Alien Rage Review
PCAlso available on Microsoft Xbox 360, PC and Sony PlayStation 3
Rage! Rage!! Raaaaaage. The aliens’ rage that is, at you destroying their nice Prometheum plant (it’s a power source freeing humanity from the shackles of finite resources, geddit?). Or perhaps it’s the protagonist’s, who cracks wise and screams in a manly fashion when you’re running and gunning. He’s MAD AS HELL at those aliens! They forcibly captured our giant mining complex and if we can’t have it, no-one can. So we’re gonna BLOW IT ALL TO HELL. You can easily imagine him naming and cleaning his guns, like the eponymous Heavy of Team Fortress 2 fame. There are many like it but this one is mine. That more or less sums up Alien Rage - a big, dumb shooter with a few quirks and not much behind the eyes. Often hard, sometimes pretty, and generally unstable.
Dropping out of hyperspace and straight into a cliched sci-fi story, you quickly encounter two things in Alien Rage - a surprisingly steep learning curve and the hallmark bloom and shadow effects of the Unreal engine. There’s little explanation of how things work but thankfully it follows a tried and tested formula of “kill everything” within a very familiar sci-fi backdrop. Enemies are pretty resilient so torso shots make them stagger back, but not die (not immediately anyway). Effective killshots come from secondary gun functions (like grenade launchers), reliable old headshots or kersploding the environment; explosive barrels are ubiquitous and - clearly - not regulated by Health and Safety Officers, lying as they do by entrances and highly-destructible architecture.
Playing Alien Rage is a frustrating affair. Stealth doesn’t do much good but with that title that's clearly missing the point. Cavalier charges of the Leroy Jenkins variety invariably fail too - you’ll be gunned down in open space. Instead, you must rely on the environment for cover and its destructive capability. Explosions can take out entire hordes of goons and sliding between cover makes you harder to hit while closing the distance for snappy melee kills, which is often the best way of not getting overwhelmed. A recovery system for health is stingy - some would say overly so - and none of this is helped by enemies which are dumb but numerous and speedy. Some are invisible too, which is pretty annoying. All of them can teleport anywhere, including areas you’ve just cleared, which is more than annoying. It’s great the game is hard but it’s a shame Rambo heroics aren’t encouraged; it’s often necessary to snipe enemies although your instinct is to rush in. You’re freer to mess around in multiplayer but that involves getting enough people together on servers which are more deserted than British offices after 1cm of snow. There’s no co-op to speak of either, which stymies potential long-term appeal for tackling harder missions with buddies.
You could probably forgive all this if the guns were done right, but they’re not. Coming in two flavours - human and alien - each gun has a secondary function, as mentioned above. Pistols clip off three bullets in quick succession; shotguns unload both barrels. You’ll quickly find a favourite, not because they have great characteristics but because generally most are pretty poor. The alien assault rifle is inaccurate at medium to long range. The vanilla human pistol is laughably weak. More interesting armaments crop up from time to time but your collection is reset at the beginning of each level as Alien Rage is based around an arcade mechanic of point-scoring. Headshots, explosions, melee kills - mixing it up gains points which can buy perks to improve your character’s health, damage and so on. However, with only three perks active at any time, and painfully slow progress to unlocking these, this RPG element is only minor. Instead the focus is very much on running and gunning but the problems highlighted above undermine this, so you’re unlikely to ever revisit the levels to top your score which nullifies one of Alien Rage's cornerstones.
The other major issue is stability. Alien Rage crashes a lot. A mid-review update actually made my FPS drop dramatically, so much so that I had to turn down the AA, textures and shadows. I could forgive this if it wasn’t for repeated crash-to-desktops - in one session I counted fifteen sequential CTDs when reloading a checkpoint, and then just gave up for the day. If you’re thinking this could be a hardware issue, that’s possible but unlikely - the test rig was using an i5 CPU overclocked to 4.5Ghz with an HD 7950 and 8GB RAM. So pretty dependable and capable of high framerates with the standard AAA roster.
Largely forgettable, Alien Rage never really punches above its weight even though you’re willing it to. It struggles to get going and in the rare instances things start to look up, you're stopped in your tracks by stability issues, impossible odds or sheer frustration. A lack of innovative features fail to set it apart as a shooter, let alone recall the nostalgia of classic shooter games it claims to evoke.