During a recent visit to Sega's San Francisco office we were afforded our first look at the upcoming PlayStation Portable version of Alien Syndrome. Loosely based on the original 1987 arcade game of the same name, Alien Syndrome casts you in the role of Aileen Harding, an Earth Command Trooper tasked with investigating a strange alien spacecraft and subsequently battling against all manner of deadly aliens and nasty-looking bosses. Like the arcade original, Alien Syndrome is primarily a top-down shooter, but the upcoming game also features plenty of role-playing elements such as character customization, a plethora of different items for you to find and equip, and a purportedly engaging storyline that you'll uncover through around 20 hours of gameplay.
When starting a new game you can choose one of five combat classes for Aileen, including demolitions, firebug, seal, tank, and sharpshooter. You'll have plenty of opportunities to further customize Aileen's attributes and proficiencies as you progress through the game, but each of these five templates is designed to get you off to a good start with your chosen play style. The four base attributes that you'll be upgrading as you play through the game and level up your character are strength, accuracy, dexterity, and endurance. In addition, you'll be able to spend points and learn new proficiencies that will allow you to regenerate health more quickly, carry more items, or use previously unavailable weapons, for example.
Most of the weapons that we got to see in action on this occasion were standard fare for a futuristic shooter, with laser rifles, grenade launchers, chainguns, flamethrowers, and the like all behaving exactly as you'd expect them to. Fortunately there seem to be plenty of more innovative weapons as well, such as the nanobot swarm cannon, with which you can launch an enemy-devouring cloud of insect-size robots toward enemies. The 80-plus weapons and hundreds of different armor pieces in the game will drop from enemies at random, and as in other role-playing games, you'll invariably pick up rarer and more powerful items when looting the corpses of end-of-level bosses and the like. We were also told during our meeting that you'll be able to craft items yourself using the small robot that spends the entire game following you around and trying to help in any way it can, though no further information on the crafting system was discussed on this occasion.
When you swap out weapons and pieces of armor, you'll clearly be able to see Aileen carrying or wearing them in-game. The outfits that we saw while checking out the earlier levels of the game were relatively generic-looking as far as sci-fi is concerned, but later on some of the individual armor pieces were highly stylized and in some cases made Aileen barely recognizable. Alien Syndrome's camera, which you can rotate manually, sticks pretty close to the action for the most part, which is great if you want to check out the nicely detailed models, but not so clever when it comes to being aware of your surroundings. The camera system looks to be quite intelligent, though, moving in close when you're fighting with melee weapons, but zooming out when you equip a ranged weapon so you can target your enemies more easily. The fact that enemies and objectives appear on a minimap in a corner of the screen should also go some way to ensuring that the positioning of the camera isn't problematic.
A number of the enemies we saw during our demo were insectlike in appearance, though many of them looked so alien that it's difficult to compare them to anything familiar. Without a doubt, the most memorable enemy that we saw was a boss named Gluttonous Orifice--a giant pulsating stomach, essentially. As will undoubtedly be the case with the majority of the game's obstacles, the only way past the boss was simply to kill it. We're told that Alien Syndrome will feature plenty of more interesting objectives, though, including hostage rescues, escort missions, puzzles, defending a bridge from alien attack, and sequences that are played against the clock.
No matter where you are in the game, you'll find that save checkpoints are scattered liberally throughout the environment, enabling you to make progress even if you can play for only 10 minutes or so. Alien Syndrome looks like it'll be a fun game to play solo, but--and this is the feature that we're most excited about--up to four players can battle their way through the entire adventure cooperatively using the PSP's ad-hoc functionality. When playing co-op, you'll each see yourself as Aileen while your colleagues appear as generic space marines. The character level of the game's host will determine the level of all players, and you'll find that the enemies are stronger and more numerous when you're playing with friends than when you're fighting them alone.
Alien Syndrome, which is also in development for the Nintendo Wii, is currently scheduled for release in May. We look forward to bringing you more information on the game soon.