If you wanted another reason to be depressed about your own lack of productivity during the lockdown(s) of 2020, here’s one: the wife and husband team that comprise Black Hive Media, Mandy and Blake Lowry, created single screen, multiplayer shooter Alphalink after they were simultaneously laid off from their jobs during the pandemic and while adopting their first child. Despite the challenging circumstances it’s been created in and the small team behind the game, it’s a focused and impressive title with a unique feel.

There’s a plot, told in voiced, animated cinematics at the opening of the game, which tells of three factions fighting over shards in deep space outposts; colonists on these outposts determine that their best chance of survival in the midst of these battles is to pick a faction and jack in to cybernetic suits to enhance their abilities in combat, using the titular Alphalink technology.

In practice, what this means is frantic, four player (or player vs bot) battles in single screen arenas, with players jumping, shooting and collecting shards in various environments and with differing objectives, such as gaining the most kills or holding onto the stage’s crystal for the longest duration. Controls are straightforward, but there’s a bit of a learning curve to overcome with the fact that your character only has three shots before needing to reload and in order to fire, you need to aim – which means you stop moving. With players leaping around the screen and also being able to use powerful melee attacks, there’s a surprising amount of nuance to the frantic firefights and battles for control.

Additionally, faction performance is tracked on a leaderboard and is persistent, so your ongoing performance will have an impact on how well your chosen faction is doing globally.

It’s a beautiful looking game with some neat visual flourishes and a great, cyberpunk-esque, hand-drawn aesthetic. The electronic soundtrack is superb and really helps to keep the adrenaline flowing throughout the battles, as well as setting the appropriate tone and atmosphere in the game’s basic hub between matches.

The platforming mechanics can take a little getting used to, with it being all too easy to misjudge the slightly inconsistent-feeling double jumps you’ll need to make onto ledges. It also feels at times that the stages are frantic enough against other players or AI, without there having to be the brutal turrets that often appear in levels to add to the list of ‘things that can kill you’. It also feels like a real grind to get anywhere in terms of level progress, but admittedly that could just be my lack of overall skill at the game – I often feel completely unmatched against an already very skilled playerbase and the AI hardly takes it easy against you, so I’m willing to concede that’s a me problem and that I simply need to get good.

Where I’ve found the game to be most fun is in local multiplayer, especially as that means players have been of similar skill levels to myself, being relatively new to the game. Once the slightly unusual controls and ‘stand still to shoot’ mechanics are absorbed, Alphalink becomes a hugely competitive and fun game with players in the same room.

With plenty of additional content planned and a wealth of cosmetics to unlock in order to customise your character, there’s lots to keep players busy if the frantic multiplayer action is up their street. Though it’s not without a few issues in terms of the slightly inconsistent platforming and overly skilled AI that presents a challenge which may be off-putting to players just starting out (before they’re blasted to smithereens by online players too!), there’s a slickness to the presentation and design of Alphalink, with its strong focus on multiplayer fun, that makes it a really impressive game. Though the mechanics don’t take long to glean, the frantic, demanding nature of the online modes means that this is one game that’ll appeal to players looking for a serious challenge against other humans in fast paced, bite-sized matches. Alphalink isn’t a game that’ll necessarily be appreciated by casual players, but those willing to put in the practice will get a lot out of it.

Many thanks to Black Hive Media for providing me with an Alphalink code for review purposes. Alphalink is currently available on Xbox consoles.

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