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Aliens vs. Predator

There have been many games based around the Aliens vs Predator franchise over the years; some of them have pleased fans and gamers, whilst some have drawn their ire. The most excellent, though, has undoubtedly been Rebellion’s Aliens vs Predator and its Monolith developed sequel, released in 1999 and 2001 respectively. So, strip down to your underwear, climb inside your cryotube, drift into hyper-sleep for 11 years and wake to find the latest Aliens vs Predator game has been unleashed. So, was it worth the wait? What’s that? You’re having chest palpitations? Gahh!

Well, now that little guy’s crawled off into the venting system, let’s get down to business. The game includes a single player campaign for each race, a survival mode and various multiplayer modes to get your fangs into. You’re able to play through each campaign on its own or, alternatively, undertake all three one stage at a time. There’s an overarching narrative threading the campaigns together, so you’ll encounter several of the same locations during each campaign. In fact, usually, just as you’re thinking, hey, this wall looks familiar!, you’ll get speared and have your scalp cleaved off or something. The maps are visually pleasing but somewhat confined and leave little room for exploration. Environments include lab, metallic complexes, temples, jungles and caves; all places where extra-terrestrial nasties enjoy lurking.

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“Something about the sound of its report that immediately activates the nostalgia centre of long-time fans’ brains”Playing as a grunt (no offence) is, naturally, the most ordinary experience of the three campaigns. You play as a rookie marine who’s gradually separated from his squad and left to fight on with the help of a fellow soldier’s radio communications. You’re given access to the (mostly) classic USMC arsenal of handgun, pulse-rifle, shotgun, scoped-rifle, flamethrower and smart-gun. You can only carry the pistol and a choice of two standard weapons, but the heavy-duty smart-gun (awesome) appropriately requires you to discard your other firearms. The guns all serve their respective purposes well, but it’s a shame the rifle is the only weapon with a zoom function. The pulse-rifle is the best all-rounder; there’s something about the sound of its report that immediately activates the nostalgia centre of long-time fans’ brains and makes them grin, especially if accompanied by the insectoid screams of shattered aliens and the immortal cry of ‘Let’s ROCK!!!!!!’ Indeed. The other classic item you’re equipped with is the motion tracker. This device kindly beeps increasingly quicker and louder the closer enemies get to your position, constantly stimulating your adrenaline gland and ringing dreadfully in your head like the heartbeat of a slain victim echoing within the murderer’s conscience. It can also be rather helpful.

The xenomorphs themselves are nightmarishly cunning, just as they should be. Their AI is really nifty: they’ll stalk you, discombobulate you and force you to frantically look around in all directions, then take a surprise incising swipe at you from behind. For those not in the know, their blood is akin to molecular acid, so it’s in your interests to dispatch them at long range, lest your face be chemically burned off (‘forget him, he’s gone!!’). This factor really has an impact on your playing style, especially if you’re used to just walking up to foes and blasting them at point-blank range. Although the aliens’ razor-clawed melee attacks can quickly mangle your existence, you do have the option of blocking/striking them with your weapon, which can buy you precious seconds to retreat or reload. Without giving too much away, fans can also expect to face a couple of alien-variants, and those pesky facehuggers are always scuttling about trying to shove their egg-implanting-tubes down your throat (insert own joke here). Predator battles are unfortunately scarce; Rebellion has inexplicably messed up here. Seriously. Another class of enemies are the Weyland-Yutani security androids. These gun-wielding heavies are most unwelcome and feel strangely out of place. They’re like the weirdo at the party everyone avoids, except they’re talking bollocks and trying to shoot your arms off.

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“Facehuggers are always scuttling about trying to shove their egg-implanting-tubes down your throat”Aside from the combat…there isn’t much at all. When not engaged in acid-splattering gun-toting foreplay, you basically just mooch about, occasionally listening to badly acted audio-diaries and performing basic tasks. Said errands include inserting power nodes into electronic receptacles and operating laptops, performed by pressing X and then watching a canned animation. Can gamers these days not handle something more challenging than walking up to a laptop and pressing a button? In Dead Space for instance, you felt like you were actually solving problems via the manipulation of the environment. The mundane tasks given to you in Aliens vs Predator just feel repetitive and insignificant. To add to this mollycoddling, details of upcoming foes and circumstances are often revealed in advance by your comrade, removing any element of surprise they could’ve presented if left to occur naturally. These factors really serve to strip the marine campaign down to an FPS blaster, but luckily, there are more exotic characters to play as…

Becoming the alien offers the most unique experience of the three campaigns. A cool set-up reveals your xenomorph to have been a particularly gifted critter since it was birthed. It feels exciting once you break free of your restraints, wreak vengeance on the taunting scientists and set about doing your queen’s bidding. This involves lots of crawling up and down walls, ceilings and floors and, of course, lots of hominid slaughter. It’s refreshing not to be constantly fixed to one surface, with the freedom of movement allowing for swift escapes and surprising attacks. In order to transition from surface to surface though, you must press RT at the point the wall/barrier changes angle – which can take some practice to execute whilst under pressure of pulse-rifle fire. If you were given the option to keep transitions always switched on, so you could just run into a wall and immediately start climbing it, this would’ve been most welcome. Holding down the run button gives you a preternatural boost of speed, allowing you to close the distance on enemies in seconds. This feels both realistic and awesome.

