Thursday, January 27, 2011

Alien Hallway Review

Alien Hallway, developed and published by Sigma Team.
The Good: Action-packed, unit upgrades, campaign automatically adjusts difficulty, only $10
The Not So Good: Little strategy or variety, limited direct interaction, meaningless level layouts, no online features
What say you? A variant on tower defense that lacks meaningful strategy: 4/8

Much like the British, the aliens are coming. Where, exactly? Well, down the hallway, of course! You’re not going to let them walk all the way down that hallways to the bedroom, or even (gasp!) the bathroom, are you? Of course not, and Alien Hallway gives you the chance to recruit heavily-armed gentlemen to defend the halls against the incoming alien threat. It’s like the safety patrol for grown-ups. Or at least people with a computer.

Alien Hallway features decent graphics and sound design for $10. The hallways in which you do combat are linear and mostly repetitive (each of the three planets gets a different layout), but Alien Hallway has decent character models for both your troops and the aliens that are animated well enough. The combat effects involve a lot of fire and bullets and glowing things that are pleasingly chaotic. The game also has the overly dramatic music you would expect in an action game, along with repetitive sound effects for weapons and death. But in the end, you get what you pay for, so there’s not really much room to complain.

Alien Hallway has you defending a hallway from aliens. The game’s campaign takes place across twenty-one levels on three planets, which is pretty short and lacks variety in the hallway layouts: each level is a simple linear container that has no tactical elements (like cover) whatsoever. Alien Hallway offers dynamic difficulty that makes the next level more challenging (by adding more powerful aliens) if you are adept at the mechanics. Each level is timed, a usually unnecessary requirement as most levels are finished well under the limit. As you progress through the campaign, new units are slowly unlocked at set intervals. You do, however, have a choice with unit and skill upgrades: you can make your troops more powerful (hit points, damage, additional secondary weapons) or improve various abilities (gold income, energy capacity, cool down time, plus others). Unfortunately, Alien Hallway does not offer any online features, like a high score list (in fact, it doesn’t include any scoring) or cooperative play. Thus, once you are finished with the campaign, there is little replay value here.

Each level is finished once you destroy the alien base (or when your base is destroyed, of course). The first step is to build some engineers to automatically collect resources used to purchase units. All new units appear on the left side of the hallway and slowly make their way across towards the aliens. There is a somewhat lengthy cool-down period (fifteen seconds seems to be the average) between queuing the same unit, which makes it exceedingly difficult to group units together (apparently, the aliens have futuristic technology that prevent this sort of arbitrary limitation). The units really only differ according to the range and power of their attack: flame, rifle, shotgun, grenade, machine gun, missile, and laser. There doesn’t seem to be any tactical difference between using one unit over another, as each weapon affects all aliens equally.

Your interaction with your troops is very limited. They move and attack automatically, so all you need to do is occasionally click on their grenade icon and place an air strike every thirty seconds or so. Because of this (along with the long build cool-down times), there are times in Alien Hallway where you are simply waiting for a cool-down to end: not exactly scintillating gameplay. Now, if you are smart and choose the correct upgrades (cool down, engineers), then you are pretty much constantly clicking to place orders and send out grenades, but there are times (especially earlier in the campaign) where waiting is the hardest part. By the way, only one power? As a comparison, Swords and Soldiers (another $10 1-D strategy game) offered a lot more variety and an in-game tech tree to boot. Aliens have slight variations in their behavior (whether they shoot, punch, or blow up), but generally they just attack the nearest unit. There are certainly no specific alien counters to use, so ultimately Alien Hallway is a shallow game. Sure, you must time engineer production correctly in the beginning of each level, but once you are swimming in dough, you can usually just order everything as fast as the cool-downs will allow. The game’s increasing difficulty simply adds more units to the mix, instead of requiring advanced tactics to pass the later levels in the campaign. In the end, Swords and Soldiers is a much more interesting alternative to the limited strategies found in Alien Hallway.

The primary failing of Alien Hallway is that it simply lacks strategy. All you need to do is not forget about producing the engineers that automatically collect resources, and then simply click on each unit when they become available. You don’t directly control your units, and your only interaction with the game is picking which units to make, placing artillery strikes, and clicking on grenade icons to fire them. It seems better to mass your units together and produce them all at once, and use your airstrike on concentrated enemy unit groups. But none of these decisions are particularly interesting, and once you do it one level, the rest of the campaign is identical since the layouts never influence the gameplay in any way. Alien Hallway becomes dynamically more difficult, but this is only done by adding more aliens to fight against: not exactly sophisticated. The aliens aren’t varied enough to notice their abilities, and your units are different only in the range at which they engage the enemy. You can spend money earned in each level to upgrade your units and abilities; thus, there is some freedom to customize your overall strategy, but since the strategy in Alien Hallway is limited to being with, decisions here don’t have a lot of weight. In addition to the repetitive nature of the campaign levels, Alien Hallway lacks scoring (both online and on the same computer) and any sort of competitive or cooperative play over the Internet. Alien Hallway is fun for about two levels, which, in my opinion, doesn’t reach $10 worth of value.