More often than not, letting go is unfortunately the name of the game in the modding community. Most of us probably did just that in 2007, albeit begrudgingly, after Black Cat Games’ blog completely ceased to receive news updates on their forthcoming commercial game, Alien Swarm: Infested.
Though their previous project, the original Unreal Tournament 2004 mod version of the game (that you can still try out and play, by the way; its unrelenting difficulty level and gritty gameplay is something to behold), illustrated in the screenshots below, had laid down a steel-solid foundation for future games to build on, their PR unfortunately started mirroring Black Widow Games’ They Hunger: Lost Souls on the other side of the fence.
This is why I am all the more happy to report that more than three years later and completely out of the blue, Valve have just released Alien Swarm, a Source-based top-down co-op corridor shooter, completely free of charge.
So whatever happened to Black Cat Games in the meantime? According to Valve,
Two years ago Valve hired the talented team behind the popular top down co-op mod Alien Swarm. Since then they have been busy working on the Left 4 Dead Series, and now Portal 2. However, we never forgot about Alien Swarm and the team has spent a lot of time bringing the game to Source in between their contributions to the other Valve projects.1
Gaming journalists like PC Gamer’s Craig Pearson have jumped in to compliment Valve on setting yet another precedent by “leaping into a genre other than first-person”2, and while the company must absolutely be commended for once again boldly pushing out their content delivery service by handing out Steam-bound games for free - much like they did with Portal for free just a while ago - let us not forget Alien Swarm is still by and large a Black Cat Studios project that now delivers on the promise of the previous version of the game.
Like you can see in the screenshots above, while the curvature of the character designs as well as the particle-based sheen of the new footage does not instantaneously read “hard” as much as it reads “soft” (note: Space marines are always “hard”!), there is little doubt in my mind that the game should be vastly more casual than its predecessor, as the original was in fact notoriously hard and unrelenting, creating a fantastically effective fiction of the players as just another bunch of utterly discardable space troopers.
While level-based unlocks, statistics and a slew of 64 achievements should help players maintain interest in the game, especially a coupled map generation tool as well as the complete SDK for Alien Swarm should ensure a longer half-life for the game. The launch trailer for the game can be found below:
More video, including gameplay footage, can be accessed at Steampowered, and the actual game can be downloaded from here, servers permitting. Say what you will about the sudden announcement, as far as we are concerned, there can never be enough small-scale co-op games, and Alien Swarm looks to be exactly what co-op is for! (And if you should happen to disagree on the shoot-up-aliens-dead-in-dingy-corridors bit, there’s always NASA’s Moonbase Alpha.)