With the Nintendo DS at its end of life, gamers have been blessed with an atmospheric Metroidvania-style love letter to the Aliens franchise.
Slowly advancing down a dark corridor, one of our intrepid heroes keeps his eyes peeled. The Marine he found in the previous room was sliced to bloody ribbons, and covered in some kind of strange slime. Our hero isn’t quite sure what killed his brother in arms, but he knows it was something he doesn’t want to meet. He pushes the image of the mangled Marine out of his mind; all he has to do is make it to the central computer so he can sync up with HQ, get a bearing on where his final objective is, reach it, and then rendezvous back at the ship.
Without warning, something starts coming through the wall next to him.
That scenario, and many others like it, play out in WayForward’s homage to the classic Aliens series. Aliens Infestation, a Metroidvania-styled sidescroller, evokes the same emotions and atmosphere that has assaulted audiences on the silver screen for decades. Danger lurks around every corner, surprises wait behind every door, and a feeling of dread permeates the experience.
Although Infestation has all the familiar trappings of a sidescrolling Metroidvania game, one of its unique features is how the game approaches permadeath. After all, a game can’t turn you into a bundle of creeped-out nerves if failure means nothing. In the case of Infestation, you start out with a group of four Marines. While the interactions between HQ and each individual Marine changes slightly, whoever you choose to play as doesn’t really affect the game. Still, the more you survive, the more you somehow develop an attachment to each one.
This is where the permadeath comes in: once one of your Marines die, they’re gone for good. When I lost the leader of my starting fireteam during the first boss encounter, in my head the other Marines were reacting harshly and even started to lose their cool. Although these little scenarios don’t actually play out on screen (each of the Marines seem oblivious to the loss of their comrades), you’ll find yourself filling in the narrative blank spots automatically. The same goes for the personality of each individual Marine. You’re given a little bit to work with (the way they respond to HQ gives you just enough insight about who they are), but you’ll find yourself internally developing each individual Marine’s personality.
Scattered around each of the levels are other Marines who have been separated from their fireteams. If one of the four Marines you have in your squad has died (leaving a slot open), these abandoned Marines will join up with you. You can swap out which Marine you control by going to one of the game’s strategically placed “communications rooms”, which also serve as an armory and a save point. If the unfortunate jarhead you’re controlling dies at the hands of a Xenomorph, another Marine in your squad immediately transfers in and continues the fight. While this might not make much sense from an in-game-world perspective, it’s much more convenient than having to start back at one of the communication rooms. It didn’t harm the immersion nearly as much as I expected, so overall, I believe it was a good design choice.
Speaking of immersion, Aliens Infestation has an atmosphere that is almost unrivaled on the DS. In fact, the only game I can think of that comes close is 999…with some decent headphones (I personally use ATH-AD700s) and all the lights out, Infestation actually managed to creep me out quite a bit. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I felt scared, but the hairs on my neck were definitely standing on end. When you think about it, this doesn’t make much sense…taking out the Xenomorphs is fairly easy (or at least easier than it probably should be), and the motion tracker you pick up is WAY overpowered. You rarely have to worry about running out of rounds, and your sidearm has unlimited ammo (and an insane rate of fire). Despite this, Aliens Infestation still manages to ratchet up the tension to a degree normally reserved for movies.
There are some minor annoyances with the interface (the map on the touch screen sometimes gets stuck, and refuses to flip back to the inventory screen), but overall, this is a tight, well-produced game. A solid control scheme, high level of tension, excellent music and sound effects (much of which is lifted right from the movies), smooth animations, and just the right balance between dying and success make this title an excellent way to say goodbye to Nintendo’s handheld.
Pick this one up, turn out the lights, and keep an eye on your motion tracker. You’ll be glad you did.