Posted on July 18, 2016
[a] Get Off My Lawn
It giveth friendships, it taketh friendships.
But can you truly appreciate this top-down twin-stick four-player co-op magickal marvel without trying your hand at one of its predecessors?
Yes, you can.
But know this: Alien Swarm is totally gratis, has been fully re-mastered and updated to the brink of awesome, and doesn’t suffer from server overloads during weekends or other peak moments.
Not convinced yet? Ok then, let’s win you over.
For reference, we’re going to be using the aforementioned Helldivers again, and the equally awesome Dead Nation for comp-awe-rison purposes.
♥ STORY ♥
Remember Dead Nation’s storyline? Those stills with voiceovers in-between missions?
Pretty cool, but none of that hubbub during missions I’m afraid. Get from point A to Z in a quasi-linear fashion while smashing switches and zombie brains. No brooding monologues, no outraged cries, no heart-breaking diaries or anything.
And that’s all she wrote.
Helldivers’ side of the story? Think Starship Troopers meets Groundhog Day.
We get off to a good start, with a hilarious intro (or a prophetic vision, make of it what you want), a Claptrappy performance in the tutorial mission, and some sketchy drawn characters with voice-overs fleshing out the first few hellbouts.
Get air-dropped wherever you like on an open map with nary an obstacle, clear a few objectives, and win the war. Rinse and repeat.
Although you could always check the in-game encyclopaedia for a tiny bit of lore.
And what about his little game called Alien Swarm that I’m secretly promoting so we don’t have to hear Russian all the time even though they’re all nice chaps of course also I’m a big fan of frostbite and bears with polka hats on unicycles drinking vodka and wow that Putin guy is cray-cray
No introduction. No explanation on the how’s , where’s, and when’s whatsoever. Pick a character class and dive right in. You’re put up to speed in bits and pieces, with your friendly neighbourhood pilot relaying mission objectives to you via vidcall, and you’re bound to find some text logs strewn around that might explain your current predicament.
Instead of going from point A to Z on your seemingly straightforward map, you could try crashing through C while blocking off A and B ,and skip the rest of the alphabet altogether, as long as you clear the main objectives en route. There are also some elaborate scripted events, which only strengthen the feeling that you’re “not just grinding your way through a swarm of critters”.
♦ DEATH RATE ♦
Throw in a little boss fight here and there, or face an endless mass of bloodthirsty fiends, and you’re gonna pray everyone keeps their tactical wits about themselves during these adrenaline-infused frenetic battles, no matter which game you are playing. The smallest misstep may spell certain doom for your team and thus the outcome of your mission.
But you have some leeway here and there.
For the sake of comparison let’s assume your Helldiving team mates can revive you almost instantly. This may sound like cheating, but encounters can be very hectic and friendly fire will instakill you more often than not. It’s part of the formula, and it works surprisingly well, as you can even revive yourself if you time your death just right.
In Dead Nation, not so much. You can’t kill your buddy with regular firearms, as bullets phase right through him or her, but checkpoints are far and few between, and your team mate can only respawn if you reach one of these safe havens. Zombie got your brain right after a checkpoint? That’s too bad, you gotta sit it out ’till your counterpart singlehandedly wipes out the entire zombie population, or s/he gets crushed her/himself and you both respawn. But there ARE checkpoints at least.
Alien Swarm, that’s a whole ‘nother story. Not only are there no checkpoints, no respawns, and a whole of a lot friendly fire, if the techie dies, that’s it. Fission mailed.
Cover yourself, cover your mates, cover the tech guy, cover the goddamn door, cover the window, cover the other bloody window, cover the goddamn floor under your goddamn feet and don’t get cocky until the mission credits actually roll in.
It’s all up to your team’s prowess whether you live to see another swarm.
♠ THE OUTFIT ♠
However fondly I remember Dead Nation, if it so happened that both players only upgraded their ultimate-big-boss-killing-devices-of-doom, but can’t effectively take out a large Zombie Swarm, you’re gonna have a bad time.
These moments call for extra tacticalities or… restarting the entire game.
Helldivers also keeps it interesting in the early stages of the game, when you need to carefully select which item to spend your hard-earned upgrade points on. But when every upgrade is done and over with, and assuming you were skilled and lucky enough to unlock the leftover gear, you’re all still basically the same male or female grunt with the same abilities and gear, and only your personal skill will tip the balance in your favour.
Alien Swarm, on the other hand, keeps it even more interesting by giving you eight distinct characters from the get-go, each with their own strengths and weaknesses (and voices!).
Unlike the other two cooperative PvE shooters, while levelling up in Alien Swarm, every player gets the same non-upgradeable gear and weapons, and as such, the same chances at survival. It’s up to you however, which character, class and limited gear you bring into the fray.
You don’t want to go on a tough mission with just a techie and a medic, and expect you’re able to breathe in-between steps.
You do want to go for some healthy diversity to keep everyone supplied, protected, and most importantly, alive. Certain gear combinations don’t work out the way you want? Perish, mix it up, and give it another go.
Choose the right class for the job, try to hold your own, and make damn sure you’re an asset for the team.
♣ So there you have it ♣
Unleash all of your tactical glory upon the swarming alien horde. Get your heart pumping and pump your shotgun through their hearts, and ‘lo, fear will already be stricken in the robots, zombies and bugs from other planes of existence.
For free if you so desire.
One thousand massacres later, we grant Alien Swarm…
Alien Swarm was released in July, 2010 and is playable on PC.
Dead Nation was released in November, 2010 and is playable on PS3, PSVita and PS4.
Helldivers was released in March, 2015 and is playable on PS3, PSVita, PS4 and PC.
Big ups and downs to... Alien Swarm, by Valve Dead Nation, by Housemarque, Climax Studios and Sony Computer Entertainment Helldivers, by Arrowhead Game Studios and Sony Computer Entertainment Groundhog Day, with Bill Murray, by Harold Ramis Starship Troopers, by Paul Verhoeven Hearthstone, by Blizzard Entertainment