Reviewed: May 4, 2004
Released: January 20, 2004
Do you remember Space Invaders? That indubitably addictive arcade classic that pitted a lone space ship against hordes of alien invaders? With Alien Blast: The Encounter, the latest release from Made by Kiddies and Strategy First, that concept is taken to its logical extreme, incorporating a 3-D approach at the ground level that puts you in charge of defending your space station against endless waves of alien intruders.
Why are the intruders there? What do they want with your rinky dink space station? Why are you all alone in defending it? Like most other pertinent questions relating to outer space shoot Ďem ups, itís better not to ask and keep your laser cannon trigger finger limber instead.
Alien Blast features:
Taking command of a stationary gun turret, your job is to fend off hordes of advancing aliens coming at you by from all angles by air and land. A typical level goal is to eliminate the attacking force while keeping your space station from being destroyed. The feeling is slightly reminiscent of when Luke and Han took control of the Millennium Falconís quad laser guns to fend off squadrons of Tie Fighters in the latter half of the original Star Wars Ė youíve got the firepower, but your enemies have maneuverability and strength of numbers.
For those of us who remember the innocent simplicity of many blast Ďem up titles from the early 90ís, Alien Blastís methodology is one that will feel instantly familiar. It may even bring up some feelings of nostalgia, for thereís really not much else too it Ė just point, aim, repeat if needed (and it will be). Your mouse hand will do all the work while your right can tap the numeric keys if you desire an ammunition switch.
Players can choose from up to seven different types of ammunition, ranging from standard rapid fire, machine-gun like bullets to stronger, more concentrated types of fire power that come in handy against large mother ships and closely packed groups of aliens. I found the standard machine gun to be the most useful, especially when power-ups were dropped from the sky (you need to blast them to activate them) by friendly ships.
On the whole, gameplay is fun, if rather repetitive. I could easily imagine players enjoying Alien Blast for thirty minutes, and then losing interest due to lack of in-game variety: being stationary all the time, firing the same double-barreled laser canons over and over, constantly being on the defensive, etc. Itís all rather routine and formulaic, but no so much so that it can be discounted. The game has its merits, most especially when green alien blood splatters all over your viewshield, but it also has its downsides.
Finishing a level isnít very rewarding Ė next to your final level stats a small view screen appears (rather like Wing Commander IIIís cockpit communications) from which a colleague or commander (presumably one of the gameís developers) spouts some overused platitudes about watching your ammo. Fail the level and the dialogue becomes obtuse, abusive and unnecessary.
Itís become quite a rare thing nowadays when I have to call a game on its less than stellar graphics, but Alien Blast could do better. Based on appearances, if Iíd loaded this game up without any prior information I would have assumed it was from the mid 90ís rather than a 2004 release. Thatís not to say the graphics are bad Ė play Conspiracies from Anima Interactive if you want to see bad Ė they simply arenít up to par with current gamerís expectations.
As I said, the nostalgia factor weighs in heavily here, and gamerís with older machines may appreciate the emphasis on gameplay rather than graphics, but on the whole I think Alien Blast could have done much better. The bleak outer space environments upon which Alien Blastís battles take place are rather plain and uninspired Ė in the second series of levels Stonehenge is placed right in the middle of the battlefield looking all the more awkward and out of place for it. Who knows, maybe those ancient Druids were from outer space?
I also had a problem with the gameís video Ė upon launching I was told that I needed to download an updated component of the Indeo Video Codec. This is unacceptable Ė use Bink, in-house proprietary cut-scenes or another windows compatible MPEG technology, but forcing users to update codecs for video games is a definite no-no at worst and a major inconvenience for inexperienced users at best.
This is an area where Alien Blast both excels and disappoints. The introductory and menu music are first rate, evoking spine tingling memories of Star Wars and Harry Potter inspired fanfare. The sound effects are average, not really inspiring, especially considering all the many different types of aliens they throw at you. The guns need more oomph and Hollywood pizzazz.
The developers also played too much Half-Life and Counter-Strike. Sound and music samples from both games pipe up annoyingly at both random and regular intervals, and have no place here. Make the homage subtle guys, not annoying.
Alien Blast offers both single and multiplayer modes of play, and for those who enjoy the style of gameplay that should be quite sufficient to keep you blasting for a long time to come. The lack of variety in the single player mode can be offset to a degree by the multiplayer levels, but given the fact that they are all share a basic similarity this may not prove to be much of a bonus. Still, itís always nice to have options, and further Alien Blast titles should expand their multiplayer components to add further value.
Aliens Blast: The Encounter never makes any pretense toward being anything other than it is, a simple straightforward shoot Ďem up extravaganza, and depending upon whether or not this is your cup of tea will be the major factor in your purchase decision. Players will have to decide for themselves whether or not they enjoy gunning down hordes of aliens for nostalgiaís sake, or whether downloading a copy of MAME and running their Galaga ROM is more than enough.