Review: Aliens vs Predator
February 25, 2010, Author: Andy Corrigan
Back in 1994, Rebellion released their third game; Alien vs. Predator. It would prove to be one of their most fondly remembered titles. How could it fail? Two of the coolest, most violent, extra-terrestrial movie franchises brought together with tantalising execution. With the license for this glorious union having changed hands with varying degrees of success since, I don’t think anyone could have foreseen that sixteen years and two awful movies later, Rebellion would return to the series once more. The new game (which has gained an ‘s’ to its name since the original) has been receiving a lot of positive attention right up until its release, including getting a favourable hands-on from us at the Eurogamer Expo. A bit of a lacklustre online demo dented many people’s hopes, but how does the final product fare?
Classic love triangle
We all know this classic story off by heart don’t we? Boy meets lethal Alien species, other alien species gets jealous, and boy gets trapped in lover tiff between said aliens. Classic love story… Ok, not quite. Hell, the story isn’t even as intricate as that.
On a remote planet, a team of Marines are sent to investigate a Xenomorph infestation, but are soon torn to shreds, mainly thanks to Karl Bishop Weyland. In the Marine campaign, you play as a nameless rookie, receiving instruction from foxy fellow soldier, ‘Tequila’. Weyland is breeding the Xenomorphs to see if he can use them as puppets, he keeps one alive that he deems to be special and is dubbed ‘Number Six’, which was its assigned number in the experiments. Led by the hive mentality of the Alien Queen, as ‘Six’ you must escape and fulfil your duty to your matriarch. Lastly as the Predator, you are an elite, proven to be a great hunter and sent to investigate the fate of three of your brothers who had failed to return from a hunting mission, getting much more than you bargained for in the process.
That’s about as deep as it goes. The three stories cross over occasionally but not directly. It’s not the cinematic masterpiece you might have hoped given the background of the various movies featuring our favourite two alien species. There are no clever twists or turns, and aside from a couple of cool cut-scenes and set-pieces there’s not much of a storyline at all. What it has instead, is bags of atmosphere.
Three games for the price of one
Obviously with three different campaigns for each of the key species in the game, you are provided with three very different playing experiences. Probably just about my favourite of the three, somewhat unexpectedly too, is the Marine campaign. I think a large part of that is down to the feeling of vulnerability and claustrophobic atmosphere that Rebellion have created. You see, much of this campaign is played in tight, dark areas, where enemies can literally come from anywhere, and at times it really does feel quite choking. That’s not to say that the marine’s element is simply a corridor shooter either, as the areas are very nicely mixed up along the way with a vast degree of differing environments to explore.
The controls here are an absolute joy to play. It’s a fluid shooting mechanic that never once fights against you, and the general combat is a lot of fun. At an obvious disadvantage to the other races on offer, all you have as the marine is your various weaponry, your wits, and your motion sensor ripped right from the Alien movies. Keeping track of where the enemies are on that sensor is an absolute must, especially in the pitch black areas with only your torch as your friend. It’s a very unnerving experience, especially early on, but I can’t put into words the sheer geekgasm I had having a Xenomorph land in front of me, hitting it with a few panic shots, as it darts off leaving me frantically searching the immediate area with only a torch. Rebellion have got this portion absolutely spot on. Thankfully there are a few tricks up your sleeve, the main one being the ability to pop a flare. This not only helps light up the area, but used right can buy you a few seconds safety, as I found a couple of moments where the flares kept the Aliens skulking around at the edge of the light source. This won’t buy you long however.
Another good trick is that when the Aliens get up close and personal, by holding both bumpers you can do a light block that will knock them back, give you a chance to melee them, and buy you time to reload or quickly leg it to a safer area of the map. I won’t lie; there are a few tedious stretches of level design, such as tunnels packed with face-hugger eggs that you’ll have to dispose of if you want to get through safely, but generally the game mixes up the pace pretty decently, balancing the level progression and heart-pumping stand-off moments pretty well. There is the odd omission of a crouch button across all species, which I found baffling as the thought of crawling through Xeno infested air-vents as a Marine quite appealing, but on the whole it’s not something that’s greatly missed.
