Alien Breed 2: Assault Review (Xbox360)

Ah yes, Alien Breed 2 - I know this one! This is the free game with an isometric viewpoint, in which four players battle their way through hordes of aliens, flicking switches and hacking computers, yes? Oh, wait... ah no, that was Alien Swarm, the PC shooter from Valve. So that must mean Alien Breed 2: Assault is the other alien shooter that has fallen folly to some rather bad timing.

OK, so that's not strictly fair - unlike Alien Swarm, Alien Breed 2 is both on PC and the Xbox 360, and plays out like a slower, more tactical version of Valve's take on the genre. Yet there's no denying that the two games looks decidedly similar... and Alien Swarm already has the upper-hand since it's, you know, free. So is there enough substance to Alien Breed 2: Assault to warrant a purchase? Let's find out.

Aliens, aliens, everywhere!

Taking on the role of a space marine, your task is to journey through an abandoned base teeming with alien lifeforms. The setting is understandably very dark and grim, with only your flashlight and the spark of gunfire are available to provide suitable vision. Movement is controlled via a twin-stick layout on your Xbox pad, or keyboard and mouse for the PC version.

Once you've been given the chance to familiar yourself with the surroundings and fire off a few practice rounds, it's time to creep into the fray. A dot on your radar shows where your next objective is and following the correct path is always easy. Soon some new red dots will begin to appear on your radar - and move swiftly towards you. Here come the aliens.

Aiming and firing is really simple stuff, and you'll easily gun down the first few hordes. The action is very similar to Alien Swarm, in that baddies can come from all directions and will attempt to overwhelm you with their numbers. However, Alien Breed feels far more tactical than its Valve-developer counterpart, with your positioning and reactions seemingly far more important for your survival.

Perhaps the best way to compare the action is to say that Alien Breed is more slow-paced. Your character doesn't move too quickly, but neither do the enemies - you're given plenty of time to assess the oncoming threat and decide how to deal with it. Alien Breed's balancing of speed again power isn't better or worse than Alien Swarm's - rather, it's just something a bit different.

Alien Breed 2 definitely feels far scarier too. Graphically it's a gorgeous piece of work, ripe with atmosphere and tension. Most of the time you'll hear enemies before you see them, and at this point your eyes with flick to the radar as you attempt to work out where they're coming from. Certain aliens aren't so spine-chilling, but the big ones always left me running for cover and muttering expletives.

The action isn't too difficult by yourself, but jump into co-op mode via Xbox Live or with a friend locally, and you'll find the challenge ramps up rather rapidly. The co-op campaign is entirely separate from the main story, which is really great - but we just wish it was a little more unforgiving. There's no option to choose the difficulty settings, and we found that about halfway through each co-op level the aliens would annihilate us.

Bring fire... and lots of it

This wouldn't be so much of a problem - practice makes perfect, of course - but you're then sent all the way back to the start of the level, and if you've just spent the last 20 minutes getting to that point, having to do it all over again feels like a bit of a chore.

There are other problems beside this unrelenting co-op difficulty. Different weapons and items can be picked up and selected via the d-pad, which proves itself to be a horrible way of dealing with chops and changes, especially when you're in the middle of a horde and both your thumbs are already busy. You'll also find yourself running out of ammo constantly and having to buy some from consoles scattered around the place, but the prices are way too high and you'll need to play for ages before anything decent is available to you.

Our other main gripe is the shallowness of the missions. Every single objective will involve pressing this button to active this platform, or turning on this computer to open this door, or something along those lines. A little more variety would have done wonders for the setting, and kept us more immersed in the action.

Apart from the single-player and co-op campaigns, there is the excellent survivor mode. Wave after wave of aliens are sent your way until you can take no more, and the idea to survive for as long as possible, stocking up on health and weapons between each round. The action can get incredibly hectic, and you'll find yourself backed into a corner for the most part. Epic stuff.

Hey look, it's that Alien Sw... Breed game!

But back to the main question: Is Alien Breed 2 worth forking out your cash for if you've already played Alien Swarm to death? It's a tough one, given that there's $10 between them - yet we'd still recommend that you give Alien Breed a go. Sure, the concept, the setting, the characters, the enemies are all basically the same, but Team 17's take on the genre has enough subtle differences to make a playthrough worthwhile.

Alien Breed 2: Assault is solid, alien-splattering fun, and a real challenge to boot. If you and a friend can see past the harsh difficulty curve and appreciate the more tactical side of alien hunting that this game provides, there are half a dozen hour's worth of dark, claustrophobic fun to be had.

Top Game Moment: Reaching the higher waves in Survivor Mode and keeping dozens of aliens back at once.

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