It would be fair to argue that combining a series of successful action/sci-fi franchises such as these should translate beautifully to an industry that has produced so many impressive FPS titles over the years, yet since it first arrived on the PC 11 years ago, the majority of Alien vs Predator spin-offs have failed to live up to their potential.
With the benefit of modern graphics and immersive gameplay, the latest version has a big enough canvas to paint on, so are we finally going to be rewarded with an entry into the series that can take full advantage of its potential?
It should come as no surprise to hear that, like many of its predecessors, 2010′s Aliens vs Predator is effectively three games in one, as you choose to adopt the role of Alien, Predator or marine in a campaign mode that splits strengths and weaknesses into genuinely distinct gameplay elements. The campaign is based around the same selection of maps and environments, albeit viewed from different perspectives, which is a nice touch since you effectively get to see each character’s point of view throughout the same sequence of events.
There are plenty of tributes to the film franchises as well, including Lance Hendrikson playing Karl Bishop Weyland (based on the character cameo at the end of Alien 3) and the most recent ‘PredAlien’ incarnation from the less successful Aliens vs Predator movies.
The marine’s campaign is a good starting point and takes a typical FPS approach that, in the earlier levels at least, is rather reminiscent of the dark and dingy corridors of Doom 3. Aliens dart across ceilings and up walls, hugging the shadows before dropping down to attack. A standard issue pistol is your initial weapon of choice, but before long you acquire the pulse rifle, and later in the game a shotgun, smartgun, flamethrower and scoped rifle are available. Though careful selection and management of these is important, most will be loathe to give up the pulse rifle as their main firearm, so some of the less practical weapons do seem a little redundant.
It would be fair to expect the Predator campaign to be the most fun and it’s true that you do get to use all of the tools popularised by the movie, including heat vision, a plasma thrower, cloaking device, claws and, later in the game, a spear, proximity mines and ‘smart disc’; the serrated returning Frisbee.
While you can use directional controls to move around a map, much of your traversing will involve flying through the air while navigating the various ‘jump’ points situated in tree-tops, on ledges and on top of buildings. This is a far quicker way to get from A to B but can become a little frustrating, as it’s not immediately obvious where the jump points are situated. Finding them usually involves scanning an area for a jump icon and the fact that you’re doing this quite a bit in the heat of battle, combined with significant screen shake as you leap from one place to another, can initially be quite disorienting.
The Predator’s strengths are in its use of weapons and stealth, and though you do gain the plasma thrower almost straight away, it doesn’t hold a lot of ammunition, so perfecting the art of camouflage and ambush is vital. For this reason it’s almost impossible to go gung-ho with the Predator and survive, which can take the edge off the enjoyment factor slightly.
Adopting the role of ‘Number Six’, an alien who has been captured and experimented on by humans only to inevitably escape, is a bit of a mixed bag. No weapons are available apart from claws and a rather lethal tail, so combining these with speed, stealth and the ability to hug walls and ceilings makes this a different challenge. While it’s quite fun to stalk hapless victims in this way, mastering the wall climbing and finding hatches and vents to slip through can be a little awkward at times, and again there’s an emphasis here on stealth and luring prey into your clutches rather than simply diving in.
Aliens vs Predator should be a lot of fun, and some decent graphics and authentic audio combine with a fairly loose but involving storyline (at least on the part of the marines), and the impressive cut scenes do look and sound great. It doesn’t feel quite right though, and there are far too many niggling frustrations that chip away at the overall enjoyment factor.
For example, it’s a little too easy to die, since while both health and ammo are in good supply, each is rather short-lived and the three or four second reload/heal delay can seem like a lifetime in the heat of battle. Checkpoints are fairly frequent and well placed so you’ll rarely have to backtrack too far to try again, but even on normal difficulty (there are also ‘easy’, ‘hard’ and ‘nightmare’ modes) expect to retry stages fairly frequently until you strike the right balance between patience and aggression.
The campaign is also very short – roughly three to five hours for each character provided you take your time – although once the controls are mastered you can halve this if you’re prepared to blitz through the levels and ignore the additional bonuses and collectibles.
It’s a good job there’s a multiplayer mode as well, then, which is well thought out and includes a number of scenarios including Infestation (where one player starts as an alien and must ‘infect’ marines to recruit more of its kind), Predator Hunt (where one player takes the role of the Predator until killed, at which point the saboteur takes over), Survivor (where four humans team up against swathes of Aliens) and a range of Death Match modes. These are all quite entertaining provided you can live with the controls, and are a nice way to attempt to recreate scenes from the films.