vicrabb's Alien Swarm Review
"Wait a minute... oh, sorry, I forgot, we're on TF2 and you're wearing the Swarm Parasite..."
If you ever heard that, it means that the player has played too much Alien Swarm or he's just joking, like I did on the server I'm admin for, being a pyro and purchasing a poor Engi with the Parasite as hat... Unfortunately for him, if he hadn't build a sentry (because it's a no sentry server), he wouldn't have seen me trying to crack a joke.
The main reason behind this is the fact that I wouldn't have played Alien Swarm in a normal time. The factors that brought me to turn as a fan aren't the original Unreal mod or that it's Valve behind or that it's not a third-party fan mod. If it wasn't free, I would have let it where it was standing. But as a free game, I'm not crazy, I'm downloading it... if it was the kind of game I'm used to play.
So why did I download a co-op game, me that isn't really a multiplayer gamer? The Swarm Parasite Hat that you can get in TF2... that's it, I can get a new hat without having to craft the half of my backpack (which I did for my pyro hat) - if you don't know what's crafting, I suggest you to check a TF2 wiki - or without having to buy a game (I didn't do it when Left 4 Dead 2 was offering Bill's hat) or without being a honest gamer (the famous Halo in TF2) or without doing achievements (Halloween Event) or without having to wait a good drop (my Fedora).
If someone understand the game...
... it wouldn't be me. I mean, the plotline is just Starship Troopers without the big army and the corporation hiding the truth. But anyway, it seems that the Swarms is a hate story with mankind when reading the biography of the characters.
But it's not Starship Troopers really, for me, the story is just being a sort of Doom 3 plot (the corporation here is a necessary fact - UAC being always above the laws, a single man helped by others, PDA explaining the stories, tons of things to make work).
Anyway, you're just arriving a mining colony not answering calls, you already know that there was a problem, else you wouldn't be here and you have to get through to understand how they got swarmed by the aliens. You're beginning in the landing bay to finish into Timor Station, with a baby nuke bomb to escort. You're passing by the surface, by the reactor room or the residential area with labs locked down without forgetting your little trip in the sewer and the famous cargo elevator scene where everyone is shocked by a famous lag that is just in reality a slow motion scene.
The plot isn't really evolved by the PDA, seeing how short are the levels and the time you don't have to read them. So if at first glance, I was pleased by the turn of the events in-game, the lack of information prior the incident is just being making something amiss. I'm perhaps too used to Doom 3, Max Payne, FEAR or Legendary where you get a lot of clues about what's happening or how you got into the nightmare.
I've perhaps changed some settings but I was having an hard time to adjust to the controls... I was thinking that it was a weird way to make a game work. My controls consisting of the UPARROW, DOWNARROW, LEFTARROW and RIGHTARROW are used when I'm playing a FPS or adventures in 3D (if not clicking) and the mouse is for giving me a direction.
You'll laugh about it but I couldn't get used to my character strafe when pressing LEFTARROW or RIGHTARROW, for me, it was for giving directions, not that... To think that in reality, if a FPS was being a top-down game, it would be the same move in Alien Swarm and that I can't get used by that when in a first-person, I don't have problems...
So the gameplay isn't intuitive at first: you'll have a time to adjust to that. If moving is just being the hardest part, the rest is really simple (not if you're not knowing all the keys): you just shoot swarms, you heal people if you're medic, you hack computers if you're tech.
Because you can choose between eight characters, two by classes, with special weapons. Everyone is unlocking the same weapons but not every class can use them. I'm explaining: the Officer is typically your common character you're meeting in the game: not heavily armed, without real speciality. The Specialist is the Heavy Weapon guy, carrying heavy miniguns. The Medic is the doctor you're going for if you're wounded, only him can carry enough health for everyone. The Tech is just your hacker, he's the only that can break into computers or some locked doors. If the Tech is really needed, having him dead is making the mission restart.
Weapons like Flamethrower, Pistols or Shotgun (or Sentries or Ammo Stash) are common to every class but the Vindicator for example, sort of shotgun, or incendiary mines (you have to level up for getting them), can be only carried by the Officer. The Heal Beacon or the Medigun is only for the Medic (though personal health kits can be carried by everyone, you'll soon see that you need to carry something else than that), the Minigun for the Specialist and a Prototype Rifle for the Tech.
You can carry two weapons (same choice for first and second slot) and a special one. That special one can be flares, flashlight, grenades, armor, special sentries, etc.. Everyone can carry everything there (apart the fire wall).
Each character is having special stats, without forgetting that we have at least two women (a Heavy and a Medic). You'll probably be more attracted by the look of the characters than the stats, they're not really different in-game.
