Alien Swarm Overview
Alien Swarm was developed by the same team behind a similarly titled Unreal Tournament 2004 mod. The game is a top-down shoot em’ up with the camera angle set at 60 degrees. Alien Swarm is a purely cooperative game where a team of four players must clear stages by completing various objectives. Players do gain levels, unlock achievements, new equipment, and other features as they progress. Unlike most free to play games, Alien Swarm is freeware which means there’s no cash shop or item mall to worry about. Alien Swarm stays true to its mod heritage and allows players free access to its source code. This means creative fans will be able to create additional content to supplement the official maps. There are currently four classes and eight playable characters to choose from at the start of each mission.
Officer - Provides a passive damage and resistance buff to nearby allies. Officers have access to a powerful shotgun called the ‘Vindicator’.
Special Weapons - Heavy damage dealers. Can access the ‘autogun’ class of weapons, which includes the swarm-busting minigun and more precise autogun.
Medic - Capable of using healing beacons that temporarily restore the health of nearby allies. Gains access to the healing gun in later levels.
Tech - The only class that can unlock special door panels via hacking. Techs carry a motion sensor and are armed with an auto aiming assault rifle. Several missions require a tech to be present.
Alien Swarm Screenshots
Alien Swarm Featured Video
Alien Swarm Review
By Erhan Altay
Alien Swarm began as a mod for Unreal Tournament 2004 that was widely popular among the UT04 community. A stand alone version titled Alien Swarm: Infested was first announced in 2005, but development soon stalled. The team behind the original mod was hired by Valve and was put to work on other titles such as Left 4 Dead and Portal. Between other projects, the developers found the time to finish the game now known as Alien Swarm. Available free through Steam, the game is a four player cooperative shoot ‘em up that allows players to create custom maps, campaigns, and other content.
Valve’s Steam service has evolved over the years and is now a great place to play both retail and free-to-play games. Savage 2, Moonbase Alpha, and TrackMania Nations Forever are just some of the free MMOs accessible from Steam. What sets Alien Swarm apart from these games and most other F2P games is the fact that it is freeware. This means there are no premium guns or upgrades to purchase. It seems Valve is treating Alien Swarm as an experiment or an act of fan service rather than trying to profit off it. It’s easy to compare Alien Swarm to the Left 4 Dead series thanks to the four player co-op gameplay, but the two games are very different. While L4D is a first person shooter with elements of survival horror, Alien Swarm is much more similar to classic arcade and early console shooters. Despite the retro style, Alien Swarm has the same production value players have come to expect from Valve.
Light, but Versatile
Alien Swarm is a lean game. The client clocks in at around 2 GB, but there is only a single official campaign which is composed of seven maps. Whether more will be added remains to be seen, but it is important to note that Valve has made the source code for Alien Swarm freely available. This means custom maps and campaigns shouldn’t be too far off. The game does have some RPG elements, players can earn 64 achievements and gain experience every time they complete a stage. Alien Swarm uses a simple lobby-based system where players can create or join matches. It is possible to join public channels, or to play alone or with friends. There’s no character creation process, instead player simply choose which of the eight characters they want to play as each game. The eight characters fall into one of four classes, but each has a unique distribution of several stats. Each class has its own function, and many later levels require a balanced team. Medics, for example, are the only class that can remove alien parasites that continuously drain health. The Tech class is the only one that can open certain doors. The general layout for each of the classes is that there is one character that will specialize completely in their ‘role’ as their class, and another in the same class who is more of a generalist.
Tools of the Trade
There are no competitive game modes in Alien Swarm. Players simply host or join a match, wait for three others to join and start (although you could play by yourself, or with just one other friend, if you’re good). The host can choose which map to start the game on, and players will simply move on to the next after completing the starting one. The game does have a story, and there is some dialogue as players progress through the maps, but it can be largely ignored. There is no tutorial, but the difficulty and length of the maps increase gradually, giving players a chance to ease their way into Alien Swarm. Movement is done with WASD, while aiming and firing require the mouse. Several other keys such as right-click for melee and space bar to leap and dodge projectiles are important as well. The game supports push-to-talk live chat (hit ‘C’). All of these controls can be changed freely. The game supports a wide range of resolution options, but video settings beyond that are lacking. The graphics themselves get the job done, but are nothing special. The environments are rendered in 3D but movement is limited to 2D. In many ways, this is a good thing since it keeps gameplay simple.
Gameplay in Alien Swarm is fairly linear. Players progress through the map completing a series of objectives while clearing out swarms of insectiod aliens. These aliens are AI controlled and have a tendency to surround players and attack from all angles. Regardless of difficulty setting (of which there are four), the first few stages require little in the way of team work. Players can plow through the standard aliens well enough alone. Later on the aliens come in many shapes and sizes and require more strategy to overcome. Luckily, each class is equipped with two weapons and can pick up other accessories such as med kits, turrets, mines, and some forty other items as they level up and unlock them. If a player dies before completing a map, he or she will remain dead until the rest of the team finishes the stage. If the entire team is wiped out, players must start the map over from the beginning. Most maps contain special scenarios throughout and especially towards the end. For example, one stage has players holed up in an elevator where they must survive until it reaches its destination.
Bite Size Innovation
Despite the fairly simple gameplay, Alien Swarm manages to introduce several innovative gameplay mechanics. Players have limited ammo which makes conserving clips important. Players can reload faster by hitting ‘r’ then hitting it again when a white line near the ammo meter moves over the correct area (think Gears of War). Timing it right isn’t difficult in the clear, but requires quick thinking while fending off a group of aliens (the window for being able to execute the fast reload is shortened depending on the difficulty setting, and whether or not you are actively engaged in combat). Tech players must complete a pipe dream like minigame to open certain doors while the rest of the team defends them against a wave of enemies. The best innovations Alien Swarm has to offer haven’t even been implemented yet, and this is because it will be fellow players who will do the implementing. Since Alien Swarm itself was originally created as a mod, the developers have made it as easy as possible for fans to tinker with their product. The results of this tinkering are likely to be as versatile as the custom maps and modes in games like Counter-Strike or Warcraft 3. Players have already created a map that looks like the starting town of Pokemon. What lies ahead, only time will tell.
Final Verdict: Good
Alien Swarm is a refreshing game that can be enjoyed by both new gamers and arcade veterans. The top-down view, arcade shooter style, and cooperative gameplay come together to make Alien Swarm highly playable. Unfortunately, there are only a few official maps. Long term players will have to rely on custom made content.
Alien Swarm System Requirements
OS: Windows XP / Vista / 7
CPU: Intel Pentium 4 3.0 GHz
RAM: 2 GB
HDD: 2.5 GB Free
Graphics Card: GeForce 6600 / ATI X800
OS: Windows Vista / 7
CPU: Intel core 2 duo 2.4GHz or better
RAM: 2 GB or more
HDD: 3 GB Free or more
Graphics Card: NVidia 7600 / ATI X1600 or better