Alpha Squad Platform: Xbox Live Indie Games (Xbox 360) Developer: Dragon Divide Price: 240 MSP / $3 Four player online and offline co-op for only $3. This is an indie game, right? At a quick glance, Alpha Squad exhibits the appearance of a much more expensive title as it even exceeds the presentation of several Xbox Live Arcade games. The artwork in both the menus and dialogues is quite impressive mainly because it was created by Gonzalo Ordóñez who's work you've probably seen before as he's even worked on larger projects such as World of Warcraft. The sprites created by Pritesh Rane are sharp as well but don't quite grab your attention as much. Nonetheless, the whole presentation including the music which is a nice metal tune is overall very polished that it's easy to forget that this is an indie game and more importantly, just 3 bucks. This is vital to remember as although the presentation itself is fantastic, some of the actual gameplay elements aren't quite as solid. Sleek menu. Thugs, gore, weapons, and large breasts: Combine all of these together and you get a fun dual-stick shooter called Alpha Squad inspired by Smash TV. The controls are straightforward but there's a bit more to it as there's also an item shop that can be accessed at any time during the game through the select button where one can purchase another weapon or a power-up to assist in battle. You earn money by killing enemies that often drop some but can sometimes get lucky and acquire such goodies for free especially the med kits to replenish your health bar. Also, once you purchase a weapon you must use it until the ammo runs out as the game rejects the "buy it now, use it later" philosophy. This might seem like a flaw to some, but after a while, you'll appreciate this restriction as it would take away from the difficulty too much if it didn't exist. Speaking of the difficulty, there are no difficulty options but the more players you add, the tougher enemies become. Generally speaking, most levels are fairly reasonable but there is one in particular that's quite tough, even more so than the final boss. Luckily, there is a auto-save system along with manual saves so if you die, you won't have to unlock all the levels again but will not be able to continue in same exact location as where you left off unless you're playing with someone else who's purchased a revival power-up. Can't get these at the mall. The "sexy" save screen. In terms of enemy variety, there's not a large array of foes but there's enough to combat repetitiveness at least. Each boss is relatively distinct as well along with the level designs. You'll battle enemies in cities, beaches, jungles, snowy terrains, and even a sewer. Most levels also have multiple paths which unfold different aspects of the main story as each of the four characters has their own tale. Due to this, it's not a good idea to ignore the dialogue as it actually presents useful information relevant to the story and for the most part, although quite cheesy a times, can be entertaining through its crude humor. It's a jungle out there. Since there are multiple paths, you're able to return to previously completed levels to discover the remaining paths through the level selection screen which is a large map of the world with selectable levels. Within each level there are also several buildings where a player can go in to either uncover another portion of the story or wipe out some enemies for further cash. The story itself isn't very long and can probably be completed in about 2 hours. However, the fun doesn't end there as there's an Arena mode where you face off waves of enemies across different terrains until you die either alone or with some friends. Just like the story, this can be played both online/offline with up to 4 players. This mode supports P2P leaderboards so you can compare your scores with friends or others but due to its P2P nature, some scores might not appear therefore, it's not a robust measurement of who's really on top. Still, it can at least help you keep track of your own progress. Unfortunately, although still fun, it does feel relatively generic. I would have liked to have seen further features in this mode such as some sort of secondary objective like keeping a particular NPC alive or even a time limit in some levels affecting your score. Oh look, large...countries. On the couch or across the globe: As a completely solo experience, Alpha Squad is not bad but it's definitely not as entertaining as when you play with others. The great thing about it is that you can even go online with some local players similar to how Halo and other major titles allow guests to go online. While playing online communication is even more vital as if you're offline, accessing the item shop temporarily pauses the game but online, this doesn't occur so if you needed to buy another weapon or some health, you'd have to have someone else providing cover temporarily to safely do this. In addition while fighting some of the later bosses, teamwork is quite essential as usually aside from the boss, you have to fight their pesky minions as well which can be quite the distraction. Teamwork pays off. To spend or not to spend $3: At its core, aside from the the implementation of a multi-path storyline and its always accessible item shop, Alpha Squad doesn't bring much to the dual-stick genre but does manage to deliver to fans of the genre aside from some minor issues. When the game was first released, it had several bugs which are now gone but a few kinks still exist that need to be worked out as I've come across a few glitches and still notice some choppy behavior with the AI enemies as sometimes they get temporarily stuck. Despite these minor flaws, the game is definitely playable and more importantly, still fun. As for competition, sure, there are plenty of similar titles on the Xbox Live Indie Game service but none of them have as much visual polish as this nor do they support four player online/offline co-op at just $3. However, I do feel as though perhaps Dragon Divide should have spent less resources on the artwork and instead focused on enhancing the actual gameplay as I would have liked to have seen further improvement in their Arena mode. A variation of it with more depth would of definitely made the game stand out from the rest but as it stands, there isn't much competition when it comes to functional online dual-stick shooter co-op on the XBLIG marketplace especially at $3 so Alpha Squad manages to shine in that respect. It even has a sexy version of achievements where by rescuing certain girls they end up in your sanctuary to serve as some sort of poster-type trophy. I personally am not really fascinated by animated girls as I prefer real ones much more, but if you happen to be a fan service fanatic, then you'll be sure to appreciate it more than me. Pros: +Fantastic presentation +Online/offline 4 player co-op +Multi-path story & item shop +Good multiplayer replay value Cons: -Dialogue is a bit too cheesy at times -AI enemies could use some further improvement -Arena mode feels relatively generic -Minor flaws still exist after the first patch Alpha Squad survives the madness and rescues all the hot chicks to earn itself a "BUY IT" purchase recommendation for those looking for a fun online/offline co-op experience filled with gory crude humor despite its imperfections. However, if you don't have Xbox Live Gold nor anyone else to play with, this game probably won't be as appealing. The same can be said if you're bored of dual-stick shooters. A review copy was used to evaluate the game.