"The lights dimmed abruptly. A glass lamp cracked to one side and from the distance came a groan, like metal scraping against itself. The building sighed as if alive and suddenly, the doors to the side burst open. Seconds before, Iíd been alone. Now the floor itself writhed as bodies flowed over it."
The air in California tastes like death. Bloodís coppery odor tickles your nostrils and taste buds, caresses your nasal passages. Your skin is clammy. Each breath is a ragged gasp, each blink a risk because for that millisecond your eyes are closed, youíre not alert. When youíre not alert in California, youíre dead.
Alien Shooter: Vengeance presents a bleak vision of a futuristic California weíve not yet glimpsed. As the game opens, you have been hired by the clandestine M.A.G.M.A. Corporation to root out a problem plaguing its underground research facility. Youíve been paid handsomely and the companyís officials expect you to complete your assignment. If you live--a prospect youíll soon find isnít even remotely likely--youíll receive the second half of your exorbitant fee. If you die somewhere in the bowels of the laboratory, itís just the realization of a fact you know all too well: shit happens.
In the case of the M.A.G.M.A. Corporationís labs, it happens frequently. The first stage is innocuous compared to that which lies ahead. You pass through a few gates on the way to meet your ally in this insane mission, General Baker. An obstacle youíll encounter all too frequently blocks your path; the doors have lost their power and canít be opened conventionally. You retrieve dynamite from a nearby blast through them to the darkness beyond. This is the point where sane individuals, tipped off by shadows and rubble, would leave. Youíre not like them.
Your trek takes you deeper into the building and there you encounter the first signs of resistance. Creatures skitter toward you, their claws clanking on the metallic floors. A few quick shots leave them lifeless on the floor while the sounds of your assault echo through the dimly-lit corridor. Crimson liquid oozes from arachnid corpses and collects in oddly luminescent puddles. You spare them only a brief glance before you continue.
The game starts out easy like that, but change is in the air.
Before long, youíll have an ďoh shitĒ moment. Mine came in level two. I was scouting the hallways and I kept running into more of the strange crab-like creatures from the first stage. Theyíd rush me in groups of four or five and Iíd fall back, pumping bullets into them, dancing around desks and stone columns, smiling with satisfaction as my inept adversaries turned to crimson scars on the concrete floors.
ďThis is easy,Ē I told myself.
I reached the end of the hallway and turned around. Thatís when it happened. The lights dimmed abruptly. A glass lamp cracked to one side and from the distance came a groan, like metal scraping against itself. The building sighed as if alive and suddenly, the doors to the side burst open. Seconds before, Iíd been alone. Now the floor itself writhed as bodies flowed over it. Limbs meshed together, a sea of arms and legs, tentacles and pincers.
I switched to the machine gun and backed away, only safety eluded me. In front of me, behind me, to the left and to the right, monsters squirmed and snarled. I kept firing, lost in the futility of it all, barely breathing. I knew I could survive the assault. I had to. It was only level two. And somehow, I did. Somehow, I emerged from the hallway alive while behind me the floor was a crimson smear littered with shells, severed limbs, corpses and shell casings.
Alien Shooter: Vengeance is cool because once such moments start coming, they donít really stop. As missions progress, youíll find the plot developing intriguingly. You meet characters and get to like some of them while hardly caring about others. Some assist in firefights and some simply unlock doors. Their roles are mostly irrelevant because youíre playing for one reason only: the adrenaline rush when you clear a corridor of fifty, a hundred or perhaps a thousand of the alien creatures and your life meter is reduced to a sliver and youíve got no med packs remaining. Thatís what the game is about.
Itís about atmosphere, too. The minute you step into the M.A.G.M.A. Corporation labs, you know something is wrong. Itís there in the quiet soundtrack that toys with your darkest fears in the background. The sinister yet subdued music slowly builds to a crescendo as you explore until guitar assaults you from all sides, like the very monsters that accompany each vicious riff. Lights flicker on and off before disappearing permanently when stray bullets smash them. Shadows dance along walls and the floor as you pass and in your flashlight beam, something twists sharply. Was it an alien or your imagination? You donít know but you fire a quick shot because bullets are cheap.
Youíve certainly played better games. Alien Shooter: Vengeance isnít perfect--longer than expected load times between zones ensure that, if nothing else--and itís not particularly original. Take the endless isometric corridors from Diablo and replace that gameís swords with machine guns, rocket launchers and shotguns and youíre halfway there. Throw in buckets of blood (itís the first thing the ESRB rating mentions on the packaging), unique skill sets--you can even choose to enhance a vampiric ability that lets you suck the life from monsters youíve slain--and the ability to gain levels as the body count rises and you have an experience that feels quite familiar and extremely creepy.
Alien Shooter: Vengeance is long and itís hard, without ever feeling cheap. You go in expecting to battle hordes of aliens and it doesnít bother you when that happens because itís what you feared and anticipated. You face each encounter with one hand on the keyboard and another on your mouse and your heart pounding in your chest. Then hell breaks loose and somehow you survive. When it ends, you smile and advance to the next stage. Games of this ilk lack the complexity some demand, but theyíre just the thing for the gamer who wants to raise a little hell and kick some alien ass. Californiaís air tastes like death and I like it.
Staff review by Jason Venter (February 16, 2007)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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