Being a Colonial Marine must be a contender for the worst job in fiction. As if it wasn’t bad enough fighting the squealing, acid-filled spawn of H.R. Giger’s twisted imagination, some bright corporate spark at Fox decided that the Xenomorph existed in the same universe as the dreadlocked race of interstellar hunters that believe the most honourable way to die is at the epicentre of a mushroom cloud.
It does however, make an excellent premise for a game, which is probably why Aliens versus Predator has occupied a prominent spot in gaming history for the past three decades.Developers Rebellion have played a significant role in the shaping of the series, to the extent that their two best games so far are Aliens versus Predator and Aliens versus Predator.
The latest of these was released way back in 1999. Unfortunately, since then Rebellion have occupied themselves with creating some of the worst games known to man. Their most recent technological cow pat was Rogue Warrior; a ludicrously gory corridor shooter that was shorter than a mayfly’s adolescence. So I sat down to play Rebellion’s third iteration of AvP with mixed emotions of hope and despair, and when I finished playing it the very next day, my feelings for the game remained mostly unchanged. Thankfully, AvP is not the abomination it so easily could have been, but neither is it a return to greatness for Rebellion, which it also so easily could have been.
AvP’s single player follows the format of the previous games, consisting of three campaigns where you play as the Alien, Predator, or Colonial Marine. Rebellion’s familiarity with the franchise shows from the start, as each race is superbly realised. This is most evident when playing as the Predator; watching the Marines patrol below you through your thermal vision mode, listening to their distorted voices as you sight one unfortunate soldier in the target of your shoulder cannon and unleash a bolt of bright blue death. The Alien plays in a similar manner, albeit devoid of all the gadgetry. Instead you have a body made of chitinous knives and the ability to climb all surfaces and lurk in the shadows.
The Marine’s campaign is a more standard shooter, although one which is solid in its execution and thrillingly tense for its majority. This is thanks primarily to the oft-misleading bleeps of your motion tracker, which highlights any movement, whether it’s a dangling wire or a Xenomorph tail. Your first encounter with an Alien is a terrifying one, as in those early stages you’re separated from your squad, armed with nought but a pistol and a very short supply of luck. That, and the cheeky bugger comes from behind you like you’re part of some grotesque pantomime.
Staying vigilant and keeping your distance is necessary for survival as the Marine. For the Alien and Predator, getting up close is where the fun is at. Combat is a simple yet effective mixture of speedy light attacks, stunning heavy blows, blocking and counter moves. It works well, learning how to anticipate an enemy’s attacks and respond appropriately being key to success.
Alongside this are the much-vaunted trophy kills; incredibly messy finishing moves which can be effected by either stunning an opponent or sneaking behind them. I find myself in two minds about them. They are authentic to the films, particularly the Predator’s penchant for ripping out spines and the Alien’s tendency to chew through people’s faces, but the fact that the game’s marketing has emphasised them so heavily is somewhat questionable, especially when you consider the possibility that these flashy killing animations may be an attempt to divert the player’s attention from the multiple problems the game has.
Most obvious of these is the game’s length, or rather, lack of it. The Alien campaign is barely two hours long, with perhaps three hours for the Predator and four for the Marine. Worse, all three campaigns are set in the same six or seven levels. Rebellion seem to have concluded that the ability to walk on the ceiling or view the world in infra-red compensates for playing the same pathetically short game three times over. It doesn’t.
This isn’t the only area where Rebellion have been lazy, the story for the campaigns is hardly something to shout about. I understand that creating a compelling narrative revolving around a giant insect which is more aggressive than Russell Crowe on Buckfast is no easy task, but annoyingly Rebellion were half way to succeeding.
The Alien you play as is known as Number Six, a quasi-sentient Xenomorph birthed in a laboratory as part of Weyland-Yutani’s ongoing attempts to harvest the Aliens as biological weapons. This sets up for a potentially intriguing exploration of a creature consciousness lurking between hive-minded instinct and budding self-awareness.
Instead, the Alien Queen orders you to kill everything that doesn’t bleed acid, and you comply like all your fellow drones, the end. The Predator’s tale is no better, using their vague honour system as a shallow excuse for killing stuff instead of trying to expand and explore the concept. As for the Marine, well, your characters name is “Rookie” and your Hispanic commander’s monicker is the horrendously stereotypical “Tequila”, which pretty accurately represents the plot in it’s entirety.
While you can complete the singleplayer in a day, the multiplayer could last you much longer. Game modes range from three-way team deathmatch to Predator and Alien tag, where one player assumes the role of your preferred extra-terrestrial, with everyone else tasked with hunting them down as Marines. There is also Survival mode, where players team up against endless waves of Aliens, yet with a pitiful two maps on offer for Survival, it’s unlikely to keep you occupied for long.
Overall the multiplayer is fast, frenetic fun, provided you can actually get onto a game. Sadly, AvP drags behind itself the most awkward matchmaking system I have ever encountered.
To begin with, you can’t start a game without a full lobby, so large chunks of time are spent listening to the ear-splitting crackle of the agonisingly sensitive voice-chat system which all but allows you to hear the heartbeats of other players. You can’t join a game that has already started, and sometimes you can’t leave a game which has already started, which is frankly absurd.
All of which brings me to the rather uncomfortable conclusion that AvP is a ludicrously gory corridor shooter that is shorter than a mayfly’s adolescence. Worse, it reeks of being rushed out for a quick cash-injection to keep SEGA’s conglomerate heart beating. It’s only Rebellion’s extensive experience with the franchise that saves them from resting so heavily on their laurels.
AvP is little more than a graphical update for a decade-old game, and that it stands up at all shows just how good Rebellion’s 1999 release actually was. But considering how much progress has been made since then, this should have been something special.