Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
Release Date: November 13, 2007
Break out your cheesy one-liners — yet another action movie has drunkenly wandered into the realm of video games, adding to the already-strong case that movie tie-ins are a bad idea. I love the "Alien" and "Predator" films in the way a mother loves an annoying child: At times, it can delight and amuse but on certain occasions, I want to dangle it from the balcony. They were simple, frightening and well though-out, aside from the perplexing introduction of a monkey-alien hybrid in the fourth "Alien" movie.
When the first AvP game was released, however, it showed how versatile and gripping a canonical narrative could be. The second iteration, AvP2, was a similar revolution in game design, with the online multiplayer using three completely different races and showing that varied playing styles could be balanced and fun. They marked a high point in gaming for me. Unfortunately, titles such as Concrete Jungle and the subject of this review, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem for the PSP, have shaken my faith in the franchise.
You play as a predator in Requiem who's been charged with stemming the alien takeover on Earth, since your ship crash was responsible for its menacing presence. This is what I assume the story is, since there is a marked lack of narrative for a movie-game conversion, so much so that the game won't spoil the film — unless the movie follows an oddly friendly predator on many bland adventures.
The levels are split into three paths — in a forest, sewer or suburban setting — that all lead to the same ending, and this feels like a very poor choice in game design. There seems to be little advantage in having three paths to choose from but only one endpoint; alternate endings based on your choices would have been expected but are disappointingly absent. Requiem is also very short, with gameplay clocking in at less than five hours, so allowing the gamer to cut two-thirds of the game to reach the end seems imprudent. These three paths are almost identical in that your tasks always involve getting from point A to B, dispatching X number of mindless aliens and destroying randomly placed bits of predator technology from the crash.
As a being from an advanced interstellar race, you are equipped with the latest in technological advancements … like a spear and knife. Admittedly, you also get a shoulder cannon and a pistol, but all of these weapon upgrades seem incredibly overpowered. By the time I unlocked the spear after the third level, I was practically invincible, and a few clicks of the attack button sliced and diced everything in my path into confetti. This is when the game ceased to be scary or even remotely worrying, since the aliens become a minor annoyance blocking your way rather than big, hulking baddies that strike fear in the hearts of children.
You unlock weapons by collecting honor points, which are earned by killing aliens. Other objectives you are able to complete, such as destroying alien husks or pieces of predator technology, feel more like unrewarded hobbies rather than essential parts of the game. You're also equipped with the mask made famous in the AvP series, which gives the predator the ability to see pieces of technology, as well as alien and human heat signatures. It was one of the staples of the race in the last games, but unfortunately, this time around, it makes everything almost impossible to see. Switching to alien vision fires a toxic green glow into your eyes; navigation becomes utterly impossible, and heat signatures aren't that much easier to see. The ability to cloak yourself is still available and is fairly useful in certain situations, but again, that just means that the power and technological advancements available to you remove any fear or difficulty in the title.
Strangely enough, honor points are deducted if you kill or fail to save innocent civilians, making the predator seem more like a cartoon superhero than a merciless hunter. Saving the civilians is made nearly impossible by a locking system that seems to automatically target humans; no matter how many aliens are swarming all over the room, you always end up aiming at the defenseless person lying on the floor, so you normally tear them several new ones before even touching the aliens. The task of saving the innocents is made even more difficult by them all sounding like wacky versions of Abbot and Costello, making them seem utterly deserving of evisceration. If you fail to protect the people, however, only a meager number of points are deducted from your score, usually about 50 points from the several thousands you rack up; since it's not much of a penalty, it doesn't hurt too much if you shoot a human once in a while … purely by accident, of course.
Gameplay issues in Requiem are numerous and severe. Forget the fact that you're a predator who cannot jump and that combat is reduced to the point where you could be missing several fingers and still find it patronizingly easy. The biggest disappointment is the AI of the aliens themselves. At times, it's as if you're playing a demented version of Space Invaders; they keep coming at you in single-file formation, never in very large groups and in incredibly predictable patterns. The main draw of previous AvP games was that these encounters seemed random and unpredictable, but in Requiem, it feels very much scripted and therefore not in the least bit frightening.
The other major issue with alien AI seems to be that they'll only attack you one at a time; when the groups get larger and waves come more often later in the game, they form an orderly queue. The developers seem to have the idea from the AvP games that aliens should be made out of porcelain and smash after very few hits, but they left out aliens' speed and strength. The average alien moves only slightly faster than you (not that you would ever need to run), and they die so appallingly easily that you could cough near them and expect to gain a few kills. Your ability to regenerate and even use energy to completely restore all of your health means that any damage you suffer is quickly negated.
Combat is broken down to mashing a single button, and the inability to simultaneously move and button mash with certain weapons dramatically reduces the fluidity of the combat sequences. There is a certain satisfaction to be had in dispatching waves of enemies with brightly colored energy beams, or tagging targets using the first-person mode to increase points earned; despite the criticism I've heaped on this game, it can provide some level of simple fun. However, this is very simple gameplay of which an amoeba would be capable: You're prompted at every turn in which direction you should be going so nothing is left up to your own intelligence. The objectives are never more difficult than "Destroy X" or "Kill Y."
Single- and multiplayer versions of the skirmish mode are also available and essentially give you all the fun of the title in small doses. Since the game's major appeal is in the killing of waves of aliens, this addition seems like a good choice. Even though the maps are limited, there is a lot of potential fun that can be had in the co-op multiplayer.
Graphically, the situation is markedly better, as the alien and predator models are well formed and seem true to the films. The animations are fluid, if suffering from a bad case of bugs at points, and the non-sewer levels are surprisingly detailed. The animations for the aliens are especially well done; the way they crawl down the walls and prowl in the distance for a while before pouncing makes it feel like you're actually there. You will find yourself watching the walls and dark corners for them, and if they weren't so unbelievably easy to kill or monstrously stupid when they did attack, this aspect of the title would be thrilling. The unpredictable frame rate plagues the latter half of the game, and the uninspired tunnel sections seem like the developers were just trying to pad out the game a bit.
The audio has highs and lows. The music blares at some inopportune times, but when it cranks up just before a wave of aliens is about to descend on you, the game becomes gripping. The background noises keep you on your toes and remind me a little of the fear of playing as a marine in the previous AvP titles. The low point of the audio is in the awful voices of civilians, who sound like they're doing a gory comedy skit, rather than sounding terrified for their lives.
It probably seems that I've been particularly hard on Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, but that's only because I expected so much more from it. The last AvP game was released years ago and put forward a much stronger effort than this. The presentation is good, and at times, it had the makings of an honestly frightening game, but the difficulty level is scaled back so much that it ceases to be fun. Features like multiple paths and honor points are good ideas that were squandered by poor implementation. Admittedly, given the limitations of the handheld's control system, it's difficult for a PSP title to follow in a PC game's footsteps, but your character's inability to jump and the constant restoration of his health mean that as an action title, Requiem lacks tension, speed and difficulty. This is a title that should never have made the jump to the PSP's small screen.