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Alienation

Alienation Hands-On

Housemarque's next game is a twin-stick shooter with big explosions and plenty of potential.

  • Text: Mike Holmes

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Alienation was certainly on our radar, but perhaps our anticipation levels weren't sky high. At least, that was the case before we got our hands on it at Sony's PlayStation Digital Showcase in London, but having played through some of the game, and after speaking to XDev's Ian Pickles and Housemarque's Mikael Haveri at length about their ambitions for the title, we're now very much looking forward to getting to grips with the finished version when it launches next month.

If there's an elevator pitch for Alienation, it's this: aliens meet grizzly end due to colourful explosions and big guns, with longevity and replayability built in from the get go.

Simply put, it looks spectacular, with visuals that practically pop out of the screen. Vibrant crackles of electricity fizz alongside smouldering flames, intersected by lasers and scuttling aliens, all playing out against the backdrop of destructible and detailed environments. It's clear that a lot of care has gone into creating what looks a genuine feast for the eyes.

Alienation is in a sense comparable to Blizzard's Diablo III, although that's a comparison made by early game testers and echoed by the developers, who are no doubt pleased with the association forming in people's minds. It's a good comparison in that it certainly evokes the mood that Alienation is seemingly trying to capture, but it's also fair to say that there's plenty of things that are quite different. It's also worth noting that this is being called a spiritual successor to Dead Nation, and it's fair to say that there's both differences and similarities between those stablemates as well.

But let's put potentially lazy comparisons to one side and just concentrate on what Housemarque's new game is, and not what it's comparable to. This is a furiously paced twin-stick shooter with some of the most satisfying visual effects we've seen in a long time (this is, after all, the same studio that gave us the stunning PS4 launch title, Resogun). Aliens attack from all angles, some knee-high and descending on the player in swarms, others hanging back and sniping from range, and there's even a few larger adversaries on hand to make you sweat through tense encounters, each of them a dance with death.

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At launch there's going to be three classes, and we played as a Saboteur alongside a Tank, and there's another - the Bioengineer - that we didn't get to see. The classes can each grab weapons that drop randomly from fallen enemies - there's a lot of loot, at least by Housemarque standards - and there's potentially up to three slots to fill, meaning there's a fair amount of flexibility. We started with a fairly typical rifle, which along with the standard melee attack, was quite effective against the smaller enemies, but it was our rocket launcher that was much more useful when dealing with hardier opponents (not really surprising). Later we even got a deadly boomerang to play around with. There's also special attacks that are tied to long cooldown timers, in our case a potent airstrike that was very good at taking out large swarms of enemies, as well as doing significant damage to bigger adversaries.

In truth we only scratched the surface at the various tactical options that'll be presented to players in Alienation, but it looks like a game with real meat on its bones. It's certainly obvious that Housemarque has been building this with longevity at the forefront of its collective mind, and although nothing was confirmed to us directly, we got the impression that the studio is looking to add in additional classes post-launch, as well as new environments to play in.

In terms of the battlefield that players will blast through, there's five sandbox areas to explore, but they'll be kept fresh thanks to dynamic procedural enemy placement and bosses with randomised abilities, so repeat plays will offer up new challenges. Players will be able to level up their characters, and return to missions that are reworked, experiencing them again but from a new perspective. Later on in the game Housemarque will also add in levels that are generated anew every time. It'll be interesting to see how effective the procedural generation actually is, but assuming that they've nailed it, we should be getting large maps filled with randomly placed enemies of different types, hopefully offering the variety needed for repeat plays.

But all the procedurally generated content in the world won't be enough if the gameplay doesn't stack up, and from our admittedly limited hands-on time, we're happy to report that it seems like everything is working nicely. There's always a screen full of enemies to deal with, and blasting away and clearing them is a satisfying thing, and moments when ragdoll physics kick in and enemies are blown up and tossed up into the air at the player (we reckon this would've looked great in stereoscopic 3D) only add to the explosive atmosphere.

To conclude, Alienation looks spectacular, with tons of beautiful effects and eye-pleasing colours colliding to create a truly mesmerising visual finish. But beyond that, it appears as if Housemarque is crafting a title that could have the legs to run and run. With potential post-launch support to build on what looks like a solid foundation, this could very well end up being the "Diablo III with guns" that so many people are calling it - and that's something we're definitely looking forward to.

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