STAFF REVIEW of Super Mutant Alien Assault (Xbox One)

Monday, August 1, 2016.
by Adam Dileva

Super Mutant Alien Assault Box art Sometimes games don’t always have to have an engrossing story and can easily stand on their own with a simple foundation. Super Mutant Alien Assault chooses to go the simplistic route, allowing you to slaughter waves and waves of alien invaders with handfuls of weaponry. Simple games can be entertaining, but they need to have solid gameplay to keep your attention for any length of time.

There is a story, albeit a paper thin one, that revolves around Aliens attacking Earth and three ships carrying the remaining humans have fled the planet to search for other galaxies to inhabit. To make this long journey humans had to be put into cryofreeze, leaving droids to watch and defend the ships should anything happen. As it turns out, the aliens have found the ships and are breaking their way inside. It’s up to you, a simple droid, to take them out to ensure mankind survives.

Your life as a droid is a difficult one, as you begin with absolutely no weapons or abilities. You’ll learn early on that you’re going to die a lot; however, as you play, and become more proficient, it does become somewhat easier, but the randomly generated levels can work for you or completely against you. Even though you’ll die quite often you will make some progress as you go, unlocking (the chance for) new weapons, abilities, and perks.

There are only a dozen levels in total, and while that may not seem like much, they are randomly generated, so every time you play they won’t be exactly the same as the last. Granted, you’ll see the same levels multiple times, but the game does a good job at mixing things up for the most part. Each stage has its own conditions for winning to help mix things up too. Sometimes you simply need to survive the waves of incoming aliens or you’ll have to bring an item to a certain machine numerous times, while other times you will need to stop canisters from exploding. And we can't forget that there are boss stages on each 4th consecutive level. Overall, some stages are much tougher than others since the objective must be met to move on, and killing everything only makes more enemies spawn. During the boss stage he must be defeated or else the minions will keep on coming. Depending on what types of these levels you like, you’ll either have a great run of easy levels or a slew of really tough ones due to the randomization.

While the aliens themselves are generally not too much trouble on their own, it’s the frequency and amount that spawn which is the difficult part. They usually come in a handful at a time and quite quickly so you can easily become overwhelmed if you aren’t doing your best to take them out quickly. Some have specific attack patterns, while others do their own thing, but when being crowded into a corner because of the volume of aliens coming at you, you’ll see why it’s easy to die very quickly.

A big issue that you experience early on, and quite often throughout the game, is that the levels are extremely small, making it quite easy to find yourself in a tight spot with not much, if any, room to maneuver to safety. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if your weapon pickups weren’t randomized, so sometimes you'll find that you have the completely wrong weapon for the situation you’re in and there’s nothing you can do about it, for the most part. For example, having a grenade launcher with enemies swarming in on you fast, causing you to take damage when it explodes nearby. Yes, you take damage from your own weapon as well, making the already sporadic difficulty even more challenging at times. It doesn’t help that many enemies take too much ammo to defeat than they should too, even the weaker ones.

Once you play the tutorial and learn about the weapon vending machines you'll discover that you can carry one primary weapon and a sidearm, along with an explosive weapon, an offensive and defensive ability, and a perk. All of these are dealt out at random. Once you’ve made it past the first boss you can at least respawn with a sidearm to begin with (yes, it needs to be picked up every time before you can have one on each play through). The majority of the weapons are your regular fare such as assault rifles, snipers, shotgun, rocket launchers, and more. There are some unique abilities and sidearms though, my favorite being the circular boomerang-like item that you can call back to you whenever you like. There are also ones I dislike, like the previously mentioned grenade launcher and an odd pogo stick that explodes when jumping on enemies. Because it’s completely random which weapon you get, you might find yourself wasting the primary ammo quickly just so you don’t have to be stuck with too long while you wait on the timer to get a new weapon.

There are special abilities that you can also get, ranging from a knockback, a double jump, a quick dash, and more. While it was nice to have the options, I found the gameplay much too frantic for me to use them as intended, or even simply remember that I had them. There’s no quick glance to remind you of which abilities you have aside from pausing, so you might think you have a dash equipped, only to remember later that you had it on during your last playthrough.

There is local multiplayer where you and a friend can play together, which makes things easier overall, but it definitely amps up the franticness with more happening on the screen at one time. The highlight of the game has to be its visuals, as it’s done in a retro pixelated style, but it’s done very well with lively animations and bright colors. The music is fitting and encapsulates the gameplay with some quick-beat tempo jams.

I found that one of the biggest flaws comes from some massive slowdown that always occurs on specific levels when you’re about to slip into hyperdrive. I initially thought it was a purposeful design mechanic, but after it happening quite often I don’t believe it is. It’s simply not done in a stylish way. Everything just goes maddeningly slow for a few seconds, then BAM, everything is back to normal, completely disrupting the flow of gameplay. I hope this important issue gets fixed soon, as it’s very jarring and is a big black eye to the experience.

Super Mutant Alien Assault is an experience you may enjoy if you playing for a game for a few simple few minutes at a time with complete randomness and challenging difficulty is your thing. That being said, while it does have some replayability to it with its randomly generated levels and weapons, there’s simply just not that much depth to be had if you’re looking for something a little bit more. It’s charming in its own way, and a fun way to pass the time now and then, but you might want to wait until it goes on sale to get your full monies worth.

Overall: 6.7 / 10
Gameplay: 6.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 6.7 / 10


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