We're forewarned, even before we're standing in front of the demo pod, that today's playable code is very early. Placeholders are plentiful, certain technical issues to be expected. Standard disclaimer for most preview hands-on. Small issues that are usually easily ignored.
That's far from the case with Alienation. On-site XEDV staff jokingly nickname the greyed block that's current stand-in for the invisibility cloak as ‘The Fridge' ability. Another, unseen in our time but we're left infinitely curious about, is entitled ‘The Hula-Hoop'. Our character glitches through the environment, and even that occasionally disappears completely. Bare-basic upgrade screens are a puzzle as we try and decipher context for button prompts.
Alienation is one of our favourite games of the show.
Not because of the rough code, though that's weirdly endearing. But despite of it. What we play, even in this early stage, is a lot of fun. Bombastic. Beautiful. Cool character designs, nice particle effects. Then again, would you expect anything less of Housemarque?
The Finnish outfit are sadly not present at today's Sony Digital Gaming Showcase, but they are here in spirit, in the form of yet another PlayStation shooter par excellence. Hyperbole maybe, but the studio's definitely proved their chops in the genre with Super Stardust and PS4 launch title Resogun. The pitch for Alienation is a simple as the one-line email sent to XDEV to introduce the concept: "What if Dead Nation and Resogun got it on?"
That love-child is a four-player co-op/PvP top-down sci-fi twin-stick shooter. Warriors in exo-suits chewing through enemy waves as they explore a range of environments. Hell, let's outsource that potential parenthood: Destiny and Diablo. Skill trees for characters and weapons. Dropped loot to squabble over.
An arcade Run and Gun with RPG depth.
Shared gene-pools are nothing new today. But this time it's Housemarque doing the cross-breeding. Anyone's that dug into the chained-stage leaderboard of Resogun, and juggled human captives while keeping score chains active know there's a lot of extensions beyond the basic gameplay mechanics to the studio's works.
It is incredibly early, so talk of game depth currently is just that: talk. Discussion with XDEV post-play outlines the current trio of character classes, but also explains with customisation linked in, the options for potential team setups expands exponentially.
We get a hint of that during our game. A world map pinpoints different levels and current ongoing games, and we drop-in to a devastated cityscape, with our other team-members marked by directional icons to the top right of the screen. We charge towards their location, along wrecked streets, through piled bodies, avoid energy-draining pools of what looks like alien puke and smack right into a last stand as a duo stand back to back, carving angry shots through mutated attackers.
We spot the one that's an obvious heavy and the polar opposite of our lightweight suited speedster, and set up beside them to take out the hordes. Each class comes with a secondary attack alongside their standard gun, area-damaging grenade strikes and such. These, seemingly, can injury friendlies as well. As we try and flank an energy shield-holding beast, our overenthusiastic partner barrages the creature with missiles that throws us off our feet. If you want to be firepower-heavy, you got to be smart it seems. We'd welcome the friendly fire option inclusion, as it'd enforce the need of voice-chat to coordinate attacks.
It's a short session but appetising for it. That the code's being shown this early in production shows confidence in the studio. It doesn't mean the title gets a free pass, but even though we see other twin-stick shooters during our afternoon at the Showcase, Alienation's the one we wished we had the chance of another session with. In itself, that's telling. But can it live up to the talk and be more than an enjoyable but shallow arcade blaster? We really want to know the answer.