Sega don't often do 3D shooters, and with Alien Syndrome, their latest release, you can see why. Even turning a blind eye to its soulless plot and stereotype riddled themes, you're still left with a very bland adventure.
You assume the role of Aileen Harding, a hardened warrior sent to discover why a deep space human outpost has ceased communication with earth. On arrival you stumble upon the predictable empty shell of a space station scattered with human bodies and hostile alien creatures, as well as a mysterious organic slime that has welded to the concrete walls. If it were a little more original, such a dreary storyline might hold some intrigue, but sadly it is so familiar it is hard to even pay any attention to.
The game's developers have tried to combine a mixture of action and RPG elements, but the end result feels like the two genres are kept rather separate. In-game the emphasis is on real-time combat, using a combination of button-bashing and Wii gestures. Melee weapons are controlled with swings and jabs with the Wii-mote, though they are rather unresponsive, and with buttons to press and movements to make, it is all too easy to send the camera, controlled with twists of the Nunchuck, into a twitchy dance that makes fighting impossible.
Enemies are numerous in quantity but lacking in variety, and quickly fighting becomes very repetitive and eventually quite boring, tempting you to charge through each level to avoid the constantly respawning alien hordes. The projectile weapons are a little more fun to use, and have a distant relation to the Geometry Wars craft. Using the analogue stick to move, and the pointer to aim in a circle around your character, you are effectively given the Wii's answer to dual-stick control. Indeed, it is this system that is currently in place in the forthcoming Wii version of Geometry Wars, and though Alien Syndrome never reaches anywhere new the class and style of the Xbox LIVE hit, dodging bullets and circling clusters of foes can be thrilling at times.
Unusually for an action-orientated title the RPG elements, which of course involve levelling up and specialising character abilities, are rather complicated, though sadly this comes across as feeling rather fiddly, thanks to some claustrophobic menu design and confusing choice of symbols. Still, for those who persist, there is something of merit to be extracted here that is deceptively simple, though most will likely switch on the auto-manage, which handles the levelling up for you.
The biggest disappointment though is not the gameplay, as it must be emphasised it has some potential, and reinvented as a frantic shooter with an extensive multiplayer mode it could have been superb. Where Alien Syndrome really disappoints is in the visual department. It is not just the substantially technically underwhelming look of the game, but the utter lack of pleasing visuals. The colour palette is horrendous, and the overall presentation uncharacteristically ugly for a Sega game.
The top down perspective works well enough, but everything you take in from that perspective, from crates to alien enemies, has a terribly dated feel about it, without one iota of retro cool.
Overall Alien Syndrome is a disappointment and, aside from odd glimmers of potential, it is looking like a game headed straight for bargain basements. The two-player cooperative mode may keep a duo of youngsters quiet for a handful of weekends, but otherwise this mismatched game has very little to offer.