Housemarque has certainly made a name for themselves in the twin-stick shooting space. Intense, arcade style fun is rarely executed as exceptionally as Resogun or Super Stardust. Alienation, a co-operative, role-playing alien shooter, doesn’t tarnish that reputation. Instead, it broadens the genre, building on the Dead Nation formula and expanding into much more RPG-style territory. What results is a high quality, highly enjoyable shooter, albeit a notably run of the mill one.
As either a Bio-Specialist, Tank or Saboteur, it’s your job to take on the endless hordes of mutant aliens. Each of these three classes operates slightly differently and has access to three unique abilities. These range from heals to AOE attacks, to shields or invisibility. Which of these abilities take your fancy will ultimately inform your choice of class, but only marginally alter the way you play. Once you’re all locked and loaded, you’ll head out on some missions. Destroying alien hives or planting explosives make up a great deal of the game’s tasks, but it’s a nicer way of saying “go to the next waypoint and kill the aliens in your way.” The narrative here isn’t dwelt upon too often, nor does it need to be, so it doesn’t hurt that what Alienation offers story-wise is utterly forgettable.
What does matter are the mechanics. Controls are tight and precise, and blasting through waves of mutants is undeniably satisfying. Learning to use melee attacks, dashes and reloading effectively takes some time, but the resulting triumphs feel all the more rewarding as a result. Saving your class-based abilities for the perfect opportunity or detonating a grenade at a precise point are equally gratifying. Taking down dozens of aliens in a matter of seconds always feels good and always feels earned.
The hooks are the loot and levelling systems. Levelling up from racking up kills earns points to spend on upgrading passive or active class abilities while constant loot drops help sustain a sense of progression. Collecting Gear Upgrade Cores dropped by enemies facilitate the modding of weapon stats, while dismantling undesired weapons provides materials with which to reroll bonuses on the weapons you do want to use. Growth feels constant and natural, at least until the final, grueling story mission, into which you’ll want to bring four fairly high-level players.
Best this final mission and you’ll have a few more things to play with, though. The challenging UFO stage can be accessed via consumable keys found in your battles, and assignments provide an incentive for killing specific enemy types with certain weapons. At this point, though, you’ll have to unlock all story missions again, starting at the beginning. Why? I couldn’t tell you. The assignments are a nice thought, but it would’ve been nice to have been working on these for the whole game, rather than as an end-game bonus. Not to mention, the specific nature of these assignments makes them a bit of a grind to work for.
All of this takes place across a variety of maps, from snow covered towns to luscious jungles. The diversity of settings goes a long way to keeping the game engaging, and the prettiness of some of these areas doesn’t hurt. There’s no uniquely identifiable art direction or visually distinct elements at any point, but at least it strives to provide more than one aesthetic throughout.
Alienation is a continually satisfying, mechanically excellent game. Make your way through it, though, and you’ll come out the other side with little desire to go back. For all of its strengths in gameplay, Alienation is largely forgettable, thanks mostly to its ultimately repetitive missions and lack of identity. If you love a good twin stick shooter, you’ll love Alienation. If you don’t, you’ll likely just have a reasonably enjoyable time with it.