[Review] Alienation

ESRB:M
ONLINE:Yes [Up to 4 Player Co-Op]
INSTALL:2.1GB [Digital Only]
RELEASE DATE:April 26th, 2016
PLATFORM:Playstation 4
PUBLISHER:Sony Interactive Entertainment America
DEVELOPER:Housemarque
ONLINE PASS:N/A

Foreword


I would first like to preface this by giving a big thanks to Housemarque for providing me with a voucher for the game. I was going to buy the game and just review it later, but thanks to you guys, I got to play it a little early.


Updates

As of Patch 1.03, Alienation now features local co-op as well as a few other nice little additions, such as Leagues, new difficulties, colors for your ammo and even a handful of new trophies. I haven’t really had a chance to mess with any of this new stuff, but I’ll try to update the review once I have. I also realized I didn’t touch on the invasion mechanic of the game, so I’ve updated the review with a bit of info on that.


Gameplay Video



Story


The story is not the game’s strongest suit, like most Housemarque fare. There is a story, much like Dead Nation, but just like Dead Nation, it isn’t really the main focus.

It makes sense and serves its purpose – driving you from mission to mission and explaining why the aliens are bad/why you need to stop them – but don’t expect much from it. You’ll be pretty disappointed if you do.


Presentation


The game is pretty. Not the prettiest, but it’s definitely a looker.

It’s nice to see, every once in a while, a game that has a lot of color – and Alienation delivers in spades. Explosions look great, colors fly everywhere, characters are nicely detailed, even given their size on screen.

The game also runs great. Not once did I ever have a framerate drop or freeze.

Gameplay Screenshot 2016-04-26 15-33-26

That all said, the game can get really, really hectic and chaotic. It can be really disorienting – especially in multiplayer. There are often a lot of explosions and bullets onscreen at any given time, and it can be easy to lose yourself in the chaos.

It takes a little while to get used to it

Once you do, however, you can appreciate all of the particle and lighting effects that the game puts out – they’re really beautiful.

I also really like the UI – it’s really slick and clean, and super easy to navigate. It’s also super quick and responsive – always a nice touch.


Gameplay


Have you played Dead Nation? If so, then you’ll know exactly what to expect here. Rather than reinvent the wheel entirely, Housemarque simply refined what made Dead Nation fun.

If you've played Dead Nation, you'll know what to expect.

If you’ve played Dead Nation, you’ll know what to expect.

The core gameplay is pretty much the same as Dead Nation. A blend of Action RPG elements and twin stick shooter. Not much has changed there. Left stick to move, right stick aims, R2 to fire, L2 to throw a grenade. L1 to dash, R1 to melee and the face buttons & touchpad activate abilities ( Square & Circle ) and switch weapons ( Triangle ). The Cross button interacts.

Alienation, however, has a much more heavy lean towards the RPG side of the game. Dead Nation had loot, but it was all predetermined. Alienation goes for a more traditional, color-coded rarity system, with randomly generated weapons – like Dragon Age, or Borderlands. White items are Stock – the most basic, common items you can find. Green is common, blue is Uncommon, Purple is rare, and Gold/Orange is Legendary.

The higher the rarity, the more powerful the item will be. Rarer items can also be upgraded using Cores – items that you pick up from enemy drops that upgrade varying effects on your weapons. Red cores upgrade damage, Blue upgrades radius for grenades and fire rate for guns, Yellow upgrades refresh rate for grenades (allowing them to recharge faster) and clip size for guns (allowing them to have more rounds in the magazine before having to reload). Finally, Prismatic cores upgrade the critical chance of weapons, but they can also be used to upgrade other stats at a smaller increment than the dedicated cores.

However, weapons need to have slots available in order to be upgraded – Stock and Common weapons generally don’t have any. Uncommon and higher almost always have at least 2 slots – up to a max of I think 12.

The game itself is fairly challenging, but not impossible. The final mission, though, can be quite brutal if trying to tackle it solo. There are no checkpoints and it’s a gauntlet through 3 very tough bosses.

There are two ways to play – Normal mode, and Hardcore. Normal mode is the basic game – you choose your character (one of 3 classes), play through the campaign, level up and get new gear. If you die, your character respawns at various respawn points that you activate in the map.

Pick your class carefully, they all have different abilities and starting a new class starts a new game.

Pick your class carefully, they all have different abilities and starting a new class starts a new game.

You can also destroy those respawn points if you wish, and gain extra rewards. You can gain up to 3 reward bonuses for destroying respawn points. Those bonuses are lost upon death, however. You can regain them if you have more respawn points that you didn’t activate, but once you run out, that’s it.

Hardcore mode throws an extra hitch into the core game – permanent death. If your character dies, that character is wiped, and forever gone.

Each mission – other than the final story mission – has 3 5 ( as of Patch 1.03 ) difficulty levels. These not only effect how strong enemies are, but also the quality of loot that drops from them and how much XP you earn from enemies. Playing on Rookie is just the basic game. Basic enemies that aren’t too hard and whose levels match your own, and no modifiers to loot or XP at all. Professional increases enemies levels +2 above you, and gives a slight decrease to low level loot appearing, and a slight increase to rare & legendary loot. You also gain 45% more XP. Veteran is the hardest difficulty – enemies are 4 levels higher than you and much more aggressive – but there is also a greater decrease to the amount of low level loot, and a greater increase in the amount of rare and legendary drops as well as a 109% increase to the aount of XP you earn. The other 2 difficulties only unlock after completing New Game Plus (“World Level 2”)

If you want to farm for the good stuff, you’ll want to play on Veteran.