Made longer, the marine campaign could have made a decent enough game on its own. Admittedly it does nothing truly new or outstanding, and the end kind of whimpers out, but it is definitely consistently enjoyable throughout, and a lot of fun to play through.
The Xenomorph however, is unquestionably the most difficult of the species to master (and probably the most difficult to program too I’d imagine), but it is deeply rewarding when it clicks. Aside from being extremely disorientating, the main problem lies with all of the Xeno’s attacks being melee based. The mechanic on this far from perfect, and could have been done a lot better. There’s no sense of momentum in the attacks. Remember in the Condemned titles where you actually felt the swing of your attacks in the combat? The Xenomorphs could have done with some of that finesse as it all feels a bit loose. Once you get your head around the type of distance you need to be from the enemy to be effective, it becomes far more enjoyable, but it’s in no way easy to get to grips with.
Thankfully there are some saving graces. If you point at any surface and hit jump, you’ll instantly attach to it, which makes stalking your prey a whole lot of fun, allowing you to leap onto the tops of crates or onto the ceiling in an instant. Another neat trick is that by holding the left trigger, you can zero in on a selected target, hit the jump or light attack button and you’ll leap at them knocking them down, meaning you can either continue laying into them or perform one of the gruesome execution or harvesting moves. There are a lot of variations on these movies, and all are fun to watch as you maim your victim in one of many ways. My personal favourite being the tail through the eye-socket. Only more disturbing is the look of real terror in their eyes as they know they are done for.
The whole thing plays out like a faster paced Riddick, requiring you to single out enemies, hit them hard and then retreat to the darkness. Similarly, you can use the darkness to your advantage by knocking out lights with your tail or cutting the circuitry giving you extra advantage, and the Xenomorph’s vision will automatically account for changes in light. Another cool trick is to hiss to get marines to investigate your presence. This is useful when circumventing air vents, getting marines to investigate one area while you double back and hit them from behind.
The biggest problem you’ll have over the course of Number Six’s adventure, is transitioning between different planes. This is a very hit and miss mechanic and can leave you stuck to surfaces that you didn’t want to be on. At times it works perfectly, but some sort of ‘auto-centre’ feature would have worked wonders as transferring to the floor from a wall can leave you staring directly at the surface you wanted to be on rather than at the enemy who you were stalking.
Some of the A.I. in this part of the campaign is particularly poor. In the training section I was offered a ‘test subject’, who ran to the observation window to ask for help, and even after I hit him didn’t move from banging on the window. Take down a soldier and hide again, and his comrades will walk past his corpse without a second look, which is deeply disappointing when you’re trying to instil fear into people. In both the marine and Alien campaigns, the appearance of the Predators are strangely fleeting, and are solely used in what are quite frankly two very pedestrian boss fights. As one of the main reasons for people to buy the game, you would have expected a much better usage. I can understand that decision to a degree; the Predators are badass; most humans wouldn’t survive a fight with one of them, let alone a squad, but especially as the Alien I felt it was a missed opportunity to put the two poster boys to good use.
The chance to play as the Predator is likely to be the big draw for most people looking to pick this up, and I’m happy to say that it does an admirable job of making you feel like a nigh-on unstoppable killing machine. Stealth is the key to success, and as you’d imagine, as you’ll spend much of the campaign leaping across treetops and rooftops to stalk your enemies. Your main weapons here are your twin retractable blades on each hand, and thankfully the melee combat is far stronger than in the Alien missions. As you play through you’ll acquire more weapons, such as the shoulder cannon and the throwing disc, among others, each part of Predator lore. You also have the different vision options, with the main one being the awesome heat sensor, which goes a long way to making you feel like the character you’re playing, but also lets you plan out an ambush before doing it.
Another neat trick is to distract a guard. By looking at the guard you want to confuse, pressing the X button will make him your target, point at the area you’d like him to investigate, and hit X again, and the Predator will play a sound bite that will make him want to investigate. Much as with the Alien, the Predator has a wide array of up-close finishers and trophy kills, all brilliantly animated, and probably the most brutal scenes not only in this game, but in the industry. What they definitely are either way, however, is deeply satisfying to perform. It’s fair to say that this mode also has some resemblance to that of Starbreeze Studios popular Vin Diesel-fest, and while fun AVP just doesn’t carry that same level of class.
