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Old 08-24-2010, 11:39 PM   #1
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Please (re)rate this review: Alien Swarm

Note: This is a complete rewrite of a review I posted previously, so feedback comments immediately following this review do not apply to this body of text... hopefully...

HIGH: The initial playthrough is exciting, frantic and crazy

LOW: Will need more content if it's going to live on

WTF: Always with the face huggers...

When thinking of games that encourage cooperation, teamwork and collaboration, the mind immediately drops to the Valve milestones of Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead. They're both games that don't so much as encourage team work as demand it like a mother standing over two squabbling siblings. The onus is very much on the player to monitor the movements of the team, know the team's composition and make quick decisions on this information.

Yet, with the former game, the ramifications of not playing as a team is a general “You failed” spat out by a lady over a PA system, followed by subsequent death as the victorious team run in and cruelly gun down the pleading avatars. While the team could possibly identify where there was a weak spot in their defences, because of the first person perspective, it can be difficult to pinpoint precisely where all your team members are and how they're holding the integrity of the team.

Alien Swarm differs in this way, which could well be attributed to its top-down, Alien Breed-esque perspective. By detaching the viewpoint and raising it above the action, the whole team's positioning can be easily surveyed at a glance, their visible laser sights communicating that they've got your six covered. Because the nature of the team work involves covering of every angle, with each team member playing an immediate and integral role, a lone wolf will quickly find themselves dead should they stray from the pack.

It seems rather illogical that as a result of a higher and detached viewpoint, Alien Swarm offers a very tight, and almost more intimate team experience over the wild ranging and depraved madness that is the average TF2 map. Also, due to friendly fire being a very real threat (in both to your health, as well as an end of level penalty), the game rewards an easy trigger finger and level headedness under pressure. This was well and good when easily sauntering through some of the early stages with very few aliens. It was easy to find a position and keeping mindful of straying into a team mate's iron sights, but when things started to heat up, self preservation took over and I started spraying into the onslaught of aliens.

Alien Swarm is a real exercise in care, which again makes it differ from the other cited team-based frag-a-thon mentioned in this review. The truer parallel, especially evident this past week, is with Valve's other juggernaut Left 4 Dead.

One of the initial faults I had with the game, and I've since learned that it has been addressed with an update this past week, was the lack of variety upon replay. Online multiplayer games will live and die through having an active community participating, and that will cease if the player isn't offered anything new. This past week saw the introduction of an “Onslaught” mode in where the Left 4 Dead Adaptive AI was introduced which generates encounters on the fly, based upon the groups' performance.

Before this introduction of Onslaught, replaying through a level was a series of repetitions, akin to learning a motor skill and persisting with it in order to get better and better at the game, however this didn't lend itself to a compelling replay. Onslaught mode does remedy this, however there will need to be more levels and enemies introduced in order to keep the masses playing.

But this is a free game. How much value can be assigned to something that didn't cost a single cent?

My initial conclusion on Alien Swarm still stands true, even after replaying a couple times. I feel as though Alien Swarm is an ideal sorbet in between full blown meals of other games in your collection. The ease at which games with friends can be quickly thrown together over Valve's brilliant maturing Steam service makes it the perfect complement to the phrase “just a quick game before...”

It won't satisfy you for very long, but it will definitely cleanse your pallette if you've tired of one game and want to move onto a different one.

Rating: 8.0

Disclosures: This game was obtain through free download on Steam, and 10 hours dedicated to playing.

Parents: ESRB website has no rating for Alien Swarm at this time, but this author's opinion believes it features medium level violence, and some images that children may find disturbing and scary. Experience may change when online and with the community making levels themselves, some discretion would be advised.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Closed captioning is offered for all dialogue, athough any kind of speech is merely for building a context for the action.

Last edited by Overquill; 08-27-2010 at 08:26 AM. Reason: complete rewrite/revisit
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Old 08-26-2010, 04:34 PM   #2
Richard Naik
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Re: Please rate this review: Alien Swarm

Hey Overquill, I like this. A few points to address though:

-Can you go into some more detail about the similarities between Alien Swarm and Alien Breed? I'm not asking for a dissertation on it, but some background info would be nice for those who haven't played Breed.

