Sci-fi FPS video game 'Alien Rage' from CI Games.
Sci-fi FPS video game 'Alien Rage' from CI Games.
If there's one genre that I feel is a bit overdone, it's the gritty first-person shooter (FPS). Burly, armored men with enormous weaponry head to war with an alien species over the future of the human race, in a story that takes itself just a bit too seriously, trying too hard to be mature. Fortunately, there's another game company out there that apparently feels the same way, and it's this company, CI Games, that has given us Alien Rage. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, Alien Rage feels like a send-up of titles like Gears of War, while providing players with some pure shooter gameplay.
The premise of the game is fairly basic and kind of silly. Hundreds of years in the future, humanity is dependent on a powerful energy source called promethium, and now a battle is being waged on an asteroid that harbors huge amounts of it. You, a lone soldier with tons of muscles and ridiculous armor, are sent in to fight an entire army of Vorus aliens, to ensure that nobody can have the promethium if humans cannot.
The story is generic to the point of ridicule, and the dialogue is laughably bad and campy, but I personally find that to be one of the game's strong points. It definitely falls into the "so bad it's good" category, and it provides some entertainment, even if it might be for the wrong reasons. Hearing the game point out how an entire army failed to do what you are doing just serves to illustrate how un-seriously you should take this game; the game feels self-aware to me, and I enjoy it.
The game has an arcade feel to it, which is a refreshing change of pace from most shooters. You actually have a running score in Alien Rage, which increases whenever you kill an enemy; there are bonus points for headshots, melee kills, explosive kills, streaks, multi-kills and more. You also have a ridiculous announcer making announcements whenever you make enough headshots, or instigate a particularly cool explosion. It gives this overly-gritty game a lighthearted feel, taking your concerns off the absurd story and putting the focus on fun shooting gameplay.
The level layout is mostly good, though the game has a penchant for throwing tons of enemies at you at once in some places, making for some rather difficult sections that require extreme caution. The worst is when you're ambushed by numerous enemies in a rather small space with little cover, which happens early in the second level; you don't have time to pick off enemies before they reach you, and when one of them is a grenadier you're in for a rather painful time.
To some degree, this encourages caution and learning from your mistakes, which is a fine thing for a game to push. I can say it is rather satisfying to finally figure out how to clear a bridge infested by enemies and guarded by a gatling gunner; you definitely can't run-and-gun, and you need to employ strategy. It can feel cheap at times, though, notably when enemies start appearing way off in the distance and you don't notice until they start shooting at you. Or else they'll shoot explosives at you, and you'll never find out where they came from, because explosives are more or less instant death unless you're on the lowest difficulty.
To some degree, getting high scores just depends on rote memorization, not just of enemy locations, but the locations of explosives, which are what really turn the tide of battle. Explosive barrels and veins and such are everywhere, and there are many places in the game where you'll quickly be overwhelmed unless you know the specific places to shoot. With games like this, there's a fine line to tread between "difficult" and "cheap", and while Alien Rage is on the right side most of the time, in some of the larger war-like areas, it can feel like you don't have a chance until your second or third attempt. It's still fairly satisfying when you complete one of these sections, though.
The game's controls feel fairly well-refined, though FPS controls are pretty much a solved problem at this point, so I didn't expect many problems or innovations. I do have to complain a bit that the aiming seems off, though; at the very least, it feels like headshots are harder to achieve than they should be, and whether or not you get one feels a bit luck-based, which is frustrating. Perhaps that's due to the fact that submachine guns are the most common firearm in the game. You have a fair amount of weapons to choose from, though I frankly didn't find any reason to use anything except the first Vorus gun; it does decent damage, has decent distance, and ammunition for it is literally everywhere.
The music is fairly generic, to go along with the generic setting. It does a decent job, but it's utterly forgettable as well. The graphics aren't top-of-the-line, but they're still quite good, even though a lot of the environments look very much the same. It's all pretty dark and brownish-grey, punctuated with glowing red or blue promethium or computer screens. It's hard for me to speak to how smooth the framerate is, since I was playing the game on a GeForce 9500 GT that's at least five years old. I can play games like Portal 2 without so much as a stutter, however, so keep in mind that you'll need more than a basic graphics card to get good performance out of this game. Whether this speaks to poor optimization or just the relentless march of technology, I cannot say, but the horrendous framerate I usually experienced precluded me from trying out the multiplayer, unfortunately.
The game has 14 missions, and they can take 15 or so minutes each to complete; they'll probably take longer if you end up dying a lot, like I did. The game has three difficulty levels, cheekily named Challenging, Hard and Brutal, and you'll find yourself with a higher score if you complete a level on a higher difficulty. The score mechanic is rather clever in my opinion, as it provides a direct incentive to perform better; there are also leaderboards built in, so you can try to be the best in the world at Alien Rage. Getting a high score is generally an exercise in remembering the locations of explosive barrels, though, so make of that what you will.
Alien Rage is a game that ditches the heavy-handedness of the standard space shooter in favor of a more visceral kind of pleasure. Blasting through enemies and making your way through particularly difficult passages is rather satisfying, though the game can feel a bit cheap at times, and it's fun to see your score rack up even if you aren't trying for a spot on the leaderboard. This game will run you $20 on PC, and for a 3-to-4 hour campaign with decent replayability, that's not a bad value. Of course, this assumes you don't have to drop $200 on a new graphics card in order to play it. Make sure you have the rig before you pick this title up.
Version tested: PC (also available on PS3 and Xbox 360)
(CI Games supplied a copy of this game for review.)
- by Jim Avery for news10.net's Game Guys
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