Aliens vs Predator
Developer: Rebellion
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 2-18 multiplayer, 2-4 co-op survival mode
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Aliens vs Predator is brought to us by Sega and developed by Rebellion, a British developer with games as diverse as Delta Force: Black Hawk Down: Team Sabre, Judge Dredd: Dredd Vs. Death, PDC World Championship Darts 2009 as well as being responsible for the classic Alien vs. Predator on the Atari Jaguar way back in 1994 and a couple of hugely popular Aliens vs. Predator games on PC in the late ’90s.

The AvP franchise crossover is a strange one. Hugely popular comic books spawned two disappointing movies, and fans have been longing for a game to capture the atmosphere, sights and sounds of the classic Aliens and Predator movies, hopefully combining them to bring the excitement and visceral violence of the AvP universe right into your front room.

I have to say that Aliens vs Predator certainly has a good run at achieving that. The game’s cleverest feature is that it supplies the player with three distinctly different campaigns. Playing as a colonial Marine rookie (complete with equipment and styling pulled straight from the James Cameron Aliens movie), or an Alien warrior captured and experimented on by the Weyland-Yutani corporation (the psychopathically-run company that seems to own everything in the Aliens movies), or a young Predator sent to hunt down the aliens in the warrior races’ classic test that earns them rite of passage to adulthood. As the Marine you must survive, hunt for and defend colonists and lost squad mates in the deadly jungles and swamps surrounding the Alien-invaded colony of Freya’s Prospect, as the young Alien you master your abilities by killing anything you come across and as the Predator all you really want to do is kill any humans or aliens that are stopping from reaching the temple which is the location for your final “test”.

In a moment of genius, Rebellion realised that playing an entire campaign through as a terrified and monstrously out-numbered rookie Marine all in one lump might get tiresome, so after each mission you can choose to play a chapter from the Predator or the Alien’s story—in fact you can mix the three campaigns up however you like as, although the three stories intertwine and locations are visited by all three characters, there’s nothing to stop you from finishing whichever one you wish and then returning to the others.

My plan was to mix them up and literally take turns; going Marine-Predator-Alien throughout. The problem was that I found the Marine campaign extremely tense and dreaded returning to it (playing on ‘Hard’ on the first play-through was probably a bad idea) and enjoyed the Predator and Alien campaigns much more—particularly the Alien one as the gameplay is so different to anything else I’ve played.

But back to the Marine’s adventure. The rookie starts off with just a standard issue pistol, but before long gets his hands on the iconic pulse rifle—truly a weapon that makes one of the most evocative sounds in sci-fi movie history. In fact, while I’m at it I should mention that the entire game sounds magnificent with faithful sound FX throughout; from the aforementioned reports of the various weapons to the screeches or rattles of the Aliens and Predators.

Fresh from Modern Warfare 2, ODST and various other FPS I found that I missed the ability to aim down the sights with the pulse rifle, and although due to the speed of the numerous Aliens’ movement most of the game plays as a twitch-reaction shooter rather than anything tactical, the inability to crouch seems like a lot to handicap a Marine with too—but perhaps this rookie has dodgy knees like me. A non-crouching FPS gets particularly annoying when you confront one of the game’s surprises; the Weyland-Yutani combat androids stationed at Freya’s Prospect. These are aggressive, intelligent and tough enemies who take cover and fire back accurately while you’re forced to stand erect like a complete idiot, this seem daft as ‘R3’ isn’t used for anything (except ‘zoom’ when playing as the Predator). But the discovery of an accurate and fun to use sniper rifle soon eases the pain in these situations. The fact that these combat droids keep going when they’ve lost legs or even been decapitated (complete with gushing trademark Weyland-Yutani white blood) makes them a worthy enemy. The Marine campaign has some well thought-out set pieces and plenty of atmosphere. The combination of the aforementioned sound and some decent spot effects like the lighting, steam, dust motes and sizzling Alien blood spills all make up for some less than amazing main visuals. There’s nothing wrong with the AvP game engine as such, but the fast moving aliens sometimes look pasted on and actually look better than the scenery that surrounds them. Additional humanoid character models aren’t that great either; the Predator isn’t very well animated in cut scenes and the in-game Karl Bishop Weyland (played by Lance Henriksen in Aliens and Alien 3) is a rather poor, almost cartoony likeness.

