Review: ALIENATION (PS4)

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Title: ALIENATION
Format: PlayStation Network Download (2.92 GB)
Release Date: April 26, 2016
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Housemarque
Original MSRP: $19.99
ESRB Rating: M
ALIENATION is exclusive to PlayStation 4.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

I have decided to not display or talk about any other areas in this game, apart from the first. There are some truly spectacular scenes and enemies that I would love to show you and write about, but that’s not how I roll.

Gameplay:
ALIENATION isn’t Housemarque’s first foray into the twin-stick shooter genre and the knowledge and skills they amassed over the years have culminated in a beautiful masterpiece. Normally I would save that kind of statement for the conclusion but I felt compelled to tell you now. I just couldn’t keep it in.

You can build up one of the three types of characters through a long list of abilities, both active and passive. These could be things like upgrading the plasma sword or kinetic assault.

Deciding what path to venture down can be a hard choice as it takes time and effort to acquire enough points to unlock all that you want. Thankfully, your choices aren’t set in stone and you can change them whenever you wish.

You can pick from a Bio-Specialist, who can heal the squad and unleash a poisonous gas cloud or a swarm of alien seek-and-destroy nanomachines. The Tank can deploy shields to the team and obliterate the enemy with a high-powered tesla charge beam.

Last, but by no means least, we have the Saboteur who can camouflage himself, sneak up on, and dispatch the enemy with a searing plasma sword strike.

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All characters can perform upgradeable rush and melee attacks, moves that you will have to master if you want a chance at surviving in this exquisitely balanced game. I have become quite the skilled melee killer combined with the rush move that makes the strike even more deadly.

I have even completed an entire level using only those two moves. This gave me two Trophies and a profound sense of pride, for I had to overcome two massive hordes, a troublesome Goliath and a tanker load of other aliens.

… one more hit means game over …
There are plenty of save slots so you can experiment and have a few of each character class if you wish. Unless of course you opt for the Hardcore Campaign mode, where death is permanent and the game save is deleted when you die.

Just imagine the panic when you are three hours into a game and one more hit means game over. You’re running around praying the next alien carcass will leave behind a health drop. If any game can turn my hair grey, it’s this one.

The progression system is quite extensive, and it should take a long time to max out the characters and any favourite weapons. It has a Destiny vibe to it that many will find familiar.

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A veritable feast of weaponry awaits and some can be upgraded with cores of varying power and type. You can even reroll the stats of a weapon and hope to better the percentages, at the cost of materials.

Find a weak or unfavourable weapon? Well instead of leaving it, you can salvage the materials from it and use them to build a better weapon. This is optional and you could just play on the easiest difficulty level going for any weapon with green stats.

You can replay missions to gain more XP and loot from various random mini-bosses that spawn in the levels. You only get one life against these encounters and if you fail, they disappear along with any precious loot they carry.

Learning how to defeat each enemy type and even if you can use them against each other is paramount when playing some difficult encounters, that and realising when to run and recoup.

PRO TIP
Always remember your nimble character can leap over many obstacles in ALIENATION. While this does look cool, it can also serve as a quick jump to safety and cover from projectiles and hordes of alien scum.

My obsession with Josh-ing the game has meant I have yet to finish it. I’ve spent over an hour in one mission, where it should have only taken about fourteen minutes.

With enemy spawn locations, loot chests, hordes, mini-boss encounters, and more being different every time I play the mission, I have revisited the early levels way too much. I’m addicted to the destruction and carnage.

Will I go for the difficult Platinum Trophy? Without a doubt. Will I succeed in obtaining it? Probably not, but I know I’m going to have fun trying.

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Visuals:
It isn’t often that a game has me inviting people round just to show off its visual wonders. This three-quarters top-down isometric game is one of the special ones. The amount of detail Housemarque has poured into the gargantuan levels can only be from an accomplished team of perfectionists.

Each area brings a distinctive look and a refreshing change, but all purvey a desolate haunting beauty. Vehicles strewn and forgotten in panic provide perfect temporary cover and rewarding destruction.

… the bloodstained ground …
Housemarque has a talent for destruction and they have gone all out with ALIENATION. Not only can you topple trees and the contents of heavily laden trucks, but you can watch buildings crumble and explode or even set fire to the surrounding flora.

