But even though I was fully aware of the shortcomings, I was completely drawn in. Infestation feels like what would have happened had someone made a good Aliens game in the mid-1990s. It's a cleverly structured take on the Metroidvania style of game that forces careful, methodical play. Despite those aforementioned issues, WayForward completely nailed the dread of Aliens. Infestation takes place primarily on the Sulaco, the xenomorph-infested spaceship from the film Aliens. Players control a squad of four Colonial Marines, each with unique dialogue and personality quirks, exploring the ship to find out what has happened (spoiler alert: it was aliens). In true Metroidvania fashion, you can only get to a certain portion of the ship at a time, until you pick up certain items -- like elevator keycards, a flamethrower, a wrench, and a key to the iconic Power Loader. The obstacles do feel artificial, in that there's usually an obvious thing that you need just the right item to get past, but they all make sense in the fiction, and tie in nicely to famous moments (like doors welded shut, requiring a welding torch).
You can swap the soldier you control in any save room, and when one dies he or she is gone for the rest of the game. You can replenish your supply of "lives" by finding a stranded Marine on the ship; if you have a free slot, they will join you. Occasionally, you can also save a lost Marine by finding him or her in a nearby xenomorph nest.
This "permadeath" aspect does a lot for the game. It provides a narrative justification for the concept of "extra lives." It enhances replayability by encouraging you to see all the dialogue scenes from different perspectives, and to pick up different Marines when you have the opportunity (i.e. when one of your squad dies). It also adds a significant layer of quirk, as WayForward clearly had fun coming up with characters. I can't decide which is my favorite, the sarcastic goth girl (who is also a super tough Colonial Marine, let me remind you) or the young woman obsessed with texting. Though the Marines aren't super-deep characters, I found myself sending less interesting Marines into boss fights first, in order to protect the ones I liked so I could see more of their dialogue.
Because of that basic triumph of feel, I'm able to overlook the simple enemy patterns and predictable respawning. Or, rather, I'm able to see that they don't matter that much. Infestation is a deliciously tense experience, an accurate Aliens representation and a genuinely unique Metroidvania, exactly as it is.
And you can unlock Bishop's knife trick as a touch-controlled, faux retro arcade game. Come on.
This review is based on a retail copy of Aliens: Infestation, provided by Sega.
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