Alien Swarm

Bad Bugz

I’m busy reading a milquetoast digital rendition of “Reactor Problems for Dummies,” thinking I really should be letting everyone know I’m out of it, when a sound makes me seize up. It’s faint, no more than an understated bloop, but the implications behind it are terrifying. The 30 seconds I’ve spent hovering over a lost PDA have left quite the gulf between myself and the rest of my team. I’m cut off, low on ammo, and increasingly aware of how vulnerable I really am.

Because something is getting closer.

I decide to take a run since there’s an outside chance that I won’t get chopped to bits. I make it a third of the way before I’m treated to a slow-motion replay of my death, courtesy of a vent-spawned Lovecraftian creation of fangs and claws and jaundiced skin. Since I was the only tech expert in my quad-pod, the team is left bereft of anyone able to manipulate computers and hack gates. This results in an instant fail for the mission, as I’m derided for being the F.N.G. Despite the air of defeat permeating my e-cred, It’s moments like these that make Alien Swarm an absolute joy.

It’s true, the price helps things quite a bit. The last freebie I remember getting from Valve was Lost Coast (a tech-demo that introduced bloom/HDR to the HL2 engine, and served as the dry run for Valve’s audio-commentary mode). Before that it was Ricochet, a hardly-remembered Tron copy that was offered as a reward to those who had purchased Half-Life before the advent of STEAM. Neither was particularly memorable. In an odd way, Lost Coast capped off my five-year odyssey of mods and total conversions. By that time, the scene for Half-Life 2 was showing serious signs of a persistent vegetative state, and I was too preoccupied with the balance of work and school to follow weapon renders on nameless forums.

In an equally odd way, Alien Swarm recaptures the ancient thrill of random Half-Life mods. Part of that is because it’s given me new reason to boot up my STEAM account, but I’m also impressed by the dearth of information I had regarding this. Dropping into a new intellectual property in this way is almost unheard of now. There’s simply too much information available over conventional means to be surprised over releases. Hell, I was stealing cookies from the Valve hospitality table at E3 and I heard nary a word, teaser image or blurb about this game. Being a free release that (for me, at least) appeared out of some nameless primordial aether, I’m reminded of the blank discovery that followed after picking a game out of a list on FilePlanet, firing it up, and just exploring for a good while. That sense of aimless, discombobulated shock kind of adds a layer of appreciation to this experience. Granted, some might feel like Swarm was built on the back of Left 4 Dead (four player party facing off against an unyielding force that intensifies attacks if a group stalls; success predicated on the absolute necessity of team cohesion and cooperation), but there’s a precarious leveling system at play here that works as a wonderful carrot on a stick.

For the moment, unlocking a freeze turret or sniper gun is just enough to keep me going back to the well. While the maps are a bit on the lean side, there’s lots of hope that further campaigns will be introduced via DLC. Ultimately, those bits of extra content will decide if this game sinks or swims, because I doubt many players will stick around long enough to perfect speed runs.

Alien Swarm could have been sold as a $20 game with nary a peep. That it wasn't slapped with a price tag is a much welcomed gift. It’s a complete experience and an ungodly challenge at the higher levels. With hardly any showstoppers to be found, it makes for a good go-to game to have on hand when StarCraft II is kicking your ass.

Comments

For people like myself that have a very limited gaming budget, this game is a godsend. There are lots of free little gamelets out there, but they're not multiplayer most of the time and almost always lack the polish of a Valve title.

This weird little merger of L4D and Gauntlet bowled me over. I can't wait to see if they can turn a profit on the DLC side. That could set a precedent for more free to play, pay to upgrade sorts of games.

You gotta hand it to Valve: they do some uncommon stuff. I keep wondering if, broadly speaking, this is the sort of thing that happens when you free yourself from the expectations of shareholders.

But enough of my Valve-fellatio...

Oh snap, it's free! Good writeup Spaz. Downloading now.

Still having trouble getting a decent game of mutiplayer in. Whenever I jump into or host a game it's filled with people who have already played several times already. They all go speeding off down some hallway while I'm looking at the map or something. I tab out to mind myself alone in a darkened corridor with giant crabs nibbling on my toes. Fifteen seconds later I'm dead and spectating my way through the rest of the level. I'm level 3 after approximately 40 seconds of actual playtime.

Single player practice mode has been okay, but playing L4D single player has never been much of an experience. Better than solitaire I guess.

Oh, I should mention there's an official GWJ Alien Swarm group. They're pretty good about sending off announcements about spur of the moment games and the guys will at least tolerate* the inexperienced.

(* Many apologies to Duodae, as I became his groups perma-liability through our playtime)

One thing that absolutely helps make this game: a headset. You just don't realize how much you leverage the voice chat in XBL.

I really like this game. Definitely worth trying. The replay of your progress through the map and where any deaths occurred show you just how smartly they engineer things over at Valve.

I still resent Alien Swarm for being so good that Black Cat put NightBlade (their then-UT2k4 mod follow-up to Thievery UT) on the back burner because of it. NightBlade was the main reason I bought UT2k4, then Alien Swarm came out and totally took off! Daaaamn yoooou, Alien Swarm.

(Coincidentally, Neo-Tokyo was the other reason I got UT2k4, which also ended up going Source.)

Does make me wonder what Valve 'buys' when they employ people from the various projects. For example the Narbacular drop/Tag digipen guys making Portal/Portal2 respectively, Turtle rock making L4D, Icefrog, all the way back to the TF/CS/DoD mod teams. Are they looking for talent generally, to put their prototype games out as Valve titles with the polish that comes with it, or a little from both columns.

A Valve version of ThieveryUT would be nice, and given the approach of their multiplayer titles I think would be feasible.

Spaz wrote:
milquetoast

That's just lovely.

Spaz wrote:
Oh, I should mention there's an official GWJ Alien Swarm group. They're pretty good about sending off announcements about spur of the moment games and the guys will at least tolerate* the inexperienced.

And if you want in said group, please visit the catch-all, where you will be welcomed.

I'm surprised at how few people seem to notice that it's essentially Alien Syndrome, with some Left 4 Dead put in for good measure. Some pubbies I was playing with the other day seemed to think it was a ripoff of Gears of War and Alien vs. Predator.

And Alien Breed from the amiga. Good artists create, great artists steal. Happens all the time.

I've always heard that quote as "good artists borrow, great artists steal." It was attributed to Igor Stravinsky when I first heard it but I'm sure the internet will tell us where we can see it etched into a rock face in a forgotten Mayan temple.

Oh right, the game.

Awesome! I need to remember to go online with my computer again. Lately all my online play is X-BOX, or not at all. If this game were on a console I have at least a dozen friends who would gladly pay full price for this mix of Gauntlet and Aliens.

. . . nuke the place from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

Scratched wrote:
And Alien Breed from the amiga. Good artists create, great artists steal. Happens all the time.

Right, nothing against the game, of course. If Valve had thought attacking aliens and marines was too cliched in 1998, we'd all be missing out. I just find it surprising how many people seem to think this is an entirely new concept.

gains wrote:
I've always heard that quote as "good artists borrow, great artists steal." It was attributed to Igor Stravinsky when I first heard it but I'm sure the internet will tell us where we can see it etched into a rock face in a forgotten Mayan temple.
You're probably right, I'm not going to claim my memory is perfect.

I find it a bit funny when people claim 'rip off' on a certain game, as though there was a right to a certain setting or type of game. What I think is a bigger concern is too many of the same type of game within a small timespan.

Don't forget Shadowgrounds (and the excellent Shadowgrounds Survivor).