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Alien Syndrome

by Mike Thomsen - August 1, 2007, 9:48 pm PDT
Total comments: 27

3.5

A return to form of an '80's classic or a new low for Wii?

In 1994 Totally Games released Star Wars: TIE Fighter, a watershed combination of flight simulator complexity with arcade-style shooting that is still commonly referred to as one of the best games ever made. After more than a decade of continuing work with the Star Wars license (not to mention the frequently overlooked Secret Weapons Over Normandy), Totally Games is back with Alien Syndrome, an IP refresh of one of Sega’s more arcane franchises from the late ‘80’s. Conceptually, the game sounds like a scintillating mix of old school twitch shooting with all the RPG elements and customization of a traditional dungeon crawler. The added promise of a control overhaul for Wii, to take specific advantage of the Wii Remote’s IR aiming and motion-based melee moves, should have, theoretically, been the secret ingredient to make Alien Syndrome a solid title.

Making games, however, is not an exact science, and for all the promise of its individual elements and the excellent pedigree of its developer, Alien Syndrome is easily one of the worst Wii games to have found major release. At its core, Alien Syndrome is a lifeless and terrifyingly repetitive shooter that puts the "crawl" back in dungeon crawl. Levels are cut up into 20-30 minute snippets spent wandering through the winding corridors of a space station or planet surface, mashing the fire button at hundreds of indistinguishable alien drones. Every level plays out nearly identically to the one before it: kill all the drones, grab some space loot (in the form of weapon and armor upgrades), fight a mini-boss, and call it a day. To be fair, there are a couple of levels that try to mix the tired level-grinding formula up a bit. In one sequence you’re given 20 minutes to get out of the level or be blown up in a self-destruct sequence. Another level is an aggrandized arena battle that requires you to kill 75 enemies before being able to head for the exit. These are relatively modest exceptions to the game’s monotonous rule.

In any good dungeon crawl, there are two essential elements: distinguishably different sets of weapons and an unpredictable variety of enemies. Alien Syndrome claims to have 100 different enemy types, but that’s just some creative accounting. You will have seen almost every alien model in the first third of the game; the remaining levels are made of the same enemy in a different color and with added HP. That kind of trickery might have been allowable in 1987 when arcade cabinets had less memory capacity than the GBA, but it’s a dirty trick to pull on a gamer in 2007 for a full-priced $50.

If the lack of variety in enemy types weren’t bad enough, the combat is even more redundant. Almost everything in the game can be beaten just by backing away while shooting. The only real strategy involves not getting yourself into a corner where you get swarmed by bad guys. Players have a basic laser gun with an infinitely regenerating supply of ammo, and, depending on their character class, they can use a variety of more powerful weapons to spill the proverbial alien blood and guts. While every weapon has a different range limit, the impact they have on enemies is negligible. Were it not for the little white numbers of evaporating HP floating heavenward after each shot, it would be impossible to tell that a missile launcher is more powerful than your average Gauss Rifle.

The choice to leave the game as a top-down shooter is also a big miscalculation. While it remains true to the original game, it feels cheap and insubstantial 20 years later. The game’s dark and grisly color palate makes it hard to pick out much environmental detail, like walls or doorways. It can be a brutal chore to just find your character on screen during some firefights, as the camera zooms even further out to capture all the action, reducing the size of your character to an inch or so of muddy green. It’s also terrifically irritating to not be able to see the environments from the ground level, making both navigation and combat more difficult than necessary. I found myself repeatedly cursing the game for not letting me see some alien up ahead that I knew was there and that would have been in clear line of sight, just because they were standing off the edge of the screen. It’s similarly maddening to try to get your bearings in the game’s maze-like corridors when all you can see at any given time is the top of your character’s head and the dingy gray floor that she’s standing on.

Another huge shortcoming is the lack of any in-game explanations of the upgrade system and all the various quirks to the tool crafting system. If you’re not accustomed to spending a good deal of time reading the instruction manual before you start playing, expect to find yourself totally lost during the first several hours of gameplay. Even after reading the instruction manual, it can be a confounding experience trying to figure out why you can’t pick up certain types of ammo, power-ups and weapons. I accidentally threw away my chest armor early on in the game and was, for a reason still unbeknownst to me, unable to pick up or craft a new chest armor ever again. I had plenty of inventory space, had the appropriate armor proficiency, had the right amount of XP, all for naught.

