Prepare for close encounters of the free kindEdit
Well, the success of Left 4 Dead was bound to inspire similar works, and that’s precisely was Alien Swarm is. As our more astute readers might have guessed, Alien Swarm delivers exactly what the title promises: Aliens and lots of ‘em. Like our favorite zombie shoot-em-up, this is a 4 player co-op game (sorry, no one gets to play as the aliens…yet) involving an isolated team who must fight through seven levels of alien hell in order to get to the precious chopper…er…‘bloodhound’.The player assumes the role of one of four classes of Marine, each with his own specialization. There’s the ‘Special Weapons’ class which enjoys the use of chain guns, flamethrowers – those kinds of things. The ‘Tech’ class solves problems that can’t be solved by bullets (yes, those problems exist even for Marines). The ‘Medic’, of course, keeps everyone stitched together. And, finally, the ‘Officer’ can buff the abilities of the rest of the team. Now, while one of each typically works best, it does not necessarily have to be so. In fact, there can be up to two of the same class (though most rounds require at least 1 specialization). Thankfully, however, responsibilities can be shared. Anyone can carry the welding torch, a single-use med pack, an additional ammo crate, or (our personal favorite) a mobile sentry gun.
The game itself mainly consists of the mechanic of ‘get from the start, to the exit’ and, frankly, what happens in between is never really all that interesting. That said, however, the ride is always fast-paced as clawed xenos pop out of every darkened corner. It’s an isometric third-person view, so you’ll always see your attackers from all directions. The aiming controls are almost too precise, which means that firefights are almost never as intense as they could be. However, players will still have to work together (especially on the harder difficulties) in order to reach the exit. There are no ‘survivor closets’ in this game - once someone dies, he’s gone for the rest of the round.
There is a leveling system that allows players access to newer and better gear, but you must always choose wisely. The inventory space is always very limited, and – despite what the previous sentence suggests – newer is not always better.The story is ripped right from the Aliens plot (that’s right, the Aliens), but you’ll probably be too busy shooting at the damn things to care. There are data pads with e-mail exchanges scattered throughout the levels, but is anyone really going to take the time to read them in 4 player co-op?Those who play Alien Swarm and find it a bit lacking needn’t despair though. The SDK has been released on Steam, and users are heavily encouraged to craft their own levels. Within months we should be seeing a bevy of new user content, guaranteed to keep the replayability factor good and fresh every time we care to play it.
At least Alien Swarm doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is. It’s an online action shooter with plenty of things to shoot at. It might have been more atmospheric if it were in first person, but it might have been horribly broken too. So if you like blowing aliens into green little pieces, give Alien Swarm a shot.
Now for those of you still on the fence, there is one more important selling point to this game: the fact that it isn’t sold at all! It’s free! That’s right, for the very reasonable price of $0, you could be blasting aliens for hours with three of your buddies. You can download it here.