Continuing their yearly tradition of a new release, Valve has released its latest title: Alien Swarm. If you played the original mod for Unreal Tournament 2004 but still want more, you will not be disappointed after downloading this free Source engine remake. For those who have never played the mod, read on to see what this top-view shooter is all about.
Alien Swarm started out as a top-down shooter/total conversion mod for UT04 (Unreal Tournament 2004), which is a dramatic change from the game’s traditional first-person multiplayer fragfest. Following the mod’s initial release, the team accomplished three first place positions in the 2004 “Make Something Unreal” contest and has since released a handful of updates and two new campaigns. In 2005 Black Cat Games announced a Source engine remake and following the announcement they were hired by Valve. Assigned to work on Left 4 Dead, you can see their influence from the earlier mod translating into one of the best multiplayer of 2008. Shifting focus back onto Alien Swarm, the team drew influence from new gameplay concepts found in Left 4 Dead to further improve and modernize this remake.
Running on Valve’s latest Source engine, Alien Swarm takes full advantage of all the features. As with the other Source engine games, the graphics are nicely detailed and crisp and combining some lighting effects with a clean art style hugely improves the immersion. Continuing the immersion factor, Alien Swarm adopts a top down view sitting at a steep 60 degrees, which is pretty unique these days. The steep view and fairly close camera raises tension as it gives just enough of an advance against incoming enemies. Luckily enough moving the cursor to the outer edges of the screen will pan the camera in that direction, giving an extra edge against incoming aliens. The rest of the controls follow a typical shooter setup with a trio of actions being dodging, crouching and using an offhand item.
Designed from the start as a multiplayer co-op experience, the gameplay is fun and simple. With a maximum of 4 players, each can choose one of eight marines. The Officer, Special Weapons, Medic and Tech class each sport a pair of marines, each with unique stats and class-restricted weapons. After choosing a marine, you need to fill two weapons and a tool slot. Assuming you have unlocked everything, you will choose among the 21 weapons available and one of the 17 offhand tools or perks. These unlocks are controlled by XP, and you will receive said points and the persistent statistics during the performance report at the end of any campaign mission. Along with regular play, beating any of the 60+ achievements will net you some bonus XP.
Loadout selected and team ready, you will begin the only included campaign Jacob’s Rest (more on this later). The objective is to find any survivors and free the planet from the swarm of aliens by use of a thermonuclear explosive. The campaign is divided into seven missions each taking between 15-30 minutes to complete all the objectives. The work and attention to detail really shows off with each level featuring unique objectives and varied environments working together with a well planned level design. Progressing through the objectives, you will face an increasing amount of aliens until the climax which suffice it to say, it will get your adrenaline pumping.
Before wrapping up, I’d like to go back to my comment about the single campaign included. Looking back at the original mod, it included two additional campaigns in the updates following the release. Similar to the mod, this remake also includes the SDK to create your own campaigns. While there are plenty of custom campaigns available online, the lack of persistent stats and XP does reduce the replay value. While the decision to forego the persistent stats in these campaigns can be frustrating, it is understandable since it prevents maps designed to abuse or exploit the game for easy stats, unlocks and achievements. Having an approval system to enable stats and XP in community maps that follow certain guidelines would be a very welcome addition.
Being one of the best mods for UT04, it’s great to see an updated remake of Alien Swarm now available for fans and new players alike. Being free and a standalone release will attract a sizeable community, which is essential for a multiplayer co-op game. The simple controls and easy game mechanics make it both very accessible and easy to jump into without having to play regularly. Having a few more maps included and Alien Swarm could have easily been a sub 15$ title. In the end I had a great time with the game, and you too should thank and support Valve by downloading a free copy of Alien Swarm on Steam.