Iâ€™ve always liked the Aliens universe. Sigourney Weaver is the kind of bug-killing badass weâ€™d all like on our side. Same goes for the Predator story: Stealthy beasts with some pretty terrible skin problems try to take on Arnold Schwarzenegger â€“ itâ€™s the epitome of awesome. We can bask in the glory of both movies again and again, but time is starting to take its toll on the originals. Aliens is thirty years old and Predator ain't much younger. Not to worry; put them together with a healthy dose of chutzpah and youâ€™ve got a narrative thatâ€™s timeless.
Developers are clever fellows. They know a good franchise when they see one. Since 1999 it has been British developers Rebellion who has laid claim to the AvP crown. This 2010 title is their latest offering in the long running and critically acclaimed series.
Here at NZGamer I've already had a sneek peek at what AvP had to offer for multiplayer and was relatively impressed. Multiplayer has been the lodestar for the series and many have high hopes for this title.
With the benefit of the full game, complete with fleshed our storylines, campaigns and environments, we put AvP to the real test. Is it a great game that proudly carries the torch, or is it, wellâ€¦ a bit of a fizzer?
The story is relatively standard for an AvP title. Thereâ€™s only so many ways you can think of something clever thatâ€™s going to get three races battling it out in a jungle, a refinery or science lab. Each race in the game has its own unique backstory which fans of the series will instantly recognise. But if you're not a fan or have never seen the original movies or played the original titles, then the gameâ€™s context and characters are going to appear a bit alien.
Heh heh. Alien.
Hereâ€™s the premise in a nutshell. The eeeeevil Weyland Corporation are up to no good in the neighbourhood and have found some old Predator ruins â€“ which they just have to open. Because thatâ€™s what evil corporations do. They screw with other people's (or in this case Predatorâ€™s) sh*t without asking. At the same time they are inexplicably breeding aliens in their secret labs for no real apparent reason. Probably because they are totally eeeeevil, and that kind of supreme multi-tasking is par for the course when youâ€™ve got money and you wanna spend it.
You can probably fill in what happens next yourself. Predators attack the humans, which shuts down the power, the aliens escape, the evil scientists (and their helpless lackeys) get munched on for breakfast and the marines are shuttled down to blow away the problem by shooting everything that moves. Insert macho phrases and guttural â€˜HOO-AHSâ€™ here.
Itâ€™s not an amazing premise. In fact itâ€™s not even an original one. Itâ€™s actually pretty insipid. Weâ€™ve seen it time and time again from the sci-fi genre. But Rebellion can be given a little bit of slack here. This isnâ€™t a juiced up role-playing game. Itâ€™s a shooter - a dirty, messy shooter. Context is for suckers. HOO-AH.
What the premise does do is set up the game mechanic. There are three single-player campaigns to choose from, and (oddly) they can be done in any order. I say oddly because even though they have interconnecting characters and events there doesnâ€™t really seem to be too much of a cross-over between either storyline. Itâ€™s a three in one deal. This is a bit of a wasted opportunity. By treating the single player missions like scenes from a Tarantino movie the action is somewhat disjointed.
Actually, Iâ€™m unfairly extrapolating. I apologise Mr. Tarantino. At least your movies have some kind of climatic ending that draws all the strands together in a "Ah, now I get what all that violence in the church at the beginning was about" kind of way. Unfortunately, Aliens vs Predator isnâ€™t quite as nuanced.
There is no climatic ending. Its just three paths with three separate endings. This is the unfortunate consequence of being given the freedom to choose which storyline to do at any time. Iâ€™m a bit sick of â€˜choiceâ€™ in shooters â€“ Quake didnâ€™t have a squillion storylines to choose from and it worked fine. If Rebellion had cued the different races up in a narrative order then theyâ€™d have been able to really rack up the characterisation and the tension.
The Marine campaign is the longest of the three â€“ by a long shot. This is frustrating because itâ€™s also the most boring. You play as â€˜Rookieâ€™ â€“ seriously, his name is Rookie. This guy is separated from his squad and is directed by his female (and feisty) mexican squad-mate, Tequila.
Tequila. I mean, wow. Thatâ€™s just lazy.
The gameplay is fairly rote â€“ it's corridor after corridor of spawning aliens who need to be euthanized. Now, at first this is actually quite fun â€“ the initial levels definitely had a claustrophobic murky feel and the Aliens were sufficiently scary and challenging to make things exciting. Scary, even. Not to mention that there is a perverse pleasure is obliterating an alien with both barrels to the face. HOO-AH.
The problem is that once you get outside the scare factor drops to zero, and the graphics take a slide as well. With murky corridors and dark passages you can hide some of the less pleasant textures in the gloom. You canâ€™t do that in the jungle â€“ and the game just becomes an alien killing exercise in the pursuit of objectives. Sure, the introduction of mini-bosses and special weapons makes for some fun interruptions. But they are just that â€“ interruptions.
