Let me set the scene for you- the date was 1999. The Euro was brand new, Napster was getting ready to bring music downloading out of the seedy back alleys of IRC, everybody still had jobs, a certain governor of Texas calling himself a “compassionate conservative” wasn’t a laughable statement, and computers were looked down upon with scorn and fear due to the role they were so obviously about to play in ending human civilization. More importantly, it was also the last time Rebellion sprayed their creative acid all over the faces of gamers in the form of an Aliens vs Predator game. I’m conveniently ignoring 2007′s Aliens vs Predator: Requiem for the PSP because it was awful and acknowledging it would make me have to rewrite this intro.
More than a decade later, Rebellion has returned to the table to spray our faces again.
I just realized how awful that sounded, yikes.
While on the surface that should make anybody excited (Rebellion developing another AvP game I mean, not the face spraying) the fact that the Aliens vs Predator universe has most recently been represented by two absolutely awful movies, and Rebellion has been represented by the even more awful Rogue Warrior, gave me pause before I let the warm glow of hype bask over me.
Still, as Aliens vs Predator inched ever closer I could feel the anticipation grow. It is hard not to be excited by a first person shooter that actually isn’t generic war fare. If you read game reviews, which can be insufferable, you will come to the realization that every first person shooter gets compared to every other first person shooter since nobody seems to know that there is, and should be, a difference between stuff like Modern Warfare and stuff like BioShock. There needs to be more out there for multiplayer gaming other than “critically acclaimed” war titles that also conveniently had a bottomless pit of advertising money. What most excited me was the multiplayer- I’m a sucker for anything with super varied teams. The last game I can think of that fit the bill was Pirates, Vikings, and Knights II. This might just be a tad more visceral than that. Just a little.
With three entirely different character types to play as, the titular Aliens and Predators plus the space marines, it brings three entirely different strategies to the table. It is entirely recommended that you tackle their respective solo campaigns before you dive into the multiplayer, because the learning curve can be quite unforgiving. While the marines give you a fairly standardized FPS experience, the Predators and Aliens both introduce mechanics that are entirely unique and take some getting used to.
The reason for this is that most of their combat is based around first person melee, which as Zeno Clash, Breakdown, and a few other titles can tell you is notoriously difficult to pull off. Luckily for all of us, Aliens vs Predator does this well, albeit with a few caveats. As a Predator, you will find yourself needing to utilize its amazing stealth capabilities. This allows you to get up close and personal with your opponents, but you need to be patient. Both Aliens and Predators have instant kill animations that are gory and awesome to behold, but they leave you vulnerable to any attack for a few seconds. Stalking your prey using the strengths of your character and knowing when to attack is a big part of being successful in this game- it is not necessarily a run-and-gun kind of thing. Playing as a Predator reminds me a lot of playing as the Hidden in the fantastic Source mod of the same name, it is all about divide and conquer.
The Alien is a bit more difficult to get used to. Its blinding speed makes it nearly impossible to catch, but it makes it very difficult to control. Compound that with its ability to cling onto any surface and scale walls and you will probably be making yourself dizzy before you get used to it. This leads to issues with melee combat as you attack so fast that you can lose your opponent and suddenly find yourself getting your face(s) shot off. During multiplayer battles, this might drive you a bit insane. Both Aliens and Predators suffer from some technical weirdness occasionally, as the lock on functions can sometimes break off and leave you incredibly vulnerable, plus the aforementioned vertigo inducing Spiderman impression that the Aliens can do is certainly disorienting.
When you do get used to the quirks of the non-human characters in the entertaining solo campaigns, you will be ready to skitter up the walls of the multiplayer. This is where the game really stands out. While there isn’t a whole lot of customization possible in order to keep the tenuous balance of the different characters together, and there is a distinct lack of maps, the gameplay reminds me a bit of Left 4 Dead in the sense that essentially every match ends up playing out differently. It could just be that nobody has figured out the best way to do everything yet, but the sheer amount of options present for you to end lives makes things very exciting. As with most games, it is more enjoyable when you happen to stumble upon a full game of people who understand how to play to the strengths of their class. To compare it to The Hidden again, things were always better when you were playing somebody who understood that the game was more fun if you tried to freak out your opponents and took it slow than it was if you just ran out and killed everybody in 30 seconds. Aliens vs Predator is the same way. It is more rewarding to play like a Predator than it is to just go invisible and stab everyone in the throat.
Outside of the creature specific and traditional versus modes, Aliens vs Predator is also smart enough to include four person co-op. Too many games overlook co-op options anymore, and it is always nice to see a major title remember that sometimes people like to work together. Rarely, but it happens. Like versus, however, you have quite the limited number of maps to play on. This is something that will probably be remedied in the future through DLC or the modding community depending on which platform you picked the game up for, but at launch it is a little damaging to have roughly 8 maps spread against the multiple different game types.
From an aesthetic standpoint, the graphics aren’t as flashy as people have come to expect from a game, but I don’t understand how that even remotely matters anymore. As an aside, I would like to point out every review I read for this game could be used as a good example of why nobody takes gaming reviews seriously anymore. Writers seem to want to eat their cake while also possessing it. You can’t talk about how much you want games to be substance over style and then use the fact a game doesn’t look like Crysis as an excuse to give it a lower score- it is just more proof that scoring games with any numerical or alphabetical system needs to start getting phased out (no offense, current employer). The graphics aren’t super polished, but they don’t need to be because Rebellion absolutely nails the atmosphere. Like 1999′s Aliens vs Predator, Rebellion proves that they just “get” the source material. Everything from the sounds to the dialog to the map designs feel completely true to the franchise’s mythos and helps to make this one of the more immersive shooters on the market.
So if you are looking for Modern Warfare 2 like most of my colleagues seem to be, you should probably stay away from this one. But if you are looking for an engaging and unique game with an entertaining campaign and a wealth of modes to tackle in its multiplayer, give this a shot. You really won’t be disappointed. There are some issues that burst forth from the games stomach, but nothing major enough to not make this an easy recommendation.
Hey look at that, my entirely subjective numerical score represents the general tone of my review! How bizarre.
[Title image from Bernie Hou's strange and hilarious Alien Loves Predator]