In 1979, "Alien" the movie opened in theaters and introduced moviegoers to the Xenomorph, a large alien being with a large cranium, shiny skin, a separate head for a tongue and acidic blood. In 1987, the "Predator" film introduced a being with dreadlocks that possessed hi-tech weaponry and a hunger for hunting. Both of those creatures became two of the more recognizable icons of cinematic sci-fi in the world. As much as people loved them, though, imaginations started running wild in 1990, when Predator 2 had a scene showing a Xenomorph head in the spaceship of the Predator. Suddenly, people were wondering which one of the two would be more powerful when pitted against each other.
The video game attempt to answer that question was first made in 1993 on the SNES, but it was the 1994 Atari Jaguar version that was remembered by fans for its unrelenting combat and ability to play as both the Xenomorphs and Predators as well as Colonial Marines from the "Alien" franchise. Now, 16 years after that monumental release, Sega has teamed up with Rebellion, the developers of that iteration as well as the PC versions, to introduce the series to a new console generation. Depending on what you're looking for, Aliens vs. Predator ends up being either pretty good or pretty excellent.
The game's plot will vary depending on which of the three species you choose to play as, but the stories tie together pretty well. On a distant planet, a representative of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation has opened a temple that was sealed shut by the ancestors of the Predators. The opening of the temple has had very bad ramifications for everyone, including the release of a new type of Xenomorph unseen for centuries. For a rookie marine, his mission is to exterminate the Xenomorph threat on the nearby colony as well as find out who destroyed the nearby colony shuttle. As a Xenomorph dubbed "6" by its captors, your mission is to free your queen and take revenge on the colonists that have enslaved your kind. Finally, the Youngblood Predator has to take revenge on those who have killed his kinsmen and stop the unearthed threat by any means necessary.
Rebellion made the conscious decision to let players play as all three species in order to make the overall experience as complete as possible. This is more than just a skin change, though, as all three have completely different play styles to go along with their different missions. Both the alien and Predator missions become first-person brawlers, thanks their emphasis on melee attacks rather than projectiles. Distracting marines, picking out enemies one at a time, and hiding to regroup are the order of the day when playing with these two species, as they tend to be fragile around gunfire. The stealth aspect also works, as these two were never portrayed as mindless, crazed killing machines in the movies despite the relatively high body counts they amassed. It also becomes satisfying in this manner since kills don't come all too easily especially at higher difficulty levels.
While those two focus on stealth and fisticuffs, the marine campaign is all about survival horror. Early levels have you wandering in darkness with a flashlight and somewhat limited ammo with everything but your pistol. With the motion detector's mild blips telling you enemies are coming by, you suddenly get a feeling of claustrophobia as you realize Xenomorphs can be anywhere, even if you don't see them at first. It only gets worse when you get rushed by waves of aliens with no way to hold them back because of your limited ammo supply and lack of buddies. The feeling of dread doesn't even stop when you're in open spaces since you now have to worry about Predators uncloaking at the last second. The whole part of the campaign becomes an exercise in fear even if you do have the better weaponry, and it makes the completion of every battle all the more satisfying as a result.
If there's one complaint to be had about the story, it wouldn't be about the depth but the length. It would be a mistake to expect a story rivaling that of BioShock, since the source material wasn't exactly a finely written masterpiece. The tales are still pretty good, and while the complaint about length is debatable for both the Colonial Marine and Predator campaigns, it is valid for the alien campaign since it ends just when the story starts to become interesting. The combined length of all three campaigns is actually fairly long, but adding a few more scenarios or chapters to the alien campaign would have made this a bit sweeter.
Multiplayer was a heavily promoted element by the advertising departments, and it's easy to see why thanks to the various modes included. In the standard Deathmatch mode, all three races can be chosen. You also have Species Deathmatch, which separates you into teams based on your creature choice, and Mixed Species Deathmatch, which still divides you into teams but not according to selected species. Infestation sets up one Xenomorph against a squad of marines. Each marine who dies becomes an alien, and the match ends when either all Xenomorphs are eliminated or all marines are.
Predator Hunt pits a Predator against a group of marines, and while it seems similar to Infestation, the main difference is that whoever kills the Predator becomes the Predator himself, so the most points by the end of regulation time wins. Domination has you fighting for control of certain points on a map. Finally, there's Survivor, the lone co-op mode that has a group of marines fight wave after wave of Xenomorphs. The modes are all fun to play, and online games are both lag-free and filled with available games. Map selection, however, doesn't feel too large, and that becomes more evident in Survivor mode, where only two maps are available for play.
