"There was a haphazard tension in the original Aliens Versus Predator that kept players constantly moving through the maze-like levels the game forced them into. Hitting a dead end in those mazes with H.R. Geigerís nightmarish rape-monsters only a few feet behind was cause for me to shut off the original game more than once. That's gone here."
Last night I had a dream I was playing Aliens Versus Predator. I was running down a dark corridor while alarms blared above me, announcing the presence of a Xenomorph infestation. I checked the counter on my pulse rifle and saw I was down to my last 50 shots. Not enough to save my hide. Suddenly my motion detector went wild. Signals from all around me. I spun around, searching with my light... searching... but not finding anything. Then I looked up.
A moment later I woke up and reflected on how enjoyable the dream had been. Too bad it didnít reflect reality. For the first two hours of my playthrough, Aliens Versus Predator had been engaging. The game has incredible production value. Dynamic lighting and crisp textures bring each environment to life in a way none of the previous titles have been able to. And the violence is wonderfully over-the-top. The first time I ripped a Marineís head from his body, trailing his spinal cord, the gore was so intense that I had to fight the urge to wipe off my face. But such things, while cool, donít really capture what it is that the Aliens Versus Predator universe is about.
Complaint number one: everything is too scripted. Enemies attack at pre-determined points in pre-determined numbers and often as part of grand scenes filled with musical cues, motion sensors, and at least one ďheads up!Ē from your buddies (human or otherwise). Survival becomes a matter of clearing rooms of cardboard-cutout soldiers/aliens that shout/hiss the same ten phrases over and over and who always employ the same rush tactic. That wouldnít be out of place in a usual shooter, but Aliens Versus Predator: the game shouldn't be a straight-up-shooter, no more than Aliens Versus Predator: the movie should have been a straight-up action flick. The best thing about Aliens isnít blowing them into acidic chunks. Itís being chased by a horde of them down dark hallways and knowing what will happen to you if youíre caught. A Marine should never feel like they have the upper hand.
Thereís only a couple scenes in the entire game where you fight what could be considered a horde of Aliens. I miss the old days, when Rebellion just set the Aliens to infinite spawn and put the spawn points inside vents. That might sound like a cheap tactic, but it captures the essence of an Alien swarm. They come from everywhere in numbers too large to defeat. Your only option is to run. There was a haphazard tension in the original Aliens Versus Predator that kept players constantly moving through the maze-like levels the game forced them into. Hitting a dead end in those mazes with H.R. Geigerís nightmarish rape-monsters only a few feet behind was cause for me to shut off the original game more than once. That's gone here. No amount of fancy lighting and gruesome death effects will create the kind of terror that comes from knowing you canít stand your ground and expect to survive.
Aliens and Predators, on the other hand, are the undeniable bad-asses of the galaxy. But they should have to work at it. Aliens should have to stick to shadows and sneak around in vents to get behind enemy barriers and attack Marines from the rear with speed and ferocity. Predators should have to think through every move they make, leading enemies into traps and always keeping themselves on the high ground where they have the advantage. There are elements of these things in Aliens Versus Predator, but they are incorporated in ridiculous manners. Itís silly enough when the Predator uses his best Satan impersonation to lead trusting Marines to ambush points, but things get downright stupid when you hiss as an Alien and a Marine calls out, ďMust be a leaking pipe. Iíll go check it out!Ē And ultimately, the goal of these scenes never changes: murder everything in the room to open up the door to the next area.
Complaint number two: deep melee combat doesnít belong in a first person shooter. The ridiculousness of Aliens Versus Predator's melee combat system is best seen in the Predator campaign. Here you are often expected to take on several Aliens at once with just your wrist blades. The game doesnít leave you hanging; it helpfully tells you that you can block an Alienís weaker attacks and knock it off balance when itís trying to use a strong attack. This advice loses some of its usefulness, however, when you consider that the majority of Alien attacks are spastic flurries of movement. Deciding when to block and when to strike is like trying to decide the best moment to cross a freeway at rush hour. Occasionally youíll get it right and be given the chance to perform a finishing combo, such as shoving your wrist blade into an Alienís jaw and ripping out its inner mouth or breaking its back over your knee. The awesomeness of this is somewhat diminished, though, when the three Aliens you arenít crippling come up to you from behind and kill you while youíre defenseless. Most Predator players will find themselves just switching to their Plasma Caster whenever itís available and reloading at the last checkpoint a lot when itís not.
