I think it should probably be apparent by now that I have an affection for the Alien and Predator series. That affection extends (sort of) into other media, like comic books and novels, though those are far iffier than the core product. And because I’m also a video gamer, like many of my generation, it stands to reason that when an Aliens vs. Predator game comes out, I’m going to be interested.
As it happens, this is not the first time the Aliens and the Predators have tangled on game screens. They’ve had tussles in the arcades and on consoles going back years, and the creators of this year’s Aliens vs. Predator actually broke ground on the concept with their own game ten years ago.
Aliens vs. Predator is a first-person shooter, but the twist is that the player gets to take on the roles not just of the marines as featured in Aliens, but of Predators and the Aliens themselves. This makes for a very different series of gaming experiences, all funneled through a shared narrative.
The heart of the game is the human campaign, as it features more locations and major set-pieces than the others. The game arms you with a pistol and drops you right in the middle of an Alien infestation on a colony world not too dissimilar to LV-426 in Aliens. Eventually you’re given the chance to use a pulse rifle, a smartgun, a shotgun and the ubiquitous flame-unit, but ammunition for these other weapons is scarce, so most of the time it’ll just be you and your dinky pistol crawling around in dark places, relying on a terribly underpowered flashlight and a motion detector (also straight out of Aliens) to find the Aliens before they find you.
During the course of the human campaign you get to face off with a Queen Alien and even a Predator warrior. It’s all very tense, nail-biting stuff and provided you’re not looking for the constant run-and-gun action of a game like Halo, you will enjoy yourself.
It’s tougher to gauge the non-human campaigns. While the space marine aesthetic of the human campaign fits traditional FPS play perfectly — not least because the space marine archetype was lifted directly from Aliens in games like Doom onward — the Predators’ combination of ranged and melee attacks take some getting used to, particularly since the plasma-caster, that iconic, shoulder-mounted Predator weapon gets even less ammunition than the marine’s more powerful guns. Quite frankly, it’s hard to fight people who are shooting at you with just wrist-mounted blades, which is what you’ll have to work with most of the time.
Stealth counterbalances this problem somewhat. The Predators have, of course, their light-bending device that camouflages them almost completely. However, for game balance, this camouflage is shut off automatically after, say, stealth-killing an enemy, leaving you completely exposed to any of his buddies who happen along. And this occurs a lot.
Stealth becomes even more important in the Alien campaign. The Aliens have nothing but melee attacks and they aren’t that tough when subjected to intense human gunfire. Being able to climb around on ceilings and conceal oneself in the darkness are great additions, though the former can make for some very confusing perspective shifts, particularly when you’re moving fast.
In terms of total length, Aliens vs. Predator is about average for games these days. You get in and out over about seven or eight hours — less if you’re really good, I’m sure, though I’m not — with most of that playtime soaked up by the human campaign. You barely get an opportunity to play as the Alien, its section is so short and generally you’re just starting to feel comfortable with the Predator when that story ends. The long-term focus of the game is multiplayer.
Now here’s the thing about me and multiplayer: I’m terrible at it. Were I playing with people of equivalent skill levels it wouldn’t be so bad, but it seems as though Xbox Live is infested with players who lie in wait for a fellow like me to come along so they can stomp all over him. As a result, my desire to play online is blunted and I lose a big chunk of what makes the game valuable.
Aliens vs. Predator is a good game, the multiplayer issues notwithstanding. There are callbacks to the movies (of all three related series) and plenty of atmosphere. There’s also the surprising, though it shouldn’t be, decision to make the protagonist of the human campaign black. He doesn’t get any speaking lines, which puts me off, but the mere fact that developers Rebellion made that choice over the generic, white space marine speaks to their commitment to produce a worthwhile game.