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Demo Impressions: Aliens vs. Predator

February 12, 2010, Author: Brian Gourlay

Freddy vs. Jason, Lazy Dance Artist vs. Generic Past It Rapper, Sherlock Holmes vs. *shudder*… no I can’t finish that one. The concept of combining two formats together in order to attract the attention of two fan-bases is an age old tactic, and ever since viewers caught a glimpse of an Alien skull at the end of Predator 2 the masses started begging for the crossover to end all crossovers. Since then, Alien vs. Predator has turned into its own franchise, with comics, games and a couple of frankly piss-poor popcorn flicks.

Rebellion, developers of the first Alien vs Predator game, have now returned to their old stomping ground with a new imagining of Aliens vs. Predator, to be released on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. I’ve never heard of a developer returning to essentially reboot a franchise that they had started themselves, so I was pleased to see that they had released a multiplayer demo as a show of good faith, and couldn’t wait to find out what new ideas the old boys had brought to the table.

The demo starts worryingly, with far too many connection issues and ridiculously long waits just to find a game, which stopped me from getting going. I understand that it’s just a demo and it’s probably unfair to judge the final product (which will have a lot more networking hardware behind it) against this, but it’s a frustrating start for a multiplayer demo. Fortunately the matchmaking system finally found seven other people who were looking for a game, with me joining the lobby as part of the Xenomorph roster.

The modus operandi of the Alien is pretty much public knowledge. Creeping silently along any surface and striking with surgical precision, the chances are the only time you’ll get to see one is in the split second before it rips you in half. Rebellion have recreated this feeling pretty well, although it will take a lot of practice to get anywhere near as proficient.

Marines: At the bottom of the food chain for a reason

Marines: At the bottom of the food chain for a reason.

All of the abilities are there, but the Alien’s trademark agility is pretty difficult to get the hang of. The Alien is capable of crawling along ceilings and walls, which is possible through two different methods. Pressing the right shoulder button while standing next to a surface will result in you immediately snapping onto it, while aiming towards a point and pressing the jump button lets you make a leap towards the surface you’re aiming at, latching onto it if you’re close enough.

The main problem with this mechanic is that the transition between each level is very quick and disorientating. A quick jump to the ceiling and all of a sudden the entire map is upside down, which despite being what you’d expect to happen threw me off for a couple of seconds. After a few games I did get used to it but there was still the odd occasion where I’d end up running around in circles for a few seconds trying to work out where the hell I was.

After getting to grips with the Alien’s occasionally erratic movement I was able to put its offensive capabilities to the test. The Alien is the only species to rely solely on hand to hand combat, but this is counterbalanced by the fact that most of the attacks are absolutely lethal, even though mapping them to the shoulder buttons rather than the triggers is a bit of a strange call. The heavy tail attack is more often than not a one-hit kill and has a pretty impressive reach, while the quick claw attacks can stun an enemy long enough for you to unleash one of the very well presented execution attacks. These attacks really personify what the Alien is all about and appeases some of my more sadistic tendencies as you get to look right into your helpless victims eyes before you impale, devour or decapitate them.

Like the wall crawling however the Alien combat isn’t entirely without issues. Tail attacks occasionally fail to register at all, while it can all get a bit frantic and muddled if you’re going toe to toe with someone. Because of the sheer speed that you attack with, diving forward with your claws can be quite dizzying at times I occasionally had to resort to thrashing my claws around wildly in the hopes of hitting someone. The inclusion of Focus Mode (which automatically tracks the camera to a single person) can remedy this most of the time, but I’d have no chance if Sigourney Weaver was in the vicinity.

From the outset of my games with the marine it’s clear that they’ve been designed as the plucky underdogs (or in my case, the other species bitch). They’re much slower than either of the other species and can be killed almost instantly no matter what the attack, but this is compensated by the massive arsenal they have at their disposal. The standard Pulse Rifle can do a fair bit of damage from a distance, but there are much more destructive goodies for those who can survive long enough to find them. The shotgun is useful for last ditch shots at Aliens who want to get too personal, and I managed to get a good run going with the Smart Rifle.

