Be an alien terror on the battlefield in FPS-strategy hybrid Silica

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As I scuttle across the sandy battlefield of Silica and pounce upon two unsuspecting enemy marines, tearing them apart, I can’t help but grin. Silica is still very much a work in progress, but there’s something here that awakens that deep-rooted Aliens vs Predator feeling in my brain. Our early playtest of this shooter-strategy hybrid focuses on the FPS game side, and my immediate takeaways are the sheer scale and the frantic nature of combat.

Ahead of Silica’s first developer livestream, PCGamesN got the chance to try the game at a press playtest with its solo developer Martin ‘Dram’ Melichárek. We’re set up in a three-way battle with two human teams and one taking the reins of the alien race. At any point, one player on each team can hop into the management hotseat, which functions much like a traditional top-down RTS game with resource gathering and base building that feels very reminiscent of classic Command and Conquer.

When you’re just a tiny unit in the FPS mode, this means the scale of the vehicles and buildings around you is immense and daunting. Zooming right in from the tactical mode will show everything playing out in real time, but actually putting boots on the ground is something else. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to travel around the map faster – humans can teleport to areas within line of sight, or hop in a vehicle, while alien players can hotswap into the body of any other alien in view that isn’t currently player-controlled.

Other such games have attempted this genre blend before, with the likes of Natural Selection 2 and BattleZone II standing out as some of the highlights. Silica, however, employs a full physics model with realistic ballistics that lets characters stand on vehicles, will see tank shells bank off enemy armour or penetrate it depending on angle of impact, and means nailing hit zones such as the area under a tank’s turret will prove much more effective. There’s also a day/night cycle, giving the advantage to the alien forces as darkness falls.

Playing as the humans is pretty comparable to the likes of Battlefield, with a selection of classes that you can switch between using resources earned by completing objectives and following orders from your commander. Vehicles are able to be hailed and hopped into for greater firepower – which is very welcome given how fragile you are as a single unit. There’s no ammo, however, just occasional reloading, to help keep the strategy side straightforward.

I was more immediately compelled by the aliens, however, leaping into action alongside developer Dram himself. While the default view is third-person, I’m immediately compelled by the chaotic nightmare of first-person – which rotates and flips as you scramble up over the rocky environments and leap over the heads of enemy soldiers to attack them. It immediately reminds me of playing the aliens in 2010’s Aliens vs Predator, a comparison Dram himself makes during our playtime, and it’s joyful.

Unfortunately, the experience is somewhat hampered by the current balancing. Our alien team gets an unlucky spawn right between the two human factions, meaning we’re barraged from both sides and suffer the loss of our resource-gathering units; all but a death sentence as we’re slowly drained of supplies. Being shot also slows down movement, something Dram admits makes life tough for the melee-focused swarming units of the alien faction.

There’s plenty of work to be done elsewhere, too. The two human factions currently look functionally identical, meaning you’re reliant on checking the pop-up display when hovering over units to see if they’re on your team or not. Allied buildings could be more clearly marked, and the management menus are still pretty basic in design. That said, Silica is very much a work in progress, and there’s enough heart here that I hope it gets there.

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Silica releases May 3 via Steam Early Access. You can watch the first Silica dev stream on Twitch or YouTube on May 3 at 8am PDT / 11am EDT / 4pm BST / 5pm CEST. If you like what you see and want to get involved yourself or wishlist it for later, you can check it out on Steam.

Take a look at more of the best strategy games in 2023 if you have a mind for tactical thinking, or take a look at the best space games on PC for plenty more incredible interstellar experiences.

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