It’s fair to say that the Alien quadrilogy (though is it pentology now that Prometheus has been released) was the biggest influence on the Amiga game Alien Breed by Team 17 though there are definite nods to other top-down maze shooters like Gauntlet.  Like Ridley Scott’s xenomorph saga, the game Alien Breed sees the player(s) investigating the mysterious silence of a space ship and finding an infestation of strange carnivorous creatures.

The game begins with a creepy overture written by Alistair Brimble (genius btw) emphasising the… well… alien nature of the game.  The melody evokes thoughts of aliens scurrying around dark corridors dashing quickly and then skulking in the shadows.  It’s worth listening to in its entirety before firing up the game.  And when you do hit one or two players, you’re thrown into the landing deck having just emerged from your ship armed only with a machine gun.

It’s not long before the first aliens find your position and begin charging towards you.  The goal is to descend further into the ship from level one, collecting ammunition, dropped key cards and money along the way.  The computer also credits your account by 30 credits each time you kill an alien.

Dotted throughout the ship are computer terminals which give the player access to a variety of options – the ability to buy new and increasingly powerful weapons, tools to get through the game more quickly or to look at the statistics of the player as he/she progresses through the ship.  There’s even a game of pong if one fancies a rather different change of place…

As the player continues to travel through the ship, it quickly becomes apparent that the mission is no longer one of simple investigation but extermination – these flesh-eating monsters cannot be allowed to remain on board so you need to manually trigger the ship’s self destruct device.  However, many of the decks when the primary objective is completed will trigger a countdown to self-destruct/sterilisation adding to the tension.  Memorising routes to the deck lift are essential as the time limit is far from generous and there are still aliens prowling the decks.

Alien Breed is a wonderfully simple game and yet it has a very high replayability and lastability quotient.  Because each deck is large, there’s always a great deal of exploration that can be done.  The more a player investigates every nook and cranny, the greater the rewards that can be picked up but as always, aliens will keep coming after the player no matter how many others are killed.

The huge array of weapons on offer together with the variable nature of the missions does give a bit more versatility than say Gauntlet.  Does one save ones credits for the premium weapons relying more on the weaker guns until enough cash has been saved or should guns be purchased as and when credits become available?  Each weapon has its pros and cons – differing methods and rates of fire and how many rounds finish off an alien as well as how quickly it’ll burn through an ammunition clip. 

The game really comes into its own in multiplayer – two characters running around the maze (they must be on the same screen at all times) allows greater exploration of the maze and covering each others backs BUT the two players won’t share credits, keys or ammunition so it is beholden on the players to genuinely co-operate so that they get equal shares to maximise their likelihood of survival.

Now the original Amiga game only had five levels but would take around an hour to complete from beginning to end.  An expansion pack was soon released boosting those levels from five to fifteen iirc – it has been a while – including the notorious level set in extremely low lighting where touching a wall would set off the destruct mechanism…  and a sequel was released a couple of years later which also spawned its own expansion pack.

Lucky XBOX owners got a remake last year/the year before and if you haven’t downloaded it from XBOX Live, DO SO AT ONCE!!

There is also a remake of the original Amiga game available for download and I’m so sorry readers but I cannot remember where the hell I downloaded it from.  It might have been Retro Remakes, it might have just been from typing in “Alien Breed PC Remake” into Google…if I were at home, the readme file would give me the damned web address.  Rattus Cockus.  But it shouldn’t take too long to find. 

The remake is excellent though you’ll want to play with a joypad rather than a keyboard (hence why I went out on Saturday looking for one…) as diagonal fire is difficult with the keyboard.  Still, it’ll keep you coming back for more, hearing aliens scream as your pulse cannon rips into their flesh.

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