Managing your SCARAB, a hovering robotic turret that give your character various power-ups and crafts weapons and armor on the fly, is equally confusing. The whole menu system is a stultifying mess that belays just how little effort has gone into amending the game's presentation for the Wii. Text in most of the menus is tiny and almost illegible on a standard definition TV. Menu icons use the Wii Remote’s pointer functionality, but the icons are likewise tiny and cramped, making it much more difficult than it should be to scroll or add an ability point. These menus may have worked fine on the PSP’s tiny screen, but it’s asking too much to translate those fuzzy monotone icons and menu bars onto the living room TV.

While the game’s graphics are low-end even for a PSP game, it’s the redundant character modeling and bland color pallet that really leave an unfavorable impression. In contrast to the original’s bright neon colors and over-the-top enemy design, this modern Alien Syndrome is filled with muted tones and generic hulking masses that are all too often indistinguishable from one another. The music is similarly backgrounded with subtle ambient loops and lots of annoying gunfire sound effects. There is an attempt here to recreate the dread and atmosphere of Ridley Scott’s Alien, but the mood is killed by the boring top-down camera and bland art work.

The game goes on for a surprisingly long time; it will probably take most gamers a good 15 to 20 hours to finish on the default difficulty setting. However, there isn’t much incentive to get that far, since you’ll have seen almost all the game has to offer in the first hour. If you just can’t get enough level-grinding though, there are 2 unlockable difficulty settings and a 4-player co-op mode.

Alien Syndrome is a thoroughly disappointing and discouraging game. Totally Games has made some spectacular titles in its time, and the conceptual elements of a sci-fi Diablo with lots of space aliens and crazy guns sounds terrific. The reality, however, is a horribly executed game that plays more like a barebones prototype than something Wii owners should spend $50 on.

Score

Graphics Sound Control Gameplay Lastability Final
4 5 5 3 7 3.5
Graphics
4

Exactly what you would expect from a low-end PSP game. Spartan and featureless environments are made even more stultifying by the recycled enemy models and indistinct colors.

Sound
5

The music is decent and unobtrusive, but there is far too little of it. The same tunes will loop over and over again in each level, and it all becomes a little too forgettable. The sound effects drown out some of the more enjoyable themes with some of the most irritating gun sounds you’re likely to encounter.

Control
5

The Wii Remote is a great device for aiming. The trouble is, it’s not used to aim here, just to rotate your character in any given direction, which is significantly less satisfying. There is a robust set of motion controls for melee combat, but you’ll hardly ever use them.

Gameplay
3

Shoot the same 10 different aliens repeatedly for 20 hours. There are some well-intentioned options for weapon and character customization, but they ultimately fall flat when you realize the new weapon or ability you just unlocked just means you have to mash the A button a couple of times less to kill the same enemy.

Lastability
7

The single player is a long and drawn-out affair. 4-player co-op, two additional difficulty settings, and lots of different weapons and armor to collect would have made for a commendable package in any other game.

Final
3.5

There’s no easy way to say this, but Alien Syndrome is one of the worst games you could get for your Wii. The game is a hollow shell of generic art, obtuse menus, irrelevant leveling, and soul-crushingly repetitive shooting action. Even the most ardent dungeon crawler fan will be hard pressed to find something worth celebrating in this game.

Summary

Pros
  • 20 hour single player campaign
  • Lots of customization options
Cons
  • Awkward controls
  • Hordes of recycled enemies
  • Muddy color scheme and generic art design
  • Obnoxiously repetitive gameplay
  • Obtuse and illegible menus
Review Page 2: Conclusion

Talkback

Caffeinated CheeseAugust 01, 2007

I'm buying it.

Edit: BTW, I don't disagree with your review. I haven't even read it yet. I just personally like these types of games, so I plan to buy it soon.

KDR_11kAugust 01, 2007

Buy Alien Shooter instead, that doesn't suck.

Quote

There’s no easy way to say this, but Alien Syndrome is one of the worst games you could get for your Wii.


My dear sir, take it from one who should know. It is far from it.

Quote

Even the most ardent dungeon crawler fan will be hard pressed to find something worth celebrating in this game.


Also, this is patently false. (I've always wanted to say that!)

Although I do not disagree with your listing of foibles for the game, you magnify them to such an extent that I figure each moment playing the game must be excruciating. It therefore puzzles me that though I might agree with the label "un-inspiring" or "mediocre", my experiences with the game are positive insofar as I have played it (12+ hours, I believe). Indeed, I wonder whether some spirit of hyperbolic over-reaction is causing you to miss out on the simple fun to be found in what is essentially a stright-forward game.