Things arenâ€™t vastly improved by the Alien storyline either. After breaking free of your shackles and feasting on some tasty corporate flesh, your character, named â€˜Sixâ€™ by the nefarious Mr. Weyland himself, sets about finding its way back to the Queen and the hive. Your starting environments and levels and the ones preceding them may seem familiar. Thatâ€™s because they are. When playing as the Aliens you need to fight your way back to where you started as the Marine. So its just one big exercise in backtracking.
But there are some fun new differences. Aliens can climb up walls and they can use pheromone scent to stalk humans once they get close to them. There are also some pretty brutal melee kills â€“ spinal cords go flying, your head-bite is a-biting and your tail is eviscerating marines left, right and inside out (literally).
The disorientating nature of being able to clamber over all surfaces wears off after awhile, and in the hands of a skilled console expert could be used to entertaining effect. In retrospect the combat mechanic is fairly standard. The fun of beating down frightened humans wears off rather quickly and is made all that more tedious by some rather stupid AI. But the largest draw card for the Aliens â€“ the ability to be an element of the swarm and fight as part of the brood - is fleeting and short.
Add to that the fact that the pace of the Alien is faster â€“ but it requires a more stealthy approach. This is a slightly weird juxtaposition, but itâ€™s not necessarily a bad one. Playing as the Aliens is a pretty cool experience, but you feel a bit overpowered. This means you can rip through the short campaign in record time, giving you less chance to get your dirty xenomorph on. Unless you are willing to stop and smell the roses of course.
Sadly, the Predator campaign â€“ the most fun by far â€“ is also the shortest. Itâ€™s a simple quest. Secure the Predatorâ€™s sacred relics. If the humans have them, kill the humans. Hooâ€¦ah?
You take control of the predator named â€˜Youngbloodâ€™ (urghâ€¦ characterisation fail) and play him through the same levels that by now are frustratingly familiar. Thankfully the Predator can force leap around the level, providing a fresh perspective on an (by now) old experience. The Predatorâ€™s melee kills are pretty damn vicious â€“ and after seeing the severed head of a security guard being used in a door eye-scanner, I can see why the flighty Australians got a bit uppity. Thereâ€™s not much at fault with the Predator campaign, apart from its length â€“ it's far too short for a character as interesting and dynamic as the pugilistic Pred.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not a total grump, there is solid gameplay in all three campaigns. Gamers will find some decent first person action to be had, and if Aliens vs Predator is their thing then fun times will certainly be had. But context aside, there is nothing uniquely special about AvP - and there are better single player experiences on offer elsewhere.
The multiplayer modes, which we have already previewed, are definitely the highlight of this title. And you do get the feeling that itâ€™s the raison dÃ¨tre for this AvP offering. All the standard modes are there and there are lots of them: deathmatch, team survivor, domination, species and mixed species deathmatch, infestation, predator hunt â€“ and all are great fun. Itâ€™s a bit of a shame that there is no local survivor co-op. Or local anything for that matter. Itâ€™s a bit irritating. Not everyone has amazing internet connections and local co-op is just so much damn fun. But that quibble aside, the gameplay mechanics do lend themselves well to a multiplayer environment. The range of actions that each class can use is wide and itâ€™s nice to see human players (instead of clueless AI) utilising the various tricks on offer.
However, one drawback is the strong suggestion that the multiplayer gameplay experience be heavily melee-orientated. This leaves the poor marine a little out in the cold â€“ as it just doesnâ€™t feel like he can really go toe to toe with a an acid spitting Alien or a dreadlocked Predator. But thankfully there are some decent weapon pickups scattered around for his perusal. Like the flamethrower. Definite HOO-AH.
So, what can we make of this title? Is Rebellionâ€™s Aliens vs Predator a pinnacle of success? Sadly, no. Is it a blazing torch in the pantheon of AvP titles? Not quite. Is it a solid title that will please hardcore AvP fans and provide a decent multiplayer experience thatâ€™s sure to bring a smile or two to gamerâ€™s faces? On balance â€“ yes.
But games needed to viewed on the whole. The single-player is ultimately lacking and feels like a bit of an afterthought â€“ which is saddening because there is ample room in the AvP universe for a great title that really grabs the whole space survival horror framework by the spine and gives it a bloody good shake.
Aliens vs Predator is not a bomb of a game. Itâ€™s definitely worth a rent, but it has limited re-playability and its multiplayer value is only going to last as long as its community. In our preview of this title I mused that it may be the title fight of the sci-fi century. I was wrong. Itâ€™s just the warm up.