You have to earn XP for leveling up and getting unlocks. Everything is determined at the end of the mission, with the stats of it, if you earn achievements (or if you repeat them - for example, you already have the one with healing an infected marine but you can still earn XP for it if you keep healing people with parasites) or with the difficulty of the mission.
Level 27 is the ultimate level for you before being promoted with a star that is making you restart at level 1 and loose all unlocks but fortunately, you can choose your moment to do it.
Difficulties and game modes
Well, as much I hate to say it, when I started to write that review, the biggest update of the game wasn't even out. But I need at least to put a word about it.
Initially, the game could be played in four difficulties: Easy, Normal, Hard and Insane. If the first three were following the same pattern in terms of enemies spawning (no Shieldbug before the third mission for example), Insane is really a challenge as all enemies can spawn in each level. Getting a parasite just after the first door in Landing Bay is not a pleasant discovery but at least, you're warned about what will follow. The fifth difficulty, Brutal, was added later for those who think that Insane is a joke. I've never played Brutal but I can already assure that you have to be a veteran, with a well-coordinated team in order to survive.
Onslaught and Hardcore Friendly Fire were also added in the same time as Brutal. These two modes can be enabled at each difficulty and are providing a new experience. Onslaught is a kind of AI Director, like in Left 4 Dead (2): it decides which enemies you'll encounter, in which location and when a horde of Swarms has to be triggered. In other words, don't be surprised to see a Shieldbug just behind a door in Landing Bay or to see Swarms incoming suddenly when you just load Sewer Junction, immediately on the first stairs.
Hardcore Friendly Fire is risky when playing with new players, which are used to shoot on you because of the Swarm just in front. Alien Swarm has already friendly fire, which can be surprising if you're lagging. But with that mode, one or two hits and you're dead. So, be sure to play with people used to the game.
As a multiplayer game (despite having the first two levels in the practice mode, where you can play the four marines if needed), you can join directly a game, choose a public game with your favorite settings (ex: Onslaught enabled, without Hardcore Friendly Fire, in Easy, with an Official Mission), choose to play with friends or choose to play on a official dedicated server.
You'll arrive in a lobby where you choose your character and its equipment. You can speak with your team, can be made a lobby or can be kicked because you're trolling or you're spoken your mind about someone wasting his ammo for doing kills. I mean that spending ten minutes to kill at the same place can be really annoying and trying to help the guy for his survival (because if he wants to finish the level, he needs his ammo) is normal. But as in each multiplayer game, you'll find everything: good players, players that are in competitive mode, players that don't care about others and just troll the game, players that are beginning, players that stay afk - away from keyboard - a long time, etc..
I must say that for a free game, the graphics are good, without real graphic glitches. As you're seeing all from top down, you need to recognize the Marines: white is for Medics, yellow for the Techs, green for the Officers, Blue for the Special Weapons and each of them has a different design, so, it's really easy to recognize them. The enemies are also well done, as the levels. The only little negative point are the bodies around the base, that are looking like nothing. Apart that, each level is adapted to his name, so, you're in a residential area (with labs near), you'll find offices but also a gaming room, sleeping rooms, bathrooms, etc.. If you're in the sewers, you'll be walking in water for example.
Alien Swarm isn't really the game with magnificent tracks, apart the sounds from the Swarms, the voices for the Marines or the music track indicating that you're gonna be swarmed or under adrenaline effect, you have nothing. No music menu, no music in the lobby leader, just random sounds. It's maybe a free game but it could have been given some good music. After all, play a game from Ben Crosshaw or Grundislav Games and you have always a serious soundtrack.
Well, if you love challenges or if you like to play with friends, Alien Swarm can be a good game for you, it doesn't cost a thing, just some minutes of your time, the updates are free, you have achievements, you have 5 difficulties, with two modes changing the experience, you can level up and make your way in the promotion medals, you have a lot of weapons or stuff that can help, you have 8 marines, so, you can say that your choice isn't reduced.
I can't really talk about the lifetime, apart that a campaign in Easy can take between 30 minutes and a hour.
I enjoyed Alien Swarm because it's varied, with a good AI and with a lot of possibilities to play. I'm just sad that people downloaded it mainly for a hat and then let it behind them. Even if I'm playing the game less due to Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress 2 being more appealing to me, Alien Swarm is still worthy to play: good graphics, good AI, a lot of pleasure when you finally managed to get to Blood Hound at the end), an interesting plot to try to understand (but a failure due to the poorness of the PDA), a good gameplay when you're used to it and achievements. The only negative point is the lack of soundtrack.
In other words, Alien Swarm, despite my initial reluctance to play it (it's not a FPS, I was just getting the hat), managed to chase my fears, to surprise me and to make me love it, even if it will never be the same love I'm carrying for my FPS games. So, I recommend it to any people searching for a good co-op game, which is free and which is not involving terrorists and policemen.