I have been a gamer for pretty much my entire life. Over the course of the past three decades, I have seen my fair share of what would go on to be considered “classics” in our beloved industry. There are many different interpretations of what makes a game classic, but one of the most commonly agreed upon traits is the ability to stand the test of time. Games that you can go back to over months, years, or even decades, and still get that feeling of joy and excitement that they originally brought you are arguably closer to being called a classic than most others. After playing the recent release of Alien Breed on the PlayStation Vita (and PS3 with Cross Buy), it is easy to see why this game is widely considered a true classic.
If by chance you aren’t familiar with the game or the series, Alien Breed originated back in 1991 from Team17. Before they were rallying the non-arthropod invertebrate troops, the developers made their mark crafting a sci-fi adventure similar to a combination of the classic Gauntlet series and Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise. It is/was a top-down shooter that focused heavily on racing against the clock and managing your supplies to escape each level. There have been numerous sequels and alternate takes on the concept, but few, if any, have been as well done as the original.
As you battle your way through different levels of the alien infested space ships, you have to collect credits and keys that will make the paths in front of you easier. You will need keys to open doors to different areas and credits to buy upgraded weapons as well as additional ammunition and additional key cards (when you can’t find any). Both the keys and ammunition are universal, working in all doors and weapons alike.
Most of the time the game is simply a battle against the clock where you must escape each level before the self-destruct timer expires. Other times you will be challenged with a larger enemy in the form of a boss battle. It doesn’t get much deeper than that and, honestly, it doesn’t need to. The game consists of a simple and addictive formula that is just a lot of fun to play, even after 20 years. It plays a lot like a mix between Gauntlet and Smash TV, two classic games in their own right.
The “new” iteration of the game (and I use the term “new” lightly), is about as no-frills of a remake as you can get. Sure, the game has received a slight graphical makeover, a slight variation on the controls, and the addition of online cooperative play over the PlayStation Network, but it is widely the same game it was back in 1991. Purists even have the option of playing the unaltered original releases as well, minus the new bells and whistles I mentioned above (with your progress transferring over and back along the way). While that may sound like a bad thing, it is actually the title’s strength. It is simple and addictive, and it works well. The visual style of the original worked so well, there really wasn’t a need to change it. The improved version looks a lot smoother and more modern than the old pixelated sprites of the Amiga original.
In addition to the entire original game, there is also a selection of subsequent chapters, in the form of level packs, included in this release. When you boot up the game, you get to choose between the original experience, Special Edition, Convergence, Valiance, and Synergy. None of these packs bring anything "new" to the experience, but simply extend the adventure with a variety of new levels. On other platforms, these have been offered as additional content packs but here they are included in the base game, which is a nice bonus for fans of the franchise.
One thing that is new to the game is the inclusion of full online multiplayer. You can join up with a friend online to battle your way through the various levels and volumes of the game. It works well for the most part, but it could be a lot better. I am not sure if it is an issue of bad net code or just that no one is playing, but finding a game can be very taxing. It can often take a while to find someone to play with. When you do get into a match, there is a bit of noticeable lag present. It is enough that you notice it but not enough to completely ruin the game. Perhaps if the game were a little deeper or complicated, it might make a bigger difference, but, in this case, the simplicity of the experience works in its favor.
Alien Breed on the Vita (and PS) is one of those experiences that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it has a niche market that it is targeted towards. Fans of the franchise will undoubtedly enjoy a trip down memory lane and others who appreciate classic gaming will find plenty to love. However, if this isn’t your type of thing, this release isn’t going to turn you into a fan. This is the definitely intended as fan service for those who have embarked on this adventure before, so set your expectations accordingly.