The thought of a xenomorphic beast gestating inside my gut and then turning my innards into ground chuck as it claws its way out has never been an appealing one. Even as a 2D Metroidvania shooter, Aliens: Infestation manages to nail the eerie vibe and unsettling pace of the sci-fi film series it's based on. Wayforward's take on exploratory bug-hunting in the cold depths of space is as authentic as it is challenging.
Infestation retreads a medley of themes and creepy settings culled from the movies. You're part of an elite squad of Colonial Marines sent in to investigate and put a damper on the latest xenomorph outbreak. Revisiting the oppressive environments of familiar locations like the U.S.S. Sulaco and Planet LV-426 is a pulse-quickening jaunt that throws you into the fray with the grisly Aliens in their many unpleasant incarnations. There are also well-armed corporate goons bent on harnessing the killer crawlies for their own aims to contend with too. It's nothing groundbreaking for the Aliens franchise, but the development team's skill at faithfully recreating the atmospheric experience on the DS is impressive.
Controlling one lone marine at a time, you must slink around and blast your way through dark corridors teeming with hidden items and the ever-present threat of a swift and painful death. Keycards, explosives, weapon power-ups, and other crucial items (like the infamous motion-sensing device that delivers a steady ominous blip) are tucked away in the deep branching recesses of each massive level, and you'll need to track them down to open up the path forward. The slow-and-steady pace builds a strong element of suspense at first, though this wanes as you get accustomed to the game's flow.
Every second you're not focused on exploring for crucial pieces of kit, you'll be gunning the limbs off all manner of gruesome Aliens and other foes. Head-huggers, chest-bursters, drones, queens, and other gnarly mutations rear their nasty heads. Brutal boss battles and an unforgiving difficulty recreates humanity's struggle against extinction to a T; this is one tough game. Frantically blowing your horrific adversaries to bits makes for some intense moments, but their propensity to leap at you out of nowhere alternates between thrilling and irritating as the encounters grow more repetitive and predictable.
Infestation does a great job of instilling a sense of mortality, yet it fails to use its unusual health system to its fullest. Each unique marine character represents a life. Lose all four of them, and you're finished. Thankfully, other soldiers can be recruited along the way. It's great they all look different and have their own personality, but the fact each one plays exactly the same feels like a wasted opportunity.
When you get down to it, Infestation's excellent presentation and grim atmosphere outweigh most of its minor faults. The old-school gameplay offers a fun challenge and blends well with the source material to deliver an authentic trip through sci-fi memory lane. For a hardened Alien fan like me, that's reason enough to grab a DS and dim the lights.