Sega and Wow Entertainment are looking to take gamers back to a simpler time in gaming with Alien Front Online. Harking back to the days when all aliens were evil and games were simple, this tank-based action game offers up a solid dose of good old-fashioned gameplay wrapped up in slick graphics and an innovative use of technology.
AFO's premise is simple: Blow your opponents off the face of the earth. You'll be able to play as either the army defending the planet or the marauding aliens looking for a new home. Each side offers three vehicles to choose from--small, medium, and large--and they all possess varying degrees of speed and armor. As you'd expect, the larger vehicles are slower and have more armor, while the smaller ones are quick but not so tough. While the army only uses differing sizes and strengths of tanks, the alien side offers a hovercraft, a two-legged walker, and a four-legged walker.
You'll find three modes for your destructive pleasure--arcade, tactics, and online--each playable as an alien or a soldier. Arcade and tactics are single-player modes that can be played offline and are pretty engaging, albeit repetitive. Like the in recently released Outtrigger, the arcade mode times you as you clear levels of enemies, rewarding you with a time bonus that allows you to continue if you succeed. Tactics is a branching mission mode that has you completing a variety of tasks in each level. Depending on which branch you choose, you'll be rewarded by one of five cinemas. Tactics also functions as a tutorial mode of sorts, as the first few missions for both sides familiarize you with the game's controls. Online is the game's multiplayer mode, and it allows a total of up to eight people to duke it out using the DC's 56k modem. There are three game types to choose from: deathmatch, flag, and fortress. Deathmatch has you killing until you reach a set body count. Flag requires you or a member of your team to hold on to a flag in a timed level, and whoever has held the flag for the longest amount of time when time runs out wins. Fortress is an all-out assault on a building with one side attacking and one side defending.
For many, AFO's main draw will obviously be its will be online play. In addition to the various game modes, Sega and Wow offer an extra perk: Players can to talk to each other during a battle via the DC microphone. While this allows you to chat with members of your own team by simply holding down the Y button, that's hardly the reason to use it. A quick double tap of the Y button will allow you to talk much smack to all players, which is a far more compelling use for real-time voice chat. The voice comes off a bit tinny--but certainly understandable--within the game, although hunching over your controller to speak into the microphone during the game is a bit of a pain. Online play, for the most part, is all right. Lag can be an issue, but it depends on your connection. Additionally, the servers still need some tweaking, as eight-player games where voice chat is used are often problematic. Games with fewer players, however, run well. The only catch to online play is the lack of the ability to chat in the lobbies. You'll have to agree on a time or call friends before logging on to make sure you all end up in the same game.
The control is simple. The analog stick moves your tank, the triggers strafe, A fires your main weapon, and B triggers death-dealing secondary weapons, which sometimes pop out after defeating an enemy. Finally, the X button toggles between a close-up or pulled-back camera angle. The onscreen HUD offers a radar to help you track your foes, a damage meter to let you know how much more punishment you can take, and a counter to monitor how many uses are left for your secondary weapon. As mentioned above, voice chat is initiated with the Y button. It's a simple setup that works well and keeps with the spirit of the game.
Graphically, AFO really shines, thanks to excellent texture work and cool design. The various levels--which range from generic icy canyons complete with waves of blinding snow to a recognizable rendition of Washington DC complete with the White House and Washington Monument--showcase great textures. The organic look of the alien-infested areas of the levels is very slick, thanks to good color usage and clean textures. Meanwhile, normal structures, most of which can be blown up, sport solid detail and some photo-realistic textures, such as the posters in the Japan stage. Little details such as the tanks leaving tread marks or footprints in the sand and ice and clusters of ground troops racing around really help immerse you in the game. The animation on the vehicles is good, especially on the army tanks, which convey a good sense of physics when in motion.
Alien Front Online offers an enjoyable gaming experience for those looking for some tank action. The online play modes and voice chat compensate for the game's technically proficient but unspectacular offline modes. Throw in tight gameplay and excellent graphics, especially when seen through the VGA Box, and you have an extremely solid game that should engage players for a while. While not offering the polish or depth of a classic, AFO is good entry in the Dreamcast library that systems owners will want to check out.