-Try to avoid speaking in the second person, I.E. use "I" in the place of "you". The review is all about your experience, and you don't want to be assigning value to the reader at every turn. I'm not saying don't ever use it, but try to limit it to places where you really want to speak to the reader.

-You've got a lot of really short paragraphs in there. One or two sentence paragraphs are great for emphasizing a point, but too many makes the piece choppy and hard to read. For example:

The few levels you are granted straight up will quickly tire, and the creepy atmosphere, which surprisingly reminds me more of The Thing rather than Aliens, will eventually wash away and become a series of repetitions as you become accustomed to the patterns of the swarms.

You know. It's when it becomes, "this is the part where you deploy the sentry gun. This is where we stand close together in this spot and spray everything that jumps at us on this lift."
This should probably be one paragraph.

-Add some consumer info at the end like we have on our other reviews.

Nice work.
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Old 08-26-2010, 11:08 PM   #3
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Re: Please rate this review: Alien Swarm

Thanks Richard.

I think the "you" entered into the article due to the dreadful "write as you talk" habit that I've gotta shake. I've tried to amend it as best I could.

It's interesting you raise the smaller paragraphs, which is probably a symptom of me writing procedures and the like. The philosophy is that readers can often skip over large walls of text. I've tried to remedy this in the edit.

I couldn't find any ESRB ratings (or even Australian classifications - where I'm from), so I had to make it somewhat subjective.

Hope it looks better Thanks for the feedback.
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Old 08-26-2010, 11:29 PM   #4
Brad Gallaway
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Re: Please rate this review: Alien Swarm

Hi Overquill.

Thanks very much for submitting the piece. I definitely appreciate you taking the time.

In terms of feedback, rather than getting into small details, I'll just talk about the big picture.

Essentially, I don't see any central premise or idea to this review. It seems as though you're talking about it, but reviews need more of a point to them. I can't really tell where you're going or what you're trying to tell me as a reader, so the first thing this piece needs is some direction.

Secondly, I agree with Richard when he says that it's very choppy and hard to read. It's not terrible, but there is no flow to the writing and it's hard to follow your thoughts the way the the piece is currently divided between paragraphs.

I hate to say it, but to make a long story short, I'd say this particular piece needs a complete rewrite. : /

If you decide to put it through the wringer and resubmit, let us know and we will be glad to take another look.

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Old 08-27-2010, 12:14 AM   #5
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Re: Please rate this review: Alien Swarm

Thanks Brad. I appreciate the feedback.

I tried to avoid the familiar route that some reviews take, such as focussing on the quality of the game through the sum of its parts, which I feel isn't a good way of describing the experience of playing. I also avoided talking about the premise, or story as I think that's just rewriting the promotional material.

I might have failed to properly put it across, but I went into this game with the preconceived notion that I was playing a rehashed Alien Breed, but then finding the level of tactics employed quite surprising.

I also thought about what it is exactly that this game offered, and I settled on the "sorbet" analogy, in that the game fills a temporary gap in your gaming night, rather than being something you invest heavily in. Of course, it's a free game so people probably don't expect a "heavy" (for want of a better term) game, but I also tried to avoid any kind of typical "it's free, so the price is right" type comments. It's not clever.

Reading through again with your comments in mind, I can certainly understand where you're coming from.

I'll give it another go soonish.

Last edited by Overquill; 08-27-2010 at 12:23 AM.
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Old 09-28-2010, 03:35 AM   #6
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Re: Please rate this review: Alien Swarm

Given it's free, I've already played it a bit. I thought it was useful, but that was more as an addition to what I already knew the game was about, I get the feeling with what you've written it would be better re-jigged as an article on the differences in team based multiplayer games, using Alien Swarm as a focal point that everyone can experience due to it being free, and therefore be on the same page.

Alternatively, one of my writing classes brought up that sometimes people read reviews on something they already know to see if the reviewer shares their opinion. In that sense it works.
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