Painfully generic name notwithstanding, Alien Shooter: Vengeance is no Brand X game. That title is both blah and misleading, as this Sigma Team effort is actually a gung-ho retro take on the action-packed isometric shooter genre that had a brief moment in the sun about a decade ago, not the second-rate FPS that the box cover implies. The game may be a little too self-consciously old-school for some, but the action is so fast, furious, and blithely bloody that it's hard to resist getting swept up in the carnage.
Old-timers will quickly note that Alien Shooter: Vengeance resembles the two Crusader games, No Regret and No Remorse, that shot up DOS PCs way back in 1995 and 1996. For those of you who haven't got enough gray in your beard to remember that duo, the simple concept behind those games saw the viewing perspective of a standard kill-everything-that-moves FPS switched to an isometric, third-person camera. Sigma closely follows that template here, keeping the focus on the action but also adding some interesting, light squad tactics along with character creation and RPG elements similar to those seen in the likes of X-COM and Jagged Alliance.
The story itself is pretty bare-bones. It's the postapocalyptic future, you're working as a mercenary for the MAGMA Energy Corporation (described as "the leader of many things energetical," whatever that means), and a lot of ugly aliens need to be blown away. Chances are you've heard this sort of thing a few times before. This skeletal framework is sufficient to support a game where you do little more than smear ET blood all over the walls, and Sigma has done great work with the RPG aspects of the game. Rolling up initial characters is spiced up with the ability to pick a special perk. These options are fairly limited, encompassing just eight different choices, but they include some nifty ideas modeled after what you could give your character in the Fallout games and are given similarly humorous descriptions. For instance, you can be a vampire, with the ability to suck health out of enemies, or a hypnotist, who gets to take over the minds of baddies. Beyond this, though, the RPG personality of the game is limited. After picking a perk, you choose from between eight premade characters, although at least during gameplay you level up and can apply experience points to buff typical shooter skills like the ability to use pistols, shotguns, and machine guns.
Not that any wimpy RPG stuff is necessary. Frenetically blasting aliens is Alien Shooter's sole reason for existence, so in this respect the title is dead-on. The game's personality is a cross between Robotron, DOOM, and Serious Sam. Pretty much every mission is a corridor crawl to find some item, rescue a few trapped buddies, or simply kill a big bad. You regularly get trapped in rooms and swarmed by thousands of bugs (literally--the game tracks your kills and they seem to go into four digits each and every level). Many areas are dimly lit or pitch-black, so you have to move forward carefully using the narrow beam of a flashlight to pick up any aliens scuttling your way. And the carnage is typically so intense that by the time you've finished with a room, you'll have painted every last inch of the floors and walls with alien blood and gore. It ain't pretty, but it sure gets the adrenaline flowing.
Aside from the killing, though, there isn't much here. The nonstop blasting gets a bit numbing after a little while, so the game is best taken in short doses. There are lots of secret areas to discover, but little to find in them aside from power-ups, weapons, and ammo, and these items are so prevalent in the main sections of levels that you don't need to do any wandering to pick up more of them. Most of the exploring is pretty simplistic, too. Generally, if you see something green, you should run up to it, as it's likely a power-up or a button activating a secret door. If you see something red, that means no-go, or that you need to find a key to open that particular door. You can jazz things up by skipping the campaign for survival mode, which comes in a last-man-standing variant where you blast bugs until you drop, and a career option spread over five levels. Neither option changes the complexion of gameplay, of course. The same can presumably be said about multiplayer, although this couldn't be tested as it only supports LAN and direct IP connections.
The look and sound of the game are totally retro. While there are supposed to be more than 50 types of alien to shoot, most look like typical variations on praying mantises, slugs, and a couple that seem sort of like dinosaurs. Movement and animations are clumsy, although this ultimately helps reinforce the game's throwback flavor. Explosions are just fantastic, however, and colored lighting gives many levels a suitably eerie air. Audio is limited. When the lights go out or the doors close and you get gooned by a phalanx of bugs, you get the stereotypical driving heavy metal tunes that have accompanied shooter shooting since the early '90s. Other than that, though, the dialogue is as sparse and as roughly delivered as you'd find in an old Sega Genesis cart. Again, this seems entirely intentional, so you'll get a kick out of the sound if you remember playing games like this back in the day.
You probably need to have the nostalgia gene to really get into Alien Shooter: Vengeance, but you don't have to be an old fogey to get some base-level enjoyment out of this gleeful shoot-'em-up. Look past the dumb name and give it a shot.