Who says that game developers don’t listen to criticism? In fact, they often do but usually only when a sequel rolls around, giving them the opportunity to make any changes or improvements made necessary by the reaction of players and critics alike. With the age of digital distribution and self-publishing, however, the videogame landscape is currently changing and the rules being re-written. And if a developer chooses to take popular criticism into account it can now go about addressing it in entirely new ways.
Take Team17 for example. After re-launching its classic Alien Breed franchise last year with Alien Breed Evolution, the developer/publisher expected a warm response from Xbox 360 gamers, especially after all the excitement surrounding the comeback of the much loved Amiga classic. But Alien Breed Evolution wasn’t quite received as well as was expected.
Released as close to Christmas Day as is possible, the reboot sadly failed to grab any attention inside a predictably quiet time for new game purchases and its sales fell quite short of the high level Team17 has traditionally enjoyed with digital titles like Lemmings and Worms. Compounding the matter was the fact that this first of three episodes didn’t review particularly well either. With a metacritic average of 69% you could say that critical reaction to Episode 1 was mixed at best – even those publications that did enjoy the reboot, such as games™, complaining that some key elements of the original Alien Breed magic were missing.
So what has Team17 done? Well it could have done nothing. The team could have shrugged their shoulders and carried on as usual. But instead, the difficult decision was taken to delay the release of Episode 2 in order to make some crucial improvements in accordance with the mixed feedback and, in addition to this, the team decided to relaunch Episode 1 with similar changes made.
Now called Alien Breed Impact, the game is set to be re-released on Steam and PlayStation Network complete with a couple of changes specifically addressing the criticisms of the specialist press. Largest among these is the re-introduction of vending machines to the series. Last seen in 1994’s Alien Breed Tower Assault, they once allowed you to trade collected credits for new weapons but will now do something slightly different.
Rather than simply sell new firearms, they now allow you to purchase upgrades for each of your weapons, including increased firepower, faster reload and faster firing speed. Each of which is extremely expensive, forcing you to make careful use of credits, while a limit of just one single upgrade per weapon at a time encourages thoughtful strategy that, under the right choices, reaps huge rewards. This addition significantly changes Alien Breed from a run-n-gun shooter into something with more depth and forward-planning. A change that Team17 has not taken lightly, considering that the original brief was to create a pure arcade-style shooter.
As well as adding weapon upgrades, the developer has also re-designed a number of the aliens so that they appear more visually distinct from eachother, making it easier to predict their individual attack patterns and behaviour on sight and drawing attention to the fact the combat is a little bit cleverer than some people originally gave it credit for. Finally, the PC release will include a brand new mouse & keyboard control scheme that might sound a little odd at first but which we’re happy to report, after a little hands-on time with the demo, works wonderfully. Almost like an FPS but from above, it gives you direct control over your character’s movements while offering a super-fast and precise aiming solution that soon becomes second nature.
Here’s the official press release for those of you looking for a bit more info.
Alien Breed: Impact is now tougher and requires more individual exploration than its predecessor. It features expanded customisability, with upgrades available for weapons that can be purchased using cash looted from corpses and lockers. If that isn’t enough to whet your appetite, there are enhancements to the co-operative gameplay experience for you and a shooting buddy, not to mention the “Prologue” campaign, which takes players through an updated and expanded introduction to the world of Alien Breed.
Alien Breed: Impact is a testament to Team17’s ongoing desire to improve and to recognize the community as important contributors to their games. Studio Head Martyn Brown echoes these sentiments: “We’re always very keen to hear what our communities are saying about our titles and greatly consider feedback. For Alien Breed: Impact, it was great that we went back to the design and improved the game in many areas, meaning a much tighter gameplay experience for all.”
That Team17 has been humble enough, and willing to spend its own money on going back to Evolution and improving it in this way is hugely commendable. Alien Breed Evolution was always a good game but now it stands a chance of becoming a great one, especially as parts two and three improve further on this reinvigorated design and aim toward a new Alien Breed that can satisfy both the desire of developer and player alike. And having had a sneak peek at that second episode – now titled Alien Breed 2: Assault – we can confirm that things are definitely moving in the preferred direction. Look for a full preview in a future issue of games™.
UPDATE: New trailer incoming…