Alien Swarm is a bit of an anomaly in the world of video games. It’s a source mod, based on an Unreal mod, released officially, for free. The developers are part of Valve’s workforce, and worked on Left 4 Dead 2 and Portal 2, but were only hired as a result of making this mod- and now it’s an official Valve game. Yes, it’s an odd one indeed.

You see that person on your friends list? He/She already owns this game. Everyone does. Often mods get more or less ignored by the general gaming community, and instead become cliquey thanks to the fact that only those who are involved with the original game’s community and mod scene. Valve, being their usual cunning self, have transcended this- not only are big gaming blogs reporting about Alien Swarm, Steam’s servers melted with the amount of people downloading it. As such, there’s already a community, without anyone making an effort- meaning there are plenty of people to play co-op with.

The heart of Alien Swarm, like many of Valve’s games, is playing with your buddies. The game employs a lobby system very similar to that of Left 4 Dead 2, allowing you to quickly bounce in and out of games with random players, or set up a lobby and grab three friends (the better of the two options, obviously). If you’ve played Left 4 Dead 2 (and let’s face it- you should) then you’ll know the score already; it’s perfectly serviceable in single player or with random players, but the real game is with your mates.

The game entails fighting off hordes (or “Swarms”) of beings from another planet (“Aliens” if you will). The levels are structured much more as missions than something like Left 4 Dead 2, with objectives to be completed and orders to be followed. You might already have guessed this from the screenshots, but it’s not a first-person shooter, either; it’s top-down. The controls work very well, with WASD used for moving up, left, down and right, as you might expect, and the mouse for aiming the laser sights of all your weapons.

There are a good number of weapons to use, and you’ll either find them scattered around the levels or via the level progression system. Yes, Modern Warfare has even infiltrated a Valve game; as you play, you’ll gain XP points that go towards level progress, just like many modern games. It’s a lot easier to follow, however- simply leveling up means access to new stuff, and that’s that. Although I doubt it’ll capture the addicting nature of the leveling system in Modern Warfare, it’s definitely something that will keep you coming back to Alien Swarm- if the excellent gameplay doesn’t bring you back anyway.

There are four classes of soldier to choose from: Officer, Special Weapons, Medic, and Tech. As you might expect, they each have a role to play, and you’ll need to have a balanced team to survive a level intact. Officer equates to a basic assault class, Special Weapons is useful for heavier weapons, Medic is the healer and the only way to prevent death by infection, and Tech is needed to hack doors and mission-based objects. Although there are only four classes, there are eight characters to choose from (two of each class), each with different abilities and characteristics. It’s certainly not going to leave you wanting more, as there are so many combinations of weapons and characters available.

The gameplay itself is just as good as you might expect from a game developed by Valve employees. Even if you’re without much experience in top-down shooters, it’s easy to drop in and get playing straight away- just point and shoot. Killing the aliens is satisfying, and there are plenty of different types to satiate your bloodlust. The action can get pretty frantic, especially when you’re playing on a harder difficulty.

I think Alien Swarm may be the best value game on the planet. Not only is it free, the game is of premium quality all the way through. I would pay good money for this game as it is, and very good money indeed if it had a few more levels to engage me with. Valve have done it again, folks. They’ve not only created a fantastic and addictive multiplayer game, they’ve gone and made it free of charge. Often we think of reviews as a guide as to whether we should spend our our money- but in this case that doesn’t apply, so it’s a difficult one to place. What I will say is that this game is not only worth the price of admission, it’s worth the most important thing of all- your time.

You can download the game for free here.

Alien Swarm was developed by Valve and was published by Valve for the PC. The game released in the United States on July 19th 2010 with a retail price of FUCKIN’ FREE. The game was played for 4 hours in multiplayer, enough to finish the run of missions several times over. Specs of the PC used are as follows: AMD Phenom X4 965 @ 3.40 Ghz, 4GB RAM, ATI Radeon 5850 Black, and some shitty hard drive with Windows 7 64-bit installed on it.