If Team 17's Super Stardust is the Asteroids of the Nineties then Alien Breed must be Gauntlet. Released just over three years ago the classic space based blast 'em up put a then fledgling company on the games software map.
Set around a human colony desecrated by aliens the game cast the player and an optional chum as galactic marines set in to find out what had happened to a space colony and then to clear the place of the aliens discovered within.
The plot was corny and uninspired but the execution was superb. Alien Breed was put together by a team of seasoned PD coders who included renowned graphic artist Tobias Richter and the then largely unknown computer musician Alister Brimble.
Everything about the game reeked of polish, from the silky smooth scrolling, atmospheric music and FX down to the arty black box which has since become a Team 17 hallmark. Such was the success of the game that a 'remixed' budget version was released (another successful formula that Team 17 have since re-used on other top titles) which went on to become one of the best-selling Amiga budget titles of all time and a sequel, last year's Alien Breed 2.
Tower of power
Now Alien Breed Tower Assault is upon us the most obvious question is whether this is more of the same or something a little more original. Judging by the game's plot it looks like the former.
Picture the scene. It's far into the future and the place is Azarin 2E, a planet rich in Tellrinium, a vital element used in military spaceship hulls. A military research unit is based here but unfortunately so is something far more unfriendly. That's right, another horde of aliens who just love humans (especially between two slices of buttered bread) are also living there and, breeding like bunnies, they start munching their way through the populace once more.
Now the universe might be a large place but after three previous colonist wipeouts at the hands (claws?) of aliens which fit the description of those here, you'd have thought the inhabitants of Azarin 2E would have clicking something was afoot when they kept tripping over assorted limbs and entrails of their companions. But no, clearly these colonies are staffed by the sort of people who have the life expectancy of a red jumpered extra from Star Trek and consequently it was goodnight Azarin 2E for anything human.
This time round though, a few of the colonists managed to survive long enough to get off an SOS. The dreadnought Herona was the interceptor and after jotting up on previous breed encounters ten dropships of trained and prepared crews were launched. As the saying goes, though, military intelligence is a contradiction in terms and the dropships neglected to take into account the base's defences. With nine dropships destroyed things weren't looking good for the crew of the tenth but they got a whole lot worse when only the player's character survives the crash. Oh dear. So once more it's down to just one man to sort these aliens out for good.
Thankfully the game itself is far more satisfying than the plot. Although the scenario and much of the gameplay is similar to previous Breed titles (why change a winning formula after all?) the implementation is better. For a start the 50 new levels are a lot less linear than before with multiple exit points. This adds considerably to the lastability rating because as its now possible to come back to a level once completed and play it again through a different route.
And it tends to stop the frustration of being stuck for ages and performing the same tasks over and over as the different routes throughout the game tend to have an easy or difficult rating. If one particular zone is causing trouble then next time round other, hopefully easier paths open to the player can be tried. Team 17 claim there are over 250 ways to complete Tower Assault.
A puzzle element has been introduced on some of the levels but don't fear shoot 'em up fans, this accounts for only a small percentage of the total game. For instance, one of the earlier routes requires all the auxiliary generators ina zone to be found and activated before a door later in the level will open. The other main new gameplay feature is the retreat mode which lets the player fire behind while running away. Although only a small point it helps avoid the frustration of say, trying to open a door while an alien sneaks up behind and attacks.
As well multiple exit points the levels themselves are much more variety packed than has often been the case. For instance some levels are set in the dark with only the aliens' eyes and a torch providing limited vision. The effect is similar to the night driving sequence in the old arcade game Spy Hunter, if anyone can remember that far back. There's new variets of alien too, including ones which burst from cocoons and others that are invisible.
Upon playing Tower Assault though, its improvements in the audiovisuals which are first apparent. There's far more graphical detail here than had been the case previously. Player sprites and backgrounds in particular deserve special praise, being both highly detailed and fluidly animated.
There is a definite downside to the detail though: some of the floor debris can look like collectible items. The yellow credits are particularly prone to this, which I found frustrating, especially after expending several keys trying to reach them. Sound too, has been suitably beefed up, even more so if playing on an A1200. If you don't have access to a stereo monitor this game is a suitable reason to consider a purchase.
Squeal like a pig!
Some of the squeals the aliens make after being hit are quite disgusting and feature a fine reverb effect. The best use of the sound though, is where the aliens are seen feeding off the humans. This is graphically depicted and the reason the game carries an 11+ rating. I'm not a great fan of ratings in games but the above scenes are some of the most gruesome I've seen in a 16-bit product and rank up there with Dreamweb so it's probably a good thing if it keeps parents happy.
Out of interest the mutilated bodies were supposed to appear in the original Alien Breed but Team 17 decided against it. After the furore surrounding the supposed violence in Mortal Kombat last year it would have been interesting to see whether Alien Breed would have sold better if it had been released with all that 'adverse' publicity.
Still the Breed series has done very comfortably well so far and Tower Assault should do the same. In my opinion it's the best of the titles and would have scored much more it wasn't a sequel. The multiple exit points and puzzle elements and of course far more levels will keep blasting fans involved for longer than the original title did, as well as breaking up the frantic blasting action that became a chore in Breed 2.
The difficulty curve has also been well judged, unlike Alien Breed which was too easy and Breed 2 which proved ridiculously tough. As it stands if you own the original Alien Breed this is still a worthy purchase. It contains much more variety and will no doubt prove to be a longer lasting gaming experience, as well as removing minor gripes like not being able to fire backwards.
If you haven't previously bought one of the series the same recommendation applies but if you've got Alien Breed 2 have a good look first as Tower Assault has a lot of similarities. It's definitely the best of the Breed bunch though and a very fitting finale to a classic Amiga games series.