A game review by Bobulous.
A game by Electronic Arts. The two nastiest life forms in the galaxy finally meet to thrash it out in the most interesting 3D shoot-'em-up scenario yet. Oh, and there are a big bunch of humans trying to save their sorry arses, too.
I bought Aliens Versus Predator from Electronics Boutique at the Victoria Place shopping area (Victoria Station, London) for £34.99.
This game is truly unique in the 3D DooM-clone genre: you get to choose from one of three species, each with completely different ways of seeing the world, different ways of moving, different strengths and weaknesses, and different methods of attack.
Let's start with the Colonial Marine: poor, hapless human with nothing remotely impressive about its natural structure. The useless bastard will die if you throw him off a high place, he'll spatter horribly if you playfully chew at his skull, and he'll probably shit himself if you drop out of the sky and land in front of him. Why, compared to the beefy hulk of the Predator and the fluid speed of the alien, would you choose the human? Why? Big fat guns, that's why. For anyone who's seen Aliens: Special Edition (and I ask anyone who hasn't to leave now) playing the Colonial Marine is a buzz. You're practically reliving the film. Sights, sounds and scenarios all tie in beautifully with the second movie in the four-part series, not to mention the fact you get to play with the weaponry. Who doesn't remember all those kick-arse pulse rifles with underslung pump-action grenade-launcher that the marines were using, the bleeping motion trackers that so happily foretold of incoming trouble, the smartgun as modelled so delicately by Vasquez, or the flamethrower, and the flares? They're all there to play with. You even get a couple more to choose from, such as the minigun that you see used for a little landscape gardening in the movie Predator, and a couple of explosive-ammo weapons that they just thought they'd give you for a laugh. You're also provided with an image-intensifier to find your way around dark areas. Now, put face to face with a salivating horde of Aliens, Face Huggers and variant monsters, you'll still shit yourself, but you'll do it while unleashing a torrent of screaming-hot steel into the acid-spurting corpses of your foes. Playing the marine is pretty much like playing any other DooM-clone but with a brilliant atmosphere pre-created for those who've seen the movie.
What about our friend the Predator? Hopefully you've pre-briefed yourself by watching the movie Predator or, better, Predator 2. Never one to miss a good scrap, this guy is just here for the fun of it all. And seeing as he's always heavily outnumbered he even comes with a cloaking field that makes him as hard to spot as a trained midwife in an NHS maternity ward. Stealthy is the key here, so his arsenal isn't as indiscriminately chaotic as the Marine's, the Predator uses weapons that are very precise: a speargun that seems to kill most of the Aliens and Humans in one shot, a shoulder cannon that actually locks on to target for you, a flying disc that cuts through everything in its path, and some wristblades for a bit of brawling. In fact, the only indiscriminate weapon old snarly has is a plasma pistol, a nice little number that flings a ball of unstable plasma into the ground and explodes into a hemisphere of murderous electricity. Most interesting of all, the Predator has four vision modes: normal, thermal (just like the movie!!!), and two others that you have to work out a use for. Again, it's just like playing out the movie as you stalk scared soldiers on their own territory. Given the hunting nature of the Predator, his viewing equipment even offers a zoom mode so you can pick off distant targets. Sneaky.
And last but not least: our good acquaintance of twenty years - the Alien. Sneer if you will at this creature for its total lack of projectile weapons but the Alien certainly isn't defenseless. First off you get claw attack, a charming rip and tear action that often beheads human opponents in one swipe. Then there's tail attack, a slashing swing of that exo-skeletal fifth-limb that can be charged up by holding the attack button and coiling the tail before unleashing it. Finally, and in special conditions only, you can perform a jaw attack. The jaw attack only occurs when the target's head is dead-centre in the Alien's view, and will only be available if the target is weak enough to be killed by it. If you do manage to pull off a jaw attck you get your health restored to full. The Alien gets the most powerful close-up attacks of all three species but you still need to get right up to your opponents to use them; and when you're the Alien your opponents are all armed with projectile weapons. The trick here is on reaching your enemy before they see you. The Alien is certainly equipped to do this: it's slick-fast, runs up walls and across ceilings, can jump three storeys in one leap, and can see enemies by a species-dependent colour-coded phereomone aura that makes them show up even in pitch-darkness. But it still takes a lot of getting used to and, on top of the super-agile movement, the Alien sees things in super-wide-angle so that the perspective is all stretched. But, once you've improved at controlling the monster, there's a real joy in throwing yourself up a wall and then pouncing backwards into a room holding a helpless Marine too stunned to fire at you.
Each species has a number of episodes to play. Each episode is very well designed, and the quality of in-level animation is incredible (at one point you get to watch as a fully 3D, vector-based dropship lands gently next to you and opens a door to let you on). There's no moronic find-the-switch-for-some-reason puzzles that could be found in most 3D games before Half-Life; each problem is a valid one. Some puzzles are even quite subtle and might drive you mad for a couple of days. But always the main task is survival. Unlike Half-Life, you won't spend so much time solving problems that you forget you've actually got an array of weapons. The enemy won't give you a moment's peace.
Only once you've completed an episode can you move onto the next one. Most importantly: you cannot save in the middle of an episode. That's right: you've got to survive each level the whole way through. This adds to the pressure and the tension a lot. Strangely, though, I'm still not annoyed by the fact that I have played level three of the Marine thirty times (and that's only medium difficulty) and I have to keep starting at the beginning. There's something beautifully random about the gameplay such that it doesn't feel like a chore having to start again each time. You know that in this area there's about four to seven Aliens, but you don't know which door, platform, ventilation shaft or wall they're going to appear from. It's seriously playable. You'll probably realise at some points that you've stopped breathing and every muscle in your body has tensed. But you'll play on, and you'll love every minute of it. (WARNING: Not recommended for people with weak hearts, weak sphincters, or neighbours who don't like girlish shrieking.)
I think this is an incredible game. Actually I think this is three incredible short games. I think it's amazing that, for once, you get to play all sides of a 3D conflict in full detail. The range of weapons, attacks and controls mean you'll be having fun for bloody ages. I can only think of a couple of minor nags and those aren't significant. I've completed every 3D game I've ever had on the hardest difficulty level possible (well, except for DooM and DooM II on Nightmare mode — that was bloody impossible) but I'm playing this game one difficulty level down. I think this game should last most people ages.
I can't claim to be an AVP master seeing as I'm only halfway through the game at time of writing this here sentence, but...