This Review is for the Nintendo DS release of Aliens Infestation.
Aliens: Infestation's appeal banks too heavily on nostalgia, and once the novelty of sending a team of marines to meet their impending doom in a xenomorph hive or the comfortable recognition of wielding a smart gun wears off, the cracks in the gameplay and design start to show. The Aliens IP has seen entries in a number of genres over the years, and most of them rely on the same cues to establish the distinctive universe of the movies, but while few of them can hardly be ranked among the greatest games of all time, the best ones at least offer a solid gameplay experience that keeps the player entertained beyond the familiarity of the environments and the creatures.
Structurally, Infestation is a Metroidvania-style game of nonlinear exploration and action platforming. Even Sega's own web page describes the game as "2D side-scrolling gameplay in the style of Metroid or Castlevania with an arcade, retro feel." Handling the development is WayForward, whose pedigree includes the cult-classic Shantae on the Gameboy Color, and the franchise-revitalizing Contra 4 on the DS. The reputation of these two games seems to be sufficient enough to give WayForward a pass in the minds of niche gamers, or at least helps generate a bit of buzz for uninspired and sloppily executed games like BloodRayne: Betrayal. As good as a WayForward Metroidvania based on Aliens might sound to some on paper, however, don't be fooled into thinking this is worthy of classification higher than a budget title.
Games like this generally require you to explore a side-scrolling environment and dispatch enemies, encountering dead ends that require you to locate a keycard, plastic explosives, or some other macguffin in order to open up new areas of the environment. Naturally, a lot of backtracking goes hand-in-hand with the genre, but for Infestation, this is its greatest flaw. Xenomorph will pop out of the same preset spawn points as you progress down the game's industrial corridors, essentially meaning that the majority of the game's short play time will be spent dispatching the same enemies over and over again. In a game like Super Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, fighting common enemies isn't usually a great chore and often yields tangible rewards, but apparently someone in charge of programming enemy behavior decided that an Aliens game needs to play off tension, terror, and jump scares. The dynamic hardly works in the context of a 2D sidescroller, or at least one that requires you to revisit the same areas over and over. The Marine campaign of Aliens vs. Predator 2 was able to generate tension for the player with unseen aliens just down the corridor and limited ammo and health to deal with because that game was a first person shooter. Killing aliens in Infestation isn't nearly as satisfying, not when you know where every unseen acid-dripping menace is and when full health and ammo refills are only as far away as the nearest save room.
Your marines actually control fairly well. You can hold L to aim without moving, and holding Y will allow you to move forward or backward while firing. Holding R will allow you to run, and A will execute a dodge roll when you're not otherwise near a context-specific object. You don't have much jumping mobility can can't fire when airborne, but the environments are largely flat corridors, so platform doesn't come into play as often as you might think with this type of game. You are limited by a stamina bar that drains run, jump, roll, or fall from too great a height, but it refills fairly quickly.
You have four slots for your marines, and once your health bar reaches zero, that marine is either captured by the xenomorph or permanently killed. You can find new recruits throughout the game map, but you can carry no more than four at a time. Infestation does include a handy feature in letting you drop flares in rooms to mark that point on your map, which I found handy for marking newly-discovered marines in case I lost one, and I'm surprised I don't see this feature more often in games like this. What I don't understand is why when you transition to one of the several areas separate from the USS Sulaco, where the majority of the game takes place, your markers that you set in the Sulaco won't be there when you return. There are weapon upgrades to obtain, with each of your five main weapons allowing a maximum of three upgrades, but other than hunting for these upgrades and new marines, exploring the game's various vents and out-of-the-way nooks and crannies usually yields ammo or health pickups, which are often times extraneous.
Infestation does feature some impressive sprite animation in the form of the game's bosses, but much of the challenge from these behemoths comes from the fact that their movements seem like they were balanced for a game with more fluid player controls. They're naturally over-specced against your marines; WayForward clearly wants you to have to choose who will live and who will die, but often the first time you fight a boss, you'll be struggling more with your own movements than trying to figure out the optimum strategy in order for you to be out only one marine by the end instead of two or three. The original music in the game takes several cues from James Horner's Aliens score, but it restarts too often when making area transitions, so it quickly becomes repetitive. The battle with the gorilla alien didn't have music at all, and I'm not sure if this was intentional or a glitch (judging from some of the gremlins present in Contra 4, I'm inclined to believe the latter).
There isn't much to Aliens: Infestation that you haven't seen before in other Aliens games or Metroidvania. This wouldn't be such a bad thing in of itself if the gameplay were more solid and the experience not so short. It feels more like a cell phone or flash game promotional tie-in for a big budget release than its own entity. I don't want to speculate on how or if the oft-delayed Aliens: Colonial Marines affected Infestation, but either way, the product just ends up being bland. Replay Harvest Yard in Contra 4 if you feel the need to assault a 2D alien hive that badly.