Team17. Not exactly a house hold name anymore huh? At best, my generation fondly remembers them for the late 90s portion of the Worms franchise and little else. However if your gaming chronology goes back a little further than that, you may also remember their classic Alien Breed franchise and other subsequent successes on the Amiga. But since then they’ve long fallen out of the gaming limelight, and if this game is anything to go by it doesn’t look like that’s going to change any time soon.
Narrative wise, Alien Breed 3 bares very little relation to the Amiga classic, instead it concludes the story set out in the franchise reboot Alien Breed: Impact (AKA Alien Breed: Evolution) and Alien Breed 2: Assault. That is of course, if you can consider this game to have a story at all. Why do I say that? Well the Alien Breed games have your typical “Space Hulk” type setting, i.e. you’re stuck more or less alone on a giant space ship full of endless waves of alien monsters. All the usual tried and tested tropes are present: deep space explorers who decide to investigate mysterious ghost ship, face-huggers , alien queen boss, rouge AIs, pistol/ shotgun/ flamethrower/ laser and BFG weapon pickups, collectable crew logs to expand the story, space “credits” for buying upgrades etc.
As with most sci-fi games, there’s a fair bit of background fluff for the lore junkies if you’re willing to dig around the personal logs and weapon descriptions.
Now there’s nothing wrong with that as such, but it’s not unfair to expect a game to put its own spin on it, so what exactly does Decent bring to the formula? Well…nothing. It truly is as by-the-numbers as possible, the only impressive thing about it is that they somehow managed to stretch such a thin narrative over 3 games. Of course a rather generic sci-fi ending more or less ensures they can stretch it out for yet another game if they so choose.
Most of the…..uh…..”story” happens via intermission cut-scenes that take the form of narrated comic books. The first thing that’s going to hit you once the introduction boots up is how sub-par the voice acting is. Never have I heard characters sound so utterly uninterested in their own dialog; I can only assume the voice actors were just bored out of their minds after reading the game’s script. What’s worse, despite only having 3 characters (one of whom is only in the first stage) only the main villain gets the honour of being voiced outside these comic book segments, and even then his dialog continually loops the same generic phrases (and cringe worthy laughter track) over and over without any rhyme or reason. In fact I think the entire sound element of the game was likely put on the back burner as there’s almost no music, most of the weapons sound unsatisfyingly tame and all the aliens sound like they use stock sound effects I’ve heard a million times before.
See that gun the protagonist is holding in this comic book panel? That’s not the one you have in game. Yeah………that’s the level of polish you can expect from Alien Breed 3.
The game itself plays out as your standard top down shooter, aim with the mouse, move your dude with WASD and click to shoot. See a red dot on your radar? Start strafing, aim in its general direction and click. Is it still there? Click again. Repeat until it’s gone. That’s more or less the meat of the game. There’s a few different types of aliens to blow away of course, but all that really changes how much of a priority killing them is and how far away you want them to be when you do it. The difficulty curve is fairly average apart from a few harsh spikes towards the end, mainly thanks to the pitiful amount of health regain you get from medipacks even if you have the relevant upgrade.
You have a few generic sub items to help you along your way such as frag/stun grenades and armour powerups, most of which I ended up having to sell just to buy more medipacks. It’s not that moneys hard to find or anything, you can barely walk across the room without finding a lump of cash or two, but that all the upgrades and items are just so absurdly expensive; there’s literally not enough money in the game to even buy half of them. Although I guess that’s rather irrelevant as most of the upgrades are completely useless thanks to each weapon only being able to have one active at time. I question the logic of anyone who feels that their one-hit-kill laser weapon requires a damage upgrade or that the already lightning fast machine gun needs to chew up your limited ammo even faster instead of just doing more damage per bullet.
Turret hardpoints are a nice idea, but in the entire game I only found ONE actual turret to plant one on and the cost to buy them at the store is prohibitively huge.
It takes roughly 6 hours to finish the main campaign on the normal difficulty setting and that’s without touching any of the co-op or survival mode extras, which I suppose is pretty good for a cheap game. Of course that would require you to actually WANT to play the game for 6 hours, something that I can attest that I never want to do again now that this review is finished. But before I continue on this negative train of thought, I want to give credit where credit is due. I take no hesitation in saying the graphics in this game truly are exceptional, especially for something that only costs £6.99. Even small things like the way light reflects off the different metals or the neat electrical effects on the link gun make this game a poster boy for what relatively small teams can really do with Unreal Engine 3, quelling any myths that’s this sort of thing is only really possible in big AAA console releases (but also supporting the idea that most UE3 games do look rather similar).
