While there are a lot of people that love and adore Sega, not even the biggest fan can argue that when it comes to resurrecting classic game franchises the company has a terrible track record. One only needs to look at the past few years to see Sega drop the ball when it came to Shinobi, ToeJam & Earl, and even Altered Beast (a resurrection so bad that the company didn't even bother bringing it to the States). And let's not forget about the disastrous treatment that's been given to Sonic the Hedgehog recently. Given Sega's recent track record it's only natural to be a little skeptical about an Alien Syndrome revival; will this be the game that breaks the mold, or are we looking at yet another terrible 3D update to a classic Sega franchise?
Unfortunately Alien Syndrome is every bit as bad as all of the other Sega resurrections. It's an ugly pile of sci-fi action complete with repetitive gameplay, boring level designs and a severe lack of originality. On paper it all sounds good, it's essentially Diablo in space, but Sega is never able to capitalize on the strengths of the classic arcade game and turn this into anything more than just another boring overhead action game.
Alien Syndrome is based on the 1986 top down arcade game of the same name. In that game you run around opening up doors and killing all sorts of nasty looking aliens. Given the game's original release date and the fact that it was nothing more than an action arcade game, it made sense for Alien Syndrome to be nothing more than a shallow shooter with exciting multiplayer action and nothing more. But 21 years later that kind of gameplay just doesn't cut it, if you're going to spend ten or twenty hours with a game then you need it to be about something more than just blowing up ugly aliens and finding the right door to escape through.
Apparently Sega realized this so they turned this 2007 Alien Syndrome into an action/RPG, the kind of game where you go around killing bad guys and earning experience along the way. You are also able to collect new weapons and upgrade them, giving the player a sense of customization. But even with the role-playing elements thrown in, Alien Syndrome is really nothing more than a glorified shooter where all you do is run around corridors and kill whatever gets in your path. All this can be fun at first, but it won't take more than a few levels before you realize just how repetitive and boring this experience is.
But before you even realize that the game is a repetitive mess, Alien Syndrome has you choose the kind of player class you want to be. These classes include demolitions expert, firebug, seal, tank and sharpshooter, each offering a different set of pros and cons. Once you've picked your character your off to witness a boring cinema and learn just what is going on. Before long you're fighting your way through what looks like a destroyed space station filled with annoying alien creatures, it's your job to get to the exit and try and get the heck out of here. But don't get too excited, once you actually do make it to your destination you're forced to play another batch of boring levels that are almost exactly the same as the ones you just went through.
It's also worth mentioning that the enemies you see at the beginning will plague you the entire way through. The problem with this game is that the enemies are recycled frequently, so you'll end up shooting down the same worm-like creature two or three hundred times before all is said and done. To make matters worse, Sega's idea of changing up the enemies is to paint them a new color. It's bad enough that all of the levels start to look the same, but why couldn't the developers at Totally Games come up with enough cool looking aliens to fight? The world "alien" is right in the title, it just feels lazy when there are only a few variations of aliens in the whole game. There are a few boss characters to contend with as you play through the story mode, but even these characters fail to impress.
Along the way you'll be able to pick up new weapons and armor, but don't get too excited because there's really no reason to. As you play through Alien Syndrome you will be able to upgrade your weapon, so picking up new (less powerful) weapons doesn't make a whole lot of sense in the grand scheme of things. Worse yet, none of the weapons feel very powerful. Even after you've upgraded your weapons the enemies take a long time to kill, something that becomes more and more frustrating as the game starts to throw more enemies at you.
This PSP version of the game controls pretty much like you would expect, you move and aim by using the portable's one analog stick. The good news is that when you start using your long-range weapon your aim will lock into one direction, so you can freely move around all you want while still firing your weapon. In order to make it anywhere in Alien Syndrome you are going to need to get used to manually adjusting the camera, while this is easy enough it can sometimes be a hassle when you're in the middle of a large fire fight. I can't say that the controls are bad (each of the buttons are responsive and moving around is usually not a problem), but they certainly aren't very inspired.
The game itself is actually quite long, Alien Syndrome comes packed with dozens of levels and a story mode that will keep you busy (although not entertained) for quite a few hours. The problem is that since you're stuck doing the same boring tasks level after level the game feels more like a punishment than a fun interactive experience. From time to time you'll be tasked with something different, like finding specific switches and getting out of an area in a certain amount of time ... but for the most part Alien Syndrome's levels all require you to kill a bunch of enemies and exit the level. While some may argue that this style of gameplay is the crux of all hack 'n slash dungeon crawls, but even the worst Diablo clones give you some variation as you go along.
The monotony of the game is only made worse by the dreadful level designs. Most of the levels look like they were designed at random, with just a few different kinds of corridors used to create every level in the game. You move around a world that is completely nonsensical, why anybody would want to create a world with so many confusing hallways and areas that are used for nothing is beyond me. To make matters worse, a lot of the levels tend to look the same. From time to time you'll run into a room that is a different color than the one you just got out of, but this slight pallet swap is hardly enough to make you excited about playing another repetitive level. There's no reason that this game has to look so brad and boring, this game could have been improved had somebody just gone in and made the levels look more appealing.
And it's not just the levels that look bad, the main character and enemies are equally terrible. The main character is so small that I'm surprised I didn't lose track of her as I fought through the game, and the enemies are never very interesting looking. The whole game runs at a solid frame rate, but who cares when there's nothing on the screen you actually want to look at? The original arcade game isn't the best looking game of all time or anything, but at least it felt like Sega was trying to do what they could given the technology they had at the time. This 2007 Alien Syndrome just feels like somebody phoned in the graphics, the words "half-assed" just isn't strong enough for this ugly pile of boring.
There is one bright spot amongst all this darkness, and that's the ability to play this as a four-player game. It doesn't support online play, but if you have three friends who own this game you can team up and make this a multiplayer dungeon crawl. Of course, the fact that this game is four players doesn't make up for the boring levels, terrible graphics, repetitive tasks and limited enemy types. At the end of the day this is just a very bad game with a four player option, the fact that this allows multiplayer is definitely not enough to save this from being anything but below average. And really, if you have three friends who own Alien Syndrome, then maybe it's time to find a better caliber of friends to hang out with.
Alien Syndrome is an all around terrible resurrection of a fun (albeit shallow) arcade game. If you like to shoot at aliens and enjoy playing with friends then chances are you're better served by one of the other games that does exactly that. The idea of fighting aliens in space is hardly a new concept for video games, so why bother suffering through a bad one when there are so many better examples out there? I like that Sega decided to support four-players, but next time I can only hope that they decide to throw in a great game with that four-player support.