That being said, I think too many things go against the Marine to make it a fair fight. With a well organised team of Marines the imbalance isn’t too noticeable, but it will certainly ensure that any gung ho marines will be dispatched a lot quicker than the ones who employ teamwork. My main issue with how the Marine played was that he often has to rely on his flashlight to see a few feet in front of him, a problem which was only amplified by the lack of natural lighting in the map on the demo.

Even with my Motion Sensor periodically identifying any incoming threats, I often found myself looking at the business end of a Predator’s claw before I even knew we were in the same room. The Motion Sensor also doesn’t show up on your HUD until a few seconds after you spawn, leaving you extremely vulnerable in that short window. It just seems a bit unfair that the Predator utilises high tech thermal imaging and the Alien has naturally enhanced sight, while poor old Marine has to make do with a torch that barely manages to perform its sole function in the first place. The Marine is also a lot less manoeuvrable than the other species, having to rely on the age old practice of legging it while Predators and Aliens leap all over the place.

I did get the hang of the Marine closer to the end, although most of my more successful runs involved arming myself to the teeth and using the rest of my team as human shields. That being said it wouldn’t make sense for a single Marine to come out on top against either of the other species, and watching a single blip on your gradually close in is absolutely thrilling, in a “soiling your pants” kind of way. You really can do some major damage with the artillery at his disposal, but until you actually get your hands on any of it you’ll often find yourself being promptly parted from your limbs without much warning.

There’s no denying it, the Predator is bad-ass. I’ve yet to meet anyone who wanted the Alien to come out on top in either of the (woeful, Uwe Boll-esque) films, and as a result it took a while to actually get into a game with me in the shoes of Arnie’s nemesis. In the demo at least, only two predators are permitted in the map, which is a reasonable constraint when you see how supremely destructive they are. The Predator is supposed to be an almost unstoppable killing machine, and with this in mind Rebellion have done a pretty good job of balancing things out while still maintaining the feeling of “I could kill you all within a heartbeat” that must surely be going through the Predator’s mind.

"As long as I don't see Arnie or Glover these noobs are mine"

"As long as I don't see Arnie or Glover these noobs are mine"

While the Predator doesn’t share the wall crawling stealth of abilities of the Alien, it can outstrip it in terms of agility through massive leaps across the map. Entering Focus Mode allows you to pick a spot to jump to and a tap of the jump button sends you soaring through the air. It can get you into advantageous positions very quickly, whether you’re getting into an ambush position or bailing out of an uneasy fight. Entering Focus Mode also flags up points of interest in your HUD such as weapons or health, the former of which are essential if you want to fulfil your potential as a being of gory awesomeness.

The shoulder mounted Plasma Cannon (the one that blows Carl Weather’s arms off in the most epic moment in cinema history) is just as powerful as you’d expect it to be and looks absolutely fantastic while throwing discs are very useful for quickly dispatching large groups of advancing Aliens. These weapons have a pretty limited supply of ammo and you’re left exposed when recharging them at stations around the map, but I found that other species found it tough to get anywhere near me when I was packing some extraterrestrial hardware.

Away from the more meatier weapons, the Predator’s default weapons are his wrist mounted blades, which are used in an identical fashion to the Alien claws. The Predator can also make use of Execution kills, making the Alien’s equivalent look like a pillow fight in the process. The Alien undoubtedly knows how to shed as much blood as possible, but with the Predator it’s different… You get to experience him savouring the kill. My very first execution involved jumping in front of a terrified Marine who managed to get a few shots away before I impaled him in the stomach, lifting him in the air in the process. Driving the blades in farther, the Predator holds up his victim and just admires the kill for a brief moment, before ripping his head off in a manner highly reminiscent of Mortal Kombat. It’s very bloody, but in terms of asserting dominance over your foes, it beats the hell out of teabagging.

Despite the only map available in the demo being a bit one-tone and dull, the Aliens vs Predator demo provides enough of an experience to get an insight into what the game has to offer. The main thing for me is that Rebellion have captured the feeling of what it means to take control of each of the characters. I can’t help but worry that the multiplayer will be unbalanced in favour of the Predator but I also get the feeling that this will eventually balance out as players get more familiar with the advantages of each species. As long as the connection issues are merely a pre-release blip, fans of up close and personal decapitation could have something to keep them busy for quite some time.