Health is managed differently for each species, for the Marines, you have a part-regenerating, part-health pack system (similar to Resistance: Fall of Man on PS3). The Alien has one health bar that fully regenerates, and the Predator’s health doesn’t regenerate, but can take a lot more damage. For both the humanoid species you can at least make use of health packs that you’ll scattered around the levels.
Each campaign is extremely short, with the combined total of all three being somewhere around ten-twelve hours. Honestly, I would have expected them each to last a lot longer, and some of the level design is a bit baffling. Over the course of the game you’ll go through the same levels as each character, although ordered differently or backwards depending on where each species started out story-wise. Again, this is understandable, the game is meant to take part in the same location, but you’ll get bored of seeing the same limited locales over and over from playing as your second chosen species. A bit more variety could have gone a long way and stayed within the bounds of the story, considering that non of the protagonists cross paths at any point.
Not quite one ugly mother fu…
This particular game is very much a mixed bag, and graphically this is no different. While at a glance the game looks nicely detailed, that impression soon crumbles under closer scrutiny. Some of the textures, particularly on the Predator and on the Marine are just plain and blocky; a way off what we’ve come to expect in this generation of consoles. It’s not ugly per say, especially in motion; it’s just not outstanding against some of the other games on the market. The environments themselves hold up slightly better, with decent variety on show on what is a particularly small game area. The more urban areas tend to look the nicest, while the jungle areas suffer a little more. Aside from those complaints the game is styled quite well and consistent throughout the game.
In AVP, everyone can hear you scream…
The audio is a definite high-point in AVP, and it’s the sound effects that really hammer home the authenticity and atmosphere of the respective franchises. From the hiss of the Xenomorph, to the clicking of the Predator, or the use of voice mimicking it does, you are left in no doubt what the game is based on. The sound element is important in gameplay terms too, and not only as mentioned above can be used to trick and distract enemies, the Marine has his motion sensor, which makes a regular ‘click’. This starts off annoying but as you get into some of the darker areas of the game and all you can hear is the scurrying and the ‘click’ of the motion sensor, it really ramps up the tension.
The voice acting is satisfactory enough, for the amount there is, with Lance Henrikson reprieving his role as Karl Bishop Weyland. The marine’s voice work provides your usual macho one liners. Which leads me to an odd thing, in the Marine’s campaign the dialogue seems rich and varied, but in the other campaigns it becomes repetitive as the soldiers continue to repeat the same lines.
When three tribes go to war!
The way that Sega were promoting AVP, it’s clear that they had a lot riding on the online mode, having showcased that at Eurogamer and putting out an online only demo. Sadly this is another area where the game really doesn’t stand up to rigid questioning. There are seven modes available (six versus modes and one co-op) and all in theory sound a lot of fun. Unfortunately there are a lot of technical problems that prevent it from being a truly great mode. While the game is generally lag free (and a lot faster than the online mode), there were issues where players were just sliding around because the running animation had locked up. Being an Alien is a huge disadvantage, with the same issues I mentioned in the main gameplay section, and fights between them and the Predator simply turn into comedic catfights with each frantically trying to slap the other.
There are definitely fun times to be had here if you stick with it and learn to use all the strengths of each species properly. It’s faster-paced than the single player mode but I don’t feel that the arena combat style it has really suits the characters, and could have been a greatly atmospheric online shooter with a greater sense of purpose. At its best it’s throwaway fun, whether it’s strong enough to keep the masses coming back for more is yet to be seen.
AVP, is as easy as 123...
AVP is a game that I’ve been looking forward to for some time, and was extremely worried by some of the mainstream reviews hitting the internet prior to release. Having purchased, I’m moderately happy with what I’ve experienced, but it’s easy to see that this is a game that could have been a lot better in many areas. As it is you get three distinct playing styles for the price of one, but with the length of each it feels more like a taste of what could have been. I definitely have enjoyed playing it, but the story is lacking and some areas of the control scheme are poorly executed, which can only add together to hurt what, at the heart of it, is a pretty solid game.
Rebellion have definitely understood and greatly respected the source materials they had to work with, but they just haven’t delivered the AAA title that the license deserves. With that in mind I can only recommend a rental and seeing if the online mode takes your fancy before taking the plunge, but definitely worth a look.