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Alien Breed (iOS)

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      25.01.2013 10:51
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      An Amiga classic makes a welcome comeback. It's not perfect, but it's OK

      If you were a gamer back in the mid 90s, the chances are that you have already played Alien Breed. Team 17 were legendary for producing superbly polished games for the Amiga and this is a modern updating of one of their most popular games - Alien Breed.

      There's no hiding where Alien Breed took its inspiration from. For those in the know, it's essentially a cross between the film Alien and the 80s multiplayer game Gauntlet. You play a space marine stranded on a deserted spaceship which has been overrun by hostile aliens. You must make your way through the maze of corridors, avoiding or killing the alien hordes and finding your way to the exit for each level. As if that wasn't tough enough, you have a limited supply of ammunition (although you can pick up more) and each door you come to requires a key to unlock it (supplies of both ammo and keys can be picked up as you go along.)

      The graphics still look as good as ever and are perfectly suited to the more limited graphical display of the iPad/iPhone. The action is viewed from a top down perspective and whilst your marine and the aliens initially look quite chunky, you soon get used to this. The top-down view is a very natural perspective since it gives you a reasonable view of the maze of corridors you need to negotiate, but also adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere by limiting what you can see. Graphics are as sharp and clear as you would expect on the iPad, but they are also quite dark and muted in colour which adds to the sense of menace. They retain a simple, retro look, but have been redrawn and lovingly recreated for this update.

      A nice touch is that you can effectively play two versions. The default is the updated version with the lovely shiny new graphics and sound. If you prefer, however, you can switch to the old Amiga graphics and sound. OK, so this makes very little difference to the game overall, but it's a nice little touch.

      Sound was always one of the strongest elements of Alien Breed, an element that made the game genuinely scary. A simple, but menacing soundtrack accompanies the game and whilst sound effects are relatively sparse, they really add to the claustrophobic atmosphere. From the screams and screeches of the aliens, to the clanging noise the doors make or the disembodied voice warning you when you are low on energy, everything drips atmosphere and ramps up the tension. Play the game with the lights off and the level of intensity is increased by a factor of about 10!

      As with many iPhone/iPad games, it's the controls that let things down. Alien Breed was obviously originally created for use with a physical joystick and replacing this with a virtual one is not a like-for-like swap. Inevitably, the virtual joystick takes a little bit of getting used to and is not always as responsive as you might like. This is compounded by the fact that you can only fire in the direction that you are facing, so close control over your character is essential. Sadly, it's all too easy to get your direction just slightly wrong, so that instead of firing at an alien and killing it, you just end up running into it and losing precious energy. This was a bit of an issue with the original Amiga game too, but the lack of a physical controller compounds it.

      There are some question marks over a few aspects of the gameplay. As you might expect from a retro game, it is rather limited in scope. There's been no real attempt to update the game and this is essentially the original game with a few more levels chucked in for good measure. The end result is that it suffers from all the limitations that plagued even the best Amiga games - variety is rather limited. Each level essentially boils down to the same thing: make your way around the maze, kill or avoid aliens, collect power-ups and find the exit. Rinse and repeat.

      On one level, this simple gameplay is a benefit because it means that you can quickly pick the game up and start playing. There are no complicated controls or rules to learn. The only thing that changes is the game gets gradually tougher as you progress. On the other hand, if you don't enjoy Level 1, then you're not going to like anything about the game, as the rest of it is just more of the same.

      There's also a big question mark over the longevity. Even buying the full version with the extra missions, there are only 20 levels (although admittedly, these are split into a number of sub-levels). Whilst the game does have quite a high difficulty level at times and a few levels might take some repeat play before you beat them, it's still not the greatest challenge in the world and most gamers will not have too much difficulty in getting to the end. Once you have done that, there is relatively little replay value. In fairness, Team 17 have promised that they will release some additional levels packs, so this will go some way to addressing this problem (although presumably these will be offered as in-app purchases, so you'll need to part with more cash to be able to play them.)

      This is another of those occasions, when you really need to be able to award half stars, because a fair reward for Alien Breed would be 3 and a half stars. Since you can't I'm going to have to have to do a bit of a cop out. If the retro experience is the most important element to you and you are prepared to overlook a few gameplay flaws to be able to play old games easily on new hardware, then it's four stars. If, on the other hand, you like the more polished and forgiving nature of modern games, then it's three. Either way, for just 69p, it's well worth considering.

      If you're really not sure, then there is a free, lite version for you to download and try with no risk.

      (c) Copyright SWSt 2013

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