Hands On with "Aliens: Infestation"

SEGA of America has really been on an "Alien" kick as of late. Last year, it relaunched the "Alien vs. Predator" franchise with an all-new first person shooter, letting you play as each of the three involved characters - the alien, the predator and the unfortunate human soldier. Back in June, the company also announced -- and provided a first look at -- "Aliens: Colonial Marines," a new first-person shooter that focuses more closely on the legacy of the 1986 film "Aliens," with a little help from the developers at Gearbox Software ("Borderlands," "Duke Nukem Forever").

But SEGA isn't finished yet. At Comic-Con International in San Diego, the company introduced yet another project for the franchise, an upcoming Nintendo DS shooter called "Aliens: Infestation." The game is very close to completion and set to arrive this September, and CBR News managed to go hands-on with a recent build at the SEGA Arcade, a few blocks from the San Diego Convention Center.

This game plays very differently from "Aliens: Colonial Marines," as the developers at WayForward ("Contra 4," "Batman: The Brave and the Bold") have gone with a classic side-scrolling approach to game design, rather than the popular first-person shooting perspective. However, a high amount of intensity remains. You play as one of 19 Colonial Marines (the demo only featured four), working your way through familiar locations from the "Aliens" film, including the Sulaco and the deserted colonial planet of LV-426. Your mission is simple -- track down Xenomorphs that have run rampant, and wipe them out.

Each of the Colonial Marines comes equipped with a great deal of weaponry, including smart guns, pulse rifles, shotguns (for close encounters) and flamethrowers. However, instead of going with a run-and-gun style as WayForward did with "Contra 4," "Aliens: Infestation" opts for a more realistic, intense approach. The ammunition for each weapon is very limited, meaning that if you run through a clip without much thought, you could find yourself unarmed when you run into an alien -- and that means lights out for you. You'll need to conserve your firepower for when you need it the most, and keep a steady finger on the trigger, as these suckers will practically pop out of anywhere. These Aliens are pretty well known for being sneaky, running through air ducts and popping out of walls.

As a Colonial Marine, you'll need to use every tactical advantage you can get to keep a jump on your enemies. You won't be able to run and shoot in "Aliens: Infestation." Rather, you'll need to strategically set yourself up for assault, using cover to avoid incoming acid spit (which burns to the touch) and occasional blind fire to clear the way, should a group of aliens be blocking your run for an elevator or hallway. Sometimes you'll need to be even more cautious when approaching a situation. On the Sulaco, for example, stealth will be your greatest asset, as you sneak past unsuspecting aliens and conserve your bullets for more lethal ones you'll run across later.

WayForward has put together an intuitive gameplay system that wraps all this together beautifully. Combat works very well in this game, as you can switch between weapons with the help of a sub-menu and keep at the steady in any given combat situation. There's action galore here, but it's a "smart" style of action, something that requires you to think and not go flying off the deep end, like certain Marines in the "Aliens" film.

Furthermore, "Aliens: Infestation" requires a deeper sense of exploration. Both LV 426 and the Sulaco are huge in scope, forcing the Marines to search for items such as key cards, ammunition and other ingredients crucial to each mission. It's almost on the same level of such classic games as "Super Metroid" and "Castlevania: Symphony of the Night," where part of the fun comes from exploring new terrain. This should add a few extra hours worth of gameplay time to "Infestation," and keep players searching for every little thing. (We only scratched the surface during the demo, but it gave us a moderate idea of what to expect in the final game.)

Each of the 20 Colonial Marines in the game has their own personalities, all of which lend to its overall storyline. While we only saw a small snippet of interaction between the team members, the overall mix should keep things interesting, if only to see how each one reacts in these tight situations. Furthermore, they'll need to work closely together as a unit in order to stay alive. Some situations will even call upon you to rush to someone's rescue, with minutes clicking down on a timer until they're fatally implanted with alien embryos. Every precious second counts when it comes to keeping your team in one piece; with aliens practically popping up from everywhere, it builds an immense amount of tension which is perfect for an "Aliens" game.

Bringing a comic sensibility to the title, SEGA brought on comic artist Chris Bachalo -- whose recent work can be seen on the "Fear Itself" tie-in issues of "New Avengers" -- to design the Colonial Marines. His artwork is impeccable, and featured on the cover of the game, with three Marines ready for battle against an alien armada. It also shows in many parts of the game, particularly when the aliens jump around, forcing the soldiers to run for their lives, lest they become a breeding ground.

The overall design that WayForward has put into "Aliens: Infestation" is decidedly old school, and absolutely perfect when it comes to using the Nintendo DS. Animations look terrific for the 2-D style of game, and the stage design, inspired by James Cameron's sci-fi classic, definitely measures up. The sub-menu, located on the bottom screen, makes it easy to choose options, such as checking out what's on a scanner or switching to the next available weapon, so you won't need to pause to find the best option. (And in this game, standing still isn't entirely recommended.)

SEGA also did a bang-up job recreating the audio experience from "Aliens" here. The beeping of the scanner is absolutely intense, especially when you're surrounded by aliens who are ready to ambush you. Furthermore, their screams are truly authentic, especially when they spot you and move in for the kill. We didn't get a chance to hear what the bigger, badder ones sound like, but rest assured, your skin will be crawling once they do.

The game does not feature any multiplayer, sadly, but from what we understand, it's better as a single-player experience anyway. Having to go mano-a-mano with these aliens is a lot more intensive than going in as a group of Marines. While some might wonder why SEGA is releasing the game for the original DS, rather than the new 3DS, it probably works best on the older format based on the style of art. 3DS owners also know that standard DS can be played on their new devices without any problems.

Though "Aliens: Colonial Marines" is likely to get more attention next year due to the popularity of the consoles it will be available on, "Aliens: Infestation" shouldn't be overlooked when it arrives on Nintendo DS next month. The level of sheer tension this game generates is more than enough to justify the price, though the exploration aspect, the genuine presentation and thought-provoking gameplay should definitely help as well. Just make sure you're properly prepared or it's game over, man.

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