Another Bughunt

Chances are, if you play PC games consistently, you’ve heard of Steam. If you’ve heard of Steam, you may have heard of a recent game that came out: Alien Swarm. Released for free mid-July, the game is a Source engine version of an Unreal Tournament 2004 mod revolving around killing aliens known as the “Swarm” who have infested a colony. The Source engine is also used for all contemporary Valve games, and has been around for more than half a decade, showcasing its versatility (other games running on Source include Half-Life 2, Portal, Team Fortress 2, and the Left 4 Dead games, to name a few). The real interesting thing about Alien Swarm isn’t any of this, however.

It’s free.

Alien Swarm was released completely free with dedicated servers, matchmaking, the works, all courtesy of Valve. Reasoning abounds for this, but the main idea is to promote brand loyalty, draw in more Steam users, and to promote mod content for multiple Source games, as the Source SDK is available to anyone who purchases a Source game. So anyone can get Steam, download the game for free, and play with anybody else who has it! It’s a remarkably effective tactic, and the game is highly enjoyable.

As previously stated, the goal is to wipe out the Swarm. The game is a top-down shooter, perhaps reminiscent of some isometric shooters such as Killzone: Liberation. Controls are fairly simple: WASD moves one’s character, albeit not in FPS fashion (W is always to move up, no matter what direction you’re facing, and so forth), mouse aims your cursor and reticule. That’s about it. There are four playable classes, with eight different characters, two per class. Each class has their own equipment and role: Officers deal massive specialized damage, Special Weapons handle hordes, Techs provide supporting fire and hack, and Medics also offer supporting fire while healing the group.

General gameplay consists of moving quickly through levels, as Swarm enemies will constantly be spawning throughout the level at a set pace (those interested in console commands should note the AI Director from Left 4 Dead, which adjusts spawns based on difficulty the group is having, is capable of being enabled). Sometimes the objective is merely to get to the end of the level alive. Almost always there are secondary objectives, such as hacking terminals to obtain flight data, reactivating consoles, outlasting Swarm hordes, and escaping in a timed trial.

The one downside to Alien Swarm is the replayability, and lack thereof at the same time. The game has one campaign, Jacob’s Rest, which is composed of seven relatively short missions (there are achievements for time trials, which have you completing the game in under a half hour if you’re capable of performing them all in one run, but they are very difficult). There are four difficulty levels to enjoy as well, and the different classes make it fun to replay and see what you prefer. The problem is that there’s only one campaign, and by the time one puts a handful of hours into the game and unlocked most everything, Jacob’s Rest seems not enough.

This is where the modding community is to come in and release custom content. Campaigns are being developed already; I’m even writing a friend’s campaign and I don’t really possess any mod skill whatsoever. The replayability problem is exacerbated by lack of true bot support. If someone drops out midmatch, a bot takes their place, but most of the time they are braindead and unable to play properly. There is also no single player mode; offline practice consists of the first level, which does not go to the mission complete screen upon reaching the exit, and an online game requires a minimum of two players.

Despite this, the game is overwhelmingly fun and easily worth the price of admission, seeing as there is none. If you have a PC capable of running the Source engine, you should definitely download Alien Swarm and give it a try. What’s the harm? It doesn’t cost a thing but a few minutes of download time.

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~ by Vaikyuko on July 26, 2010.

One Response to “Another Bughunt”

  1. Really awesome game. Especially since it’s free!

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