Hands On: Aliens Vs. Predator – The PS3 Attitude Preview
Shocking the bejesus out of us all back in 1999 when it reared its xenomorphic tongue-sprouting head on the PC (though this author also remembers the Jaguar version quite fondly), Rebellion’s marrying of both action properties – while also inspired by the eponymous Dark Horse comics – have a special place in the hearts of a lot of FPS veterans. Right where the chest-burster usually goes.
With a new AvP game on the dark horizon, we got the opportunity to visit the guys at Rebellion and get a first-hand look at how the resurrection of one of the most renown franchises in the FPS arena is coming along.
Aliens Vs. Predator takes place within a combined universe where both outlanders roam the galaxy looking for tasty colony daughters and ugly mofos to hunt respectively. Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen the two iconic off-worlders cross paths. After all, you might recall that an alien head appears in the trophy cabinet (wonder if that was a Gold or a Silver?) at the end of Predator 2, and, more recently, the two squared off in the somewhat lacklustre Paul W.S. Anderson mash-ups. Fear not intrepid Aliens and/or Predator fans as, though sharing the game’s title, these celluloid outings have nothing to do with the superior games.
There’s little doubt that Rebellion Developments know their xenomorphs; both previous offerings and this new AvP literally oozing with a tangible sense of affection and respect toward each property, and with the Roberto Rodriguez produced “Predators” about to rekindle further interest in everyone’s favourite seven foot tall intergalactic bad-ass, returning to the franchise they made their name with is almost a no-brainer.
Quite novel for a game, and rather distinctive due to the unique context of having a trio of separate and entirely different protagonists, AvP boasts three fully-formed game-play arcs. In fact, it’s possible AvP is the first game (since the last AvP) that caters directly for the ADD crowd. Tired of running around as a marine? Switch to the Predator section and enjoy a completely different experience. And if the Predator elements play so different than your standard FPS frag-fest, wait ‘til you start running on ceilings as an Alien.
We have to admit, there’s something especially gratifying from scrambling across open terrain, switching to clamber up walls and across ceilings, only to ultimately drop down and gut a frantically shooting marine. If Rebellion have accomplished one thing perfectly with AvP, it’s a true sense of diversity in the title. There’s so much going on here, from the Predator ability to switch into different visual modes to spot both marines and aliens more effectively, to the Alien ability of hissing and hence attracting marines to their untimely deaths. And if that level of variety wasn’t enough, the game sports both a multi-faceted single-player campaign and a whole host of multi-player modes fans of both series will likely gush over.
Playing as the colonial marine is much akin to your typical FPS protagonist. The marine excels at long-range engagement and has an assortment of weapons to keep both the agile Aliens and powerful Predators at bay. The pulse-rifle is perfectly recreated from the Alien films and, something somewhat unique to this universe and a hallmark of James Cameron’s offering, has oodles of rounds. This might be a small point, but it really makes a difference in the game, especially in the multi-player modes. While in some other FPSs you’ll find yourself shooting and manually reloading quick-smart in order to face-off against the next adversary without the fear of reaching an empty clip at the worst possible moment, you can practically shower the scene with pulse rounds in AvP and still have enough to take down a new foe if he (or it, whatever) just so happens to fall from a tree/appear out of nowhere.
Though the marine has a melee attack, it’s intentionally underpowered compared to the devastating outcome of coming face-to-face with the likes of an Alien or – worst still – a dreadlock sporting professional killer. The marine also has stim-cells for rejuvenation and a handy movement locator which is essential when trying to figure out just where the creatures are going to pop out from at any second.
Probably the hardest thing Rebellion had to do when it came to balance in the game was making sure the Predator is not too powerful. After all, compared to the limited power of the marine and the projectile-less Aliens, the Predator – on paper at least – has it all. Fittingly, Rebellion have relied on the property’s canon in order to bring the Predator down a notch, and honed in on the fact that the rate-of-fire of the Predator’s prodigious shoulder-cannon is remarkably poor. Hence, the Predator is weighted by having awesome close proximity attacks along with the ability to hurl blades with stomach-churning affect, just don’t be expecting to blast everything asunder willy-nilly. The cannon is insanely destructive, of course, but rely on it to your peril – especially with hordes of Aliens bearing down on you. You can also go invisible of course (which deactivates when you interact/kill something), along with a handy spot and jump ability, allowing for Predator fans to take to the tress etc. in their quest for supremacy.
