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Here’s a PlayStation-focused selection of some of my recent sci-fi gaming experiences… 

Generation Zero by Systemic Reaction

This one has sat on my Playstation Network wishlist for some time before it came up in the free monthly games and, now I’ve given it a chance, it gets a solid recommend.

Billed as a stealth shooter, the game is a fairly standard Left For Deadalike at its core. A four-player, cooperative open-world ‘wandering-about simulator’, it’s saved from a cookie cutter’s fateby its worldbuilding and the slickness of the combat mechanics and AI.

The first of these plus-factors is the game’s setting in rural, 1980s cold-war Sweden, with the player returning from an off-grid trip into the wilderness to find a War Of The Worlds-style robotic invasion in progress. Though a very different game, it quickly conjures up vibes of the almighty State Of Decay. Plus, anybody who enjoyed Stranger Things or its evil German twin series Dark will probably click with the eerie, abandoned cop cars, 80s-synth soundtrack and deserted, burning farmsteads of the setting just like I did.

The mechanics of the firearms you bring into play against the sci-fi robots which patrol the landscape to provide fodder for your limited ammunition are great fun. They expertly hit the sweet spot of not being too effective, so a perfect kill strategy that would take a lot of the tension out of the game is surprisingly difficult to develop, for me at least.

The smaller, faster droids are well programmed to actively try to avoid your firepower whilst the bigger, Skynet-styled behemoths stomp around blasting everything they can see. The bullet-sponge nature of these enemies is offset by some fun damage modelling and a fairly unique art style, with chunks of armour cracking satisfyingly off their carapaces as a fusillade takes it toll.

Definitely a co-op campaign to get into with two or three friends.

Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy by Eidos Interactive

A fairly unusual triple-A entry to my recommendations list here, but in a lot of years sat in front of a computer monitor, no game has made me laugh out loud while playing more than this one.

I’m a newly devoted fan of the GOTG movies anyway – I had no idea until I saw these for the first time last year how much some of the Kassini universe’s overall style could place it as a fellow traveller of GotG. Although I’m not familiar with the comic book basis for them at all, I’d guess it’s fair to say the source material does a lot of the heavy lifting in a game which is basically only a number of linked, fast-paced battle sequences away from being an interactive movie.

But if you’re going to make an interactive movie, make it as good as this one. The construction of the on-rails player experience is joyously filmic and the all-important dialogue between your team is beautifully timed. Every snarky comment and terrible use of lyrics as team motivational speech is pitched perfectly, while the combat sequences themselves are fun, frenetic interludes with the payoff being access to the next bit of the compellingly silly story.

Aliens: Dark Descent by Tindalos Entertainment

I have had the chance to put some time into the latest of the Alien franchise’s gaming moments over the last few months, too, though I’m playing on PC so can’t vouch for the console versions.

A real-time strategy with an X-Comalike core, set in the second movie’s militarised Weyland-Yutani universe? That’s always going to be a winner and I’m pleased to say that this will meet the high expectations of superfans like myself – it’s another very high-stress play in the vein of that other piece of computerised franchise gold Alien Isolation and for a person with more of a penchant for RTS like me, it’s the better of the two games.

Unlike Alien Isolation however, your small squads of Colonial Marines resolutely can and should kill the xenomorphs in Dark Descent, but the game offers a world in which you have to be extremely careful about how and how often you do so.

Essentially, the whole thing is hinged on an increasing-pressure mechanic drawn from the fact that killing the beasts just annoys them more. Like the humble terrestrial wasp which Giger’s alien owes at least a part of its look to, this will bring more and more of the buggers out of the woodwork to stomp, claw and most importantly, terrify your squad.

Both psychological and physical injuries have lasting effects that can carry over between missions in Dark Descent. You’re on a constant knife-edge of decision-making as to whether you really think your team is now in a fit-enough state to carry out whatever you have it doing.

And so the player ends up carefully traversing each map to avoid as much conflict as possible, knowing that when the fight does kick off, the punishment from the game will rapidly escalate if anything at all doesn’t go according to plan… which, of course, it never does.

The best and most thoroughly engaging mechanic though, is that if your guys are taken down in battle, the alien drones steal them – dragging them away towards the nearest level exit to serve as hosts for more of their infernal kind. You can’t leave them behind, that’s just not the Colonial Marine corp way. So any serious injury means one of your team may have to carry an unfortunate comrade to the end of the level at considerable combat efficiency cost, as well as risking themselves and expending limited resources to take down any alien that gets close enough to get its claws on your vulnerable soldier.

This is absolutely the final moments of Corporal Hudson translated into a game mechanic. It should be enough persuasion for you to go and play this on its own. I don’t even need to touch on the excellent graphical and audio rendering of an Acheron-alike world of deserted mining colonies and claustrophobic, empty Yutani facilities, the fantastic use of light and dark that forces you to “…check those corners.” Not to mention the excellent setup of the storyline, which places your lead character in a precarious position with their marine allies from the get-go.

A necessary purchase for all Alien fans, with the caveat that this is another game in the franchise not to play late into the night.

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