Touching heroics in Alien Swarm

Tom Francis at

Alien Swarm - Flame

I'm still dazed and slightly buzzing from the game of Alien Swarm I just finished. It was Hard mode, with strangers, and strangers of rank. That means they've hit the maximum level, unlocked every weapon, then chosen to start again for the sake of a star next to their name. The party leader even had the Gallium Cross: you have to start again three times to get that. These guys meant business.

The usual rule of an online game with strangers held: no team work. No-one was gonna wait for anyone, and if you didn't ready up in three seconds, you were going to get shouted at. I usually hate these groups, but I needed a few easy wins on Hard to recouperate lost experience. Steam Cloud pissed away all my unlocks in a glitch monsoon of misplaced XP last night, and I was missing the IAF Minigun pretty badly. And lord knows I can't handle Insane difficulty.

But these guys were good. I'm not good, but I'm best as a Medic, and they badly needed one, so I did well. I even got a few "nice heals" - a compliment I usually have to infer from the fact that I haven't been called a retard in the last three minutes.

Our team was working well until we came to last mission. We'd been bringing two medics to deal with the horrible parasite onslaughts of the later levels, but the last one needed a Tech Marine. No-one was stepping up, so I offered.

"no," the leader Aturum said.
"we need two medics," someone else explained.
"and you're alright at it." Alright! I'm blushing!

Aturum went Tech himself, and we had one bad run. Our main gunner, a Special Weapons guy with the Minigun I coveted, ran ahead and got himself infested. I had my medic gun out, but he panicked, ran away, bumped into a door and exploded in a shower of slithering facehuggers. We all just kind of looked at each other.

So on the next run, I was his personal physician. He played cautiously, and I kept my medic gun out any time I didn't urgently need to defend myself. The other medic saw to general healing, and keeping me buffed if I was overwhelmed.

And it worked, until the second to last objective. The gunner was hurt, I was overwhelmed, and he got infested by a parasite none of us saw. I was quick on the draw, but it was already too late. He was down, leaving just Aturum, the other Medic, and me.

"leave me here" said Aturum. I didn't understand. "go to the exit, i'll hack when you get there."

Our only objective was to set off this bomb, which is why we needed a Tech marine, then escape. The escape is a frantic dash through a collapsing facility riddled with aliens, but right now, it was clear. We'd just cleared it. Things wouldn't get rough again until the hack was complete, so he was telling us to abandon him and go while the coast was still clear. He'd be killed in the blast if the hordes didn't get him first.

With no primary firepower, we were in a bad state - neither of us had any healing juice left, and everyone was low on ammo. In a movie, I'd have said, "No chance, we go together or we die here!" In the game, I said:

"aww."
"what a hero," the other Medic said.
":D" he added.
Aturum just said, "go."

We went, and it was a breeze. But there's one final bulkhead that doesn't open until the hack's complete, so we'd have to run the final gauntlet after the swarm had poured in. We braced ourselves, Aturum started the hack, and we burst through.

Bedlam. I was all for running to the landing pad, but my partner seemed to want to hang back and tackle the bosses. My strategy got me immediately trapped in a corner being pounded on by a shield bug, so I had to use the one healthkit I'd grabbed on the way down to escape alive. I saw the boss my friend had been fighting die behind us, but charged on without him. It's a public game, we don't wait.

I got it together. I swerved to avoid detonating acid blobs, twirled to gun down pursuers before they got too close, and stormed onto the landing pad in a flurry of fire.

The other medic was already there.
On a sliver of health.
And I'd just shot him.

He didn't just die in the mayhem, as I thought he would, he was actually killed by my bullet. The death message makes that very clear. Friendly fire doesn't do much harm in Alien Swarm, even on Hard, so it's a feat of real brutality to deal the killing blow to a team mate. The pad was in chaos, but I took the time to type.

"oh shit!"
"omg"
"Sorry man!"

Fuck it. I grabbed the Tesla cannon from his corpse and fried everything coming at me. The onslaught seemed to go on forever, and I wasn't used to how often you have to reload shock weaponry - soon it was getting too much. As a last resort, I snatched the dead medic's Adrenaline pack, one charge left, and braced myself for the moment I'd have to use it.

It never came. The next wave of aliens spontaneously combusted, and a yellow marine came bursting through in a streak of flame. Aturum. He'd finished the hack and fought through the entire level single-handedly, as a Tech marine, to get to us. Well, me.

We held off the final waves together, but by the time the drop ship lowered to pick us up, we were split up. I was near the pick up point, but Aturum had got tangled up in the horde. I could step onto the ship right then and there and be safe - after all, he did say to leave him. But I felt I had some redeemin' to do.

I used the Adrenaline, slowing the fracas to a managable ballet, and charged out Tesla cannon crackling. Clawed things popped, flying things frazzled, bloated things burst. And we scorched a slow path back through the yellow matter to the dropship. Aturum got there first and hit the dive key, so I followed suit. My marine slurred something indecipherable but macho-sounding in slow motion, and we both forward-rolled onto the roof of the ship. Campaign Complete.

In a movie, someone would have had to say something cliche at this point. In the game, Aturum said:

"Insane next?"


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