Undoubtedly the most different of the three classes on offer, some people will relish playing as the Alien. With a fisheye lens effect and a lower perspective, the speed and agility of the Alien is absolutely remarkable. Literally nowhere is safe from the scarpering vicious creatures. Up walls, along ceilings, and with the handy ability to “sense” where your prey is, the Alien is definitely the most “troublesome” of characters to play against. To get the best out of the selection, however, players will need to learn the Aliens’ weaknesses, and rely on stealth and darkness to overcome enemies. The biggest ‘flaw’ of the Alien class is its lack of attacking options. Sure, get up close to an Alien and you’re pretty much assured to be mince-meat in a matter of milliseconds, but it’s the getting up close part that some will find challenging.
Though we didn’t get a lot of time with the offline campaign; literally only having the opportunity to start the game and go through its opening tutorial and early chapters, it’s safe to say the single-player aspect of AvP is competent enough to hold your attention. Embracing its triple-identity persona once again, the story mode is split evenly among the three species; offering up an interconnected tale of varied game-play depending on which class you decide to take for a spin. We only got a chance to delve a little into the marine’s story; a giant Predator ship decloaking in orbit around a station that has been overrun with everyone’s favourite H.R. Giger designed critters enough to tell us that things start off bad and only get worse, but we saw others try out the Alien and Predator arcs and they appear equally fleshed out. It’s an intriguing concept; using a Rashomon-esque story-telling dynamic to great effect and it’s another quality that makes AvP stand out from the crowd.
These opening forays into the world show how AvP uses illumination as a key game mechanic. While Aliens will be hell-bent on smashing lights and hence descending environments into gloomy death-traps (in which they can still see), marines are pretty much constantly sparking flares and tossing them into cubbyholes in fear of a spindly monster lurking behind every corner. In fact, the tutorial sequence for the Alien consists of you in an armoured room taking direction from scientists to find your bearings. They’ll even tell you to destroy lights, and also send in ‘volunteers’ for you to practice on. Not everyone who works for Weyland-Yutani gets their own cyborg it would seem. Others just get eaten for the good of the company.
As discussed in our article here, there are a multitude of tantalising and quirky modes for AvP fans to sink their acid-laced teeth into. Infestation, where one player starts as an Alien and infects others to join the ranks of the xenomorphic, is a blast; running around watching your squad-mates succumb to the frightening onslaught of Aliens on a mission of propagation a real treat as you try to become Last Man Standing. Sure, it’s basically zombie-mode found in other games, but here there’s a slightly new angle on it.
Predator Hunt is also a welcome twist on the usual gamut of multi-player modes where players attempt to kill (and hence become) a Predator to see who can rank up the most kills per round. Some of the other modes are your typical fare. Domination being pretty much Capture and Hold, while Mix Species Deathmatch is entirely self-explanatory.
As a title that must compete with the likes of MAG, Modern Warfare 2 and the upcoming Battlefield: Bad Company 2 for people’s time online, AvP’s multiplayer offering is different and well-crafted enough to hold most players’ attention. How quickly the novelty of running around infesting marines is hard to tell at this point, but you can’t fault AvP for at least not following the same old rote online antics.
Much has been made of the kill-moves in AvP: a series of animations that include plunging retractable mouth-stems through the heads of marines or decapitating Predators altogether, and though they are gruesome and satisfying to pull off, they’re far from the game’s most prominent feature.
So, who will like AvP? The obvious answer is people who have some affection for the original games or a fondness for either (or both) of the two properties the game so masterfully recreates. Others, however, might find the action a little hollow; the premise of running around in the dark getting chased by laser-toting crab-faced assassins or perpetually smiling extraterrestrials as fun for a few minutes, but ultimately lacking the strategic draw or spectacle of other games.
Visually, AvP’s Asura engine does a competent job of depicting the claustrophobic, sterile and atmospheric environments of the universe’s space-craft and bases. The jungle areas fair a little worse-off, however; with foliage and textures in general appearing somewhat blurry and lacking that extra punch we’ve come to expect from games at this point in the current generation’s life-cycle.
That’s not to say the game looks bad. It just won’t illicit many eye-opening or head-nodding moments found in other recent graphically impressive titles. Of course, AvP is all about the game-play; the chance to embody some of the most recognisable characters in science-fiction. And, in that department, from the excellent sound design to the numerous hat-tips to both franchises’ previous entities peppered through-out their new game, Rebellion have fulfilled the brief.
Full disclosure: All game time spent playing Aliens Vs. Predator during this preview was done on the Xbox 360 build of the game. Both SEGA and Rebellion Developments have assured us that the PS3 and 360 versions are comparable.