Ridley Scott's Alien and James Cameron's pluralized sequel have left an undeniable mark on science fiction that is still felt to this day. The films' sense of hopelessness fighting against stealthy, predatory foes in bleakly industrial corridors has influenced countless video games ranging from Dead Space all the way back to Nintendo's classic platformer Metroid.
How appropriate then that, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of both Aliens and Metroid, SEGA has released Aliens: Infestation, a Nintendo DS follow up to the films that brings the franchises full circle, offering both Metroid's open world gameplay and Aliens' signature sense of terror and desolation in one title. While that mere concept may be enough to sell a title, developer WayForward took it upon themselves to craft an experience that uses its license smartly, as opposed to simply using it as a crutch.
Aliens: Infestation is set after the events of Aliens, with a squad of space marines sent to the Sulaco to find out what happened onboard the derelict ship. Naturally, the xenomorphs that infest the corridors of the ship are still feeling homicidal, and it's up to the plucky squad to escape with their lives.
It's not Hemingway, but the plot provides enough progression and motivation for the game's delicious sense of tension. Enemies can pop up, literally, when you least expect them, and your group of space faring leathernecks is far from invulnerable. In fact, Infestation goes so far as to make every character's death permanent: the death of a marine sends you back to the last save point to pick one of his squad mates to continue the fight. There is the occasional window of time for players to rescue their fallen comrades and extra marines scattered around the Sulaco to even the odds (I've never seen extra lives handled so literally), but if every marine in your squad is killed, it's game over (man).
This novel innovation has been backed by a game that is pure nostalgia. Infestation plays like the world's greatest 16-bit platformer, from its gorgeous sprite-based graphics to its simple controls and mechanics. The Aliens license is just extra-tasty icing on the cake, with all the sights and sounds of the franchise on deck. The understated rasp of the pulse rifle, the skittering form of the facehugger, and the shrieking xenomorphs are all represented perfectly within the game's retro design, and the additional art provided by comic legend Chris Bachalo (Death: The High Cost of Living) is absolutely gorgeous.
I thought that I would have to wait for the upcoming Aliens: Colonial Marines for an authentic game in the Aliens universe. Thankfully, Aliens: Infestation scratched that itch a little early, as well as my itch for the Super Nintendo and Genesis games of my youth. Don't let the handheld nature of the game fool you: this is as true of an Aliens experience as you could hope for.