First Shot: Alien Swarm
Valve released a new game this week. Surprised? I certainly was. But there’s more: It’s available for free, it’s not a first-person shooter, and, most surprisingly of all, it was released on time (rim shot).
But that’s about where the surprises end. Alien Swarm is a cooperative online shooter that pits four players, armed to the teeth, against a massive horde of enemies as they fight their way through a series of stages in a broader campaign. So is Left 4 Dead, one of Valve’s earlier releases. Let’s try again: Alien Swarm follows a tough-talking yet diverse unit of space marines as they investigate a colony that has dropped out of contact, only to discover that it has been overrun by vicious aliens bent on massacring everyone. That’s also the plot of James Cameron’s Aliens, the 1986 blockbuster that spawned a generation of sci-fi horror.
So yes, Alien Swarm is very derivative. But you know, I liked both of those works it rips off, and this game makes them work well together. And the team that started this project as an Unreal Tournament mod back in 2004 is very up-front about their influences: The game’s original tagline was “Just Another Bug Hunt,” a line they pulled straight out of the movie.
Although the movie, for some reason, didn’t have a military-grade bug zapper.
So far most of the fun I’ve had with this game has come from the unlockable items (mostly weapons) that it offers. There are several different types of alien, but seemingly a hundred ways to kill any of them, and I kept finding myself eagerly awaiting the next unlock so I could test out its bug-frying potential.
Not that the game is perfect; aside from its heavy reliance on other people’s ideas, some elements like teamwork and story seem fairly token, and I’ve been seeing some moderate to serious framerate issues at random times. But technical issues aside, the game so far feels like a very solid offering for something that had so little fanfare. I’ll have a full review up later, but there’s really no reason not to just download it for free right now.