The Nintendo DS may be a dated format now, but with the largest install base of any system still on the market publishers aren’t ready to give up on it yet. Traditional videogame experiences, however, are becoming few-and-far between, and so SEGA and Wayforward Technologies’ Aliens: Infestation is a surprisingly refreshing title.
Despite the subtlety of it’s relation throughout the build-up to launch, now that Aliens: Infestation is here it’s obvious that it’s every bit the Alien exposition fans had been hoping for. From the available squad to the locations to the weaponry, every piece of the Aliens: Infestation feels perfectly in-keeping with the universe upon which is based. Aliens: Infestation may bring with it its own story, but first and foremost it’s an Alien product.
That’s not to say it doesn’t take liberties however. To truly be as equal an addition to the Alien franchise as the later motion-picture releases and comic books, Aliens: Infestation must retract and redesign certain parts of the universe and explain them away in thankless sci-fi cliché. Aliens: Infestation doesn’t disappoint in this regard either, equally irritating as it is awe-inspiring in the reuse of its source material; just as it should be.
The gameplay experience is one of the deepest titles the Nintendo DS has seen in a very long time. A slow-burner, Aliens: Infestation is essentially a lightweight Metroid style game, or a CastleVania without the role-playing game (RPG) element. The player will journey through the Sulaco (the first of a small number of maps) freely, constantly finding routes that are blocked at present but which later become available once having acquired the correct level keycard, wrench or other item. Already we can see the hallmarks of Nintendo’s classic science-fiction series, and while the map may not feature as elegant design as any of Metroid’s 2D adventures, it if just as interesting in terms of pacing.
The player begins with a squad of four commandos and should all four die, it’s game over, man. Additional characters can be met and recruited at specific points in the game, effectively providing the player with an extra life. Upon death the player may choose any of their other characters to enter from the exact point their previous marine died, so must remain on guard when returning to fight the same enemy.
The enemy variety is surprising, given the traditional solitary xenomorph combat presented by the Alien franchise. Players will fight against robots early on, and bosses provide a welcome punctuation to the exploration action. Every new locale offers new basic enemies which require different tactics, so it’s a shame that Aliens: Infestation relies on just a handful of weapon types. Much more could have been made of the arsenal seen throughout the motion-picture releases, though as it is the player will rarely deviate from the Pulse Rifle and grenade combo.
The visual quality of Aliens: Infestation isn’t exactly as inspiring as the gameplay design, with samey, bland backdrops providing little in the way of recognisable landmarks. Before acquiring the map at each location, it’s wholly possible to retread the same ground several times without realising. More successful however, are the character animations. The incidental detail in the palette-swapped marines is stunning, breathing real character into otherwise wooden toy soldiers. The boss characters are also very well presented, but still there’s little to differentiate Aliens: Infestation from a Game Boy Advance game. As a direct contrast, the sound quality is arguably the best feature of the game. Every movement punctuated by the heart-racing sound of your motion tracker and the Pulse Rifle complimented by its unique air-tearing sound effect, almost identical to that of the movies.
Aliens: Infestation is a welcome addition to the dwindling Nintendo DS release schedule, and is likely to be adopted by many gamers looking for that last hurrah for the console. It’s perhaps not as well presented as it’s inspiration, and gamers looking for another Metroid or CastleVania experience on their Nintendo DS would arguably be better of looking to purchase a Metroid or CastleVania title, of which there is no short supply on Nintendo DS or the compatible Game Boy Advance cartridges (on early versions of the console). However, as a videogame adaptation of the Alien franchise, Aliens: Infestation is perhaps the best videogame experience ever to come from that universe, complimented perfectly in it’s passion by the inclusion of Bishop’s knife trick as a mini-game. Aliens: Infestation is an enjoyable experience in it’s own right, but as fan service there is little better for Alien aficionados.