The Aliens and Marines donít have to deal with this problem quite as much. The Aliens are fast and maneuverable enough to dart in, brutalize their prey, and then get away again without having to deal much with blocking or weak-strong combos. Their wall-crawling ability does get annoying in tight spaces when you can easily get stuck running up and down the same wall while nearby Marines take pot shots at you. Another frustration is that occasionally Marines will knock you in the head with their guns and then murder you while youíre off your feet. Thereís little warning for when this is going to happen, so the block is practically useless against it. The Marines have the most useful melee attack in the game, in fact, which seems completely anti-thetical to the nature of Aliens Versus Predator. A lot of the Marine missions can be beaten by just punching Aliens away from you and using a couple bullets to finish them off. Again it must be said: Marines shouldnít have the upper hand in this war.
Complaint number three: the boss fights. One gets visions of fighting Alien Queens in loading mechs and of running from a chuckling Predator who has just set his wrist-computer to self-destruct. But no. More often than not, actual boss fights are ignored off in favour of clearing a room of above-average enemies. The Praetorians (think Aliens on steroids) have an appearance in this capacity, but the most common fallback for these scenes are Combat Androids with guns, making the game feel even more like a generic First Person Shooter. The few truly unique bosses are wholly disappointing. One doesnít even move, with most of the fight revolving around fighting off Aliens until you clear the room enough to take a few pot shots at it. Too bad, because itís one of the coolest, most bad-ass, looking bosses in the game. Others end up being stupidly hard because they force the player to use the wonky melee combat. When you pit a single Alien against two Predators things go from being cool to pointless. In order to win such a fight you have to totally leave the stealthy Alien persona behind and start thinking like a shooter, ducking behind cover, dodging plasma shots, and using long range leap attacks before back-pedaling to do the whole process over again.
Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed in Aliens Versus Predator by the time I made it through the 8-hour campaign (that includes all three races). Then I went online and (get ready for this) suddenly my dreams came true. Online is where youíll hole up with other Marines inside a dilapidated military base, fighting off swarms of Aliens and shitting yourself when a red laser beam shoots out from a rooftop and focuses on your chest. This is where youíll be a lone Predator amongst a Marine unit, luring them into the jungle one by one to pick them off with your superior technology. Here you'll find the moments where youíll unfurl from a vent as an Alien to sneak up on a distracted Predator and impale him on your tail. Multi-player has all the high production value of the single player campaign without any of the inane scripted sequences and lack of originality that make it a bore. Even the melee combat seems to work better and stealth tactics are much more effective. Itís intense, fast paced, and shockingly balanced. The game modes are designed so that players will utilize the tactics of their race, whether its swarming as Aliens or going solo as Predators, and the result is something that saves the gameís score and actually pushes me towards recommending the title.
Still, it doesnít seem right to pay full-price for a half game, especially when you consider all the factors that affect the online community, such as lag and needing at least 8 people to make a match of Aliens Versus Predator worth your while. Many has been the time that I've been kicked from a good match because of lag or been stuck playing a lone Alien (otherwise known as the losing player) against three Marines because the other players dropped out. Spending $60 on the off chance that the cult community that loves Aliens Versus Predator will happen to be online when you want to get a match going doesn't seem to be a great use of money for the budget-minded modern gamer. My advice is to wait a couple weeks. Iím sure thereís going to be plenty of second-hand copies on the market.
Freelance review by Jonathan Stark (February 23, 2010)
Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.
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