Release Date: September 24, 2013
Developer: CI Games
Publisher: CI Games
Platform: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
As a whole, there’s not all that much that really stands out about Alien Rage to fully differentiate it from other nameless futuristic shooters that dominate the genre today. But just because we currently live in the gaming age where epic storylines and cinematic cut scenes have become the norm, that doesn’t mean it’s any less fun to go back to the basics sometimes, and just shoot up some aliens for the sake of shooting up aliens. In that regard, Alien Rage delivers on two of its biggest promises: that you’ll get to gun down tons and tons of aliens, and that you’ll probably going to experience tons and tons of gamer rage the entire time that you’re doing it.
In the game you play as Jack, a b-rate version of Duke Nukem or Serious Sam, who boasts a forced “tough guy” attitude and a deadly arsenal of space weapons. The environments themselves that you’ll go stalking through are nothing that you haven’t seen before, with futuristic hallways and central command rooms, and your occasional falloffs and chasms that all sort of seem to repeat and blend into one another before long. Your primary goal is to mow down every ugly creature that gets in your path and to look damn good doing it. In between splattering the walls with alien guts and having your own guts do some redecorating more often than you’d like, you can look in shadowy corners for a handful of audio logs and “Found” collectables, although everything for the most part is extremely linear.
My favorite part about the actual gameplay in Alien Rage is that shooting directly at the enemy isn’t always the best course of action for you to get the quickest kill. This is because the majority of rooms in the game are littered with volatile orange canisters that explode in a flurry of fire whenever one of your bullets grazes them. Most of the enemy A.I. is dumb enough to stand fairly close to one of these canisters, making it easy to pick them off in fantastic explosions than trying to aim at their heads for a more traditional kill. Some of these explosions are specifically designed to lead into some pretty awesome set pieces, as entire sections of the environment like bridges and walls will complete implode and fall away into the bellows of the planet, and taking along every alien scum that happened to be in the vicinity right along with it.
The different modes of besting your foes lets you chain together point combos, as different rewards for specific kinds of kills will begin to pepper the top of the screen as if you’re in the middle of a heated multiplayer Halo match: the biggest earners being “Headshot” and “Triple Kill!” Every kill you perform in the game adds on to your total score for the level, and the more points you earn throughout your entire career in the game, then the more player perks you’ll be able to unlock to make the going just a little bit easier. You can only apply three of these perks to your character at any one time, and each available slot is unlocked alongside a specific tier of perks, so you’ll have to get pretty choosy as to whether you want 50% more ammo in every weapon’s clip, or 50% more total ammo in every weapon that you pick up in the environment.
The biggest thing that Alien Rage has going for it, effectively, is its brutal difficulty, which could probably best be described as “unfair” and “punishingly cheap” to say the least. Playing through the first few levels of Alien Rage’s single-player campaign on the middle difficulty setting, it felt like I was in the middle of a Goldeneye match, where every one of my adversaries had the magic one-shot-kill golden gun, and I was left with nothing but a measly little pistol. Case in point, most of the enemies in the game will absolutely decimate you in a single, explosive shot, and there’s not a damn thing that you’ll be able to do about it. To make matters worse, the game also introduces invisibility cloaking for the enemies early on in the very first level, so prepare to fend off handfuls of glitteringly clear enemies that directly flank you at regular intervals.
All in all, I found myself having a very love-hate relationship with the difficulty of Alien Rage over the course of my playthrough. On the one hand, most of my deaths in the game felt entirely cheap and unwarranted: like the enemies were just programmed to make sure I slammed my fists against my desk in pure gamer rage, and could kill me regardless of whatever I did to avoid it or effectively return fire. Games like Dark Souls and Super Meat Boy are notorious for being brutally difficult, but mostly because when you die in those games, there’s a pretty high chance that the death was your fault. In Alien Rage, however, you’ll die because the developers simply just want you to do, and you’ll never really find yourself LEARNING how to play the game through each one of your deaths, and how not to do it again no matter how big of a dent you gradually make in the alien world.
But then on the other hand, there’s still something to be said about the breathless sense of exhilaration that comes every time you engage in a firefight with one of the aliens, because it all could end so quickly and devastatingly for you. I don’t think I’ve ever found myself getting so tensed up when battling a single grunt soldier in a video game before, because I knew full well that he could easily kill me at will in a second if he wanted to, and the length of checkpoints in the game are a bit spotty at best. So I’m still not sure. The game definitely needs to have this sense of difficulty in order to reach its exhaustingly intense effect, but at the same time, I don’t think achieving that higher challenge should come at the price of an all-around sense of consistency.
But in any event, Alien Rage is still meant to be taken as 14 meaty levels of an old-school run-and-gun shooter: nothing more, and nothing less. However, it should be noted that the game currently seems to suffer from some pretty spotty framerate issues (at least on the PC version), even when playing on the lowest possible graphics settings. There were a few moments in the first level of the game where the gameplay slowed to a crawl whenever there were too many enemies or too many environmental effects like burning fire covering the screen, and I felt like I was playing an old NES Mega Man game that couldn’t handle its own level designs. Luckily, once I pushed through the excruciatingly bad framerate issues, everything became much smoother from level two on: although I’m afraid some gamers will be turned off because of this and not stick with it for very long.
Finally, Alien Rage is also said to feature a full multiplayer component that will launch alongside the game itself on the date of its release. Even though I didn’t get a chance to check out the full multiplayer experience of Alien Rage in this advanced review copy, I can only imagine that it will take the same no-holds-barred gunplay of an old-school Quake Arena game and set players loose to start spilling each other’s guts. And if that’s all you’re really looking to get out of a game like Alien Rage, to remove said innards from lots of ugly looking aliens, then it’s hard to argue against the fact that it achieves its goal wholeheartedly. Even though the game ultimately suffers from a confusingly tough difficulty, some choppy framerate issues, and a familiar story and world that will be instantly forgettable, Alien Rage is still here to remind us that sometimes all we want is too shoot some damn aliens and not have it mean anything more. And so in that light, shoot some damn aliens we shall!