Waypoints direct you to your objective. You scan search the environment – essential when played on the higher difficulty levels and provisions are scarce. Ammo, health, back story logs, if you want them. Key cards for locked doors. At this stage small tasks are easily completed – shut the reactor down. Put out the fire. Go in here. “Systems offline”. “Door online.” Pick up the torch (a godsend on later, pitch black levels). Use it to open an optical lock. Use it to see through glass. “There's a spurious amount of detail we've put in the bloody game.”
Then the aliens come, slowly but ominously, screeching as you fill them with assault rifle fire. The dynamic soundtrack ramps up. A stray crew member is devoured by an alien that leaps out of a wall behind him like a demented mole. Bigger and meaner aliens are slowly added into the mix. Martyn has at this point a shotgun. “I won't use it till the big ones start coming. It's a waste otherwise.” Soon enough, he fires it – as with all video game shotguns the spread is devastating up close. Then comes the flamethrower. We burn the bastards – they shriek, almost mercifully, as they roast. It’s a useful weapon, but has limited range and ammo is hard to come by. And, in two-player co-op, it can do as much damage to your mate as the enemy.
I look down at my notes and notice something I think is worth typing: Dead Space Lite? Upon reflection, Alien Breed Evolution is more action packed, but the ambience is certainly reminiscent of Visceral’s superb sci-fi horror. If you’re having a hard time picturing what that might mean, have a gander at the screenshots. They’re over there on the left of the screen. But don’t make your mind up until you’ve watched the video. Martyn admits screenshots don’t do it justice: “It's quite hard to do screenshots. I really was shitting it – it looks so much better moving. You don't really get any of the benefit of the lighting, with the shading and fire.”
It’s clear that Team17’s desperately trying to keep the mood and feel of the original, but obviously do it in a modern way. It looks like a blast, and should go down like ice cream with Alien Breed fanatics. But let’s not forget that most won’t have played the original. Should Halo, Gears and Killzone fans be interested? Absolutely, Martyn insists. In fact that’s the very demographic the game’s aiming its laser sight at.
Now, specifics. Each level takes an hour to run through – they’re huge levels. With five coming in the first episode, that’s about five hours worth of campaign for your cash. Martyn promises that each level is very different in terms of style, but the moody atmosphere is a constant. Lifts collapse, there’s a spot of space walking, turrets to place, and stalking end of level bosses to confront. Eventually you make your way onto the alien ship you’ve crashed into. In the next part of the trilogy, the ship starts falling out of orbit and crash lands onto a planet – the sea, actually. “You end up neck high in water.”
As far as cost goes, Martyn isn’t allowed to say, but we reckon it’s a dead cert for 1200 MS Points on XBLA and £9.99 on PSN. Some might baulk, but really you’re going to get a lot for your money. Once you’ve worked through the game’s story there’s a competitive endgame for enthusiasts, fuelled by online leaderboards. The XBLA version’s demo, a ten minute, self-contained story-less arcade romp through the ship, will be included in the final game as an additional challenge with its own Achievement and Trophy, too. Then there are the difficulty levels to contend with. And online/offline co-op, which is again different to the single-player, taking part in another area of the ship, but crosses over at points.
So there you have it. Alien Breed Evolution isn’t genre redefining, but it looks like being a hell of a lot of fun, and from a graphical standpoint it’s up there with the best downloadable games ever. In fact, we can’t think of anything quite like it on either XBLA or PSN. PS3 owners are right to be miffed that the game’s a timed 360 exclusive, but it should be worth the wait. As Martyn turns off the 360 in his darkened hotel room, he leaves us with this: “I think it's fair to say we've put a bit of effort into that.” We agree.
The first game in the Alien Breed Evolution trilogy is due out for XBLA this September or October. PSN and PC versions will follow.