I've been waiting forever to play another game like Gauntlet Legends. Alien Syndrome is by no means perfect, nor should $50 be spent lightly, but it's fitting my needs to a far greater extent than your review intimates.

GoldenPhoenixAugust 01, 2007

Basically Kairon is saying:

Every reviewer is being unfair and only he knows the quality of the game.

Basically GoldenPhoenix is saying:

When a game gets rated, that's the end of the discussion. At that point, any individual thought or personal variation should be stamped out for non-compliance.

GoldenPhoenixAugust 01, 2007

Quote

Originally posted by: Kairon
Basically GoldenPhoenix is saying:

When a game gets rated, that's the end of the discussion. At that point, any individual thought or personal variation should be stamped out for non-compliance.


I agree completely, in fact I think all supporters should be shipped to the local asylum as well!

KDR_11kAugust 01, 2007

Kairon, just consider 1 the best rating and you'll agree with every review.

Smash_BrotherAugust 01, 2007

I played this for a bit with friends and I wasn't impressed at all. I mean, it was a nice try, but it's clearly a port from the PSP version and to boot, it doesn't do much to separate itself from your run of the mill dungeon crawl.

Kai, get Strikers and join the proverbial "parking lot", as it were.

Caffeinated CheeseAugust 02, 2007

Why are we parking with Strikers? I need to figure that one out. I already have it, and I plan to actually play it today. What's this "parking lot?"

CericAugust 02, 2007

There's a Gamestop Empire Manager you can ask in Smashville. I'm sure she'll know face-icon-small-happy.gif

miketMike Thomsen, Staff AlumnusAugust 02, 2007

Kairon: We can all have a good enough time with bad games. You should the see amount of hours on my PN03 save file, it's astounding. But the point of reviews is not to validate people's opinions of games. We're all willing to overlook flaws in movies, music, games, and everything else that appeals to us in an aesthetic way. How else could ugly people get married? There's nothing wrong with liking a game that ranks 3.5. Ratings are just numbers, there's still plenty of room for individuality on top of these quasi-academic rankings.

But if Zelda is a 10 and Excite Truck is an 8 and MUA is a 6, how can Alien Syndrome be anything more than a 3.5?

EnnerAugust 02, 2007

I was really disappointed when this game got such poor reviews. I hoped it to be a solid chunk of simple fun.

Quote

Originally posted by: miket
Kairon: We can all have a good enough time with bad games. You should the see amount of hours on my PN03 save file, it's astounding. But the point of reviews is not to validate people's opinions of games. We're all willing to overlook flaws in movies, music, games, and everything else that appeals to us in an aesthetic way. How else could ugly people get married? There's nothing wrong with liking a game that ranks 3.5. Ratings are just numbers, there's still plenty of room for individuality on top of these quasi-academic rankings.


I agree with you. However, as long as responses like this exist:

Quote

Originally posted by: Enner
I was really disappointed when this game got such poor reviews. I hoped it to be a solid chunk of simple fun.


I think it's important to remind people that games with low review scores are sometimes more than the sum of their parts. Some people have difficulty believing that even though a game is rated 3.5, it can still be a solid chunk of fun.

GoldenPhoenixAugust 02, 2007

Quote

Originally posted by: Kairon
Quote

Originally posted by: miket
Kairon: We can all have a good enough time with bad games. You should the see amount of hours on my PN03 save file, it's astounding. But the point of reviews is not to validate people's opinions of games. We're all willing to overlook flaws in movies, music, games, and everything else that appeals to us in an aesthetic way. How else could ugly people get married? There's nothing wrong with liking a game that ranks 3.5. Ratings are just numbers, there's still plenty of room for individuality on top of these quasi-academic rankings.


I agree with you. However, as long as responses like this exist:

Quote

Originally posted by: Enner
I was really disappointed when this game got such poor reviews. I hoped it to be a solid chunk of simple fun.


I think it's important to remind people that games with low review scores are sometimes more than the sum of their parts. Some people have difficulty believing that even though a game is rated 3.5, it can still be a solid chunk of fun.


Or maybe not face-icon-small-wink.gif. Regardless the game should hit the bargain bin soon so I may actually pick it up when I can get it for under $20.

No problem there! I'm certain I'll be picking up Medal of Honor: Vanguard when that game hits bargain bin!

