I still remember sitting in the dark at 2 a.m., walking through the intimidating hallways in Aliens vs. Predator for the Atari Jaguar; I felt genuine fear , which is why this memory likely won’t fade any time soon. Therefore, I was plenty interested in the AvP iteration from Rebellion and Sega; I had heard some good things about the three-tiered single-player campaign, and the distinctness of each race should translate to plenty of engaging originality for the online multiplayer portion. And while the latter turned out to be true (to some extent), the lack of refinement and polish in the technicals and controls is what ultimately let me down. I would like to remind everyone before continuing that I did have fun with my time, and that most of the shortcomings and drawbacks are indeed minor. Unfortunately, there are far too many of them and they become more and more glaring with every passing hour of game time. Aliens vs. Predator is an example of a great idea bogged down by a lot of unrealized potential.
The graphics fall short, especially when you’re in the wide open areas with the Predator. As the Marine, you’re typically locked into those creepy hallways so you don’t really see the lack of detailing, muddy textures and relative blandness of some of the Alien and Predetor areas. The frame rate also struggles here and there, which is really unacceptable in this day and age, especially when they’re only aspiring to 30 frames per second. Although we have to anticipate a dark, foreboding atmosphere, they could’ve worked to bring out the luster of our surroundings a bit. When speeding around as the Alien, you can see – up-close-and-personal – the lack of intricate detail that could’ve been applied to the objects and structures in your environment. When outside in the forest with the Predator, you’ll instantly notice a texture issue with a preponderance of dull greens and browns. Unfortunately, the game just doesn’t look anywhere near as good as it could, or should.
Thankfully, the sound is a good deal better, although the soundtrack still could’ve used some work. As everyone knows, ambient sounds in games that attempt to instill a sense of fear in the player are essential, and AvP doesn’t fail us in this particular category. When playing as the Marine, both the hiss of the Alien and that odd “clicking” of the Predator will definitely freak you out, and when playing as either of the other two races, the screams of humans and gut-wrenching effects that go along with the carnage are…well, fitting. The music still needed to be brought to the forefront more often and too many of the Marine’s weapons sound a bit too similar to one another, but other than that, I have no major complaints. The voice acting isn’t too bad, either, even though it isn’t a major aspect of the sound. In general, you won’t have much of a problem with anything you hear in AvP, despite a few hitches and very minor balancing issues, so I consider the sound to be a big bonus.
As most of you know by now, you have the option of choosing the Marine, Alien or Predator at the start of your single-player campaign. What you may not know is that you can continue to switch between the three races as the game advances; at the end of each section, you can opt to stick with your chosen character or switch things up. This is a great idea and allows you to see the storyline from a variety of different angles; you can either complete the game with one character and then do it again with the other two, or you can continue to switch as you play. This is exactly the appeal the game needs and the freedom to continually choose is a definite plus. However, the developers simply didn’t put enough TLC into the gameplay mechanics, which hampered my enjoyment of the action and eventually caused me to stop playing entirely. The problems don’t really revolve around the Marine – that part is a fairly standard FPS, although even here we find loose controls – but the issues abound with the Alien and Predator.
First, the Predator: you can jump with the X button but in order to leap to good vantage points – not surprisingly, this character is most effective when utilizing stealth techniques – you have to look at a certain spot, make sure it’s available, and then press a button to get there. It’s slow and clunky, and can get awfully annoying when you want to get above the action quickly. Furthermore, why can’t I sneak or move extra slowly when coming up behind a foe? Isn’t that the point of the Predator? Too many times the Marines would whip around and spot me, even when I was veiled. But at least this character’s attacks are plenty effective; the metal claws on each wrist dole out serious damage, and if you can manage to grab someone, you will dispose of them in a satisfying yet disgusting fashion. He also has the homing laser; easily executed by holding down the R2 button, letting it zoom in, and releasing. It’s just that given this character’s style and technique, the control and lack of sharpness is irritating.
The Alien is fast…stupid fast when sprinting. He’s always fast when just moving around, but the sprint option is almost comical, and should really only be used when you see a wide open area. The Alien can attack quickly with his claws – both fast and strong – and can also grab a foe from behind like the Predator, and the finishing movie is equally nasty. But the Alien’s signature skill is its ability to run along walls and ceilings, which is unfortunately a mechanic that just doesn’t work well enough. You can either hold down the X button to leap automatically to the ceiling, or move to a wall and hold the R2 button to transition to the wall and then, if you wish, to the ceiling. The problem is that the Alien moves so fast, and the control is a little loose to begin with, that it’s extremely frustrating to put him in the right position. You can also lose your bearings very quickly. On the other hand, I loved that focus ability where the Alien targets an enemy from afar and then rushes with lightning speed to take him down. That was fun.
The Marine? Yeah, a regular ol’ FPS with nothing special about it. The only reason it isn’t the most disappointing aspect of the game is because you always feel more vulnerable as the human character. Both the Aliens and Predators have obvious advantages, and you can only hope to lay down enough firepower to stay alive. After a while, I actually started to prefer the Marine, despite the lackluster nature of the missions, just because the atmosphere felt more intense. Even so, it’s clear that Rebellion missed plenty of opportunities throughout the game; this is painfully obvious after going through the first few missions with each race. They needed to tighten controls for everything, streamline the control and skill options for the Predator, and calm the Alien down. Seeing the story from different angles is indeed a big benefit but it ain’t exactly a great storyline to begin with, so we’re left with the obvious gameplay issues. They’re just so hard to ignore.
However, if you plan to spend more time online and you’re a big fan of the AvP style, the online multiplayer might just be enough to warrant a purchase. Four-player co-op is a huge highlight and the various modes really focus on the differences between each of the three races: you’ve got that Infestation mode, which is easily one of my favorites, where Aliens and Marines square off and every time a Marine dies, the Alien gets another ally (i.e, if you start as a Marine and get killed, you become an Alien when you respawn). Then there’s Predator Hunt, which features intense action when Marines have to survive against the crafty and deadly Predators. You can also participate in the more standard Deathmatch and Domination modes, but this one shines when participating in the unique modes that emphasize the distinct character traits. Of course, you still have the control issues that continue to plague any and all gameplay, online or offline, but the high fun factor of the multiplayer helps to shift your focus away from the major drawbacks. I didn’t notice any technical issues like lag, nor did I have any trouble connecting to matches, which is good.
Aliens vs. Predator is a decent game plagued by a horde of “what ifs.” There are so many places that just scream out for more attention; I couldn’t play for more than 15 minutes without going, “oh come on ; that could’ve been awesome!” There’s just always something that reared its ugly head and it’s absolutely unavoidable. I suppose it’s a credit to the designers and the solid atmosphere that we can still somehow manage to have fun regardless of the flaws, but that doesn’t a worthwhile $60 game make.