Definitely some rage here.
When humans and aliens find a source of energy that they both want for their military needs (oh, and for power), something has to give. Sadly, it's the human race and they're not going down without a fight. Well, they're going down without a fight initially, but then revenge is sought and then there's a fight.
Anyway, CI Games published and developed Alien Rage and it isn't too far off from what I saw at E3 this past year. It's a standard first-person shooter that puts you in a creepy underground situation that looks like something out of Armageddon, minus the cheesy moments (what a horrible movie). The basic premise of the game is that your character is sent in to sabotage the mining operation that is going on in this alien infested energy source-filled rock of a planet. It's not a bad premise, but it does have some emptiness about it, mainly it's difficult to get behind the humans in the game because they seem to be driven by greed and revenge. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but that's what it feels like during the opening and actual gameplay.
For me, that's the first flaw in the game.
If you don't establish a story, or at least a little bit of intrigue at the beginning, a first-person shooter can get really stale very quickly. Alien Rage suffers from this because the story is just incredibly shallow in terms motivation for the main character. There's no huge backdrop behind it all, nothing that establishes maybe there's more to the story. It's just pure revenge and greed. Again, it's tough to get behind that and appreciate it. More importantly, it's tough to establish that as the main storyline for the game and have gamers get in the mood to jump in and help out the cause. And no, this isn't a liberal/conservative sort of viewpoint, this is a 'in-the-middle' viewpoint that just doesn't simply get where the motivation to grab your gun and go comes from. Even though people harp on the campaign modes for Call of Duty and Battlefield, they at least establish a great purpose to get into the game and help the cause out. Alien Rage just falls short in this category, which is sad considering there is a lot of opportunity to be had with the scenario that has been created in the game.
Story aside, the gameplay in Alien Rage follows along the same path as the story -- it's a bit shallow and it's tough to stay focused during it. If you could picture a world where there wasn't much progression from the likes of Doom or Wolfenstein, then Alien Rage would be the head of the class. Is that bad? Not necessarily, it just means that like Doom and Wolfenstein, and I'm talking about the very first releases, there wasn't much to the gameplay. You search, you destroy, and you pick up weapons along the way. Again, there's nothing really wrong with doing it this way, but it doesn't really give the game much depth. Also, much like Doom and Wolfenstein, the levels in Alien Rage tend to end abruptly. Even Doom and Wolfenstein had a definite beginning and identifiable ending to their levels. Incorporating a solid story would have made the beginning/ending levels far more entertaining and the transition from level to level should have been smoother because of a better story. Instead you get a fade to black, a whole bunch of stats/points pop up and then you move forward to the next level. It's very old school of CI Games to do it this way, but it's still too abrupt for my tastes.
As for controls in the game, they're a bit more than just 90s classics. The overall control feel of the game is pretty good. You have your standard assignments for your thumbsticks, with weapon switch out being controlled by 'Y', firing with the triggers and the bumpers activating a secondary weapon usage. The one unique part of Alien Rage, which I'm not sure any FPS has done before up to this point (at least any that I have played) is how the left stick controls running -- and does it sparingly. If you press the left stick down then your character will run. If you stop pressing the left stick then your character will stop running. Think about that for a second before you say "So, what?". You have to keep pressing the left stick down to keep your character running. If you let up for a second then your character stops running. In most FPS games, if you press the left stick down once then you get a short period of running from your character, which doesn't require you to hold the left stick down the entire time he/she is sprinting. I'm still trying to figure out my feelings for this in Alien Rage. Part of me hates the fact that you have to press the left stick down the entire time to run, as it feels completely unnatural and can get irritating if your muscle memory is saying 'let go, don't worry he'll still keep running' and be wrong every time. On the other hand, is it a more natural way to sprint for characters? I mean, technically you could just keep running, which is fantastic when you can remember it. Bolting through enemies and getting to your goal is a cool thing to do when done right. I'll let you decide, but just know that this is unique for me in a FPS game (I'm trying not to second guess myself on this, but I feel that I'm right).
Now, something that you should feel right at home with in FPS games is weapons, mainly because how those are done nowadays in FPS titles isn't that much different from one game to the next…except with Alien Rage. The depth of the weapon system in Alien Rage is the first thing you'll notice, as there isn't much there to begin with. You have about 10 weapons to toggle within the game, each having a second functionality to them and most of them are actually quite fun to work with. Beyond that there is no customizing loadouts, there's nothing there to keep your active gaming brain satisfied. Definitely nothing on the level of say a Call of Duty, Battlefield or Crysis. Again, this isn't a terrible thing on the part of CI Games to go this direction, it's just that gamers are pretty much primed and ready for a deeper weapon experience thanks to the titles mentioned and anything less than that seems a bit shallow and, more importantly, less attractive.
