Review by Danny Major (@GuyFawkesRetro)
There’s most likely no other feeling in retro gaming than what you get when turning on the Amiga 500. Although the concept of loading or booting a game may not appeal to the SEGA & Nintendo fans of the nineties, loading a 3.5 floppy disk into the drive of an Amiga has it’s charms, sounds and a feeling of power. The Amiga produced some of the finest games ever to be produced through out the 16bit era of the nineties and this did not go unnoticed by Sega and Nintendo. Amiga classics such as Cannon Fodder, Flashback, Another world, The Chaos Engine were all ported to the Mega Drive and the SNES. But, anyone who has played these games across the 16bit bit systems will tell you that they just couldn’t emulate the feeling of playing it on the Amiga, the system that gave birth to 16bit gaming. The same could be said for the vice versa of this issue. While games such as Altered Beast and Afterburner (SEGA Version) made it to the 16bit power house, the Amiga struggled to create the awesome power of the near arcade ports that the Mega Drive gave us. But there is one Amiga game that was so influential, so perfect and so advanced that no other Hardware company or Software company dare consider taking the game from the clutches of the Amiga in fear of looking like fools. In fact, the game in question was released for MS-DOS and recently remade to be played on IOS format, but it still failed to generate the atmosphere that made so many gamers play it with as many lights on as possible. The game is Alien Breed.
The Alien film franchise had produced quite a few games based on its behalf, but only one game captured the horrific atmosphere of the films. Ironically, it’s a game that’s in no way related or licensed to the franchise. The similarities between the two, especially Aliens, would in this day in age throw up a court case big enough to rival Apple & Samsung’s bid to out ‘cool’ each other. However, the game isn’t all what it seems and does not entirely ‘rip’ off the film franchise, and, in all it’s twisted & dark ways, makes for better playing than any Alien based video game of the time.
Team 17 created the game when at the time, British game developers would change the forefront of 16bit gaming forever. Utilizing the power of the Amiga 500, Team 17 were a very controversial bunch of devs that had spawned a new company from the Microbyte group of companies. Under the name of 17bit software, the company formed with another company called Team 7. Under a cloud of anger from Public Domain developers and Demo Scene enthusiasts, after selling Demo’s to Amiga owners and not giving any money back into the PD & Demo Scene community, the two companies formed as Team 17. The team went on to have success with games such as Full Contact, which really showed the power of the 16bit era coming to life.
But in 1991, Team 17 blew the doors off everything we new about gaming and introduced a new definition to the market, Survival Horror. Taking it’s theme from Aliens and it’s style from the Gauntlet games, Alien Breed would show gamers fear like the world has never seen before in any digitally animated gaming experience. Trapped in a top down world of a derelict space station, no music and only the sounds of the mechanics of the ship that resembled a long, drawn out heart beat, the idea was to survive. Wave after wave of black, evil looking aliens suddenly appear at the next turn while you struggle to obtain ammo, health and enough digital key cards to make it through the security doors in time. Fail to collect these items, especially the key cards and you become surrounded, confused and in total panic as your life bar is being drained while the main character screams in agony. This is pure gaming master class all the way.
While people try and claim that this game is nothing but a 2D version Doom, they should be reminded that there is a difference between 2D and 3D. The very fact that it has guns, and aliens makes for a case I suppose, but it ends there. The game is definitely boarder line Gauntlet, or even Alien Syndrome, but at the same time manages to be its own game entirely. Until 1991, horror games consisted of point and click titles that were annoyingly sluggish, such as Nightbreed, The Interactive Movie. Also, two years before Alien Breed, Capcom unsettled the horror genre with its Resident Evil ‘prototype’ about a group of people lost in a mansion with Zombies and Ghosts, Sweet Home, NES. Sweet Home was never released in the states or the U.K due to its graphic content that was based on the film of the same title. This would later become the bases of the monster that is Resident Evil. But none of the games at the time had any element of pure terror and the will to survive while smashing your thumbs to bits on the joystick. While the gameplay consists of moving down from level to level, leaving a path of death and expulsions behind you, this can be done in co-op mode too. While controlling our character(s), Lt John Johnston and Cpl Nash Jones, who have been sent to investigate why the space station is not responding to any calls, the games movement and awe inspiring details, come to light. The movement of the player is very well motioned and that all important collision detection does not matter here, hit an alien and you are going to deplete your life energy. Aiming at aliens at an angle can be tricky, as for any top down shooter, but it’s more of a challenge than a fault. Great visuals and details to corridors and rooms give the game the Sci-Fi edge that gamers crave, while the sound effects are extra special. The majority of the game is played out the superb noise of the machine gun or flame thrower, while the background sound effects of the ships mechanics haunt the gamer throughout the time spent on the space station. Another great addition to the game is the ‘Intex System’ that can be accessed at different computer terminals on the walls. Here players can shop through a variety of options and even entertainment. This is also how players upgrade weapons via the money collected along the way. Weapon upgrades include a more powerful machine gun to the infamous flame thrower. Cheats and other options can be used here, but it’s the entertainment that stands out. Too scared to go back into the corridors with those aliens after you? No matter then, just relax and play Pong. Well, ok, it’s not Pong, but it’s as close as you will get when stuck in cold, deserted space. Each level of the game is accessed via the lift shaft that in itself is a challenge to get too. As each level progresses, aliens develop and become harder to kill. Inevitably, you will be locked in a room with a big, bad ass alien that scares the hell out of you and is extremely hard to neutralise, but it’s achievable in the end. Atmosphere and sound effects is the key to this game being what it is. While action and gunfire is a plenty, the simple humming noise in the background will leave haunted for a while. Digital key cards can be a nightmare. To access some areas and too progress to where you need to be, you need to have the correct amount of keys on you. If you don’t, the chances are that you will not survive roaming the corridors looking for a spare one. Ammo must be used in spare too. If you can’t see any alternative but to fight your way through a room, then ammo will deplete fast. The good news about this game is that there is always an alternative, whether that be running away from the aliens or simply looking for items until you find them. The character designs mix in well with the backdrop. Although the aliens resemble nothing less than what Ripley had to defeat, they somehow look meaner, maybe because there’s more of them, or maybe because you are interacting with them.
This game is a must for any retro or Amiga fan. It’s atmospheric, panicky and has its gore. There is a Special Edition of the game released in 92’ which this review is based on, if you can get hold of a copy, its worth every penny. Also, a special ‘Disk Zero’ was released to coincide with the games story, a comic book preview on the space stations downfall. The game has its sequels and 3D counterparts, Alien Breed 3 Descent is on Xbox Live, Tower Assault on the 1200, and the sublime ‘Alien Breed 2 the Horror Continues’.
But it’s Alien Breed that puts the words ‘Survival’ & ‘Horror’ together, nothing else until the release of Resident Evil put action and horror into the same game.
No OST means more background noise, more background noise means more frights.
It’s not going to have you wanting to finish this again in a hurry, maybe check out the other titles.
If a game makes it onto various platforms and in essence doesn’t change it’s core style, then there’s no question in doubt that nothing could make this game look outdated, unless you play it on a black & white television, then you have problems. Obviously.