Update: Info Added July 12, 2016

Demon’s/Dark Souls also lends a little bit of inspiration to Alienation in the form of invasions. When going into a level, players have the option of setting their game to either be joinable by anyone, invite only, or friends only. In addition to this, players can also choose whether or not to allow invasions. Allowing them grants other players the ability to appear in your game and attack you as if they were an enemy – much like the Black Phantoms in Demon’s/Dark Souls. You can also choose to invade others if you wish, as long as their game is open to it.

I, personally, didn’t mess with this feature too much, as I never really liked it in the Soulsborne games. Thankfully, unlike those games, it’s entirely optional without having to play offline and there are no NPC invaders that happen either. So, if you’re like me and don’t really like the idea of other players actively ruining your game, you can simply turn invasions off, or join a game that has them turned off and not worry about them.

End Update

Speaking of XP – something that is a staple in Housemarque games, the multiplier, shows itself here as well. However, now, instead of multiplying a score, it’s multiplying your XP earned. Killing enemies will raise the multiplier – to a max of x5. Your multiplier will never drop unless you die and it carries between missions. You can also double it to x10 for a short time by picking up a blue Xenoflower. Keeping a high multiplier is key to leveling up quickly.

Missions that you undertake take place on various maps in locations around the world – such as Alaska, and Russia. Each area has 1 map, and missions happen in various parts of those maps. However, during any given mission, you actually have free reign to travel around the map and go where you want. There will be enemies and loot to find all over the maps, and small side objectives to complete – called Challenges – that reward you with extra loot.

There are also various flowers around the maps that grant different bonuses – red flowers increase your melee damage, blue flowers double your XP multiplier, and yellow flowers grant you a speed bonus, allowing you to move faster.

Some weapons can also gain various effects when upgraded – such as unleashing a certain kind of grenade upon you being hit, or granting a speed bonus when fired/thrown.

I like that the 3 classes don’t really feel the same, thanks to their different abilities.

All three classes have access to a Rush skill – which is essentially a dash – but all three act differently. The Bio-Specialist quickly runs a short distance, you can control the direction she goes, but not how far. The Tank runs much slower, but you have more control over how far he travels. His is more like an actual sprint. The Saboteur teleports, up to 2 times.

Multiplayer works well. Join a game in progress, or have someone join you, with no interruptions.

Multiplayer works well. Join a game in progress, or have someone join you, with no interruptions.

As far as what the classes are: The Bio-Specialist is pretty much your healer. She has access to a group healing ability that heals over a short duration, can send out swarms of nanomachines that attack enemies and can be upgraded to drain their health and heal her. She can also leave a trail of damaging poison dust that hurts any enemy that comes in contact with it. Her weapon is an automatic rifle. A good mid to long range class.

The Tank is your damage dealer, and damage taker. High health and high strength. He has access to a shield that can be used to stop incoming damage for a while, a ground smash that damages enemies around him and a Tesla Charge that fires a highly damaging energy bolt over a long distance. His weapon is an energy gun that fires fast, but rounds lose their potency over long distances. He needs to be up close to be effective.

Finally, the Saboteur is your stealth class. Essentially a Rogue, the Saboteur can activate camoflague to turn invisible and sneak up on enemies, attack with plasma swords, and call in artillery strikes to hit large groups of enemies surrounding him. His weapon is the SMG, which deals minor damage but has a very high rate of fire.

Overall, there’s enough variety in the classes to make them each feel unique. It also feels great when playing co-op and each player knows how to use their character properly.


Replay Value


There’s actually quite a decent amount of incentive to keep playing, even after you complete the campaign. The game goes into essentially a New Game+ mode and new things become unlocked that you can access once the World Level increases – I won’t spoil what they are, though. Enemies also get tougher and loot gets much better.

Every character has 6 abilities, with multiple upgrades for each.

Every character has 6 abilities, with multiple upgrades for each.

On the trophy side of things, you’re looking at a hefty grind. There’s nothing ridiculously hard about it, but reaching level 30 with each class will take time. As will reaching Hero Level 100 (Which is basically reaching Level 130 ) You’ll also need to reach Level 30 with at least 1 character on Hardcore mode, which I can see likely being a pain. Other than those, and the trophy for having 90% or higher accuracy on a mission, with 300 or more shots fired, everything is fairly simple and straight forward.


Final Verdict


Long story short – the game is worth the $20 on PSN. However, if you didn’t like Dead Nation, chances are you won’t like Alienation. At its core, it plays like an improved version of the former, with various features fleshed out and made more robust.

If you did enjoy DN, then you’ll certainly enjoy Housemarque’s latest trip into twin-stick territory.

As I said in the foreword, I actually had already intended to buy the game – I knew from the word go that I was going to love this, and I wasn’t wrong. If I could, if the game weren’t already on my account, I’d gladly pay the $20 anyway.

A word of advice, if I may? When going into the final story mission – do so in co-op, preferably with friends. That last mission can be a pain solo.

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PROS CONS
  • It's a ton of fun to actually play, especially in co-op. Get a few friends together and blast the hell out of some aliens.

  • A good amount of variety in the classes and the maps.
  • Visuals can be a bit chaotic and hard to follow at times.

  • It's a 4-Player co-op game, but there are only 3 classes. That feels a little weird, and means at least one class has to double up.
  • FINAL VERDICT
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    About James Headrick

    James is an aspiring game reviewer that plays primarily on the Playstation 3 & 4. He also works freelance as a graphic designer, doing print and branding based design.
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