A wounded Colonial Marine — the last of his squad — stands at the entrance to a very long room. No more Pulse Rifle ammo, no more explosives. All he has to protect himself is his sidearm, a pistol that hardly compares to his now empty machinegun. He checks his motion tracker, takes note of the many blinking dots that it displays in the room. It doesn’t look good.
All he can do now is run, and hope that he can reach the supplies just beyond in the communication room.
Grown warrior Xenomorphs fall from the ceiling and creep out from behind medical equipment strewn throughout the room as he runs by.
As if that weren’t enough, a number of mercenaries draw their rifles as they catch sight of him. Although the pistol makes short work of them, the creatures chasing after him won’t be so easy. He’s getting closer to the exit, but one of the aliens stabs at him with its pointed tail.
On the brink of death, he manages to stumble into the command room, locking the creatures outside. He’s safe for now. It’s moments like this that make Aliens Infestation so much fun. Built around slow movement and limited resources, Aliens Infestation follows the Metroid style of level layouts, but without the speedy acrobatics of that series. It’s deliberately a slower-paced game.
This tension is built in part by the way that Infestation deals with death. At the beginning of the game, you’re given a squad of four marines. Each marine in your squad acts as a life. Once they’re gone, there are no respawns, no continues, no coming back. It’s kind of refreshing to see a game that makes death significant, since so few games treat it as a punishment anymore. Oh, and by the way, you will die a lot.
Part of the game’s challenge simply comes from adding ammo to your weapons. Needing to reload at the end of a weapon’s clip can lead to an attack from a Xenomorph if you’re not careful, and as your ammo count declines, combat becomes more nerve-wracking. It loses its initial bullet-spraying glee and becomes more of a challenge in careful inventory-management.
On the upside, without as much ammo, you find yourself coming up with new ways to kill enemies. For instance, I didn’t use the grenades for anything more than opening doors until I started running out of pulse rifle ammo, but shortly after discovering how useless my pistol was for killing enemies, I started crafting strategies for grenade use.
If I noticed a ceiling-mounted blip on my motion tracker, I’d toss a grenade just under where it would be and walk forward, making the alien drop down directly onto my bouncing grenade, blowing him to bits. Since most enemies take quite a few bullets to kill, learning how to use everything in your arsenal becomes vital.
While I just shared a success story, my method grew out of a number of deaths. Most of the enemies in the game are pretty talented when it comes to harming the fragile marines. Mercenaries are easy to outsmart if you use cover, but their pulse rifles can hit you from afar if you’re not paying attention. However, they’re just nuisance compared to the warrior Xenomorphs, who will crawl onto the ceiling and jump behind you to get you mixed up before they strike.
I lost a number of marines by getting cocky and running into rooms instead of walking in at the game’s default, measured pace. It was a good way to get surrounded. Fighting two or more enemies can be a challenge if they come at you from both sides. You can’t generally put enough bullets into your enemies fast enough to escape unscathed, and the life-saving grenades will hurt you if they go off too close.
While the first death or two doesn’t feel that drastic, when you only have one marine left, every Xenomorph encounter becomes a focused duel, every health pack a birthday gift, and every large, unexplored room the most threatening thing you’ve ever seen in your life.
You’ll want to internalize where the nearest health-restoring save room is at quickly, since with one marine, I often found myself exploring one room at a time, restoring my health after each little skirmish so I could get used to the unfamiliar terrain before proceeding. Knowing a room’s layout and getting an idea of what enemies will be there can transform combat from desperate to methodical, allowing you to clear it out in a matter of seconds without taking any damage.
Luckily, even if you lose a few members of your squad, there are 15 more stray marines hidden throughout the USS Sulaco (where most of the game takes place) and the other infested environments in the game. If you run into a marine when you’re missing a member (or three) of your squad, they’ll be more than happy to join up. Finding them when you’ve only got one squad member left is absolutely joyful, especially because they’re usually stationed next to boxes of health and ammo.
While the extra marines aren’t different from one another, each has their own personality that changes the dialogue during the story segments. It’s interesting to see the way that the characters change the tone of certain scenes (sometimes in a bad way, like the 1337-talking Mei-Lin Chau), and I actually grew fond of a few of the marines. Losing the ones I really liked was rough, but it made me determined not to let it happen again.