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“Your glossy black carapace and phallic head will explode in an acidic shower faster than Kane’s chest cavity”Your attacking options include a light attack (talon slash), a slow heavy attack (penetrative tail-thrust), or, if the enemy is wounded or unwary, a fatal grab attack. Performing a grab attack results in a gory canned animation whereby you decapitate, impale, or just bite the face off your victim. The only problem with this is that, like fending off a horde of rabid hedgehogs, once you start, you can’t stop – unless you die. This factor wouldn’t be that bad if you could choose which death-move to perform, as some are much quicker than others, but the killing-finish is random, so you can easily end up holding a grunt’s head back waiting for a facehugger to rape his mouth whilst taking severe ballistic punishment – it’s aggravating to say the least.

You’re often required to plan assaults carefully – if you try to simply rush a squad of marines head-on, your glossy black carapace and phallic head will explode in an acidic shower faster than Kane’s chest cavity in Alien. Hence, it’s often imperative you use stealth to sneak up on and butcher the gun-toting flesh-bags before they can get a shot off. As you skulk around the maps, whenever you’re under cover of sufficient darkness, an icon will appear to indicate your relative invisibility. Thus, it’s highly effective to crawl into a dark corner or vent and lie in wait for the adversary before ambushing them. It’s unfortunate, however, that when they do get close, you can’t snatch them into an overhead vent or drag them off a ledge, as the grab attack only works properly when you’re on the ground. If the humans don’t seem to be interested in snooping around your particular vicinity, you can let out a creepy hiss, which leads them to investigate.

The hapless marines’ thought processes seem to go something like this: ‘Oh, there seems to be some kind of demonic hissing coming from that broken vent, hold on Darryl, I’m just going to stick my head in and try to feel what it is with my soft face.’ These people know there are aliens running amok, therefore, this behaviour is cretinous at best – why not send a jet of flame in first? Or even just shine a torch around? It actually makes you happy to be slaying these imbeciles. If you’re not happy just snuffing them once though, you can go for overkill with a head-bite; firing your powerful inner-jaws through their melon, just for gruesome kicks. Be wary of indulging this option too much though; it leads to a dark place – one where hulking hunters who enjoy ripping dudes’ craniums and spines out might hang around. In fact, they definitely do hang around there and they’re currently sorting their dreadlocks out…

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“I’m just going to stick my head in and try to feel what it is with my soft face”Playing through the predator campaign is perhaps the most enjoyable of the three, as you have a sick arsenal, bitchin’ equipment, are incredibly tough and can jump like a frickin’ monkey in moon-boots. Your full weaponry is a twin set of wrist-blades, shoulder-mounted plasma-caster, proximity mines, boomerang-like cutting-disc and a big-ass combi-stick. You feel like a kid on a school trip that finds himself in an unlicensed European weapons shop. Besides your array of dastardly death-dealing devices, you’re also bestowed with a cloaking device, the ability to distract marines and use alternate modes of vision. In order to power the plasma-caster and cloaking device, you must drain power from generators and outlets, which then shows up via a gauge in your HUD. This drains fairly quickly, which is only fair to the other species, otherwise it would be far too easy to simply light them up from afar. The predator excels at close-quarters combat but suffers from the same grab attack problem as the alien. Your ability to distract marines is pretty far out as you’re able to both distract them, then literally tell them where to walk – combine this with proximity mines and the result is limb-explodingly elementary.

Whereas said vacuous marine is essentially fixed to the ground and the alien can traverse all services, the predator has an almighty leap at his disposal that allows you to negotiate terrain from a great height, securing tree-line vantage points from whence to stalk the enemy. Combine this with some lustrous jungle sections and you’ll feel like Arnie’s titular nemesis from Predator before you can quip, ‘Stick around’. As for the maps in the predator campaign themselves, they’re much more explorable and interesting than those traversed by the other two races. The predator’s story is more engaging than the other races’, you gain new weapons at a good pace and the final showdown is both surprising and memorable.

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Even though the campaigns don’t offer much in the way of replayability, the multiplayer modes thankfully offer it in abundance. The modes are Deathmatch (team, standard and species separation), Infestation (aliens gradually kill and ‘convert’ marines), Survivor (fend off multiple waves of xenos), Predator Hunt (one pred stalking the rest) and Domination (capture the flag). These modes are all thoroughly enjoyable, with the free-for-all Deathmatch and adrenaline producing Infestation proving to be particularly engaging.

Although it’s a worthy addition to the franchise’s gaming catalogue, Aliens vs Predator unfortunately doesn’t live up to its full potential. The story is forgettable, the atmosphere lacking and any promised scares are absent. The campaigns are too short, even when added together, and the standout moments are, sadly, very rare. The game’s melee combat is commendable, but ultimately hindered by the flawed grab attack mechanic. The game will surely appeal to and please die-hard fans of the franchise, but gamers looking for a more challenging and rewarding experience would do better looking elsewhere.

6 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2009. Get in touch on Twitter @P_Worth.

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