Alien Swarm Review

Screenshot from Alien Swam

This one crept upon me by surprise but about a month before it was released I couldn't believe that Valve were releasing a Source update on the awesome UT2k4 mod Alien Swarm, and best of all was the price - it was going to be absolutely free! So come release day, me and probably 2 million other gamers (that's right, apparently Steam now has around 2 million gamers online at any one time) sunk their teeth into this game

Sound (5/5)
There's nothing I can complain about the sound here. They've done a good job of evoking the feel of the film Aliens (which this and just about every sci-fi game involving the killing of giant bugs is based off). There's the pinging of the motion scanner (a heads-up to you and your teammates of your impending doom), your teammates calling out to each other when under attack, and a variety of sounds for the different weapons you use.

Music (3/5)
Well there isn't really much in terms of music in this game. You've got the title theme which is mainly just ambient stuff and then you've got the "doof-doof" music whenever you're in a scripted, slow-mo action sequencence. Nothing wrong with the music but there isn't much there.

Alien Swarm Gameplay Video

Graphics (3/5)
Graphics aren't anything to write home about but at least the mod uses the Source engine now so visuals are crisper and the lighting effects are pretty cool.

Plot (3/5)
The plot is directly ripped from the movie "Aliens" at least the backdrop is anyway. The game is set in the future where colonies have been subjected to infestations by aliens. You and your squad are part of a Marine Corps whose job is to exterminate these "bugs" - and that's pretty much all you need to know. The developers try to expand on the plot somewhat by giving character bios, mission briefings and through datapads you can read through the level (yet not really have enough time to), but it's really just lip service if you ask me - not that it matters though, this isn't Alien Swarm's strength!

The game is handled from a top-down perspective, with you in a group of four marines. The aim of each level is to get from one side to the other, completing certain objectives along the way. These can be from downloading files from a computer, burning alien eggs or even detonating a nuclear bomb. Each player can pick from one of four classes: Officer, Heavy, Medic and Tech. Each of them have different pros and cons, but as a good rule of thumb, having one of each class is probably the best combination.

Just like the Left 4 Dead series (in fact the same folks developed this game and the original Alien Swarm) cooperation is crucial if you wish to survive the levels. Aliens will keep spawning and running towards you and you only have a limited amount of ammunition. To make things even more difficult, friendly fire is on too and being a top-down shooter, it's actually far easier to acidentally shoot your teammates than you normally would in a traditional horizontal FPS. Also killing certain aliens require you to work as a team; for example, one alien is invulnerable if attacked from the front but while its chasing a squadmate, others are expected to hit it from behind as it's the only way to take them down.

One other thing I like about this game, which you don't see much of, is that being skilled at the tech mini-games actually passes on a benefit to the actual game. If a tech is competent enough to solve the mini-games in as little time as possible, this is one less member offline meaning more firepower against the aliens. This gives the opportunity for players in the community to be valued for their skill not only at killing aliens but more cerebral pursuits (admittedly the puzzles aren't that difficult but hey it requires some thinking). The same can be said for playing as a medic since the hectic nature of Alien Swarm means it ain't an easy task!

Replayability (3/5)
The game is solely multiplayer as the single player mode is only for practising one level (the starting one). Consequently, you need to always find players willing to play but fortunately this isn't a problem at the moment, perhaps it has something to do with it being free!

The game has a lot of achievements you can hunt for too (which seems to be the norm with any game released on Steam nowadays) so this will increase the longevity of the game somewhat.

Unfortunately, there is only one official campaign released with the game. Valve have tried to rectify this somewhat by releasing an SDK with the game so budding developers could create new content, but the fact remains there's only one campaign and consequently you could finish the game quite easily within an hour. Sure there are different difficulty levels, there's the aforementioned achievements and just recently Valve has patched the game to have an Onslaught mode (i.e. the bugs can spawn in random spots), but there's only so much you can do before it will eventually get boring.

I can't think of any issues from the top of my head, although it may take some getting used to the keyboard shortcuts and the interface since it's a bit clunky - you can tell it's based off a 2004 mod where user-friendliness wasn't as far ahead as it is today. Being based on an old mod though has its benefits in that the game is relatively bug free as well, which is a welcome change for any game released nowadays...

Overall - 8/10
A nice little co-op game compliments of Steam - too bad it only came with one campaign on release!