Alien Swarm features an ‘offline practice’ campaign for players to quickly get the hang of it all before jumping into the online realm. The game features a lobby system similar to that of L4D. You can choose between games marked by the difficulty and map. Joining games was always pretty smooth though we did error out a few times. Since the game is relatively unknown, there are no dedicated servers to power the games. Hence, lag is inevitably unavoidable as games are hosted by the players themselves. Pings easily range from 300ms to 500ms and in some occasions it’s barely playable. Alien Swarm is one of those games were lag shows – you will see players zip-zapping around the map, aiming will be a pain and you will find yourself attacked by bugs that appear two seconds too late. Funnily though, players are pretty nonchalant about it and will happily continue playing even if they lagging. This enables you to host games and enjoy smooth gameplay without having to worry too much about players quitting. Of course, this won’t matter if you have 3 more buddies to play with.
The game plays out like any isometric shooter. You control your character through the WASD keys and aim and fire with the mouse. You are unable to control the camera, which I believe is a good thing. It takes you away from wasting time fiddling with the camera and keeps you focused on the action. Moving through the levels is pretty smooth but it can get a little clunky especially around the corners.
The maps maybe small but they provide ample opportunities for some truly epic battles. There is a constant flow of enemies and they can easily choke you if you are not careful enough. To counterattack, you can employ a number of tactics. One of them is sealing off doors with a welder. This can either buy you time to heal and prepare yourself or leave a little manhood behind and make a run for it. Like L4D, cooperation is of utter importance. Choosing the proper class, weapons and add-ons is extremely necessary to gain victory. Some maps require one or more of the same class, and if you do not adhere to the rule, you will die. No exceptions.
While addictive and fun, the game isn’t without its flaws. The most annoying of them all is that once you die, you cannot come back till the next mission. Sure, the maps are small but they don’t necessarily get over quickly. Also, other players and we have personally experienced performance issues ranging from dropped frame rates and crashes. However, I should let you know that the game ran perfectly fine on my home PC. Beyond these two quibbles, it would be just mean to nit-pick.
They say there is no such thing as a free lunch, and they say that for a reason. I learned pretty early in my life that nothing really worth having is free in this world. But Valve shows a complete disregard for the old adage and has created a greatly fun multiplayer game with enough meat to pass off as a $20 title and gives it away for free. There is no harm in trying this fun co-op game, and at best will cost you a few hours of your life and 2GB of your disc space, even if you don’t like it. Give it a shot!