joining other players is also an easy process; with all available missions currently ongoing appearing as soon as you try to start a new mission. Within a few seconds I knew how many players were playing each mission, what levels they were, and what country they were from, allowing me to deliberately pick my desired session. Despite the visual powerhouse offered in 4 player online missions, Alienation is actually without local cooperative options. Alienation seems fitting to house local coop, especially since both Resogun and Dead Nation have offered these options in the past. But unfortunately as it stands there is no ability to simply have two player cooperative fun side by side; hopefully this is a feature that can be added in the near future.

Alienation also features an Invasion multiplayer option which allows players to enter another player’s game for some old fashioned PvP battles; in a similar vein to the Dark Souls franchise. Despite the fact the rewards for Invasion are quite slim; the option is there for players who simply want to test their abilities against another player. Of course those wanting to avoid this option, can simply leave the feature switched off and never have their game interrupted by player controlled enemies.

Alienation avoids the typical browns, greys and greens of usual sci-fi alien adventures, instead focusing on creating a colourful neon light show during hectic battles. Aliens will explode with neon pink blood across the screen, while trees and rocks will shatter from your gunfire, all the while grenades will send detailed particle effects across the entire battlefield – creating an awe-inspiring display. As I previously mentioned these colourful battles become four times as visually chaotic once multiple players are teaming up to take down the Xenos threat. Alienation always reminded me of a living and breathing diorama, though it may not produce visuals that can rival some of the best shooters in the business, producing some of the most detailed and colourful battles in recent memory. Housemarque must be commended for delivering such a frenzied visual spectacle that holds a steady framerate throughout even the wildest combat encounters.

Alienation improves on the already polished twin stick shooter elements of Dead Nation, while capturing the same chaotic and colourful visual display that Resogun offered. All the while offering an addictive loot system that encourages players to push themselves to the limit in order to find the best loot possible; and even if they don’t Alienation makes each item feel valuable as it can be used to upgrade your already powerful weapons. It is an addictive system that I will continue to explore long after this review is complete.

Unfortunately local coop options have been omitted, alongside a generic and forgettable alien storyline, which do provide a few blemishes in an otherwise impressive package.

In 2013 I called Resogun “one of the PlayStation 4’s best”, and now in 2016 I can once again claim that Housemarque has again, delivered one of the PlayStation 4’s best games available.

The Good

  • Smooth, responsive and deep gameplay.
  • Addictive loot system.
  • Make strong use of useless loot.
  • Excellent and stable online multiplayer.

The Bad

  • Generic and forgettable story.
  • No local coop.

The Score: 9.0