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Aliens: The Roguelike (Windows)

100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  General Error (4212)
Written on  :  Apr 02, 2007
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.33 Stars4.33 Stars4.33 Stars4.33 Stars4.33 Stars

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Very atmospherical tactical roguelike

The Good

Aliens: The Roguelike has appealed to me mainly because of two reasons: Its stylish, atmospherical presentation presentation and the tactical gameplay, which work together to create a never before seen immersive roguelike experience.

It is really amazing that a game displaying only ASCII graphics can be so immersive. This is mainly due to the great background music -- slow, menacing, ominous. Together with the really stylish, greenish ASCII and the tactical gameplay, this unbelievably achieves this typical paranoid "Aliens" atmosphere. I was crouched above my keyboard, eyes fixed on the screen, slowly advancing through the colony and wondering at each door what horrors may lay behind it, desperately trying to find some ammo... Just great. It goes to show what music can do for a game!

Then, the gameplay. Your standard roguelike is a straightforward dungeon crawl: Explore all levels, visit all rooms, kill all monsters, collect all treasure, go to next level, repeat until you found that one mystical object or are killed. Weeell... actually, even in the simplest roguelike and namesake Rogue, you'll have to learn and proceed *very* carefully -- any error can be deadly! Same here, but it's been taken to another level. Here, you won't get far with this standard hack'n'slay strategy.

As there are different weapons, each of which use different ammo, and as you can only carry a limited amount of ammunition, you will have to carefully decide which weapons to pick up (the best weapon clearly is of no use if you haven't got ammo for it), which rooms to enter, which aliens to kill and when to run away -- it's often not worth the ammo to enter an alien-crawling room.

The weapons all have different characteristics, just as the aliens. Trying to kill a hardy worker with your little M4A3 pistol is not a funny experience, you'll waste a lot of ammo. But doing it with a .44 Colt is entirely another thing. The shotgun is not too good against armored targets, but unbeatable when it comes to take down some juveniles standing close together. And even those juveniles can quickly shred you to pieces -- so be sure to be well-stocked in medpacks.

Furthermore, the games consists of several "dungeons" -- Civilian, Medical, Military tower --etc. -- which all have different characteristics. Medical tower is good for restocking on medpacks, while Military tower has tough aliens, but has some nice weapons to be found. Storage tower contains lots of ammo, etc. So while advancing in the game, you'll have to select when to go where.

As last example, you have only a limited field of view -- view is obstructed by walls, of course, and there are also dark towers which reduce the visible distance. You'll never know what lurks behind the next corner, and if you forget to reload your weapon and then find yourself in front of a hunter, the game can be over quite quick.

Okay, that was a lot of talk -- but these are just some examples that the game -- despite it simple roguelike appearance -- really has some tactical depth. And this interacts with the atmospheric presentation to create an immersive experience. There is not a moment to relax, you'll have to keep an eye on your ammo storage, rethink your strategy, and each room, each alien requires a different tactics.

The Bad

AliensRL has been written during the 2007 7-Day Roguelike Challenge, which means it has been written in just about seven days. It's an impressive feat to get such a varied, differentiated and complex gameplay together with a stylish presentation in such a short time, yet the game has one big and some little shortcomings.

What I miss the most is definitely a save game feature. After three hours of concentrated exploring, having lived through several near death experiences due to accidentally forgetting to reload etc., I just can't go on anymore. Yet the only way to keep a game is to let it run. Being able to save your game would definitely keep me hooked; as it is, I always have to quit, which is quite frustrating.

Although I played the 7DRL++ version -- which already contains some bug fixes and minor gameplay balancing -- there is, IMHO, some more balancing to be done. My last game ended when I had completely explored Military Tower, level 2, and then went to Medical Tower to get some medpacks. There, after some turns, an "elite" alien turned up and just tore me to pieces. This is very subjective, but I expected Medical Tower to be somewhat more relaxing then Military Tower -- until then I only had encountered elites on Military Tower level 3 and up.

It also is often hard to find some decent weapons -- at least for beginners. Running around for an hour with just your standard pistol until you find that Combat Shotgun is not fun -- especially if your backpack is crammed full with shotgun rounds... Then again, the Colt is to be found quite easily, but its ammo is quite rare, so you can't really use that either. So all in all, you'll have to spend a lot of time looking for things, which can be a bit frustrating at length. But after playing the game a bit, you'll know that Military Tower has all the nice guns ;-)

Another small detail: The AI could be better. Aliens are dumb -- they just go straight after you, so not much tactics here. Well, this is not so bad -- it befits that well-known predatory Aliens mind -- but still, fighting aliens can get a bit repetitive. The same is true for level design -- despite taking some time at the beginning of the game, the levels don't show much variation.

Finally, the sound system is not quite perfect. It sometimes quite unexpectedly plays random sounds, and it would be nice to have a volume control because the FX is unproportionally loud in contrast to the background music.

The Bottom Line

Aliens: The Roguelike is, simply put, one of the most atmospherical tactical roguelikes I have every played. Great background music, stylish ASCII graphics and a gameplay full of suspense and surprise all work together to create a very immersive gaming experience. It captures the dark and paranoid "Aliens" movies atmosphere perfectly -- quite unbelievable for a text-only game!

Quite unbelievable also that this game has been written in just seven days. Of course, this is felt in several small details (gameplay could be better balanced, and a save game feature is desperately needed), but the game does not make the impression of having been hastily hacked together. The gameplay may be a bit repetitive at length, but it is not shallow at all. The weapons system with different weapons and ammunition is great, and with the limited carrying capacity, this really requires you to fulfill your quest carefully. Hack'n'slay is definitely not an option here, which is very unusual for a roguelike, and was a nice surprise to me.

All in all, AliensRL is an amazin feat. It's possible that it will be developed further -- I'd be looking forward to that! Still, the 7DRL++ version reviewed here is already a great experience. If you like roguelikes, especially tactical ones, you should definitely check it out. Same for fans of the Aliens series -- despite the simple text graphics, the soundtrack and paranoid, terse gameplay will make you feel right at home. All others should at least have a look -- just to see that Good Games Don't Need Good Graphics ;-)