Earlier this week, after much waiting and uncertainty, the Valve Corporation released Alien Swarm based on the 2004 mod of Unreal Tournament by the same name. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Valve, these are the guys that run the infamous Steam Online gaming service, which is pretty much the only way to get your hands on Alien Swarm. However, for the price tag of free, it is really a no-brainer to download and try this game.

Alien Swarm is a 4-man, co-op, top-down shooter. Players of the game Super Smash TV from back in the day will remember this format. The graphics are much better of course and Alien Swarm is played with a keyboard and mouse, but the familiarity is readily apparent. The controls are a little wonky at first. You use the standard WASD to move your character around, and the mouse pointer targets your gun. I don’t know how many times I’ve shot myself in the foot trying to move my guy, while fighting enemies swarming from all sides.

Yes, this game has friendly fire, much to my dismay. With four people running around, each with their own agendas, this can be rather problematic. It is, as always, best to work as a team that moves as a tight pack, with one or two guys watching the flank, and a dedicated player to watch the backside. If the title of the game didn’t tip you off, you will be subjugated to a non-stop swarm of aliens that pretty much will just keep coming unless you keep moving. I had the benefit of jumping into a game of friends that were all higher level than me, so I didn’t get a chance to see how complex the game maps were my first time through, however, we played through all seven of them in the course of a one hour sit down.

Alien Swarm

As mentioned above, players level up by completing maps and killing Aliens. Your level will unlock new perks, such as more powerful weapons and defenses. Players can choose between four classes, each with their own unique style of gameplay. As expected, you have the two classes that bring damage to the table, as well as the token Medic that is supposed to follow you around and save your life. There is also a Tech class that is required for many of the missions to unlock certain areas of progression. Some missions require a member of your team to play certain classes, so it is best to get acclimated with the basic play style and benefits of each of their abilities.

Solo gamers will really find Alien Swarm disappointing because it is neigh impossible, and highly frustrating, to try to complete on your own. Sure you can use the game lobbies to find pick-up groups, but the general “everyone for themselves” mentality doesn’t mix well with Alien Swarm. You can also play in offline mode with three computer-controlled characters, but this is merely for practice as there is no character advancement. This game was made to be played with friends, online, period. You progress your character through the levels, acquire new guns and abilities, only to do it all over again once you make it to the maximum level. For this reason, levels only serve as a means of progression so as not to give you everything on your first mission. However, if you have a buddy that is higher level than you, he can easily pass you a few weapons and items during the mission that you would otherwise be unable to acquire. So this game really focuses on playing as a team, and doesn’t really penalize you for not playing as much as your friends.

For a top-down oriented game, the graphics are pretty stealer. Cranked to the full 1920×1080 on my Core2duo with a GTX275 was not a problem at all. Many of the levels are very dark, which adds to the whole Aliens coming out of nowhere effect. I recommend cranking up the brightness right off the bat. While voice support is available in Steam, Valve went ahead and built support directly into the game’s client as well, which is a nice touch, although I felt as though more time should have been spent adding more maps to the game. Luckily, there is a developer’s kit available for aspiring game makers that want to expand upon Alien Swarm, so theoretically there will be an endless supply of levels in a few months for players to devour. In fact, the makers of Alien Swarm were actually part of the mod community and were actually hired by Valve a few years back. This could be your ticket!

If you are looking for a fun game to play with your friends online that can be picked up for a short time and put right back down again, then Alien Swarm is your game! At the free price point, it is pretty easy to convince your friends to try it out, assuming they have gotten past the whole fear of using a digital service like Steam. The graphics are not too taxing on modern day computers, and the game play is pretty straight forward and addicting.

Our thanks to Valve for producing a kickass product at a price we can afford!

Graphics: B B
Gameplay: B
Story: D
Enjoyment: A-
Replayability: A