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Alien Syndrome (2007) Review

2007’s Alien Syndrome is one of the most confusing things I’ve ever played. Essentially a sequel to the 1987 arcade original, you play as Aileen Harding who is sent to the Kronos, a space station which has mysteriously lost communications with a nearby planet. When she gets there, the whole place is overrun with the alien syndrome that attacked in the first game and it’s up to Aileen to destroy them and find her boyfriend Tom who was stationed on the Kronos. It’s a pretty weak setup to allow the game to do its thing.

Unfortunately, Alien Syndrome has considerable difficulty determining what its thing is. All the right elements are here; the game is a top-down, twin-stick shooter set on a space station which perfectly describes the action of the original game, except this time you’re basically just navigating through an area and shooting aliens in order to reach an exit, unlike the original which saw you saving the crew of the space station.

What Alien Syndrome decides to focus on instead of rescuing crew members is its new focus on an RPG-like skill tree and levelling up system. You can now level up certain stats and skills as you kill more aliens which would be a nice inclusion if it wasn’t so utterly confusing. There is no indication how you level up and what it is you’re doing that makes your character do so. When you shoot enemies, numbers pour out of them left, right and centre but what does it mean? Are these experience points I’m earning? Is it just the hit points I’m getting on the aliens? If it’s the latter then could I at least know what the aliens total hit points are so I can plan which enemies are worth attacking? The game doesn’t have any answers to these questions.

We’ve also got loot to contend with. Aliens, item boxes and destructible objects all reveal certain collectibles, whether its ammo and health items or permanent additions like new weapons and armour. There’s a hell of a lot of stuff to collect in this game; some of its useful, some of it not so useful and you’ve got to micro-manage your items in order to make the best use of items that are most suited to your character class (of which there are 4 to pick from). There’s an unbelievable amount of depth here for a game based on such a simplistic arcade shooter.

Sadly, all this depth is completely wasted on the game itself which is one of the most boring and frustrating things I’ve had to play. You move with the Nunchuk and aim using a pointer that’s helpfully tied to the Wii Remote; a fairly intuitive control scheme. This is completely ruined by a camera that doesn’t know what it’s doing. It sits high above the action and gently revolves around the character which is massively unhelpful as it’s very difficult to keep your bearings. Sometimes you’ll run into a cut-scene and then the camera will shift into an entirely new configuration that often meant I started moving back on myself as I was now facing a different direction.

The visuals don’t help matters either. Everything is very drab and uninspired, like someone’s opened the sci-fi rulebook and followed it unnecessarily closely. There’s nothing about Alien Syndrome that looks or sounds unique in the slightest. It’s a dark, dreary stroll through a game world that has nothing to define it.

It also feels dull to play. There’s no real feedback that you’re doing any damage to enemies. There’s none of that satisfying ‘game feel’ that things like Vlambeer games do so well, with their clearly defined hit and shaky screen effects. Enemies sometimes fall over and look like they’re stunned which is really strange as they often just die after a short while anyway. It’s all so confusing to interpret.

The biggest offender has to be the way the ranged weapons work. Ranged weapons are tied to an energy gauge that is consumed as you fire. At first the gauge would slowly refill as long as I wasn’t firing, but at some point during the game it just decided to stop doing that and then I had to rely on energy replenishment items that couldn’t keep up with the constant firing you have to do to pacify the enormous waves of enemies. It’s absolutely infuriating to run out of energy in a massive skirmish as the game sanctimoniously wipes the floor with you and there’s nothing you can do about it.

There’s a whole host of other offences that Alien Syndrome commits (including a DNA sequencing mini-game that makes no sense whatsoever) but when it comes down to it, it’s just not a fun game to play. It’s a drab, boring, slog of a game with ugly visuals, the least satisfying action you could want from a twin-stick shooter and a series of unnecessary mechanics that just infuriate instead of add anything meaningful to the experience.

2/10

Written by Lewis “Sonic Yoda” Clark on 14/4/2016

Cover Art
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Screenshots
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