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Alien Breed 3: Descent

I can’t say that I ever had the slightest clue what was going on in Alien Breed 3: Descent. The third entry this year in Team 17’s Alien Breed reboot (the original was released in the early 1990s) does have a plot, but I lost track of whatever excuse for killing alien bugs that the game offered somewhere during the first cutscene. From what I gleaned, we’re a space marine, our ship has crashed into another ship and the bugs are pissed. There’s more to it, there’s something involving some sort of cyborg, there’s a past between our hero and an entity controlling the ship, but really, all you need to know is this: aliens are angry, lock and load.

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The alien ship brings back thoughts of other games, Dead Space coming first to mind. The metal walkways are seemingly always wet, covered in some sort of alien goo. The accident heavily damaged the ship, casting it into a darkness that our foes thrive in. There’s nothing quite as panic-inducing as being low on health, low on ammo, and seeing glowing green eyes in a darkened corner – except maybe losing count as the number of little red blips on your radar screen start to overlap one another. Enemies swarm from all directions, even coming up through the floor. All the while, a maniacal voice is heckling and taunting you ala System Shock 2 or Portal, reminding you how weak you are and how you will never, ever defeat him.

You feel like you need to survive. It’s the atmosphere, the frantic pace of the action – the genuine feeling that you’re not safe, ever. At any moment, bugs – big flesh-eating cockroaches – may burst out of the walls, the floor, the corners. You aren’t safe and they must die. As you start out, it’s tough, slow. You can run, but after a while, running through the cramped, dark holds of the ship becomes something to be done only when you’re being overwhelmed. You walk whenever possible, constantly swinging the camera around, spinning as you move toward your objective to make sure that no sneaking, creeping bug is coming up from the rear to take another snip at your dwindling health bar.

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You’ll have plenty of tools at your disposal, but it’s the equivalent of having a ton of hammers but no nails when you’re trying to build a house. Your most trustworthy weapon is your pistol, which thankfully has unlimited ammo. It doesn’t do much damage and even routine encounters against just one or two of the smaller bugs can be harrowing if there isn’t much room to move. You’ll eventually gain access to bigger, stronger weapons – the flamethrower turns the bugs satisfyingly crunchy – but even the stations that sell you ammo with your hard-earned credits stingily dole out ammo.

Alien Breed 3 fuses elements of a classic dungeon crawler with survival horror in a very effective way. It creates a panic in players, forcing us to ration our limited ammo and supplies in a huge, living world. We square off against swarms of foes, shooting and burning them with everything we have, sweating every time we reload. It creates an atmosphere, even if we have lost the story and we’re just running ahead. But sometimes there isn’t a story. Sometimes surviving is the most important thing. The satisfaction comes not from rescuing a princess, but for getting to that next checkpoint when you didn’t think you could – or getting to it when you didn’t before. The challenge isn’t some end game, putting down that bastard that keeps taunting you, it’s simply staying alive until you can save again. The satisfaction comes from still having some bullets in your guns after a big boss fight against overpowering enemies.

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It isn’t perfect. It gets repetitive. Most of your time is spent in the same environment fighting a few bug types. And spending 20 minutes and not making much progress can induce a controller throw (or two). But the little touches – like noticing a swarm of small bugs scurrying away from a body as your flashlight interrupts their munching – immerse you fully into the experience. You become caught up in it in a way you didn’t imagine you would when you first started. Alien Breed 3: Descent might remind you of some other games you’ve played, but it also stands with some of these classics on almost equal footing in the areas that count.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

Gentle persuasion

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