Aliens vs. Predator tells the story of a colonial base on a distant planet that finds itself at the unfortunate epicenter of a showdown between a hive of Aliens and a hunting party of Predators.
Playing through the first-person shooter as a marine, an Alien and a Predator, gamers will piece together the story of what happened on Freya's Prospect Colony and the U.S.S. Marlow. Packed with weapons, over-the-top trophy kills and special moves, the biggest challenge developer Rebellion faces is living up to their 1998 version of the game.
Let's see how they did.
The Predator: One of my favorite species to control, the Elite Predator gets three vision modes, a neat assortment of weapons and the ability to leap around a map like a dreadlocked Spider Monkey. The game as played through the Predator has the most options. You can try to take people out by cloaking and using your wristblades on them or you can pick enemies off with the Plasma Caster, Smart Disc, Proximity Mines and, my favorite, the Combi Stick. The story behind the brief Predator campaign is also the best, I think, though it still limps along compared to the fast-paced online multiplayer.
The Alien: While playing as the Alien, "Number Six" doesn't give a lot of options in the way of kills, the movement of Six is by far the most intriguing. The Alien's kills are all melee, either with claws, teeth or tail and they are all delivered with either a quick or heavy attack button push. But there are plenty of ways to use this creature to pick off a unit of heavily armed enemies. You can hiss at someone to draw them into an attack, or you can climb around breaking lights until it's pitch black and your pheromone-augmented vision gives you the big advantage. The neatest part about playing as Six is the ability to walk on any surface. You just hold he right trigger and Six will walk up a wall or cling to a ceiling, inverting the view automatically. It takes a bit of getting used to, but the end results are a species that is challenging to master but incredibly deadly once you do.
Harvesting Heads: There was a lot of talk about the gruesome nature of the Alien and Predator kills leading up to the release of Aliens Vs. Predator, but nothing prepares you for how they play out in the game. The Predator stuff is pretty much what you'd expect of a finishing move that involves wrist blades and a species that hunts for trophies—lots of interesting decapitations. But the Alien's ability to harvest a human, turning a person into a living nest for a baby Alien is quite disturbing. Six seems to stroke the terrified, screaming, begging, sometimes crawling, victim with an almost affectionate caress before planting the facehugger. It never gets old.
Survivor: The return to the original Horde Mode, the 1998 version of Aliens Vs. Predator survival mode, is genius and one of the best things about the entire game. You and up to three other players stand in the only circle of light in an otherwise darkened room and fight off the waves of Aliens that slither at you from the walls, leap from the dark and even drop from the ceiling. One really nice touch: Your teammates' heartbeats and health bars are all displayed on your display, so you know when they die after wandering off for ammo or weapons.
Predator Hunt: In this franchise-specific take on King of the Hill, a player is randomly selected to be the predator and the rest take on the role of Marines looking to bring the creature down. Whoever kills the Predator then becomes the hunter. Great use of the original aspects of the game to breath some life into the generic online modes typically included in a first-person shooter.
Infestation: Another neat example of coming up with a multiplayer mode that plays to a game's strengths. In this mode, one player takes on the role of an Alien. Every marine killed by the creature becomes an Alien too, until it's one marine versus a horde of chittering creatures.
Plot: Aliens Vs. Predator features three mini campaigns told through the eyes of the twin franchise's trio of main cast members: A marine, an Alien and a Predator. You choose in which order you want to play through the campaigns and you can even swap between the three at the end of each level. But it turns out that hot-swapping lead cast members, and their different, but sort of associated plots, isn't such a great idea. Initially, that's what I tried to do, until I realized that it was turning the three stories into a bland gumbo of loose plot points. Then I tried playing straight through each separately, unfortunately that didn't help much either.
The Marine: This felt like the longest, beefiest chunk of Aliens Vs. Predator's single-player campaign, but maybe that's because it was so bad. Playing through the marine campaign drops you into about as generic a first-person shooter as they come. Sure, you get the motion detector, which comes with a constant alert ping you can't muffle or turn off, but that's it in the way of innovation. The game somehow manages to play out either always at night, underground or in rooms in which the only functioning lights point up at the ceiling and provide zero ambient lighting. You do get a flashlight which is so weak I often accidentally turned it off, thinking it wasn't on yet.
And the plot, told through the eyes of "the rookie" is packed with clichés, horrid dialog and completely expected plot "twists." If this is the campaign you start Aliens Vs Predator with, there's a good chance you won't want to finish it.
The Dark: Darkness is a great way to make something scary, and both Predator and Aliens made good use of that during their cinematic outings, but when you plunge an already sketchy level design into near pitch black, it makes things much worse, not better. I spent a good third of this game bumping into walls and finding myself stuck in corners. Yes, I suppose that in a "real" world peopled with bug-like aliens, and bipedal, dreadlock-festooned predators perhaps there is no light. Maybe the unlucky human inhabitants of this universe live in a perpetual dusk or dawn. But then, whey do they take the time to arrange up-pointing lighting throughout their homes and gardens, but never think to point any of those many light sources at the ground?
Don't Relax Just Yet Marine: The often arbitrary asides and call outs I hear when playing through a game usually go in one ear and out the other for me. I don't pay much attention to what the game-controlled folks of the titles I play are shouting out to me in battle. So when one phrase is said so much it becomes a distracting irritant, I think it's worth mentioning. And I heard countless marines, maybe all of them, telling other marines not to relax while playing through Aliens Vs. Predators. They told it to me, they shouted it out while hunting for me as an Alien and they whispered it when confronting me in my Predator form.
The new Aliens Vs. Predator isn't a great game; the seriously hobbled marine campaign is so bad it actually struggles to be called a good game. But both the very short Aliens campaign and relatively short Predator one were worth playing through, nearly balancing out the single-player experience to average.
But that's not why you want to buy this game. Buy Aliens Vs. Predator for the online multiplayer, for the chance to hunt marines as a predator, harvest them as an alien, or stand back-to-back with three buddies while facing down a blackened room packed to the ceiling with angry Aliens.
Aliens Vs. Predator was developed by Rebellion Developments and published by Sega for the PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 on Feb. 16. Retails for $49.99 USD on PC, $59.99 USD on consoles. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through all three single-player campaigns and tested all multiplayer modes on Xbox 360.
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