Super Mutant Alien Assault is a rather uncomfortable game. What I mean by that is it’s a well-made game, that looks, sounds, and plays great, yet it does nothing to really make itself stand out from the crowd placing itself in the uncomfortable position of being no better or worse than good. It’s a fine risk averse game with a killer dubstep soundtrack and a poco stick weapon. The story is told through a cut-scene as you boot it up and simply informs the players that humans are trying to escape Earth due to Super Mutant Alien attacks but now they are attacking the fleeing ships too. The faith of the escaping humans rests in the hands of a player controlled droid and that’s as deep as the story gets. It’s really just there to justify why there’s a robot fighting aliens in space.
The gameplay involves you working your way through multiple, randomly generated, arenas called ships. Each stage only lasts a few minutes and every time you beat four you move onto the next galaxy. The goal is to survive while defeating your enemies, but each stage has its own unique twist. For example: the Hyperdrive stage has you picking up a battery in one corner of the map and carrying it to the other in order to power the ship’s Hyperdrive. The Pressure stage contains two machines that switch on randomly, if you don’t switch them off in time they’ll explode – dealing plenty of damage as they do. Or course, there is also the traditional survival rounds among a couple of other modes including boss fights.
When you begin a new round you have no weapons. There’ll be a weapons machine on the map, which will provide you with a random gun. These can range from a sniper rifer to sub machineguns, or a rocket launcher to a shotgun. Honestly, for the most part the weapons are fairly standard with the only stand out exceptions being the poco stick that I mentioned in the introduction or the lightsaber. There’s also an explosives machine to provide you with grenades and other such goodies. To top it off there are crates dotted around each stage which drop health, ammo, secondary weapons, and items. The items can range from a double jump or a dash to a dodge.
Graphically the game takes the ‘harken back the 8-bit era’ approach that’s so popular among indie developers. Everything is presented on a 2D plane and the player has multiple platforms to jump around on in order to defeat and avoid enemies. The colour scheme generally veers towards the darker colours of the spectrum leaning heavily on its dark greens and blues. Enemy design comes across as a little unimaginative and simple, although there is a large variety of enemy types considering it’s such a short game. However, you’re bound to see a thousand tentacle-brain-things before your time with the game is up. While there’s a large variety of weapons the only one that does anything to stand out graphically is the aforementioned poco stick. When you slam down on an enemy you’re treated to an explosive blue light surrounding your character in a smoke-like effect.
The score mainly, if not exclusively, consists of dubstep. When you start a new game you’ll barely even notice it as a gentle tone lingers almost silently in the background. Then as you move into the second or third stages the action heats up and the beat drops. I’m usually not a fan of the style but there’s no denying it works here and adds to the game’s energy. Of course as is the case with most action video games the score is broken up by the sound of gunfire and explosions. Unfortunately, the guns lack the kick necessary to really make them stand out, which means you have to actively try to notice them.
I can’t quite put my finger on what’s wrong with Super Mutant Alien Assault. For the most part I think the gameplay, graphics and soundtrack are pretty good, but the main problem lies in the fact that the game is nothing but good and make no particular effort to stand out among the swarm of similar titles on the PlayStation Store. The game also offers no incentive to pull you back in after you switch it off. For example, if I knew that after a certain amount of kills I would unlock a new weapon it might persuade me to load the game back up again but as far as I can tell there’s no rhyme or reason to the unlocks. There’s no leader boards or high scores to give the main game a competitive edge. While there is a leader board in the Endless mode you’ll only be able to compete with yourself due to a lack of online support. There is co-op but it’s only on one console, while it’s great to see coach co-op being supported it probably would have benefited from online support in this day and age.
While Super Mutant Alien Assault (SMAA) works fantastically in many areas it's hard to shake the feeling that the game is a little too safe. The end result is a game that works perfectly but fails to stand out amongst a crowd of similar titles. A lack of meaningful story means you don't have any characters to care about. A lack of leaderboards and so on takes away a potential competitive edge that may have kept some players engaged. Finally, after you beat it once there's no clear goal to pursue anymore because there's nothing left to aim for due to the game lacking any logical unlock system. If you're huge fan of the genre then I think it would be worth your while trying the game out, especially because it comes at such a low price, but if you only plan on playing one game like SMAA this year then I think your money would be better spent elsewhere.
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