Saturday, January 9, 2010

Alien Breed: Evolution Episode 1

Can we call this one an indie?

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I just rewatched Alien, Aliens, and got about halfway through Alien 3. These films are best enjoyed by turning off the lights, turning up the sounds and watching those hapless miners get eaten one by one. This is how you should play Alien Breed as well, barring the getting eaten part. Although on Elite difficulty this is sure to happen on numerous occasions.


I normally don't even bother with the hardest difficulty settings, leaving them for that special breed of gamer occasionally called hardcore. But Mark, the Team17 PR guy told me to check out elite and write about my experiences.

I started limping towards the end of level 1, those damn bugs had gotten to me, the screen greyed out, my heart started pumping, but I had already lost so much blood. One more bite and I'm dead. I loaded the last of my shells into the shotty and prayed I would make it to the elevator. 

About halfway through level four I got pinned in a small room, out of ammo and healthpacks. Knowing that just around the next corner a swarm of bugs is waiting and all I have is a puny pistol. No chance, lol. I plan to start over on Elite and watch my ammo usage but for the time being I turn the difficulty down a notch and do the old run and gun through the whole game

Alien Breed Evolution Episode 1 was released in December to the Xbox Live Arcade and it has been my main game ever since. The first part of a planned trilogy, with the other two parts to be released sometime in 2010.

The Xbox Arcade has come a long way in its 5 years,

 One of the service's first titles. And one of my favorites.

Alien Breed Evolution is one of the latest

The graphics on the Arcade have certainly improved quite a bit, While the pricing has remained curiously similar.  Average price per game, ten dollars. I doubt those early ventures into Xbox digital distribution had a development cost of nearly two and a half million dollars American though. Which is how much Alien Breed cost to create. To cover that, Team17 needs to sell roughly two hundred and fifty thousand copies. This is a trilogy though, so we have to divide by three.

83,000 copies of each episode sold to break even, but who wants to break even? Lets hope Team17 sells millions of copies!! If we take a look at the leaderboards, we can see about 10,000 users. Team17 has told me that this is not an accurate representation of their sales figures, but even if we double this number there is quite a few more sales to be made before they hit the 80,000 mark. This feat of sales is certainly possible, take a look at this handy chart showing users for arcade games. A number of games far surpass the one hundred thousand user mark.

 Worms, an earlier release from Team17 has nearly five hundred thousand users.

But for every Worms there are hundreds or thousands of Crazy Mice. Games which for some reason or another don't sell nearly as well as the developers wished they would.

I mentioned above how Alien Breed has been my main game for the past two weeks. What else have I been playing? 
The graphics of these games aren't quite up to the quality in Alien Breed,


Rogue Touch

But I have been playing the shit out of them!!

There's just something about the Rogue type of gameplay that has kept it fresh these past 30 years. UberGeekGames is even developing a Roguelike game for the Xbox indie channel which is currently available for 240 Microsoft points. Dungeon Adventure Trial. Uber is taking a retro approach which is commendable.

UberGeeks Dungeon Adventure

 But I believe there is a huge untapped market for a game that looks like this,

Alien Breed Evolution

And also has the infinite replayability of the Roguetypes. To test this theory I have been playing Alien Breed in the Rogue style. I start a new game on a random difficulty and choose a random freeplay level. I then zone into the game's core, disregarding all communication from npc's, ignoring the minimap. Actually, the game plays much better this way. Thankfully, the devs made all interactable objects green, so all I have to do is run up to the object and hold A, and the next door opens. At the end of each level the game scores you for things like speed, ammo conservation and avoiding damage. Similar to the scoring systems in Roguelike games. 

Yesterday I cranked it up to elite and loaded level 1, with the intention of playing through without using any healthpacks or grenades. There's an achievement for this, probably achieved by most players on rookie difficulty though. There's also an achievement for not taking any damage on Level 5, but it might be bugged. I was doing pretty good and thought I might actually make it, but a couple of brownie swarms ambushed me near the end and I lost some blood, and started limping through the corridors. A pack of facehuggers finally finished me off right in front of the elevator, and I got to watch them chew on my corpse. Maybe tomorrow I thought.

During a recent run and gun, I found the atrium. The amount of details put into some of the ship's interiors is pretty amazing.  After quickly dispensing with a few brownies I was able to really look at some of these plants. Exobotany is an area of special interest to me. To be honest the field is pretty theoretical at the moment. It doesn't even have a wikipedia page. But that looks like a pitcher plant on the left there, albeit a huge one.


As I strolled around the atrium, examining the rest of the ships flora, Something kept nagging at the back of my brain, I wondered why would anyone grow such a Nitrogen demanding plant inside of a spaceship, where the Nitrogen is sure to be in high demand. I also noticed the screen starting to dim a bit. And then it hit me, They use this mutated version of Nepenthes truncata to recycle their waste, it makes perfect sense. The shape of the plant is perfect don't you think? The screen suddenly greyed out and I heard "Oxygen levels Critical". Oh yeah, this was the room where you had to turn the gas back on.

Alien Breed Evolution is an episodic game in three chapters. Partly because the game file would be quite large to download all at once, and partly because Team17 thinks that an episodic game will be better able to recoup the costs of the game's production.

