Game Review: Alien Scumbags

Have you ever wanted to play a game based on nothing but the title? I have. Developed and published by Monster Finger Games comes the wonderfully titled, Alien Scumbags. Simple, straight and to the point… but enough about me. Let’s take a look at the game.

The year is 20XX, the earth has been ravaged by nuclear wars and our only hope is the research shuttle Nostrami. Unfortunately the ship has been incommunicado for 48 hours now.
That’s were you come in! You are Master Chef, a bad ass space marine and it’s your job to explore the dark corridors of the Nostrami to find out what events occurred.

I think the best way to explain just what Alien Scumbags is, is via some comparisons to other games. Try to imagine the mighty Doom but in the form of a 2D platform-shooter. Throw in some of the first two Duke Nukem games and a pinch of pretty much any 8-bit platformer circa 1985… oh yeah, don’t forget a shit load of blood and ‘adult’ but very puerile humour. I mean, the game starts with the following screen.

ALIEN SCUMBAGS

‘Yes’ may be highlighted there but trust me, I chose ‘no’. If you are going to play a game like this, then you have to play it complete with pixel bewbs and all. That screen there really does set the tone of exactly what Alien Scumbags is all about. If you are the kind of person who is a bit prudish over swearing and pixel bewbs, then you can always pussy out and select ‘yes’.

There is a story here and it is as it should be, pretty basic. You play as Master Chef and are tasked with exploring the Nostrami, a spaceship that the crew have seemingly disappeared from. You have to kill aliens, discover logs to fill in the backstory and try to learn just what happened on the ship.

ALIEN SCUMBAGS SCREEN 2

With the main character being called Master Chef and the ship being the Nostrami, you should already be pretty clued into the level of homage and parody here. We already have Halo and Alien references and not even really started yet. Alien Scumbags is crammed full of movie and gaming references, the intro alone mentions several big-name gaming heroes, with you as Master Chef being very low down on the list of notable heroes who were wanted for this mission. Even the fact that you are a chef turned action hero is a reference to Steven Seagal’s Under Siege.

As you make your way through Alien Scumbags, you’ll be hit with movie and gaming references every few minutes. Posters on the wall depict famous films, some secret areas pay homage to instantly recognisable titles and more. As you play through the game, you’ll unlock new (non-copyright infringing) versions of other playable characters such as Chun-Li, The Flash, Jason Voorhees… and a bunny. These characters aren’t just model swaps as they have differing attributes. The Flash character is fast, Chun-Li jumps higher and so on.

ALIEN SCUMBAGS SCREEN 1

The gameplay of Alien Scumbags is simple and basic. You shoot aliens in the face and try to get to the end of the level. This is why I likened the game to Doom, because that is really all you had to do in Doom too (or even Doom II). It is the simplicity and basicness of Alien Scumbags that makes it so appealing. This really is instant pick up and play stuff. There is nothing complex here, nothing that will have you trawling through tutorials. You shoot aliens and get to the end of the levels.

There are a couple of boss battles and even a bit of variety with some vehicle-based bonus stages. But the core gameplay is as simple as it needs to be. Graphically, Alien Scumbags is chunky. It has this real 8-bit blockiness to the graphics and everything feels very solid. Aliens explode in a shower of blood and guts, entrails will litter the levels. This is certainly not a game for little kids… just big kids. You’ve got your over the top violence coupled with pixel bewbs and a load of actually very funny dialogue and scenarios. The levels have various secrets to find, which makes multiple playthroughs a joy. Speaking of which…

Alien Scumbags isn’t a big game. It’ll probably take you a little over an hour or so to get through the story, if you really want to rush that is. But that really depends on your chosen difficulty setting too. Playing this on hard really is ‘effing hard and you’ll need to slow down and take your time. Easy mode is way too easy but it’s also a great way to get a feel for the game. I have played through on three different difficulty settings. Truth be told, I have only finished it on two of those settings, I’m still trying with the third as I write this… and there’s still another more difficult setting yet to try. But for me, this is a great indicator of the quality of  the game. It may be short but it is great fun and drags you back in to try the harder setting and to seek out all those secrets.

ALIEN SCUMBAGS SCREEN 7

There’s even some scenery interactions with the classic exploding red barrels. But you can also shoot down pictures from the wall and have them fall onto aliens, chairs and sofas can be shot at and more. You can hide in lockers and this adds a little basic strategy on the harder difficultly settings. I’d best not forget about the high score table, so you can go back to try and beat your best previous effort. On top of the story mode, there’s a nice homage to the original 1983 Mario Bros. game. You get a mini-game with a single screen and ever spawning aliens, you just see how long you can last. Weapons and health pickups randomly spawn that can help you take out the endless Alien Scumbags.

As I reach the end of this review, I do need to highlight a couple of niggles. Okay, so this first one is less a niggle and more a public service announcement. The game does feature gamepad support but when I first tried, every button worked except the fire button. For a shooter, this is a slight inconvenience. However, this wasn’t the fault of the game, more so an oversight by myself with the controller setting on Steam. So it wasn’t a problem with the game, I just needed to re-configure my gamepad via the options on Steam itself. I just thought I would mention that here in case anyone else has controller issues.

ALIEN SCUMBAGS SCREEN 3

But about those niggles. I would love to see customisable controls. You can play via the keyboard or gamepad but you can’t configure the controls at all. I do like to have the ability to set the keys/buttons to whatever I felt was more comfortable as for me, the default keys/buttons were not the best they could be. You can’t stack ammo for weapons. While your pistol is unlimited ammo, the other weapons are not. So if your shotgun can only hold six rounds and you’ll only ever have six rounds for it. This isn’t much of a problem on easier difficulties but on the harder settings when you really need to save ammo. Playing this on hard is so much harder because you will run out of ammo so fast. But perhaps that is a big part of the appeal, it is bloody hard to stay alive.

My other issue is that the game will auto-equip any weapon you pick up. I waste ammo because I’ll be in the midst of a fight with some Alien Scumbags, moving across the screen and shooting the shit out of everything with my pistol, walkover a weapon and there goes that all-important ammo (cos it doesn’t stack) because the game has swapped my pistol with whatever weapon I just picked up. I think putting in an option to turn that off would be a good idea so people can set their own preferences.

ALIEN SCUMBAGS SCREEN 6

£6.19 (precisely) on Steam is how much Alien Scumbags will set you back. You get a great and very (re)playable game for your coin here. This is puerile and silly, sure. But this is a huge part of the appeal, sometimes you just need to unplug your brain and indulge in a little silliness. Alien Scumbags has this in spades. Full with jokes and pop culture references, plenty of basic but really fun gameplay, loads of secrets for you to find, unlockable characters and more… I mean, you can even play in a Game Boy-like mode. Yes, this is a recommendation from me for a few reasons. First, it’s just a really blood good little game. Second, I love getting the word out there to help support small developers like this. Third, I want a sequel. I seriously think this game has a lot of scope for the future and a sequel could be amazing.

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