Yo! Stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen, because the virtually-forgotten freeware game Alien Swarm is finally about to see some much-needed reinvigoration. Though, unsurprisingly and rather disappointingly, this comes not from creator Valve, but from the ever-dependable modding community – in the form of the soon-to-be-released stand-alone expansion Reactive Drop.
For those with murky memories or anyone who hasn’t played it, Alien Swarm is a top-down, four-player, co-op shooter that began life as a total conversion for Unreal Tournament 2004. Valve went on to hire the team behind it to work on Left 4 Dead and Portal 2, but the Black Cat guys also found time to produce a polished Source-engine remake of their mod, which was released for free on Steam way back in 2010.
Vaguely reminiscent of the original Alien Breed games and with more than a few passing references (cough, cough) to the film Aliens, Alien Swarm sees you mowing your way through scores of xenos while performing simple tasks along the way, like hacking into computers, disabling reactors and torching biomass. Or as Valve originally framed it:
Available free of charge, the game thrusts players into an epic bug hunt featuring a unique blend of co-op play and squad-level tactics. With your friends, form a squad of four distinct IAF Marine classes. Plan your attack using an unlockable arsenal of weapons with countless loadout configurations against a wide variety of aliens. Blaze your way through an overrun, off-world colony, eradicating the alien infestation in environments ranging from the icy planet’s surface, to a subterranean lava-flooded mining facility.
Even now, Alien Swarm is still an absolute blast to play – satisfyingly frantic action combined with a very strong focus on tactics and team play, with the harder difficulties requiring extremely tight planning, load-out coordination, and communication. It’s certainly a game that the multiplayer aspect of the god-awful Aliens: Colonial Marines could have learned a lot from.
Unfortunately, despite being one of the most popular games on Steam for some time after its release, Valve pretty much abandoned the game almost immediately (for reasons that largely remain unclear), producing only a handful of minor updates and very little in the way of new content.
They did provide the SDK, but the lack of Workshop support or Valve-endorsed community maps makes it difficult for random folks to get together to play anything over than the solitary official campaign (Jacob’s Rest), which comprises just seven short maps. Inevitably, despite over four million downloads, player numbers quickly dwindled, leaving only a very small but dedicated hardcore community.
Hopefully then, Reactive drop will breath some life back into a brilliant and unique game. The mod has been around since 2014, but the guys behind it have recently managed to get it onto Steam via Greenlight. Completely free, this stand-alone extends the original game with better single-player support and more maps, aliens, game modes, guns, and, crucially, Steam Workshop functionality. It also features significantly-improved versions of community-favourites Tears Tarnor and Lana’s Escape as official campaigns.
Here’s the full feature list for you to peruse:
- Tactical co-op for up to eight players with a top-down perspective
- Steam Workshop support for community maps and challenges
- New co-operative campaigns
- Challenges: modifications of the game, just like Mutations in Left 4 Dead 2
- PvP: Deathmatch, Gun Game, Instagib, and Team Deathmatch
- Single-player: play with improved bots on all our official maps
- New aliens: HL2 antlion guards and more
- New Weapons: Desert Eagle, Devastator, and Combat Rifle, with more to come
- Over 100 Steam achievements
- Leaderboards: compete with your friends for the fastest mission completion
- Improved spectating: see hacking mini-games and mouse movements in real time