Vehicle bound action game reviewed
The year is 2237, and mankind has spread to the stars using a network of warp gates which link settlements on dozens of different planets. Unfortunately an alien race has stumbled across your cosmic answer to the Underground, and is using the gates to travel from world to world, wiping out your colonies.
Now it's up to you to spearhead the counter-attack, battling your way through a couple of dozen alien worlds, destroying alien facilities, rescuing human prisoners, and generally causing mayhem along the way. To help your one man army succeed where all others have so far failed, you have been equipped with a vehicle that is capable of morphing between different forms, and which can be upgraded in the field.
At heart Infestation is an action game, with most of your time spent driving around and blowing stuff up, although the variety of mission objectives helps to make this less repetitive than it sounds. You will find yourself racing against the clock as a volcanic planet destabilises, busting POWs out of jail, and destroying force field generators to access new parts of a world.
The ability to travel back and forth between the alien worlds using the warp gates makes it rather more free-form than most arcade shooters as well. Sadly you will probably find yourself using this ability most often simply because the only time you can save your game is when you travel through a warp gate to another world...
There is also a strategy element to the game. Scientists can often be found wandering around, and if you drop one off near a piece of alien technology a little lightbulb will appear above his head if he has discovered anything new from it, at which point you can pick him up again to get the blueprints.
Some worlds have factories which are still controlled by your own forces, while others have alien factories which you can take over by attacking them with smoke grenades to flush out the alien workers and then manning them with your own scientists. Either way, once you have enough men in the factory you can build a wide range of power-ups, which increases throughout the game as your scientists discover new technologies.
Building most items requires resources, in the form of red, green and blue crystals which can often be found on the ground, usually near to a mining facility. You can also purchase portable mining equipment, which you drop off in areas marked on your map as mineral rich. Leave them there for several seconds and they will bring the crystals to the surface for you to pick up.
It's all fairly rudimentary, and particularly later on in the game you will rarely find yourself short of resources, but it does add some brains to the brawn.
Probably the most important power-ups you can build in the factories are the new modes for your vehicle. You start off with a fairly fast moving buggy, which soon gains the ability to turn into a big wheeled version during the training mission.
The bigfoot truck moves more slowly but can travel over rougher terrain and keeps your feet dry when crossing shallow water, which can otherwise damage your vehicle. Although strangely I never found any use for that after the training mission... Later on in the game more new modes can be discovered, including hovercraft, heli-jets and fast moving skimmers. Each mode has its own handling characterists, and picking the right one to use in a particular terrain type or situation can be vital.
The skimmer, for example, moves at a ridiculous speed, but always goes at full tilt and is almost impossible to control because of this. The buggy on the other hand is a good all-round vehicle, and can use its turbo to give it a short-lived speed boost, while the heli-jet is fairly slow but can lift you high above the action and get you over mountainous terrain or lakes.
There is also a wide selection of weapons and equipment to construct, from improved radar systems to lasers and stun grenades. Unfortunately most of the weapons will go to waste, as they all seem to have rechargeable or virtually unlimited ammunition, and don't have any obvious advantages or disadvantages. By the end of the game I was only using my over-powered plasma cannons, as they seemed to be the best solution to almost every problem, despite having half a dozen other weapons fitted.
Which is a shame, because the weapons effects are reasonably impressive, as are the rest of the game's graphics. It's certainly not the most attractive game we've ever seen, but the skies are beautiful (apart from the occasional visible seam), the landscapes are vast and nicely detailed, and the fogging isn't too noticeable most of the time.
The various units and buildings you run across during the game are also quite detailed, although sadly the animations are a bit stilted and repetitive at times. Pyrotechnics are suitably over the top, with blinding flashes from buildings as you demolish them, and smoking debris hurled into the air as vehicles explode.
Unfortunately the artificial intelligence ranges from stupid to moronic, with enemy units quickly forgetting your existence. In the few missions where you have any kind of help, your comrades constantly get in the way, and even the smallest friendly fire incident can quickly escalate into a full-blown civil war. Leave them to their own devices though and your allies will all be dead within seconds.
The game's biggest problem though are its missions, which can be virtually impossible at times. Some took me several attempts to complete, and often I had to rely on fooling the dense AI to defeat overwhelming hordes of enemies. Other missions had time limits so tight that the slightest slip meant it was time to restart. Combined with the lack of a real save game facility this makes for a rather frustrating experience.
Infestation was a nice idea, but the implementation is rather lacklustre. The graphics are good, the physics solid enough most of the time, and the ability to transform your vehicle between completely different modes adds a lot to the game. But it is all let down by shoddy AI and poorly balanced missions, which swing from push-over to almost impossible seemingly at random.
With a few months more polish this could perhaps have been a great game. As it is, the result is a fairly enjoyable but unremarkable game that is all too often hair-tearingly frustrating.