Aliens vs. Predator

Why don't you put Monolith in charge, then?

What's the matter, Rebellion? CIA got you pushing too many pencils?
Author: Aram Lecis
Published: May 14, 2010
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The Aliens vs. Predator franchise is an interesting beast. Essentially created from two totally unrelated IPs by Dark Horse Comics back in the early 90s, the series is basically a fanboy's wet dream along the lines of the Freddy vs. Jason craze we saw a decade ago. Both individual franchises have seen their ups and downs; Alien is one of the finest horror movies ever made, Aliens is a top-flight action film, and the Director's Cut of Alien 3 is much better than the disappointing theatrical release. The original Predator is an outstanding popcorn action flick that likely holds the distinction of being the only movie to feature two future governors in it as well as a fine performance by Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Alien Resurrection and Predator 2 are best left in the film vaults (although Predator 2, which was released shortly after the original AvP comic, did give the first glimpse of the crossover coming, as the Predator had an Alien skull among his trophies, which led to years of frothing speculation about the inevitability of a shared franchise). Once the film studios decided to cash in on the appeal of both franchises and inextricably link them together for the rest of time, the cache of both Aliens and Predators took a big hit. While the film side of the equation has only produced a pair of flops, the series has fared better in the video game market.

Rebellion has been responsible for three of the four major Alien(s) vs. Predator games; The first, Alien vs Predator, was one of two titles that actually made an Atari Jaguar worth owning (the other being Tempest 2000), a great early FPS that featured fairly diverse playstyles among the 3 different single-player campaigns (Marine, Alien, and Predator); In 1999, Rebellion released the highly lauded Aliens versus Predator for the PC, which featured multiplayer deathmatch-style combat in addition to the three single-player campaigns; and most recently, Rebellion, in a burst of creativity, released a third game called Aliens vs. Predator (note that all the games titles are slightly different), this time for Xbox 360 and PS3 in addition to the PC. Unfortunately, Monolith Productions 2001 title Aliens versus Predator 2 was the fourth major title, and it raised the bar for the series a bit higher than Rebellion was able to reach.

The latest entry in the franchise features the now traditional three single player campaigns, as well as the most robust multiplayer component we have seen so far. Unfortunately, the fine folks at Rebellion seem to have been resting a little too much on their laurels and haven't been spending enough time innovating the genre. AvP doesn't do anything particularly wrong, per se, but it also doesn't seem to have evolved in any way since the seminal 1999 release. During my time with AvP, I continually found myself bored, which came as a bit of a surprise after the edge-of-my-seat nervewrackingness of the previous entries in the series. Long gone are the scares, and not just because years of violence had desensitized me. Rather, the uninspired story and repetitive gameplay were not even enough to hold my attention beyond brief bursts of playing, and I found I had to force myself to continue to the next section each play session, not caring what was happening to the protagonist (be it Marine, Alien or Predator) and wishing the whole game was shorter.

Of the three campaigns, the Marine is certainly the most traditional. Nothing about it sets it apart from the litany of other FPSes you have played, with the exception that all the weapons are drawn from the Aliens universe and the iconic motion tracker. You will find yourself toting Pulse Rifles, flamethrowers and the occasional shotgun as you traverse through the campaign as "The Rookie". In general the weapons don't feel all that different, but the sounds they make are very faithful to the films, and definitely add a little bit of authenticity to the experience. The story itself is starts off as a homage to Aliens, as you traverse an abandoned colony very reminiscent of LV-426 from the movies, and in fact some of the snappy dialogue seems like it could have been lifted straight from the films. Eventually you escape the colony and move into a section more reminiscent of the recent AvP films, involving pyramids and whatnot. Of course you battle myriad aliens and perhaps a predator. The Marine campaign ends up really short on the scares but long on the repetition.

The Alien campaign heavily focuses on melee combat, and for the most part, that combat works well. While there isn't the greatest variety of moves, that does fit in nicely with the Xenomorph mythos, as those acid-blooded devils tend to just charge out of the shadows with claws, tail and teeth [and teeth inside of teeth! -Ed] snapping. Those shadows do play an important part, as your alien can hide in them to surprise victims, and of course you aren't limited to just hiding on the ground. The Alien can walk on pretty much any surface, which is accomplished by merely holding down a button an approaching a wall. As in past games where you play an Alien, it can get disorienting pretty fast and if you are really scurrying around changing planes, you soon lose track of where the floor really is. On screen indicators and a "right yourself to the floor" button certainly help, but it can still be tricky to speedily approach foes from the walls or ceilings without letting yourself get astray and losing sight of them. The story of the Alien campaign isn't very interesting (I guess Aliens are somewhat mindless so that can be expected) and sadly it lacks the awesome evolutionary leaps from AvP 2, where you started as a facehugger, then gestated as a chest burster (one of the best video game scenes ever is when you are "born" in AvP 2), until finally growing into an adult soldier. In AvP, you play as a single solitary alien that starts out full grown and doesn't really evolve much. At least there are significant changes to the playstyle compared to the Marine campaign.

Finally, the Predator campaign was a bit of a disappointment. Predators fight using a combination of ranged weapons and melee attacks that are gradually unlocked during gameplay. By the end of the game, when you have become an Elite Predator, you will have access to all the weapons featured in the movies, including wrist blades, the disc launcher, a combi-stick, and my personal favorite the plasma cannon with the sweet triangle laser designator. In addition, as any Predator fan knows, there is a range of vision modes that allows the predator to easily highlight aliens or humans or the environment, depending on which is selected, although the ability to see humans is severely degraded in alien-view mode, and vice-versa. Playing as the Predator is fundamentally similar to playing a Marine (although with a bit more stealth), with the addition of a whole other level of violence. There is no question that AvP features some of the downright goriest scenes to grace a video game. When a predator kills a human using the wristblades, they can perform a "trophy kill." These kills generally involve dragging a screaming marine, snapping his neck, and decapitating the poor human and pulling out some of his spine in a move reminiscent of a fatality from Mortal Kombat, only rendered in much more grisly detail. The story itself was a forgettable mess about gaining respect or something.

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