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Aliens Vs. Predator Reviewed
Splicing together disparate franchises can be a messy business, with the results usually diluting what made each of them successful in the first place. It’s true of Aliens vs. Predator, where the conflicting interests of each hasn’t fared well on screen. In comics and videogames though AvP has seen success, with this latest game coming from Oxford based Rebellion, a studio well versed in the series.
It’s the third time Rebellion has tackled AvP and it goes without saying that, whilst the overall design of this game doesn’t stray far from their previous efforts, the developer clearly has a lot of love for the material and knows how to capitalise on what makes this series tick. They’ve a real handle on this particular universe and it shows on a fundamental level, with the presentation strong enough to carry this thing all the way to the finish line.
As before, the solo portion of AvP is split into three separate campaigns, one for Marine, Predator and Alien. As a marine you’ll be skulking through corridors, pulse rifle in hand, inspecting every shadow with your limited flashlight before having to fight for your life against the alien swarm. More callous observers would accuse this particular campaign of being derivative but, in fairness, the formula works. It’s no less exciting or atmospheric than the likes of Doom 3 or Dead Space, examples of two other games that serve the genre well.
There are some heavy retro leanings here too, with no iron sight view or crouch function. Although standing still for precision aiming would be counter productive. The aliens prove hugely resilient to human weapons and take a good deal of punishment. When they attack in groups, even as small as 4, the action is intense and satisfying. The animators have done a fantastic job and the little details, like seeing the lips on an alien quiver before it punches its inner jaw into your face, add to gritty presence of the creatures.
The alien and predator campaigns prove more alluring as they break away from the FPS template. Both are more stealth orientated as neither can withstand much in the way of gunfire. The alien compensates for its limited attack range with speed and agility whilst the predator relies on verticality, gadgets and a “focus” mode allowing you to leap into trees and onto high platforms to scout the area for targets.
Predator gameplay is a little less linear, with most corridors leading to an open location that's being patrolled. Humans can be distracted and forced to leave their patrol routes, allowing you to stalk and pick off your targets one at a time with brutal, movie perfect stealth kills. When aliens also get involved in the fray, you can watch them tear at the scattered marines and take on whatever is left.
The alien campaign is the least enjoyable of the three but terrorising your victims brings a smile. The alien moves incredibly fast and can traverse all surfaces. Simply looking at a surface within range and hitting the jump button will latch you to it. There's a great sense of locomotion and the audio, complete with guttural hisses and growls, really hammers home the animosity of the creature and reminds you why it's so iconic. It's just a lot fun to be part of that initial outbreak, whereas the second movie, and by extension the marine campaign, concentrate on the aftermath.
Both the alien and predator rely heavily on melee combat, combining light, heavy and counter attacks. It’s a basic system but in more confined spaces, and against a larger number of threats, the whole thing can feel sloppy until you get a proper handle on how it works. As a general rule, when fighting as the predator against a swarm of aliens, you engage one at a time as the others flank around you. Familiarising yourself with the attack animations, so you can know when best to block and when best not to, is the key to success and mastery here will serve you well in the multiplayer modes.
Enemies stunned by heavy attacks can be dispatched with the push of a button, which results in brutal “trophy kills” but there aren’t as many of them as you might expect and being stuck in that animation loop still leaves you open for attack. The other problem with melee combat is the fact that aliens bleed acid. On harder difficulties that stuff makes mince meat of you and is unavoidable in most cases, unless you're especially savvy with the predator's ranged weaponry.
Another stumbling block is the storytelling. Whilst each campaign offers a different perspective the plot itself is mostly lifted wholesale from what has gone before. There’s an uncovered Predator temple, the Weyland Yutani Corporation is breeding aliens and the inevitable Pred-alien hybrid shows up. There’s nothing wrong with fan service but considering the potential for original content it’s a shame Rebellion didn’t take us some place new.
Whilst the campaigns are fun to play, AvP really comes to life in multiplayer. Supporting up to 18 players, the game features a total of 7 modes and comes off as surprisingly well balanced. Death Match and Domination are the least interesting of the mode selection, but there are crown jewels to be found with Infestation and Predator Hunt.
Infestation spawns all players as marines bar one, who is an alien. Every marine killed turns into an alien themselves and the aim of the game is to survive the remaining seconds alone, fighting off your old team mates. Predator Hunt casts one player as the predator and the rest as marines. Only the predator can score and the only way to become the scorer yourself is to kill the predator player and assume that role. So it’s a case of working together one minute and then ripping your mates head off the next.
The multiplayer suite is topped off with team death match variants and a fun survival mode which pits up to 4 players against endless waves of aliens, the aim of the game to score as many kills as you can before you’re inevitably killed off. Earning experience during ranked matches unlocks additional player skins but there’s nothing beyond that, no character expansion for example. There are also a very limited number of maps on launch, no doubt we’ll be seeing more by way of downloadable premium content. The online multiplayer is in need of a patch though, as lag can strike randomly and there is no host migration, which results in the occasional drop.
Aliens vs. Predator is absolutely the best game in the series so far and a step up for Rebellion, a studio that has been delivering some pretty rubbish titles of late. Even with the issues sighted earlier, there’s really nothing here to dent the package as an impressive whole. It effortlessly brings the universe to life with plenty of atmosphere, movie perfect visuals and audio. It’s a must have for fans, even if they’ve played the previous games to death. For everyone else though, this is a varied, brutal FPS experience that makes a nice change of pace from the likes of Modern Warfare 2. The game certainly isn’t over yet.