Platforms PS4
Developer Housemarque
Publisher Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release Date April 26, 2016

Alienation is a top-down, twin-stick shooter from the developers of arguably one of the best PS4 exclusives, and also one of its first – Resogun. This game aims at the same space taken up by last years brilliantly daft Helldivers, looking to marry twin-stick shooting with the compulsiveness of loot-em-up gameplay. Where Helldivers had charm, wit and personality to go along with its solid gameplay mechanics, Alienation has very little.

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It’s tough to write a review about Alienation. Not because it doesn’t have much going on, there are plenty of systems, mechanics and general things going on in the game that could easily fill out a thousand or so words. It’s just tough to go into much depth about a game whose every moving part elicits nothing more from me than a shrug. Alienation is about as forgettable a game as they come, really. And that’s a damn shame and a major surprise given the developers pedigree.

There’s just nothing particularly fun about Alienation. The best part about it is the co-op gameplay, because adding a friend or three into the mix is always sure to liven up a gameplay experience. It’s baffling, then, that Alienation doesn’t come with support for local co-op. It’s a game seemingly designed for sitting around with your mates and having a blast through, but that’s not a feature.

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Not that there’s much fun to be had in actually playing Alienation. You’re dropped into each mission by picking one of three classes, each of which focuses on a different type of gameplay, and then tasked with completing an objective while blasting hordes of aliens along the way. Usually the objectives directly involves blasting aliens along the way. You travel from point A to point B and then to point C, but at no point did I ever really feel like I was engaged with the game, even when I was playing with other people.

It’s a very busy game, but it’s not really ever a fun one. I can’t say that I ever really enjoyed my time with it. There’s lots of stuff going on onscreen. Levels are usually packed with as many aliens as Housemarque felt they could cram onto the screen. Overwhelmingly so. Alienation can quickly devolve into absolute chaos as aliens charge at you from all directions while everything around you explodes, because absolutely everything in this game explodes.

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It probably doesn’t help that everything in Alienation never really feels like it has any sort of impact. Combat feels lightweight, despite the overabundance of explosions. There never really feels like there’s any kind of visceral feedback to your shooting, with bullets never really feeling like they’re connecting with anything. Each class comes with three different special abilities, and when you remember to use them they also have no heft to them. They create a neat effect on the screen (and usually make some stuff explode), but never feel impactful.

The objectives themselves aren’t really helpful. Generally you’ll be tasked with going to a point on the map far away from where you start, pushing a button, then making your way to another point on the map for extraction. And disembodied voices will occasionally tell you about what you’re doing. Both the levels and enemies are equally uninspired. The former all bleed together in the memory after a while and the latter are modeled after every generic Sci-Fi monster you can think of.

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This drab enemy design highlights the biggest problem Alienation has – it’s complete lack of any sort of personality. Where Helldivers had an over-the-top, satirical world reminiscent of Starship Troopers, Alienation has nothing. Nothing. It tries to take its story of “generic space marine people shoot aliens with guns” far too seriously. With nothing to really spice up proceedings, it quickly becomes something you don’t really care about. If the gameplay was amazing this total lack of an interesting world would be forgivable, but Alienation’s gameplay is passable at best.

Enemies are nondescript, the levels you fight in are uninspired, the protagonists look and sound like they’ve been ripped straight out of Call of Duty’s multiplayer and the story is something you will have seen about 1000 times before if you’re even remotely familiar with alien movies. The aliens are even called “Xenos”, just in case you were wondering how deep this dearth of personality went. I mean, there are some “unique” encounters with boss-type creatures who are just reskins of other monsters you’ve already fought before. Would it have been too much to ask to have the bosses in the game be unique enemies?

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The loot system is okay. And by okay I mean it drops loot on you like it’s going out of fashion. Alienation is far from stingy with its loot drops, and you’ll find yourself constantly comparing all of your new toys after each mission. Until you realise that there are some weapon types that are simply better than others. So rather than finding the best guns to suit your play style, you just need to find a good shotgun and you’ll be good to go. Finding a good shotgun will render everything else useless. Which is nice. I guess.

Even co-op suffers from some weird gameplay design choices. Each squad has a “player one”, who is the host of the game, and each other player on the team is tethered to that player. You can’t go wandering off from the team leader unless you want to be pulled back towards him/her. Now while this might make sense in a local co-op setting, given the lack of multiple screens and everything. In online multiplayer this makes about as much sense as a screen door on a submarine.

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I’m struggling to wrack my brain to think of anything in Alienation that is better than “okay, I guess.” The art style and graphics are fine. The music is forgettable (source: I can’t remember it). I know there was a plot to the game, but please don’t ask me to recount any of the specific details beyond “the aliens are bad so we should blow them all up”. Honestly at this point I’m just padding out my pre-summary sentence trying to recall the game in any amount of detail.


Summary

Alienation is a game that really doesn’t have anything much going for it. The gameplay is alright, as you’d expect from the creators of Resogun, but it doesn’t really have anything else hanging off the core experience. It’s a game where I pushed buttons and things happened on the screen, but it was such an aggressively dull experience that I found myself completely unengaged by the pyrotechnical display onscreen. The game lacks any sort of character or identity of its own, content to rehash the boring parts of its alien story forebears. 

5


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