Alien Breed 3: Descent
One of the best things about the current trend for reviving classic franchises with new HD visuals and even new storylines is that someone is bound to get it right.
Team 17 made the decision a while ago to revive their cult classic Amiga action shooter series Alien Breed. This was really the first space-borne survival-horror title although it was much more action-based than you'd expect from a traditional survival horror title.
Before we get into the meat and bones of the game this is a revival that really has worked. Alien Breed 3: Descent is the culmination of a three-part story that has taken the best of what Alien Breed was - namely a fast-moving top-down action shooter with nerve-wracking a sci-fi horror plot - and gave it a modern day HD facelift bringing it kicking an screaming into the 21st century.
This being part three the story has entered the final act. You play Conrad, the engineer from a starship called the Leopold. In the first episode, Impact, the Leopold has a disastrous collision with a drifting space hulk which turns out to be infested with nasty blood-thirsty aliens. Conrad has to find a way to disable the Leopold's power source before it explodes killing all the surviving crew members on the ship.
After a hideous battle through a rapidly disintegrating Leopold, Conrad successfully disables the ship's engines and prepares to head off into the space hulk to see if he can revive it enough to get some control over where it is headed. This is what happens in the second episode, Assault. During his trip through the belly of the abandoned behemoth Conrad faces a more ferocious fight with the aliens for control of the ship at the end he makes an unexpected discovery - an enemy more dangerous that the Alien-inspired xenomorphs that have overrun the drifting wreck.
So we arrive at the final part, Descent. Conrad discovers to his horror that the wreck is drifting towards a planet and will crash into its surface. In Descent Conrad must battle this fearsome enemy while trying to prevent the hulk from becoming a smoking crater on the planet's surface.
It is very apparent from playing the whole series that Team 17 has taken great pains to create the perfect pacing for the games. With Impact the game begins slowly with few aliens and Conrad more intent on solving the technical problems that lie before him. Assault balances a more intense battle with the hulk's alien population and Conrad's need to get the ship back into something resembling working order. In Descent the pace has built up to be quite frantic in parts. The wreck is beginning to break up as it begins to enter the planet's atmosphere and collides with space debris meaning that there are plenty of moments where Conrad needs to dash down corridors dodging fires and exploding conduits in order to exit a section of the ship before it decompresses.
The aliens have become more frenzied too attacking Conrad in larger numbers and you begin to wonder when the waves of aliens, large and small will stop long enough for you to get a breather. It all feels very well choreographed and it all adds to the mounting tension of the situation as things get more desperate. There is a palpable sense of desperation towards the end of the game that very few games achieve properly.
Despite the careful pacing of the action across the trilogy the individual episodes are also play very well as stand alone titles. The scene is set at the beginning using a very nicely drawn comic-book styled cutscene and from then on the rest of the exposition comes in game. All of the necessary plot elements are neatly self-contained within each episode for the most part meaning that each episode works just as well as a stand-alone title as well as part of a series.
The game itself is very playable. As usual PC players can use the traditional mouse and keyboard combination but due to the game's arcade sensibilities it does work very well with and joypad, with the Xbox 360 pad being particularly effective for directing Conrad. It works very similar to a twin-stick shooter with the left-stick used to move Conrad and the right-stick to aim. Shooting is controlled by the right trigger and using items and grenades is done via the left trigger. You can also rotate the camera through 45 degrees at a time using the left and right bumpers allowing you to pick the best angle for you to view the action. The face buttons are used for sprinting, using consoles and switches, reloading and melee attacks. It is all fairly intuitive and will have you dispatching aliens with relative ease in no time at all.
Visually, Descent is technically the best of the three games. There is just so much going on in this episode it is possible to focus on the wrong thing for a minute and find that an alien has sneaked up on you while you are avoiding a gout of flame belching from a bulkhead. The screen is also shaking a lot by this point as the ship is rocked by the impacts of it breaking up as it enters the planet's atmosphere.
The only downside to Alien Breed 3 is that there is the odd graphical glitch. On one occasion a lift raised through Conrad leaving him stuck in an inaccessible section of the level. Thanks to the game's frequent save points and checkpoints a quick reload seemed to solve the issue and it didn't happen again during the subsequent replay.
Alien Breed 3: Descent is a frantic and entertaining conclusion to the series. Team 17 has lovingly revived one of their most beloved franchises into one of the most entertaining downloadable series of titles that the PC has seen in a while. As a diversion from the ubiquitous first person shooters that now litter the gaming landscape there are few games more refreshing and enjoying than the Alien Breed trilogy. Played alone or in sequence the new trilogy is a treat for action gamers and sci-fi horror fans alike.
Alien Breed 3: Descent is also available on Xbox Live Arcade.