It’s also clear that the designers went to enormous effort to create a compelling environment. Every section of the game is filled to the brim with enough GNDN to make even the more jaded sci-fi fans nod their head in approval. Even the deceptively linear layout of the game’s stages shows a level of design proficiency far beyond what the other aspects of the game would suggest. It truly is a shame that they also seemed to think it was a good idea to obscure these wonderful assets with explosions.
Like any well designed game environment, the same assets are reused frequently but arranged in such a way that every room still feels different.
Oh god…..the explosions. There is one thing you can be almost 100% sure of every time you enter a room/corridor or interact with an object in Alien Breed 3: that at least a dozen objects will be either A) Continually exploding B) About to continually explode or C) On fire AND continually exploding. Often the objects exploding are totally undamaged by their frequent spontaneous combustion and in some cases are things that should, by all accounts, be incapable of combustion in the first place; such as metal grating or miscellaneous rubble. On paper this might sound kinda cool, but trust me it gets old very fast. It doesn’t help that every explosion tends to cause the screen to shake around even if said explosion wasn’t even on screen, resulting in most of the game feeling like it takes place during an earthquake.
Looks really nice doesn’t it? Now start shaking your monitor and pretend those explosions are looping every few seconds. Congratulations you are now playing Alien Breed 3.
Sounds frustrating right? It gets worse. The only thing you do in Alien Breed 3, other than shoot aliens, is interact with MacGuffins. A seemingly endless chain of MacGuffins at that. Often they’re placed well within a few feet of one another and at no point is it ever clear on what any of them have to do with actually progressing in the damn game.
In particular I recall a truly bewildering sequence in which I was required to interact with what felt like ten or so seemingly random objects in a single room before I could head to the next area. Much to my surprises this all culminated in a bridge rising out of a nearby pool of water, and slightly less surprisingly it also resulted in a number of nearby objects suddenly exploding for no reason I could divine. Even now I have little idea of what any of it was about; I just kept interacting with whatever object the navigation marker was pointing me towards. The main character DID give a quick quip about how some elevators were draining the bridge systems power or something, but the text dialog box quickly scrolled off the screen before I had a chance to even read past the first line.
Interacting with ANY object often causes gameplay to pause and the camera to reposition itself to get the best possible view of the inevitable explosions. Such sequences are unskippable. YAY.
But Alien Breed 3s biggest issue by far is that these “Space Hulk” type games generally live or die depending on if they can correctly build a sense of tension or fear in the player. However this game seems to take place in an atmospheric void, and by that I don’t mean outer space. For that we can thank the ludicrous explosions for managing to annihilate all suspension of disbelief right from the start, which is something that’s rather a big deal in a science fiction title.
It’s also kinda hard to be surprised by an alien ambush when one happens in almost every room and when the “you’re going to have to defend this spot later” standoffs are clearly marked with a turret hardpoint in the centre of the room. I think the only time I was genuinely caught off guard with anything in this game was on the few occasions I interacted with an object and it DID NOT cause the whole game world to inexplicably explode.
The only emotion I feel this game can ever really instil in anyone is boredom, as no amount of graphical prowess can ever hide extremely poor pacing and a distinct lack of any well implemented gameplay mechanics. Honestly I can’t recommend this game to anyone, even if you love the standard “Space Hulk” setting or have found memoires of the original title (best to keep them that way). It doesn’t come close to being the worst I’ve ever played or anything like that, it’s just that every moment I spent playing it I was constantly reminded of the numerous other games with a similar setting that were way better in every way. Yes it’s only £6.99 and yes it’s nice to look at, but it’s still just not worth your time or money.
- Very good graphics and level design for a low budge title.
- No atmosphere.
- Mechanics that have all been better used in other games.
- At least one of the designers was manically obsessed with explosions.
Recommended similar games
System Shock 2 (PC)
Dead Space (PC/PS3/Xbox360)
Doom 3 (PC-Steam, Xbox)