Each Alien Breed episode will feature unique selections of weapons, environments and aliens. I am personally hoping for much more of an emphasis on alien plant life, maybe even getting the chance to visit the alien planet that the ship is currently on a collision course with. Vehicle exploration would be cool as well. (Sadly, these two features are not planned for Alien Breed Evolution) 

Team17 hasn't released pricing details for Episodes 2 and 3 but I think it's safe to assume they will each be priced similarly to Episode 1, ten dollars. So, thirty dollars for the entire game. Dead Space is currently available to download for twenty, more on that below, and certainly the scope of that game is much larger. Team17 believes that Deadspace is a different game with a different market and that twenty dollars is still a large chunk to pay out for a single digital download. They are interested to see how Deadspace fares in the On-Demand section of Xbox Live however.

There has been some chatter on the tubes concerning the similarities between Alien Breed and Dead Space, a scifi alien survival game which was released for the Xbox in 2008 and won numerous awards. Before writing this review I had never experienced Dead Space, having not played a disc based game in over six months. I logged onto Xbox Live to see if there was a demo available, there is.

Try the Dead Space Demo 
Interestingly, you are also able to download the full version of Dead Space for only twenty dollars American.

Something that really grabbed my attention in Dead Space was the way the game displayed information.
Dead Space HUD

That's an image of the holographic display, used for your inventory, maps, and communications. That screenshot alone was enough for me to want to download the trial. The display technology in Dead Space is eerily similar to what they used in that Southpark episode where Cartman travels to the future in search of a Wii.

 The screen was brought up with a simple hand swipe

Alien Breed uses a more 2-dimensional method for information display. 

Throughout the game you happen upon a series of logbooks that give you some textual information abut the characters as well as the aliens in the game. The logs are placed in such a way that you'll find them either shortly before or shortly after you first encounter a new type of alien.

Imagine this with blue static interference lines running through it

Despite the difficulty of reading blue text on a blue background and the paragraph jumping in lieu of actual text scrolling, I enjoyed reading the logs. They do give some good information about the aliens you'll encounter, including  some strategies for dealing with them. The logs are filled with names like maulers, chargers, and breeders oh my. They also give a few physical characteristics to go along with these names.

I tried to tell one of the creatures to hold still while I attempted to determine the length of its mandibles so I could classify it, but it didn't comply with my request. Instead it tried to bite me. Luckily I had my shotgun pointed straight at its head the whole time and quickly fired off a round. The bug's head exploded along with the aforementioned mandibles, destroying any chance at identification.  I decided to give them names that would make them easily identifiable at a distance. This would allow me to choose the right weapon for the situation. These bugs come at you fast and switching weapons can be a bit difficult.

 Facehugger :)


MIA and Conrad

The Alien Breed story is advanced by a few comic book style cutscenes. We are shown one at the beginning of the game and more at the end of each level. They are mostly used to outline Conrad's goals for the next mission, but there is an interesting subtext involving Conrad and MIA, the ships resident cyborg. The comics are fully voiced, which I really liked. Unfortunately the only voice overs in the rest of the game come from the ships computer telling you things like "Evacuate the Area" and "Unknown Lifeform Detected" over and over and over. During the actual gameplay we do make contact with MIA, who helps us find our way throughout the ship. Her communications come in the form of poorly contrasted text across the bottom of the screen. I tended to ignore them.

I am quite interested in Alien Breed's story, especially the relationship between Conrad and MIA. The comic scenes instantly reminded me of 2001 nights by Yukinobu Hoshino. These are some pages from my favorite story in Hoshino's collection,

Night 2: Sea of Fertility

Considering the fact that I still remember the details and emotions of this story ten years after reading it, I think it would greatly enhance the player's experience with Alien Breed if Team17 expanded upon the graphical narrative they have outlined in Episode 1. Perhaps we could be treated to a comic prequel of Episode 1, downloadable for free through the Xbox Marketplace as a sort of advertisement for the future episodes.

I try to examine all aspects of the games I play for my reviews but my significant other isn't really a shooter fan so I had to go online to try out the co-op with some fellow xbox live members. My first attempt was marred by serious lag, which I assumed was emanating from the other end. I decided to host a game. I only had to wait a minute or two for another to join.  If you have friends with the game, you can easily invite them through the lobby menus.

There are three levels available to you in co-op play, distinct from the single player missions. I chose hydroponics and loaded it up. We were instantly assaulted by swarms of aliens as soon as we left the elevator. This level equips you with quite an arsenal though, so we cut through them pretty quick. I noticed my partner was standing next to one of those red canisters that make nice explosions when you shoot them, so I did. lol, only way to learn. He got me back with a frag grenade later on though. 

I enjoyed the co-op and will definitely try it again. Dying isn't really an issue since you respawn a few seconds later. Just make sure your partner doesn't die while you are lying on the ground or its game over for both of you. There are some problems with inventory though, a lot of the items are found by searching corpses, and there's no trading between players, so you might end up with one person carrying all the healthpacks while the other is limping along on the edge of death. Communication is essential here I think, letting your partner know what you need so they don't accidentally pick things up.

Or you could just say fuck it and run through the entire level blasting anything that moves. That's always fun :)


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