By Tommy Robbins. This is LOAD FILE, where hostile extraterrestrials knocking on our door are answered with a plasma shotgun to the face. This week, Tommy reviews ‘Alienation’ from Housemarque for the PlayStation 4.

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Good news: the creators of the sleeper hit Resogun have churned out another intense white-knuckler of a shooter. A development team who thrives in the world of 2D bullet-hell shooters, Housemarque has created a game that feels like an assemblage of the best parts of action shooters. Simultaneously combining the loot grind of Destiny (just the good parts, okay?!) and the fast-paced overhead action of something like Helldivers, Alienation is pleasing in a way wholly unexpected — especially since it follows the perhaps not-so-great Dead Nation release. (Also from Housemarque.) It would seem that Housemarque is currently on the road towards redemption, and Alienation is a damn good step in the right direction.

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TEENSY TINY LITTLE BABY STORY

Alienation is a story about life beyond Earth and its ultimate undoing due to years of poorly covered lies. (To punctuate this, the narrative is peppered with instances of government deceit.) It’s the tale of human perseverance and… fucking rad militarized bionic fight suits, adorned by the ultimate super-soldiers forged to fend off extraterrestrial invasion. So… yes, most of that narrative is actually really paper-thin, a truth brought home during an opening dump of exposition, accompanied by inspirational horn melodies that establish a tone that is something akin to Starship Troopers. Honestly though, it gets the job done. You’ll hardly be begging for more anecdotal intrigue once you’re blasting your way through the game’s alien hordes.

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NOW FOR THE KILLING

The real meat and sinew of Alienation is in the hair-trigger moment-to-moment, and the discovery of its somewhat hidden systems. After digesting a meager meal of story and selecting from the three available rolls, you’ll find yourself in a command center filled with loads of unreachable personalization, very little explanation, and a winking nudge to get in there and kill some aliens. This set of menus will become the foundation for all of the greatness ahead, though none of that is initially explained so it can be a tad overwhelming at first.

As you guide your mechanized meat head across the globe to fight alien scum, your experience accumulates both passive and active skill points. (Imagine that.) In between missions (via pause sub menus), these points can be dispersed to unlock a slew of character abilities. One of the nicer features here is the ability to undo any ability unlock in exchange for the return of a used skill point. This makes it possible to indulge in every ability available to you, but the safety to undo those decisions should things not work out. At first, nearly all of this is a bit too easy to overlook, but like everything else in Alienation, things quickly fall into place.

These little discoveries feel like game changers. This is because, in the beginning, Alienation is tough. Like, really tough. Second-tier difficulty is likely to leave a field of broken controllers in its wake when played for the first time. While this is aggravating, the progression from n00b to stacked super-soldier not only levels the playing field, it feels really goddamn good.

Additional to this increasingly rewarding death-upgrade-perseverance loop is a loot drop system that encourages exploration and dangerous life choices. Bounties, random events, and new checkpoints offer variation to the play experience, but also the opportunity to snag that coveted loot. Most noteworthy here, the checkpoints scattered across the map can be used to create a waypoint for player respawn after death. Useful, but boring and typical. But Alienation offers you a chance to spice things up — destroy one of these beacons and forfeit that safe and convenient respawn in exchange for a much higher loot yield upon mission completion. This can be stacked three times, offering pretty significant addition to the collected bounties after each mission. It’s the kind of gamble that appeals to the high rollers in the audience.

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ARE WE KILLING YET? 

Waving away excessive narrative to focus on what they do best, Housemarque has hit this one out of the park. Alienation is a perfect storm of twitch-shooting, loot grind, and character personalization — all presented as a beautifully polished isometric twin-stick shooter. With consecutive campaigns that operate in rapid succession (something like the Paragon Levels in Diablo), it definitely has potential for longevity. Alienation is a game that’ll raise your blood pressure, occasionally leave you grinning ear to ear, and feeling like a stone-cold mercenary covered in fresh alien guts.

Developed by Housemarque.

Published by Sony Computer Entertainment.

Platform: PS4

7.5 out of 10

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