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Help! Aliens!

Published by Marjupi Games
Primary Genre Secondary Genre

Aliens. You just can't trust them, can you? One moment they turn up in their spaceships, bringing messages of peace for mankind, and the next moment we've got politicians disappearing into thin air. Tempting as it is to view this as a good thing (if they wish to turn their attention to reality TV show producers and the cast of Neighbours, I'll offer my full support) it really is a most unfortunate turn of events for those poor security agents tasked with protecting them. Such is the case in "Help! Aliens!", in which you take on the role of protector for the President of the United Nations. You're just in time to see her being sucked through a wormhole and (with no thought for your own safety) dive in after her. Now you're on an alien spaceship, surrounded by all manner of weird and wacky alien creatures, hoping to bring her back.

The plot is explained in Star Wars-style scrolling text! The alien spaceship is filled with bizarre sights.

"Help! Aliens!" (or HA as I'll call it from here on in) is a first person shooter in which your mission is simple - destroy all the aliens, and get to the exit. You are armed with your service pistol and a stash of grenades, both of which can dispatch aliens with ease if you shoot them in the right place. The instructions introduce us to the aliens and where their weak points are. The ease with which they die is most fortunate, as nothing else in this game is remotely easy - electronic barriers get in your way, wormholes jump you to different parts of the ship, aliens surround you in massive numbers and your lifeforce is slowly decaying all the time (dropping faster if you get hit by aliens or blasted by your own grenades) - and this is just the first world. Ruby crystals litter the ground and will restore small amounts of lost life, but they'll soon run out. Worse still, your ammunition is limited - and there are no pickups. Make your shots count!

Move around with the keyboard, aiming and firing with the mouse. The left button fires your current weapon, the right button switches between pistol and grenades. That's about it for the controls. At the base of the screen you can see a minimap of the area, which fills in as you discover new areas and highlights where the aliens are, and two bars that denote your lifeforce and the number of aliens you've dispatched. A neat touch is the way that, as your lifeforce nears exhaustion (and death), your persona struggles to keep his eyes open - the view narrows to a thin slit and eventually closes completely.

A snail-like alien flies past in the sewers. The alien homeworld.

Graphics are brightly coloured - the alien ship in particular is quite garish, making me wonder if the aliens might have been better off kidnapping interior designers. Aliens are downright weird, patrolling the corridors seemingly at random and in large numbers. The fixtures and fittings are often bizarre and quite varied, though everything does end up looking quite samey and it is easy to get lost. All this said, the alien ship is just one of three "worlds" in HA, the others being the sewers of London and the alien homeworld. You can play any world you like, though the missions in each world need to be unlocked in sequence. Look out for the Star Wars style scrolling text when you start off!

Sound effects are equally bizarre, from the chuffing of the steam snail (er...) to the gunshots and explosions of your weapons. The girly scream as you expire is a nice touch (though, to be fair, I've no real indication of my unfortunate avatar's gender). One could not call the sound effects subtle but they suit the graphics and play style rather well! Background music consists of one title track (which, oddly, only plays when you first start, and not on subsequent returns to the menu) and some softer backing music for the scrolling mission text.

While it's quite easy to get to grips with, this game is actually quite tough. Your constantly draining health means you're battling just as much against time as you are against the alien hordes, and with the limited ammunition in your possession you can't afford to just spray the place with bullets and rush through. There's no limit on how often you can retry a mission - your score will take a knock if you die, but that's all. Running out of ammo with one alien left is... frustrating. The first of the sewer levels is excrutiating - the final alien requires a raft ride all around the sewers, and your health drops rapidly all the way. If your health starts too low or you're not fast enough onto the rafts, death is assured. Alien liquid is instantly fatal, as are the stomping droids if they get too close.

I feel HA might benefit from a difficulty setting. Currently it all seems ramped up to the maximum, and this makes the game more an exercise in frustration that only the more obstinate player will persevere with. I actually felt I made better progress with the later worlds than the first one - do levels get progressively more difficult, or are they all about equally vicious? An important tip - it is much easier to hook a player if you allow them to make a modest amount of progress first!

The difficulty is, however, pretty much the main misgiving I have with HA. The rest of the game is a little rough around the edges but has a brash style and humour that works well. It's fast paced, easy to get into and doesn't concern itself with complicated plots or (horror!) anything approaching realism. It appears that, since this game was submitted for review, Marjupi Games have decided to give "Help! Aliens!" away as freeware - I hope this means they have something bigger and better in the pipeline. As an early effort, this is highly encouraging - there are lessons to be learned, but few developers are quite as imaginative.

Graphics 70%
Sound 65%
Playability 70%
Longevity 70%
Overall Score 68%
Bronze Star

Published on 14 Aug 2009
Reviewed by Andrew Williams

Keywords: help! aliens! review, marjupi games reviews, marjupi games games, help! aliens! scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.