The Aliens vs. Predator franchise dates back a good twenty years, and has sparked a host of movies and games to cash in on the success of the survival horror series.
Most recently, that was 2007's Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem for the PSP. Now in 2010 we are seeing the launch of Aliens vs. Predator for next gen consoles and PC. Developed by Rebellion and published by SEGA there is a considerable force behind the development of the title. SEGA hasn't exactly been riding a wave of quality titles in recent times, so it was interesting to see how Aliens vs. Predator would play out.
The title focuses on the epic battles between the aliens, the predators, and the colonial marines who are being torn apart somewhere in the middle. The real attraction in the title is that the game can be played from the perspective of any of these three races, each playing entirely differently to the next. The aliens are fast and effective at close range. They use the darkness and their physical capabilities to gain the upper hand. They can cling to walls and run along ceilings, and whip enemies feet out from under them using their tails. Darkness is their friend, and they can use it very effectively to gain an edge.
Aliens have heightened senses and can smell the scent of enemies, including predators. The aliens are by far the most fun to play, though the way the controls and camera is implemented movement quickly becomes disorientating and confusing. However, their speed and attacks make them very entertaining for the most part.
The predators are more of a stealth range unit. They are best suited to attacking from above, leaping easily from tree to tree, and using cloaking to come at enemies from behind. The predators can cast energy attacks at their enemies as well from a distance, which work somewhat like heat seeking missiles but are fun and easy to power up in the heat of combat. They are weak against the marines' heavy weapons, and their cloaking is ineffective against aliens, so playing the predator means you always have to have your wits about you. Speaking of wits, as a predator you can change your vision to include thermal scanning, allowing you to easily detect humans. Being able to use different forms of vision is a nice addition, and as the predator class isn't altogether that tough you will need all the help you can get. The predator class was probably my least favourite as it simply doesn’t feel well implemented at all.
The humans, as can be expected, are the same as humans from any other FPS. They have firepower but lack virtually any other assistance other than a torch and a handful of flares. Playing as the marines is entertaining at times, but the controls across all the different classes are not particularly well structured, making it a challenge at best. Shooting can be so frustrating: at times that you’ll plug more bullets into the ceiling and the floor than into the alien standing right in front of you. The point of the various classes is to tie the storyline together giving you insight into the different sides in the conflict, and this works quite well however it seems that by branching off in three directions neither of these has received the time and polish that would have been required to create a truly great game.
While all the campaigns start off strong they give way to relatively dull levels and some frustrating design choices that leave players wondering if it couldn’t have been done better. In next-gen gaming, invisible walls should be a thing of the past, but they’re not as the game forcefully pushes you toward the next checkpoint. The AI is also somewhat frustrating as enemies generally fail to abide by any logical rules, often backing straight towards you making it feel like meals on wheels more than anything, particularly when playing aliens or predators.
Graphically Aliens vs. Predator is no great delight. The levels at times look good enough, and the alien character models look fantastic, but the human models on the other hand look downright hideous, so hideous in fact we thought we were playing Halo again. A highlight however are the fantastic trophy scenes when you decapitate an enemy to pocket the skull. These are gruesome and fun to execute as they vary just enough to not become overly dull too quickly.
The audio for the title is a real highlight. The marine campaign is rather shocking at times, as you hear aliens scuttling through vents above you, frightening the bejesus out of you. This really adds to the atmospherics in some of the darker more brooding levels, feeling something like F.E.A.R. at times.
The online mode surely must be the highlight. A range of game modes are available mixing the three sides against each other. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Infestation, and Predator Hunt which are a bit like Zombie in Halo where one player has to infect he others, and finally a Survivor mode for endless waves of enemies to battle in co-op. Though the controls are still a hassle the advantage surely is that all players are facing the same struggles. Unfortunately though the player base online appears so low its virtually unplayable. So if you plan on picking up Aliens vs. Predator ensure you’ve got a healthy friends list to team up with online, then there is certainly a lot of fun to be had.
Overall Aliens vs. Predator falls well short of the mark. The games controls are too confusing and the environments frustrating. Sometimes character movement appears inconsistent and this makes flitting from wall to ceiling difficult at times when playing the alien. The graphics are stunning in parts, but below average in others again reflecting the fact that the developers split their efforts across three campaigns, rather than focusing on one and doing it well.
Aliens vs. Predator certainly has much in common with the movies, but possibly isn’t quite the answer that fans of the series were wanting in the way of video game fulfilment. Its a good effort no doubt, but its not quite there yet. Maybe the next iteration.