The Marine campaign reminded me a lot of Doom 3 with its reliance on darkness (you have a flashlight to light your way with a press of ‘B’ or toss flares with ‘LB’) and the collectible voice recordings to flesh out the story. The motion tracker is another ubiquitous item of equipment in the Aliens franchise, the sound of which (the tick-tick–tick that changes to ping-ping-ping when something is detected) probably makes the Marine campaign so atmospheric. Although you can’t really rely on it you wouldn’t really want to be without it, and there really is nothing quite as tension-inducing in any other game or movie series. I’ve made the Marine sound vulnerable and yes he is, but the weapons supplied pack plenty of punch and despite ammo being limited you never have to look too far to find another Alien/Predator killer. The M41AV2 Pulse Rifle (with underslung grenade launcher) is the main weapon, the VP78 Pistol (which has a three round burst fire as secondary fire mode), there’s the double-barreled Shotgun, the M56 Smart Gun (able to detect enemies and auto-aim to them), the M260 Flamethrower, or the M42A Scope Rifle (a sniper rifle which highlights Aliens when viewed through the telescopic sight), and of course the automated sentry guns dotted around to help our lone Marine out from time to time. The Marine’s melee attack is vital in the game, and typical Aliens’ light slashing attacks can be blocked and deflected with well-timed presses of ‘LB’ & ‘RB’. A quick dab of ‘RB’ will often stagger or floor an Alien, at which point it can be finished off with a quick burst of pulse rifle. Sometimes running away in order to put some distance between you and the Aliens is a good idea, and sprint is set to ‘L3’. However, as in the Call of Duty games the ability to ‘sprint’ lasts for a pitifully short time and you’ll wonder what kind of physical state your Marine is in.

The Predator campaign features a lot of the behaviour exhibited by Predators in the movies. You stalk prey from treetops and other high places while using the trademark active camouflage. You’ll soon discover that the aliens can see you even when cloaked so fighting Marines and Aliens is a very different experience and requires a completely different approach. As a Predator you of course have powerful melee attacks (light and heavy mapped to ‘LB’ and ‘RB’) which are made deadly because of the Predator’s retractable wristblades. These wristblades allow you to do a "trophy kill," which is a nod to the movies and comic books in which Predators take skulls (usually with the spinal column still attached) as trophies. These set piece kills that can be achieved by pressing ‘X’ when close to a weakened or stunned enemy, and there are a few different animations for this action, usually showing a terrified Marine or a struggling, screeching and hissing Alien looking into the face of the Predator as it applies the coup de grace. Other grizzly animations include impaling Marines on the wristblades, and ripping Aliens’ skulls off – this game isn’t for the faint-hearted.

The Predator can sprint fast and a bit longer than a Marine, and also jump a good distance. Longer precision jumps can be achieved by a "focus jumping" game mechanic; if you hold the left trigger, the Predator’s HUD shows all kinds of useful information and otherwise invisible items., and also shows any places you can leap straight to. This can be used to reach high points from which to attack unsuspecting Marines or to spot an escape route from Aliens if you get heavily outnumbered and need to heal. The Predator has three different vision modes; ‘normal’ as you’d see the game through human eyes, the instantly recognizable thermal vision from the movies, and the Predator’s own vision which makes everything look very dull and grey but does allow you to spot Aliens more easily. The Predator campaign’s gameplay is a lot more stealth-based than I was expecting it to be and disappointed a lot of people, I think they were expecting the Predator to be almost invincible but in the interests of balancing the multiplayer mode’s gameplay the Predator is actually quite vulnerable to both the Marines’ powerful projectile weapons and the Aliens’ vicious melee attacks, but has some fun weapons to use apart from the wristblades that you collect as you progress through the story; the shoulder-mounted plasma caster (which will lock-on to an enemy, usually resulting in a one-hit kill), or huge shuriken-like smart discs (that can be steered in flight) and a massive combi stick or lance, that can be used at almost any range—if you can see an enemy you can kill it with the combi stick, there are also proximity mines that can be used in conjunction with another of the Predator’s abilities “Distract” to lure patrolling Marines to their death, or maybe even to kill an advancing wave of Aliens.