Having said this, you may not get weapon customization at your finger tips, but you do get player perks as you rack up points in the game. The perks allow you to unlock things such as 'Stun Resistance', which you'll want when you continually get shocked by one of the rat-bastard aliens in the game. It also features things like 'extended ammunition', which gives you more ammo. Does it add much to the game? It does, but I'm not sure it's enough motivation to replay the game and do better. It does help mix up the gameplay a bit, which is always better than keeping it stale, but it certainly doesn't replace loadout customization.
Shifting gears, the gameplay in Alien Rage is largely linear in nature, as you don't get much room to explore the huge environment that CI Games has made for you. You're put on a path and you have to continue down that path without much deviation. I know that isn't a new thing with FPS games these days, but it does seem like a bit of a waste for the visuals, which we'll get into in a second. Most of the time it's nice to have the linearity of the gameplay pushing you forward, especially since you don't have much of a story to work with despite the intermittent dialogue between main characters. There are times, though, where the linear gameplay gets in the way of the gamer's progression unnecessarily. For example, at one point in the game I had to cross a bridge that is being guarded by an alien armed with a gatling gun. The alien is out in the open, and should be shootable, but the level has been constructed so that I can't really get a good shot on the bad guy. Instead, I'm forced to duck/cover (which doesn't work that great) across a bridge, while avoiding the gatling gun and enemies charging at me. I can't tell you how incredibly locked down in linear fashion this level is and how incredibly irritating it was to try to cross that bridge without dying. And that's not far into the game, which is troubling. Anyway, it's an example of linear gameplay that is forced on you with little to no choices around it.
Now, let's talk about the enemies in this game a bit, and how intelligent they are when it comes to gameplay. You do get some nice enemies to go up against in Alien Rage. They're kind of a creepy version of the Helghast from Killzone crossed with the Gears of War aliens. They dissolve into the gameplay from tiny little transporter discs lying everywhere in all the levels, and they come at you with blazing speed -- which makes it a bit jarring when you're trying to aim. While the beginning of the game does have a lot of repeaters (maybe the first 3-4 levels), by halfway through it you've got a nice variety spawning and bringing special ways to make your main character dead. For a game like Alien Rage, this is impressive.
What's not completely impressive about them is their AI. The AI actually isn't that bad when given the right moments to thrive. For example, if I'm in the heat of the fight, the enemies will actually (and properly) duck and cover, and sometimes even dive to avoid getting hit. It's neat to watch and irritating when you're trying to kill them (WHY WON'T THEY STAY STILL AND DIE???). But the flip side to that coin is their ability to come find you, even though you're armed and ready for the challenge. You can literally kill one right after another, while standing in one place with your back against the wall. It's impressive to see that enemies will travel a far distance to hunt you down, but it's sad to see that they will stay there even though you have five of their friends' bodies lying on the floor in front of them. There were times where I would bait them into running after me and then find a nice spot to wait and shoot. You can literally dispose of a good majority of enemies through this technique and travel a good portion of levels without worrying about enemies popping up around you. Because of this, the AI for Alien Rage lies squarely in the middle of impressive/needs-more-work.
Shifting gears again, let's discuss a positive, which is how the game looks. The presentation for Alien Rage is actually quite impressive for a game not containing a budget that is Call of Duty size. Sure you aren't going to get any Call of Duty or Battlefield-like level designs, but there is an eery creepiness to it all through the underground passages and alien-built structures. The backgrounds are extensively done to show the depth of the world that you're residing in during gameplay. You'll find a lot of 'wow' moments when you see moving pieces and parts of a mining colony going about their business as you're tearing through aliens. Visually, it's impressive for what it is. The PC version of this game is obviously leaps and bounds ahead of the Xbox version, but nonetheless, there are some pretty neat things going on in the game visually that make it stand out a bit and add some impressive atmosphere to the story. The shading, proper blurring and lighting make this impressive to watch. There are some 'rendering' moments going on in the game, as well as some ugly pop-ups, but it's more pretty than ugly.
Another kudos for the presentation department is the dialogue that goes on between the characters. There is some solid voice acting happening between characters that puts some nice flavor into the overall feel of the game. The script may not be the best, but the actors work with it pretty well and bring the characters to life. It's very impressive to hear.
The only downer I can think of in the presentation department is the music. I feel like they played the same track over and over again when the enemies appeared. It was pretty awful after hearing it so many times, but intense the first time it rears its head. Other than this, the presentation value of the game is pretty solid. Glad they made up for some gameplay aspects through the visuals.
So, is Alien Rage fun? At the end of the day it's somewhere in the middle. It doesn't do too much to grab and hold your attention, but it does enough to keep you moving forward and killing wave after wave of enemies. The lack of story really does hurt the gameplay a bit, but you'll get some nice aggression out at a cheap price through this one ($14.99).