As a keen Diablo player, the moments where the screen is bursting with enemies and you have nothing but your wits, your weapon and maybe a few skills standing between you and a glorious death are the most exhilarating, and ultimately, rewarding.
There’s just something about dispatching a huge number of foes against all odds (or dying trying) that creates a pure shot of adrenaline, and makes you want to shout “f**k yeah!” at the top of your voice. Housemarque’s Alienation is a game more concentrated with these moments than anything I’ve played before. Yeah, that’s right, Alienation will rock your bloody socks off.
It all starts with a short introduction, creating the setting which necessitates you to punch, shoot and blow up alien invaders to save planet Earth, but to be honest, it’s entirely unnecessary; when dispatching beings from outer space is as much fun as it is in Alienation, you really don’t need any motivation or encouragement to do so. In fact, this is one game where any amount of story is too much, and thankfully Alienation keeps it to a minimum. Objective updates and brief ramblings between your two mission handlers are all the dialogue you’re going to get, and even that’s going to be more than you ever want.
You see, Alienation is all about the gameplay, and by god, does it play well. Anyone that’s spent time with Dead Nation will immediately feel a sense of familiarity with the game, but you’d be foolish to even think for a second that this is just a rehash of Housemarque’s zombie-killing opus with brighter graphics and a change of enemies; no, Alienation has so many new features and gameplay systems that are so well implemented, that it stands head and shoulders above its spiritual predecessor. Of course there are similarities between the two: they’re both isometric shooters with weapon upgrade systems and co-op gameplay for a start, but Alienation goes far beyond Dead Nation’s offerings by incorporating action-RPG elements and generally just being a much deeper and refined experience.
It doesn’t take any more than a couple of minutes to get straight into the action. You select your character class from the three available: Bio-Specialist, Saboteur or Tank, each with their own primary weapon and active ability skill tree, before heading out into the short but sweet training mission. The truth is, it doesn’t need to tell you much; the controls are the usual twin stick shooter affair, and they’re intuitive enough that you pick them up efficiently as you play anyway. And play you will.
Fully playable in single player, Alienation’s 20 mission campaign is a riotous blast from start to finish, but it is undoubtedly better when played with up to three friends in online co-op. Without saying too much, it’s safe to say you’ll be playing long after you’ve completed those 20 missions too. Starting in Alaska, the missions take you on a journey through some wonderfully created and enjoyably destructible environments including Brazil and the haunting Pripyat in Ukraine, although the objectives in each are largely the same; reach numerous points on the map, shoot anything that moves, and then get the hell out of there. It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it? And actually it is. But the gameplay is so finely tuned and rewarding that you’ll keep going back again and again.
A huge part of Alienation’s addictiveness comes from its raft of excellently implemented action-RPG features. For example, every mission you go on nets you experience points; level up and you’ll increase your hit points and also unlock a skill point to spend on either your active or passive ability tree. Reach the level cap of 30 and then you’ll be able to gain Hero levels, further increasing your hit points. Even more engrossing though is its loot system which will motivate you to replay missions, perhaps on harder difficulties where the rewards are higher, in order to enhance your arsenal. There’s an element of risk versus reward to consider too, with you able to destroy mid-mission checkpoints to increase the volume and quality of loot awarded at the end, but if you die, you lose the bonus and have to travel further to get back to where you met your demise.
Aside from your trusty primary sidearm, Alienation also allows you to equip a secondary and a heavy weapon to take into battle, and your limited ammo storage capacity means you’ll have to use all three efficiently to stay alive. Whilst each class’s primary weapon is fixed, there’s a choice of three weapons in each of the secondary and heavy categories, enabling you to personalise your loadout as you see fit. To further increase your armament options, in typical ARPG style every weapon you find when out on a mission, either dropped by an enemy or found in a chest, will be of a particular quality. White stock weapons for instance, are the lowest of the low, meaning you’ll probably just want to break them down for materials, but yellow legendary items will be suitably sought after. The same applies to the single piece of equipment that you can take into battle too, such as a remote grenade, mine or boomerang, all offering a highly damaging and mostly explosive burst of destruction.
If that was all the weapon system offered though, it would probably get boring pretty quick. Luckily, Alienation has yet another trick up its sleeve: weapon customisation. Uncommon weapons and above all have a limited amount of slots in which you can place a variety of cores to increase their attributes, with rare and legendary weapons also having a chance to contain a special ability. Four types of core are available, each boosting a certain aspect of your weapons or equipment such as critical hit chance or damage output, and by putting them into special slots of a matching colour you can further enhance their effects. It’s an easy to understand yet surprisingly deep system that will have you happily grinding for cores; trading up your duplicates in order to create more potent examples before placing them in your favourite weapons.
The final aspect of Alienation’s weapon upgrade system is the ability to re-roll individual stats. Not happy that the damage output of your recently discovered legendary revolver is on the low end of the scale? No problem. By expending some of the resources obtained by salvaging unwanted guns and equipment you can re-roll the stat until you’re happy with it. Granted, it may take a few rolls, as stats can go down as well as up, but over time you can fine tune your favourite guns and equipment to make sure they’re performing as best as can be.
Alienation’s heart-racing gameplay and fulfilling weapon upgrade and loot systems are further bolstered by some absolutely blistering visuals. Every second the screen is awash with colour as superbly designed enemies bring forth hell upon you; your retaliatory fire scattering their corpses and creating chains of staggeringly beautiful explosions that destroy all in their vicinity. Better still, it does all this whilst constantly running smooth, even when things get mesmerizingly chaotic with four players destroying everything in view. It truly is a sight to behold. Trust me, if your eyes could somehow reach orgasm (eye-gasm?) they would. In fact, it looks so good that they’d have multiple eye-gasms.
Housemarque are one of those developers where you know full well that anything they release is going to be a spectacle; Super Stardust, Dead Nation and Resogun are all testament to that. It’s pretty safe to say though, after spending considerable time with Alienation and yet still finding it hard to drag myself away from it, that it is their most awe-inspiring, addictive and most well-rounded creation yet. When the only negative comment I can make about the game is that the difficulty of the last mission is perhaps pitched a little too highly, you should know it’s something special indeed. Alienation is undoubtedly one of the best games currently available on the PS4. Go buy it. Now. You won’t be disappointed.