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Hands on with Alien Breed for iOS

Exclusive hands on with Team 17's top-down classic

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Product: Alien Breed | Developer: Team17 | Publisher: Team17 | Genre: Action, Shooter
For:   Also on: AndroidiPhoneiPadPS Vita
Alien Breed iPhone, thumbnail 1
Alien Breed fans, your wishes have finally been granted: the classic top-down Alien Breed is back.

21 years on from its initial release, the Amiga original has finally been dusted down and faithfully converted, and will be released on iOS platforms in the third quarter of 2012.

Better still, the game will come accompanied by the superior 1992 Special Edition, as well as a new four-level campaign entitled Alien Breed: Convergence. Lucky sods.


A classic returns

For the uninitiated, Alien Breed (along with its two excellent sequels) was arguably the finest top-down shooter series of the 16bit era.

Wearing its Alien movie influence (literally) on its sleeve, the idea was a now-familiar one: to explore and escape an infested space ship by collecting keycards and gunning down the relentless alien hordes that patrolled the corridors.

Back in the pre-FPS days, shooter fans had never had it so good. It essentially took the top-down Gauntlet/Alien Syndrome formula to unexpected heights.

The stylish, intricate visuals, and menacing audio created a cloying atmosphere that instantly dragged you in. Allied to the claustrophobic level design, there was no room for error, and pacing the tight, twisting labyrinthine floors was always a fraught exercise.

Small wonder, then, that a legion of older fans still hold the formula dear, and it's been a source of frustration that the brand was mothballed for so long as Team 17 hawked potential remakes from one publisher to the next.

Eventually, the brand returned in December 2009 with downloadable console/PC title Alien Breed: Evolution, the first in a trilogy.

But although the Unreal-engine powered title picked up respectable critical appraisal, there was broad agreement that the games didn't quite recapture the spirit of the originals. What fans really hankered after was for Team 17 to return to the source and reissue authentic, 'remastered' HD versions.


By popular demand

Later this year Team 17 is planning to do just that, having finally bowed to the demands of its eternally patient and loyal fanbase.

As you can no doubt discern from the screen shots, the developer hasn't merely chucked out a lazy port of the original, but has optimised various elements of the game to make sure it's as enjoyable now as it was two decades ago.

Probably the hardest but most important area to get right is the visuals. If Team 17 left them alone, some would moan that the retina screen is too harsh on the chunky pixels. Try too hard to bring them up to date, and fans would moan even harder for spoiling its retro spirit.

Fortunately, the artists have managed to cater for both camps, with all three games playable both in their original, untouched form, as well as in high definition remastered form, but using a style that's fully in keeping with how it looked in your mind's eye.

The other issue is to get the controls right. We all know what a ballache it can be to use virtual sticks on touch screen devices - especially in games like Alien Breed where pinpoint aiming accuracy is vital in the heat of the moment. The solution Team 17 has, again, given players the choice over what they prefer.

You can either go for the original system, where the direction of your man dictates where you shoot, or the vastly improved new dual stick Robotron 2084-style of being able to move with the left stick and aim your fire independently with the right stick. As you can imagine, it works a dream, and balances the game perfectly.


Like you remember it

Going back to 'classic' controls might sound ideal for the purists, but without the tactile feedback and accuracy of a real joystick, you generally find yourself shooting at angles and losing vital health in the process. Once you can move and fire independently, such issues go out of the window and, strangely, it actually feels much more like you'll remember it. Crucially, newcomers to the game will also enjoy it much more as a result.

In terms of the gameplay, there's always a question mark over whether ancient games such as Alien Breed can survive the ravages of time in a harsh modern light.

For someone who played these iconic titles the first time around, it's hard to be truly objective. You're very invested in what they meant to you back then, but during my hands-on session at E3, one thing that struck me was the quality of the level design.

The original survival horror shooter

As you're wandering the ship, you're instantly reminded of the need to make best use of limited resources, and not to fritter away keys and ammo.

The latter point, in particular, gives it that survival horror tension (before the genre even existed), and it's an idea that hasn't dated a day. The rush to the level exit just as you're about to empty your last clip into a shrieking Xenomorph still generate the kind of panic that few games manage.

The levels don't outstay their welcome, either, and as a result, it's an ideal modern handheld shooter that ought to fit in around the modern demands of concise gameplay.

Those who played it the first time around might ruefully recall that it wasn't exactly the easiest game in the world, but usually stayed the right side of the red line when it came to providing a challenge.

Whereas before you had to make sure you scooped up as many credits as possible to buy more keys, ammo, extra lives and better weapons from the Intex computers, this in-game currency system is supplemented by the ability to use real money to buy more credits.

Happily, you'll be able to get by just fine without it, but it's there if you really need it.

Co-op question mark

The one question mark at the moment is whether wi-fi co-op support will make it for release.

Any Alien Breed fan will attest that co-op was the way to play the game, so we'd be very surprised if it doesn't make it into the game at some point. If you're keen on this being part of the package, make your feelings known. Team 17 will be watching for fan feedback with interest.

So who can play it? Well, it's going to be a universal iOS title for a start, with retina support for those of you with more recent models.

All iPad models will be supported, but for iPhone owners, you're looking at 3GS and above. Android owners will be out of luck to begin with, but it's "possible later" according to our contact at Team 17. Pricing has yet to be decided yet.

For now, just be grateful that it's coming out at all. Many of us have waited a very long time for this classic to return, and figured it might never happen. Well, it is, and fortunately it looks very much like it will have been worth the wait.

Alien Breed is coming to iOS in Q3 2012.

Reviewer photo
Kristan Reed 14 June 2012
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