Way back in 1991, a little UK shareware studio called Team 17 released a top-down, space-themed shooter for the Amiga platform. Dark and highly atmospheric — downright scary, actually — Alien Breed and the enhanced Special Edition ’92 version that followed, were soon hailed as bringing some of the best shooter action that Amiga gamers had ever seen. So popular were they that, to date, eight sequels have followed, half of those for modern consoles. And now, Alien Breed ($1.99) has come to the iOS platform.
Alien Breed drops you, the player, into a classic space marine type scenario. The year is 2191 and the galaxy is at the brink of war. You’ve just finished six months of dead-boring patrol duty around the Intex Network and were glad to be heading home. That is, before orders arrived to check out a remote Space Research Center which had gone silent on the Federation wavebands. As you approach ISRC-4 near the red giant Gianor, you notice an eerie silence surrounding the station. Something is obviously very wrong…
I’ll say something’s wrong — the place is run over with aliens! It’s as bad as LV-426, which is unfortunate for you, the player, as you’ve been thrown right down in the thick of it. Now it’s up to you to fight your way through level after dark, labyrinthine level of aliens big and small, completing a series of critical objectives, with queen-alien boss battles thrown in to lessen your already-miniscule chance of success.
Alien Breed is the product of the vision of designer Rico Holmes, who drew inspiration from the earlier, 8-bit titles Laser Squad and Paradroid (though most will find the game perhaps more reminiscent of Gauntlet and Alien Syndrome). The horde of aliens crawling about the title are obviously directly inspired by H. R. Giger’s macabre beasts from the film Alien.
Alien Breed for iOS is actually a bit more than its name might suggest. It’s a universal title that bundles remakes of both the original Alien Breed (all six levels) and Alien Breed Special Edition ’92 (all 12 levels), in addition to a new, four-level mission entitled “Alien Breed Convergence." (And more missions are to come.) Each of these scenarios can be played in either Classic Mode, with pixellated graphics based on the original Amiga artwork, or Enhanced Mode which features all new Retina-detail graphics that, in the case of the third generation iPad, render the scene with about 50 times as many pixels as the original Amiga game. (Despite being a rather dyed-in-the-wool fan of the pixellated retro game aesthetic, I find myself preferring the new, high-detail graphics of the Enhanced Mode.)
Like the original game, there is a wide array of weapons with different capabilities available, as well as helpful items such as an electronic pocket map, ammo packs, health packs and extra lives, that can be purchased through an in-game store with credits picked up along the way. Where the iOS version differs is that credit packs for use in the store can be purchased in-game for cash. This initially had me concerned about Game Center ranking imbalances and such, but after many hours spent with the title, I’ve strengthened my belief in the sentiment I expressed in our preview post: it’s so easy to accumulate credits through standard gameplay that the IAP credit packs really don’t seem to be much of a concern.
Unlike the Amiga original, which was noted for its support of two-player, on-screen gameplay involving both I.P.C. officers Johnson and Stone, Alien Breed for iOS is one-player only (there’s no dual-device Bluetooth or WiFi multiplayer, sadly). Another difference between the Amiga original and the iOS release is the fact that you don’t play the game with a physical joystick. The Classic Mode is played with an on-screen “digital," 8-direction stick and a fire button, while the Enhanced Mode is played with dual, on-screen “analog" sticks, which is a rather notable change in mechanic from the original, making the challenge of mowing down the aliens rather an easier one than that of the single-stick approach. This could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. The option of Classic controls with Retina-graphics gameplay would strengthen the overall offering, and I hope we see that arrive in an update.
The best play experience of all comes with the iCade, which the game well supports, with multiple buttons tied to various actions. Alien Breed on the iCade brings a true arcade feel that bests that delivered by most any Amiga setup.
The folks at Digital Application Design have done a great job of bringing this shooter classic to a modern platform, and those who enjoyed Alien Breed so many years ago will be pleased to see that the feel of the original has been well preserved in its journey 20 years forward in time. Since Alien Breed first debuted, we’ve seen many more top-down shooters light up our screens — and there are plenty of them in the App Store, to be sure. But, despite this fact, the gameplay, the atmosphere, and the overall feel of Alien Breed make this iOS translation a title that most every shooter fan out there should enjoy.