The Alien story has you playing as "Six", a Xenomorph raised in captivity by Weyland-Yutani’s mad scientists as a test subject. The Alien campaign plays completely differently to the other two, as you are now a quadruped that can walk on walls and ceilings. The Alien has no ranged attacks whatsoever, so speed and stealth are the usual ways to kill the enemy, although sometimes just getting up close and spearing a Marine or Predator clean through with a heavy attack followed by a ‘X’ button trophy kill is the only way to go. Civilian humans can also be “harvested”, which triggers a spot animation showing Six holding the poor unfortunate human while a Facehugger grabs it and latches on. Focus mode (L Trigger) allows you to lock on to an enemy and do a leaping attack, and while in this mode it’s also possible to see enemies through nearby walls and also means you can see cloaked Predators. The Aliens have no health ups, and if injured just need to escape and rest for a while to regain full health. The Alien’s sprint ability seems to last forever, and is quite something to experience as you can streak around a location running and leaping like a cat being chased by several dogs. Unfortunately I haven’t got cat-like reflexes so this results in some comedic collisions with walls and even enemies. The wall & ceiling climbing in first person also means that unless you’re a bat you’ll get disoriented regularly, and hunting down prey (particularly in the multiplayer game) is harder than you’d think it would be, and harder than it probably should have been. It’s certainly fun to play (while it lasts) and completely different to anything else around at the moment, can’t help feeling this particular character would have worked a lot better from a third person view.

AvP has an extensive multiplayer mode that caters for both deathmatch and co-op games over 8 or so maps for the various game types. There’s a straight all-against-all Deathmatch mode, Predator Hunt (one Predator against a team of Marines, if a Marine kills the Predator then he becomes the Predator), Species Team DM (teams of Marines, Aliens and Predators all fight it out), Mixed Species Team DM (two teams which can be made up from any mix of species), Domination (a King of The Hill-like fight for control points) and Survivor, which allows up to 4 players to survive against progressively tougher waves of Aliens. Although you’ll probably enjoy this if you liked Gears of War’s Horde mode or ODST’s Firefight, it’s a shame this is the only co-op mode in the game, because a co-op campaign might have added some longevity and replay value. The matchmaking works quite well and the online game seems quite popular at the moment, although if you play ‘ranked’ matches (you can unlock different skins for each character by ranking up) you’ll soon find that the “Quick Match” option is a bit of a misnomer and can take some time to sort a game and actually get it started - it makes Halo 3’s matchmaking look speedy in comparison. Once in a game, the multiplayer game plays reasonably well although the slightest hint of lag will result in unjust and frustrating deaths due to the reliance on a lot of up-close-and-personal mêlée attacks. Too often you will have the drop on another player and go for the ‘X’ grab attack only for it to fail due to either lag or the game’s failure to register your frenzied button press. I did manage to have some fun with the game though, especially when I buddy’ed up with someone else. It’s not uncommon to see a good ‘pair’ last a long time, with a Marine and an Alien or Predator acting as its “guard dog” against attacks from an elevated position.

The three campaigns are tied together and most locations are visited by all three protagonists during their story, giving the game a chance to re-use levels. Fortunately the characters play so differently that although it might sound like a cheap way of padding the game out, it doesn’t really feel like that when you’re playing it. It would have worked better if the characters paths had actually crossed though, and you’d seen “you” in action somewhere, maybe as a Marine happening across your Predator slaying aliens in the distance (or something like that…)

AvP plays a decent enough game and its atmosphere makes up for its gameplay shortfalls. Three substantially (if brief) campaigns means there’s a fair bit to do but the online game is a real “Marmite” experience (you’ll either love it or hate it) – if you need a change then it’s certainly a vastly different experience from Modern Warfare 2. But the lack of a full co-op campaign is a real let down—if there’s one franchise that’s crying out to be turned into a benchmark online co-op title it’s surely the Marines vs Aliens vs Predator franchise. If you're a fan of James Cameron's classic Aliens movie or the AvP comic books you'll no doubt find plenty to enjoy in here, but will almost certainly be left with an overall feeling of mild disappointment as yet another Aliens game doesn't quite "do it right".

Best Bits

- Highly atmospheric
- Authentic sound effects
- The motion tracker!
- Trophy kills!
Worst Bits

- No co-op campaign
- Simplistic Marine FPS action
- Playing Alien is SO disorientating
- Hackneyed “boss” battles
- Re-used levels
- Inconsistent online play

by: Diddly

Copyright © Gamecell 2010