GoldenPhoenixAugust 02, 2007

Quote

Originally posted by: Kairon
No problem there! I'm certain I'll be picking up Medal of Honor: Vanguard when that game hits bargain bin!


Eww to Medal of Honor series, talk about a stale series! I'd pick up Alien Syndrome over that game any day.

I just can't win with you GP can I? T_T

Flames_of_chaosLukasz Balicki, Staff AlumnusAugust 09, 2007

Well Kairon whats the point in getting Vanguard since theres a 32 player online enabled MOH thats in the works for the Wii?

You have a point, but a bargain bin price can help a lot. I loves me some single-player too, ya know?

Caffeinated CheeseAugust 15, 2007

The game's good, especially the multiplayer. The menus suck, and you have to go in too often to check for new craft-able items, and yes, just about all the aliens are the same thing, but it's still a fun game. You just have to start with multiplayer. If you do that, you'll have fun.

GoldenPhoenixAugust 15, 2007

Quote

Originally posted by: thatguy
The game's good, especially the multiplayer. The menus suck, and you have to go in too often to check for new craft-able items, and yes, just about all the aliens are the same thing, but it's still a fun game. You just have to start with multiplayer. If you do that, you'll have fun.


Must be why it managed to get to 49% on gamerankings!

Caffeinated CheeseAugust 16, 2007

Look, it's a fun game, whether you want to accept that or not. Most reviewers don't sample the multiplayer of games they don't like, because they think it won't make a difference, but playing a game with multiple people is fun. If you liked FF:CC or TLoZ:FSA, there's a decent chance you'll enjoy this game.

GoldenPhoenixAugust 16, 2007

Quote

Originally posted by: thatguy
Look, it's a fun game, whether you want to accept that or not. Most reviewers don't sample the multiplayer of games they don't like, because they think it won't make a difference, but playing a game with multiple people is fun. If you liked FF:CC or TLoZ:FSA, there's a decent chance you'll enjoy this game.


What if I haven't played either of those game? face-icon-small-tongue.gif

::revokes GoldenPhoenix's awesome license::

GoldenPhoenixAugust 16, 2007

Quote

Originally posted by: Kairon
::revokes GoldenPhoenix's awesome license::


To my credit though I have LoZ:FSA for GC just never opened it!

Caffeinated CheeseAugust 16, 2007

Then don't buy the game. I'm not telling you to buy the game, I'm just saying that playing the multiplayer offers a nice experience. If you don't have any gaming friends, the game is probably not worth buying at all. It just depends on your situation.

EnnerAugust 16, 2007

Quote

Originally posted by: Kairon

Quote

Originally posted by: Enner
I was really disappointed when this game got such poor reviews. I hoped it to be a solid chunk of simple fun.


I think it's important to remind people that games with low review scores are sometimes more than the sum of their parts. Some people have difficulty believing that even though a game is rated 3.5, it can still be a solid chunk of fun.


No need for that since Gamespot will tell you if it's more than the sum of its parts with its cute little emblems :p

Oddly enough, I have P.N.03 and had some fun with it while taking it's flaws and frustrations in stride. Then again, Vanessa's butt and trailer devulging sure helped things on their way (can't get enough of those hearty beats).

Can't say Alien Syndrome has enjoyed such prepared appeal. I think somewhere along the anticipation line, I was hoping for a provoking dungeon crawling experience (putting those words together probably should have raised flags in the first place) and it seems the game has droped the ball a bit in that respect. Mind you, I didn't take the 3.5 as is and read on to conclude that maybe the rating was a bit too harsh compared to other reviews.

In the end, having a dungeon crawler to carry around is a passing fancy that I feel reluctant to settle lower for. I think licks with Crimson Land, P.N.03, and Summon Night: SCS 1 & 2 have satisfied the itch that Alien Syndrome would have scratched.

. . . now I feel hypocritical since I'm still in want of another Warriors game, a series which is probably just as repeatitive as (if not more than) Alien Syndrome has been reviewed to be. Then again, Warriors does have ancient China/feudal Japan/Gundam...

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Alien Syndrome Box Art

Genre Action
Developer Totally Games

Worldwide Releases

na: Alien Syndrome
Release Jul 24, 2007
PublisherSega
RatingTeen
eu: Alien Syndrome
Release Sep 07, 2007
PublisherSega
Rating12+
aus: Alien Syndrome
Release Sep 2007
PublisherTHQ

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