Our resident gaming titan, Justin Wicker reviews Alienation.
As with most pop culture or art, when the titans of the form rise in popularity they are bound to influence the rest of the medium (for better or worse). In the mid-2000s many groups tried to emulate what made Blizzard’s Diablo II such a smashing success, mostly to disappointing ends. With modern tools and learned developers, the last few years the games industry has finally been able to put out titles that follow the ‘shoot-n-loot’ formula in a satisfying and engaging fashion. Alienation combines the Diablo formula with a fast-paced twin stick shooter, and while it’s not likely to change the landscape of video games, I really enjoyed my time with it.
Plain and simple, Alienation is fun. Its moment-to-moment gameplay is not overly complex: find aliens, point gun at aliens, pull trigger, repeat. There are some mission briefings that add a light story layer that’s relatively forgettable, but I still felt like I had a positive experience with the game nonetheless. The story takes the player around different Earth locations fighting off aliens and discovering their nefarious plans. The game is structured with zones and missions on a map, unfortunately not in an open and interconnected world, but it does make the game more approachable and likely also allowed the game to keep its $20 price tag. Primarily narrative-focused players may be frustrated with its predictable and trope-filled nature, but I would recommend players come to Alienation for its gameplay much more so than its story.
The gameplay doesn’t stray too far from the traditional twin stick formula. The movement feels well-paced, and the characters slow down when aiming away from their movement direction in a way that adds a nice level of strategy to the action. Similarly, the player has three different weapon slots of different types to mix up the combat formula, especially considering the character’s limited active abilities. Access to these offers options for specific situations and enemies, in addition to adding variety to the action. Each of Alienation’s three different playable classes has a different primary weapon, which have no natural variation outside of quality and statistics, but the secondary and heavy weapons offer an array of options to suit different mission layouts or styles of play.
The classes themselves are unique and despite a shared passive ability tree across all of them, they feel different enough to justify multiple playthroughs. They each have different activated abilities you can improve over time as you level up, and they match archetypes not uncommon of other action RPGs. The Tank class is short ranged, has defensive abilities, and can take a beating as its title implies. While the tank has some abilities that can help others, it seems the most oriented to solo-play. The other two classes, Bio-Specialist and Saboteur seem to favor more multiplayer play with abilities like stealth and group healing. I played the majority of the game solo and felt rewarded for choosing the tank, though all of the classes are viable for solo play. I wish there were more classes to play with, but the ones available are fun and match with both the aesthetic and tone of the post-invasion earth.
The enemies and loot are everywhere, making the gear upgrades frequent in a rewarding fashion. This also applies for things like ammo and health drops as well, but not so much so that it has a negative effect on the difficulty or fun of the game. It strikes a good balance for the drops, and even gives tips to players suggesting trying different missions or dropping difficulty when the player is finding themselves frequently out of ammo. If you have played a game like Diablo or Borderlands in the past, you will be familiar with the now almost universal loot system of color-coded quality and comparative stats. There is no ‘armor’ to find, your gear is specifically weapons, but with multiple slots and options it always feels like upgrades directly impact your play in a measurable way that packs a punch.
Alienation as a whole doesn't do a lot that would be considered new or groundbreaking. It very much applies a formula to an established genre and runs with it. If you are looking for a emotional story, a deep level of mechanical complexity, or cinematic gameplay, Alienation probably isn't for you. If you are looking for a fun game to dive into for a few dozen hours or a low-key co-op game to play with your friends, it’s hard to beat Alienation for shoot ‘n loot action. For 20 bucks, I can't think of a better pick up and play game to cleanse your gaming palate or just have some alien-shooting fun.
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platforms: Playstation 4
Release Date: April 26, 2016
Reviewer’s Platform: PS4