Housemarque is a marquee name in the genre of dual-stick arcade shooters but this game is not their best.
Earth has been invaded by an alien force. Unbeknownst to most of humanity, it happened a long time ago but was covered up by the world's governments. We find ourselves at the point of extinction with little recourse. A group of scientists have developed mechanized suits for Earth's remaining soldiers and it is their duty to push into enemy held territory and save humanity.
Having played Resogun and Dead Nation from Housemarque, I had high hopes for this game. My hopes were that it was going to be as accessible and fun as their previous titles, as well as give me what I had wanted Helldivers(from Arrowhead Game Studios) to be. The game has great graphics and controls. The level of detail for this type of game is somewhat astounding since you can watch smoke roll from an explosion and see every detail of it. The feel and variance of the controls make combat a thoughtful balance of using abilities, switching weapons, and escaping when needed. Something this game has that other Housemarque games did not is a loot system. Weapons and upgrades can drop from enemies and these drops can vary based on the game difficulty you choose to play. The lowest level gives the lowest reward and harder levels give the best.
The design of the game makes it a semi-linear environment placed in an open-world. You are given and taken through a set of staged missions that present the story to you. The missions take you across the globe and help vary the environments you see. However, you will find that missions will send you back to areas and you will have to complete different objectives while exploring previously unseen portions of the map. While you are running your missions, you will see a flair of the open-worldness of the game when icons on the map indicate that there is a side mission or boss fight to complete that is not part of the standard mission. These occurrences offer their own rewards for completing them such as additional loot drops.
While the game is fun to play, its own mechanics make it frustrating. I began my play trough on the easiest setting, Rookie, just so that I could experience the game and get familiar with its system. This was a fine course of action for a time but around the eighth mission it became a huge problem. The next mission I was tasked with did not offer a Rookie setting and when I went into it I found my self tragically unready for it. None of my weapons or abilities were up to par for the task, I was quickly and easily murdered. The only resolution I found was to go back through and replay all of the previous missions, several times, on harder difficulties in order to get the weapons and XP I needed to be ready for the fight ahead.
The issue of grinding is not new for loot based and RPG games. Alienation is subject to this the same as other games but the frustration comes nonetheless. The issue of being underpowered rose again several missions after the initial incident and required the same remedy. Then I quickly found myself unready for combat because as a "reward" for my progress enemies had become harder and more frequent. The plus side was to be the opportunity for more and better loot but the prospect falls flat when you can't even survive. When I am level nineteen and my enemies are level twenty-four, I feel that I don't stand a fair chance.
The game's handling of enemy encounters is no help in the matter. Random hordes will spawn with the alert "Horde Approaching" giving the player a few seconds to collect themselves. Normally these hordes are controllable but as you progress through the game they scale up in not only the multitude of enemies but also their toughness. More and more enemies that are harder and harder to kill. A specific case how this can be at its worst happened when I was trying to activate the final objective on a mission, only to find a boss fight that was not part of the mission in the area I needed to access and while I was fighting said boss a horde spawned. Unfortunately, I did not survive and had to backtrack thorough much of the mission in order to complete it.
Housemarque did not make Alienation as accessible nor enjoyable as their previous games. The ramping of difficulty seemed unnatural for any game and even more out of place when compared to the studio's earlier works. Having wanted to romp through the game for a good time, I find myself disappointed at needing to grind away just to make any progress. Two months into the game I find that I still have not completed it and my desire to do so is waning. Dead Nation this game is not, although it shares much of the same pedigree and if one is looking for that experience they are best to go back to that game.