Aliens vs. Predator Xbox 360, PS3, PC Review

Aliens vs. Predator is a franchise that has fared far better in the video game medium than any other. The comics and books are mediocre fan-wank at best, and the movies are absolutely atrocious. Perhaps it is down to seeing too much? The Alien films and certainly the first Predator movie are brilliant because you’re in the same situation as the protagonists, being stalked by these unknown monsters with lethal force. Once you know stuff like the names of the planets they originate from and have seen inside their societies in great detail, they lose a lot of the mystique they had in film. In video games, however, that is a bit different. Seeing the power in detail might devalue it on the silver screen, but wielding that power is a thrill. The original Aliens vs. Predator game allowed you to step into the shoes of the two killer beasts, stalking your prey and killing using all of the awesome techniques and weaponry.

Now, with the license back in the hands of the original developers, Rebellion, can they re-capture some of the great moments of the previous games?

As the greatest man to ever live, Arnold Schwarzenegger, put so eloquently in the first Predator movie, this is “one ugly motherf***er” of a game. Ugly, muddy textures map the angular structures. The animation on everything from the humans to the xenomorphs is poor and the models themselves are functional at best. Salvaging it somewhat is the use of lighting on the indoor areas, giving it the look of all those excellent scenes from the movies, all shadows punctuated by flickering shafts of light, broken by rotating fans or, in the worst case scenario, an alien scuttering past the source.

The audio, however, is still incredible. Much like the previous installments, the signature beep of the motion tracker signifying that something is nearby, and you simply cannot see it, creates tension superbly. Everything you expect is here, from the light rattle of the pulse rifles to the whip-crack of the Predator’s shoulder cannon. It makes a world of difference from firing a generic weapon to the feel of firing a famous Hollywood blaster.

As per the original games, the single player mode is split up into three separate campaigns, Predator, Alien and the human marine. The marine campaign has been, traditionally, an exercise in fear, and here it still evokes the same feelings of the original game. Thing is, the original AvP is a decade old now – the entire genre has moved on substantially, and the whole human campaign feels a little archaic. No duck, no iron sights and, outside of a few scripted scares, it is little more than a corridor shooter. The mission objectives you receive throughout are uninteresting FPS cliches from a pre-Halo era, finding switches to open doors, following linear paths between shootouts, which are little more than running backwards until the enemy explodes in a shower of acidic blood.

The Alien and Predator campaigns fare a little better. As the Predator, you’ve got the cloaking ability and some devastating weaponry at your disposal, and as the Alien, you can climb any surface and are invisible in the shadows. Despite these differences, most of the tactics you will use to take out the various marines are essentially the same. Hiding somewhere where you can’t be seen, distracting one of them and separating them from the pack, before leaping in and hitting them with a stealth kill.

The melee combat is built around a rock/paper/scissors system, with heavy attacks breaking blocks, light attacks beating heavy attacks to the punch and light attacks being stopped dead by a well timed block. Other than that, the controls are a mess of context-sensitive actions and inconsistencies. Stealth kills are activated by holding down a button when either behind an opponent or with them in a stunned state. Thing is, the “box” that causes this prompt to appear is a bit temperamental, and you will find yourself shuffling around behind your mark, trying to find the position the game demands in order for you to deal some death, all the while you’re hoping that the AI doesn’t decide to turn around and screw up any otherwise well thought out plan of attack you had in mind.

On the subject of the stealth kills, much has been made of them during the pre-release hype for the game, as they are all breathtaking acts of violence. Thing is, for both the Alien and Predator there are only a handful of different animations to see, varying on whether you were in front or behind the unfortunate soul about to be brutally murdered. Admittedly, the first time you see someone’s spinal column AND head pulled down and out through a hole punched in their stomach, it is pretty incredble. However, the fifth time, you’re already bored of it. A classic case of Mortal Kombat syndrome. Besides, you’ll be more concerned with the fact that during these unbreakable animations you’re still vulnerable to other enemies, and by the time you’re done with biting a hole in the head of some unlucky marine, their squad mate has discovered you and unleashed burning flamethrower death in your general direction.

Both species have their own unique control foibles, too. As the Predator, you have the ability to leap  great distances – very useful for getting up high so you can stalk a potential kill. Holding down the left trigger will put you in “focus mode”, and by aiming a jump marker onto an area, the Predator can leap to that spot with a tap of the jump button. Actually getting the marker into the position you need is a fiddly affair and one that, in the heat of battle, is far from intuitive. As for the Alien, pretty much any surface can be scaled by running directly up it, but some surfaces – seemingly picked at random – require you to be holding down the trigger to “transition” onto them. Running into a wall instead of up it when several marines are bearing down upon you will usually result in a very dead xenomorph.

Multiplayer is a very mixed bag. In some modes, such as the standard deathmatch (which was bizarrely given away as the demo) it is not only going completely against the entire “Versus” dynamic of the game’s TITLE, but it also completely broken. As in the single player, the stealth kill animations can’t be interrupted, so while you’re dispatching of another player after an inspired piece of sneaking, another player can be stood behind you, already holding down the button to initiate their stealth kill. This can continue pretty much indefinitely, Aliens and Predators dropping dead like carriages on a train of death. The humans can just stand to one side, firing bullets into the fray and stealing a few kills.

However, the modes that play off the “us versus them” dynamic are genuinely quite excellent. Team Deathmatch is made a lot more fun than most other games by having that three-way species divide, with each team needing to use strategies that suit their respective abilities in order to beat the other teams. Survivor mode was always going to be a lot of fun – even on paper, Gears of War 2‘s horde mode but with endless waves of xenomorphs was ALWAYS going to be a lot of fun, and with up to four players fighting against the swarm it recalls memories of Hudson’s dramatic last stand in Aliens, which is obviously a good thing.

The best of all is the infestation mode and its variations. One player takes the role of a singular Alien up against a team of Marines. Should the Alien kill one of them, then they respawn on the xenomorph side. There is also a Predator-based version – Predator Hunt – which is essentially the same concept but with one player taking up the mantle of the powerful creature, taking on another gang of players. Part of the reason these modes are so successful is that they truly capture the feel of the movies, be it the fear of one of Giger’s nightmarish Aliens picking you off from the darkness, or the thrill of stalking your next kill as the Predator.

Sadly a few entertaining multiplayer modes don’t quite save Aliens vs. Predator from mediocrity. Based on the license, and the previous videogaming pedigree, this can only be seen as a disappointment. The few sequences throughout that truly capture what is so unique about this IP are the high points, but there are too few of them and they are buried deep in an otherwise uninspired first-person shooter.

Let us be honest. If this game was released WITHOUT the license, absolutely no one would care about it.

5 out of 10
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