Quick Take: The movie-to-game stigma is shattered in this game worthy of the Aliens name.
There is a stigma in the gaming world that if your game is based off a movie, or movie franchise, then more often than not, the game will be terrible. Every once in a while, a game is released that transcends the stigma and makes for a great gaming experience.
Aliens: Infestation for the Nintendo DS is one of those games.
The 2D side-scroller from SEGA and developed by Gearbox Software and WayForward, acts as a direct sequel of sorts to 1986’s James Cameron-directed Aliens film.
Picking up after the events of the film, the U.S.S. Sulaco is still floating out in space, and a unit of marines is sent in to investigate what happened. It’s a simple premise that begins to unfold into a much larger narrative.
You start with four marines, each with their own unique personality (which is shown via dialogue exchanges, like in the movie), and you are tasked with searching the Sulaco for a life form that could be a survivor who holds the key to solving the mystery of what happened to the derelict ship.
Aliens: Infestation follows the Castlevania/Metroid school of gaming. You are only allowed to go into certain areas until you find the right door, or the right keycard, or the right tool to advance further. This means there is a lot of backtracking through already cleared areas, and after a few hours in, you know the maps like the back of your hand. And that is important, because, as the title promises, the ship is infested by aliens.
Once you clear the ship, you are sent on another mission, (following intel that you retrieved on the Sulaco), down to a planet known as LV-426, (or Acheron for those in the know) to continue the story. There is surprising depth in this game.
One huge hurdle to overcome while exploring is death. Unlike other games in this genre, if the character you are playing is killed, they are gone forever. There is no selecting continue and carrying on. Dead is dead. Though you only play one at a time, you are given four marines to start, and as you progress through the game, you find more.
These unique characters represent your lives and should be protected at all costs. If you are low on health, and you know the next room is filled with bugs, go back and find a save room to heal. It’s the only way to ensure that you make it to the end.
Also, if you have four marines in your party, you cannot pick up a new member until you have an opening. So, if you come across a new marine, you have to remember where they were to recruit them into your team once you have an opening (which means your character died). And again, if you run out of marines to recruit, it’s “Game over, man!”
What I really enjoy about the game is the classic Alien/horror movie touches. While exploring, shadows move, cats jump out of air ducts, and the ambient sounds help create an atmosphere of tension. That’s incredible for a 2D, side-scrolling Nintendo DS game.
Of course, there are weapon upgrades, including pulse rifles, flame throwers, and a motion detector device (like in the movie) and when it starts going off and you don’t see anything on the screen, you know bad things are about to happen. It’s all part of what makes this game great.
Graphically, Aliens: Infestation looks like a SNES game. And that’s a good thing. The color palette uses dark purples and navy blues, along with the ominous blacks and steel gray to create a visual atmosphere. And then your character is dressed in olive drab green, which helps them stand out from all the dark colors. The detail on the aliens is top notch, especially on the queen.
The music borrows from the film, and the pulsing of the motion detector keeps everything simple and adds to an already tense presentation.
Player control is done with the direction pad, and there is a button mapped for your gun, one for grenades/explosives, one for jumping, and one for checking things out. You also have the ability to roll away for defensive measures.
The lower touchscreen of the DS is used to show your map, and to change weapons and secondary explosives. You can also select which tool you need to use, though key cards work automatically on locked doors.
Movement is where the problems of the game really start to show. Your character kind of clops along, and while you can run fast (using the R trigger button) you have limited stamina, and once you are exhausted, you can no longer run fast, which is bad when fleeing blood-thirsty xenomorphs.
But regardless of the stamina strategy, movement during combat is unresponsive. The game would have been better served by using the standard nine-point shooting range. All of this becomes clearly evident during a battle with the queen. Her weak spot is her head carapace, but targeting it is problematic with limited range of motion and, well, it gets ugly quick.
Aliens: Infestation is a refreshing movie-based adventure. The action is balanced perfectly with the exploration, and surprisingly, the developers have created true tension in a handheld game. Other than some issues with control and movement, the game fires on all cylinders to create one of the best non-Nintendo-published games I have played on the DS system.
In the movie, Hudson was famous for whining, “Game over, man, Game over!” but for Aliens: Infestation, the game is only just beginning.
Shop for Aliens: Infestation on Nintendo DS at a discounted price from Amazon.com (October 11, 2011 release date)