At first glance, Alienation might look like a number of any other twin-stick shooters on the console, but it’s a bit deeper than it first appears. The game’s creators Housemarque are known for their stellar work on Super Stardust HD and Resogun, and I’m pleased to say that they bring the same degree of quality to Alienation.
Alienation might seem similar to Arrowhead’s Helldivers—but aside from belonging to the same genre, the similarities end there. Where Helldivers is brutal and unforgiving with its friendly-fire, with randomized maps, Alienation is a much more straightforward experience with Diablo-inspired action RPG mechanics.
Like other twin-stick shooters, Alienation isn’t a game intended for solo-play. You can play through the entire game alone and friendless, but the real fun is with other players—be they friends or strangers you find through the game’s matchmaking system. Fortunately, finding people to play with isn’t a problem with Alienation. It has an active community, and you’ll always find one or more players to group up with against the alien invaders.
Grouping up with strangers can sometimes prove hazardous to your mental health, but fortunately with Alienation, there’s no real way for players to grief each other outside of the game’s invasion system (I’ll get into this later). You’ll never have to worry about getting shot in the back or worrying about whether your next barrage of bullets is going to down an ally rather than a foe. I played through the entirety of the campaign while grouped up with random strangers and thanks to the matchmaking system, parties persist after mission completion, so I was able to keep playing with the same people through consecutive missions, of which there are plenty.
Though the game’s maps and mission objectives are static, the encounters you face are somewhat randomized, meaning that you might be ambushed when you least expect, or face a stampede of enemies at random intervals. The variety of aliens you encounter also goes up as you progress through the game. Likewise, there’s a small selection of level types in the game—with arctic bases, cities, and jungles, to spaceship interiors. It all reminded me of XCOM, or what XCOM would be like if it were an action game (I’m deliberately trying not to remember X-COM: Enforcer). It goes without saying that I would have liked to have seen more level types, because traipsing through snowy military installations can all start to feel like déjà vu after a few missions. Don’t get me wrong, though—the game is gorgeous.
As you make your way through the missions, you’ll earn new weapons to equip (by killing bad guys, of course) and ways to upgrade them, allowing you to persistently kill most of them with single shots instead of being forced to whittle their health down. Upgrading your gear becomes sort of like an arms race to stay competitive with the aliens. The system is simple compared to anything Diablo III might have to offer, and the weapon variety may seem lacking. Each of the game’s three classes only has a single primary weapon to pick from and several secondary weapons (including shotguns, rocket launchers and flamethrowers) and multiple grenade types, which are shared between classes. Every weapon comes graded, and Legendary-grade weapons even offer special effects, like an SMG that shoots boomerangs–but they’re incredibly rare and difficult to come by. In general, I would like to have seen more weapon variety because shooting the same SMG throughout the entire game can get old even if the effects are satisfying to look at.
Shooting and maneuvering feels great, especially once you get good at running and gunning at the same time and dashing behind enemies for good measure. Coupled with special attacks you can unlock, upgrade, and perform, combat can get pretty frantic. Enemies get splattered, roasted, and flung across the map as you deal damage to them. Damage numbers float over their heads as you pepper them with bullets. Cars and barrels (of course) explode when shot at enough, and shooting at several cars in close proximity can cause a chain reaction of all-out-mayhem that sends alien body parts flying all over the place. It all feels pretty satisfying.
Once you save the world, you can save the world all over again at a much harder level as the campaign resets and take on daily challenges and earn keys to unlock difficult special missions that are best taken on with friends. Finishing the campaign for the first time also unlocks the game’s Invasions mode, which works identically to Dark Souls’ player invasions. Unlike the rest of the game, I didn’t have a very good experience with the system. The few invasions I encountered saw players with much higher levels than me killing me in just a few hits. I didn’t stand a chance and I suspect it was fun for neither of us. Thankfully, it’s a setting you can just disable when launching a new mission.
Alienation could stand to be better in a lot of the ways I’ve already mentioned, but it’s also one of the best twin-stick shooters I’ve played, so I can’t complain too much. Even with its shortcomings, I found it to be a good waste of time.
Alienation is exclusive to the PlayStation 4. Developed by Hosuemarque and published by Sony, the game is available for $19.99 through PSN. A copy of the game was provided by the developer.