Most of the carnage you leave in your wake is persistent, including the bloodstained ground. Footprints, blood, and destruction are all that you leave as you exit the level in the sleek helicopter.

Yes, you can literally go out and paint the town red. There is enough alien blood and gore in the game to satisfy the likes of Quentin Tarantino, especially when a horde invades the level and you dispatch the countless droves with enough firepower to supply a platoon.

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That is not to say you have an infinite supply of ammo, and I quickly learned to use my guns only when absolutely necessary. It’s quite surprising at how quickly you can tear through your supply.

From the moment you run around the icy docks and frozen sea you cannot help but marvel at the sheer wonder of how good it all looks. The first level features blustery winds that send flurries of snow whipping around the cold level as lights and fire glow and reflect on the icy surfaces.

Your actions are a joy to behold too. A brutal melee attack sends your lifeless foe somersaulting into the dark freezing night. A sly single shot to the back of an alien soldier’s bloated energy sac sends it into a brief and futile panic before it detonates. The blissfully large explosions from a grenade or airborne assault sends debris flying toward the screen.

… enjoyed best through headphones …
Audio:
This is another game that utilizes the speaker on the DualShock 4 to great effect. Sounds of the gun reloading and other a few little subtle alerts add to the immersion. Horrifying gurgles, grunts and screams from incoming aliens add to the tension filled music that ramps up when the actions does.

The story is told to you through communication with a few characters back at the base. The voice work, sound effects, and music are all of a high quality and enjoyed best through headphones or preferably, really loud surround sound. I love hearing the brutal thud of a powershot beam or the lethal patter of a rocket strike.

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Online/Multiplayer:
You can have three other players help you out in a seamless drop-in co-op experience. Before each level you can choose to between allowing any random public players or friends to join at any time or have it invite only and then send some requests.

Before you even get to that point it shows you other open or friend’s games being played. You can then jump into those or start a new mission with your own rules and difficulty.

The directional pad allows for some simple voice commands to the team, like Wait, Nice, and Over Here. These are very handy if you are playing with random people who tend to stray or charge in guns blazing.

… the online games that I played in were flawless …
You can revive a fallen player and any loot dropped only appears on your screen, so there are no worries of not being quick enough to that brightly colored gun or core. There isn’t any friendly-fire but you still need to be careful of where you stand as combustible objects often get triggered during an onslaught.

Some will be sad to hear about the lack of local co-op play but Housemarque has already stated that feature is being worked on, with the hope to implement it in the near future. I cannot complain as the online games that I played in were flawless, a feat that many other games cannot manage.

UPDATE: Housemarque released a free Alienation patch introducing the long awaited local-co-op feature. Along with it they also added leagues, new difficulty levels, and more. You can read about it here.

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Conclusion:
ALIENATION is the work of genius. It has everything that I love about Housemarque games, from their wonderfully large explosions, intense action-packed gameplay with tension building moments of calm, and a perfectly balanced difficulty that constantly keeps you on your toes.

Every moment of online play was without any issues or slowdown, which is impressive considering the sheer scale and phenomenal graphical effects bombarding the senses at any one time.

I am awful at, but adore the glorious hardcore mode. It enriches the experience with a frightful perma-death that makes the Souls games feel like childsplay. ALIENATION is definitely a Golden Minecart GOTY contender.

Score:
9.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Chazz Harrington

Chazz Harrington

You can find me on everything: PSN, Twitter, Wii U, Origin, Steam, etc using my universal ID: ChazzH69

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  • BrunoXX

    In my opinion this game is extrem boring for single players…the levels look always the same (OK, last level is a little bit different), no bossfights and no real campain story.
    Yes the graphics are very good and the first 1-2 hours are fun….but the gameplay mechanics are to repetitive, they wear out very fast.

    • I played alone for nearly two hours and love every minute of it. I’m sure everyone will have a different take on it.

    • ChazzH69

      I suggest increasing the difficulty. Just to make sure you are aware the missions take place on different parts of the same large levels, so you will see some overlap as you play.

      Housemarque have made it very easy to join up with other players as this game is best enjoyed with other people. Just like Josh mentions, I played alone too and loved every minute.

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