Marines and Aliens and Predators… Oh My!
If you’ve ever seen Alien or it’s equally impressive follow-up Aliens, you’re probably with me when I say that the past few Alien, Aliens, Alien vs. Predator, etc. have been enough to make James Cameron roll over in his giant pile of Avatar-related money (onto his other giant pile of Titanic-related money). Even though the acclaimed director is probably too busy focusing on the impending Oscar race and his “competition”, something tells me that the newest AVP game still wouldn’t get the Cameron stamp of approval.
That’s not to say that Aliens vs. Predator is a bad game. It’s a very serviceable attempt at an FPS game that provides a few tweaks to the traditional formula. Gameplay is familiar enough to make sense and diverse enough to earn a few hours of patience. And let’s not forget, the AVP name is enough to bring in a few hardcore fanboys. The big “but” here is a common problem in video games these days; there simply isn’t enough weight here to make a splash. FPS fans will want a more polished or at least a more unique experience, casual gamers will want more accessible characters, and AVP fans will probably want more story than a couple of single-player modes can provide. The endgame here is pretty clear-almost everyone who has a reason to play this game could find a better reason to play another.
AVP’s single-player campaign is really three short stories told from the point of view of human, alien, and predator characters depending on which you select. These individual stories are an interesting idea and the gameplay is diverse enough to support Rebellion’s decision. The stories, level design, and combat mechanics are all driven by the individual star of the show. Say you select the alien character, Six; a video prologue tells the story of an alien spawn which, after violently bursting from the chest (and throat) of a human test subject, is captured and kept for research. As the sixth xenomorph under observation by human scientists, you race along the corridors of a research facility and hunt down your captors using alien attributes. The stories are watchable, not memorable, and they provide enough of a pretext for a few hours of blasting, mauling, or impaling as the situation dictates.
Playing as each character provides a marked difference in gameplay-predators feel like methodical hunters. They move slowly through environments, rely on stealth, distract and lure hapless humans, and cloak before leaping in close to strike foes. Alien combat is a bit different: players will crawl along ceilings and walls, slash at lights to hide in the shadows, and move at lightning speeds to harvest civilians for “face-huggers” or take bites out of their quarry. Soldiers rely on a variety of weapons and explosives to tame the wild extraterrestrial masses. Marines can use melee attacks as well, and predators have some long distance attack capability, but for the most part gamers are choosing between alien speed and human ingenuity. The predator for some inexplicable reason seems the weakest of the pack.
Rebellion has worked with the AVP universe before, and it’s familiarity with the characters is apparent in some of its choices but lacking in others. They managed to strike a chord between totally isolating new gamers from the experience and sacrificing the core of series favorites. The philosophy manages to handicap gameplay, however, as the basic controls and attacks become bland and rote very quickly. Within a few hours (or less) you will have seen most of the “quick kill” and “stealth kill” animations. I put them in quotations here because I’m not sure how stealthy impaling someone on a bony tail blade is, but it certainly isn’t very quick, but we’ll get to that. It’s not that these images are so unbearable, but after a while things just get boring. I never really thought I’d say this, but another blade through the eyes? Yawn.
At first the actual process of playing AVP is a daunting task even on easy difficulty. This may be Rebellion’s biggest deception, but don’t be fooled; as soon as you pick up the flow of the game, you’ll quickly go on auto pilot, and that’s when things get dull. Each of the three control schemes in AVP is technically different, but often (as is the case with most differences between the alien and predator modes) only because the attacks have different names.
AVP is an extraordinarily violent game, but in a very ‘Ho-Hum’ kind of way. As much bloodshed as we are accustomed to seeing in the post-Tarantino era, watching your predator-self rip a marine’s spinal cord out by his head or shove his blade claws through someone’s chin is still a pretty grisly sight. Even so, you’ll see it so many times you’ll probably begin to ignore them pretty quickly anyway. The visuals don’t aid the process. Bland textures and colors permeate most of the character models, and even though the corridors and grates are believable, there’s nothing that will capture much more than a moment’s notice. Presentation is definitely not top tier, but it could be worse.
At times, AVP provides some genuine genre- and character-specific action. When playing as either the predator or human there are some sincere moments of panic, as hordes of aliens swarm like acid-bleeding cockroaches. At times it legitimately reminded me of early FPS favorites like Doom, and this is one of Rebellion’s best touches. Fighting humans as an alien or predator is much less satisfying as you go on, essentially coming down to ‘stalk and kill’ mechanics in first-person. Additionally, playing as an alien (probably the best choice for the most unique possible experience) can literally be nauseating or disorienting at the very least. It wouldn’t be a big problem if a few seconds on the ground didn’t result in pools of green blood. I often found myself slowing down just so I could catch up with the action on screen, and believe me, it’s not a good thing.
There’s nothing unforgettable about this game, but there’s nothing worth hating really. This is a mediocre effort in every sense of the word. I almost wish Rebellion had failed more spectacularly; at least there’d be something more to talk about. As it stands, AVP is a FPS that follows most of the conventions of the genre and adds some Aliens, Marines, and Predators to the mix. No matter what your purpose in playing Rebellion’s new shooter, there is almost undoubtedly a reason you should be playing a different game. It’s not bad, it’s just not good.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.5 Graphics
Even in lowlight there’s too much to see here. 3.0 Control
Familiar, yet different. This may be the highpoint of the game. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Few lines of dialogue in every situation, but screeches, roars, and other sound effects are solid. 2.5 Play Value
It can be fun for a while, but that entirely depends on how much you like this franchise, this genre, and watching the same couple of animations. 3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.