The menacing grey corridors and relentless, Gigeresque monsters of the original Alien Breed scared me half to death as a tyke, so it was with some nervousness that I booted up Team 17's modern take on their classic top-down shooter. It may not be as frightening, but in many ways it's a faithful re-imagining, right down to the voice of the ship's computer, who never tires of calmly predicting imminent disaster on a ship that's never more than a few moments away from imminent disaster.
Your vessel, the Leopold, has crashed into a long lost ghost ship in hyperspace, and now the whole place is swarming with aliens. You play as Chief Engineer Conrad, a gruff space-jerk with a handy talent for xeno-extermination, and fight your way from elevator to elevator, gradually descending into the bowels of your craft, fending off growing swarms of alien scum.
The ruined, claustrophobic corridors of your ship are beautifully rendered and the gunplay, while initially a little weak, became noisy and satisfying once I'd looted enough cash to enhance my weapons. The upgrade booths dotted about each deck enable you to upgrade your items or improve certain aspects of your weaponry, but while the look and feel of each gun changed significantly with each addon, they did little to alter the way I played.
The cutscenes are best skipped and the story, such as it is, resolves with a cliffhanger and an advert for the next game. Which is infuriating, but there are bigger problems here than a lack of closure.
The Leopold is falling apart. It's impossible to travel more than a few steps without the whole ship shuddering, or a pipeline erupting, or a doorway exploding. It's a tense and unnerving place to be, even before the aliens start careering through the walls. The trouble is that you see far too much of it. Almost every switch you're told to throw fails in some way, and the fix inevitably lies behind another broken door or burning room, sending you constantly backtracking through the levels, turning on sprinklers and rebooting computers like a mad admin assistant.
By the dozen
The frustrating level design wouldn't be such a problem if there were more foes to fight in the early stages. When the aliens did finally start storming me in their dozens, about half way through the game, everything became more exciting. Enemies can appear from any angle, bursting through walls or erupting through the floor, keeping you on edge.
It's in these moments that Alien Breed: Impact is at its best: when it has you overwhelmed, trapped in a corner, emptying your last few shotgun shells into the oncoming horde. In these desperate last stands the game delivers something resembling the tension and excitement of its predecessors.
The separate co-op campaign that runs alongside the singleplayer story provides a more intense and challenging experience, and is certainly the best way to enjoy Impact. It's a shame it isn't as long or as fully featured.
For all the flaws, there is a fair amount of action here at a budget price. If you're prepared to endure a tame opening, the explosive combat of the latter stages delivers a satisfying payload of shallow but entertaining action. Just don't go in expecting anything more than a mindless bug-shoot.