With all of the big-name titles shipping this holiday season, a game like Enemy Infestation might easily escape your notice while you peruse the shelves of your favorite software store. If you're a fan of the X-COM series, Jagged Alliance, and other squad-level games, however, you should make it a point to check out this surprisingly good title. It has a few shortcomings, but Enemy Infestation is chock-full of challenging and addictive alien butt-kicking goodness.
The game takes place on the planet of Redavi, where a small group of humans has founded a colony despite the hostile atmospheric conditions. Everything on Redavi is going along fine until a small meteorite lands - a meteorite that turns out to be the escape pod of an alien race desperate to flee a dying planet. It soon becomes apparent that coexistence is not a word that these creatures understand. So over the course of 26 single-player missions, you must lead your small and ill-equipped band of colonists in a life-and-death struggle against the alien menace.
Most of the missions are well designed with nicely varied and (in a sci-fi sort of way) believable objectives. Also, several of the missions include multiple objectives, some of which become clear only after you achieve your initial goals. For example, on one mission you must rescue your commander before the aliens suck the life out of him, since he's the only guy who can call for help. Once he's revived, you have to use him to call in reinforcements before you go after the rest of the alien horde. Other mission goals include luring the aliens into a deadly ambush and researching new weapons technologies for use against the slimy menace.
The graphics are generally quite good. Though the game uses only seven level maps, the detail level on those maps is excellent, and the overall level design is impressive. The isometric view allows you to see the goings on in any room your people occupy, as well as those rooms just recently vacated. Rooms you haven't entered yet remain hidden to you. The colonist artwork is good, though they look rather generic next to the aliens (who look great).
Gameplay is somewhat similar to a squad-based, sci-fi Diablo. You select characters and then click on a destination or a target. You can group your colonists and equip them with environmental suits to avoid all sorts of nasty situations. Occasionally, you can also manipulate items like computer terminals and lab facilities to achieve specific goals. All the while, the aliens are not only gunning for you, they're multiplying. So the longer you take to accomplish your mission goals, the tougher your task will be.
One noteworthy feature is the fact that you rarely ever lose a colonist. So long as one character is left alive and conscious, he or she can always drag other colonists to a medical bed to revive and heal them. You can also order your characters to hide, which renders them invisible to most aliens. Another positive is the ability of some characters to lock doors. This allows you to seal off certain routes and control the aliens' movements.
There are a few aspects of gameplay that are poorly implemented, while others are simply puzzling. For starters, I found it annoying that - even though I had a full complement of "troopers" for every mission - I often had woefully inadequate weaponry to deal with the aliens. While you can acquire new technology to make mundane items like fire extinguishers quite deadly, the need to do so on each and every mission grew extremely tiresome. Adding to that irritation was the fact that the effects of your weapons vary from mission to mission. I'm sure that this was done to keep players off guard and to simulate the aliens' ability to adapt. Still, it can be quite infuriating when your Big Orange Gun wipes out bad guys on one map, then multiplies them on another.
Character selection and movement is also a bit problematic, as it can be difficult to tell who you have selected at any one time. It's tough to tell which players you've successfully deselected - a problem that results in cooks and other ill-suited personnel being sent into hostile situations. This is mostly due to the clutter that often results from having multiple characters in a small space on the screen. Like several other real-time games, Enemy Infestation also has a problem with characters standing idle after taking out their first target. So even when a swarm of alien grubs comes through the door a few feet away, your characters may not always attack them until you specifically tell them to. And we are talking about a terrifying alien menace here, after all, so would it be too much to ask to see these characters move a bit faster (run) once in a while?
The sound effects for the aliens are very good. Most of the other sounds in the game are pretty bad. The voiceovers for your characters are particularly irritating, as they mostly sound like the work of Australians trying really hard to sound like Americans (and really annoying Americans, at that). On a related note, the game seems to use the same sound bytes when your characters pick up an item and when they get hurt. I thought I was commanding the geriatric brigade half the time, with my guys groaning in pain just from picking up a can of hairspray or a book.
Another annoyance is the game's predefined level of difficulty. While the game builds up from being fairly easy to downright hard, players who can't hack the more challenging levels are simply out of luck. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Hard-coding the difficulty level presupposes that all players everywhere possess the same level of skill, interest and experience. Allowing players to tailor the gameplay experience to suit their tastes and talent might just make the game more approachable and enjoyable to more people (which is the whole point, eh?).
Certainly the biggest surprise in the game, however, is the curious multiplayer support. The features that are there are solid: cooperative mode over IP or IPX links for up to four players using any of the game's 26 single-player maps and 10 multiplayer-specific maps. Also, when the game begins, you must "call" your characters by clicking on them - sort of like a big kickball game in space. For some reason, however, you cannot play the part of the aliens in multiplayer mode - everything is coop only. This is even more baffling when you consider that a cheat code will allow you to control the aliens during the single player game.
Despite these flaws, however, Enemy Infestation is an enjoyable and addictive game with good gameplay and plenty of aliens to stomp.