Like the single-player versions, the multiplayer versions of each species exhibit various strengths and weaknesses to achieve a balance during every match. Marines are great ranged fighters with some powerful weaponry but have no real durability against the melee attacks from the two other combatant types. The Xenomorphs have a real advantage in dark corridors thanks to their skin color and ability to climb any surface, but they get hobbled in open areas. Their melee skills are also strong and their ability to counteract the Predator camouflage is a plus, but they have no ranged attacks at all. Predators have a combination of both ranged and melee attacks but are stronger opponents in open areas thanks to their camouflage; only a few of their ranged attacks prove to be more powerful than marine weaponry. This is mostly balanced, but the marines have one disadvantage, and that is the lack of single-hit kills. Unless you're in a match full of marines or have enough skill to watch your back at all times, don't be surprised to find yourself the frequent victim of a Predator or Xenomorph finish.
The controls range from familiar to a bit quirky, depending on who you're taking control of. The marine's controls are just like any other first-person shooter out there, so he'll be easy to adapt to, and that's a big reason why newcomers will choose him first in multiplayer. The Predator is a bit more complicated due to his combination of melee and ranged attacks. Be default, most Xbox 360 gamers don't use the LB or RB buttons frequently, but since the Predator's melee attacks are attached to these buttons and the attacks use no energy, it'll take a little while to get used to rarely pulling the Right Trigger to attack enemies and using the other buttons instead. The alien simplifies things by only using the bumper buttons to melee attack and the triggers to jump back to normal ground. That last bit is important because the ability to crawl on just about any surface will initially disorient players, and those who are prone to motion sickness will definitely get it during these times, since the crosshairs aren't large enough of a focal point to prevent vertigo.
Graphically, Aliens vs. Predator impresses. There isn't much variety to the environments, as you only have three main ones to choose from, but they stay close to their source materials thanks to the lighting and overall architecture. The steel hallways remain dark, with very little light to illuminate things while the jungles have a blinding haze coming through between the trees. Each area feels like a scene from the movies as a result of this, and it helps that the environmental textures are well done and very detailed. The effects, like the Predator cloaking and bursts from the pulse rifle, look just like their movie counterparts.
The character models for both the Xenomorphs and Predators are exactly what fans expect them to look like. The aliens not only retain their Geiger-inspired looks but traits, like the shiny skin, while the details on the Predator masks, like deep scratches from battles and hints of battle paint, are amazing. There is one aspect about the graphics that really make the whole package shine, and that would be the final kills. The more famous kills, like the alien tongues going through the victim's heads and the Predator decapitations, are all shown in a first-person view and look as grizzly as you can imagine. The same goes for the others, such as breaking backs, tail stabs and face-huggers planting themselves on their victims. As good as the kills are, they highlight one flaw, and that would be the facial features of the humans. During the kills, the humans exhibit their fear perfectly, making the move sickeningly satisfying. However, seeing those same faces in and out of combat just doesn't look as impressive. They seem to lack any sort of emotion, making them blank and robotic and causing them to stick out unfavorably among the game's other good-looking elements.
Like the graphics, the sound is great but suffers from a few hiccups. The music stays true to the film sources by being both exciting and bombastic. The score tends to amp up at just the right times and does a good job of accentuating both action scenes and scenes of fright when you expect to be ambushed. The music also kicks in during the final minutes of all multiplayer matches, something that's not usually done in any multiplayer game but does a good job of getting people to step up for that final push toward victory.
The sound effects are also loyal to their cinematic roots, with every Predator weapon sounding perfect and the human weapons, like the pulse rifle, sounding authentic. Oddly enough, some weapons like the shotgun don't have much bass, making them sound muffled when fired. As for voices, both the Predator and Xenomorph hisses and grunts are perfect and while Lance Henriksen sounds just as good as ever, the supporting human and android voices hold their own quite well. One complaint that can be levied, though, is the fact that the Colonial Marine voices outside of cut scenes tend to repeat phrases more often than expected. By the time you hear other marines tell themselves to stay frosty, watch their backs, or call the coast clear, you'll wish they'd simply said nothing at all.
When faced with the prospect of acquiring Aliens Vs. Predator, you have to ask yourself what matters most in a game and what exactly you're looking for. If your answer is a great single-player story, you won't find such a thing here, as the game is pretty standard video game fare. If you're looking for a single-player experience that lets you relish in some good action with a few scares and a little bit of thinking, this is a fine title, provided you aren't looking for lengthy experiences from each species involved. If you seek a multiplayer experience that oozes variety, this will be a prime gaming candidate for you. Fans of the iconic sci-fi creatures will be pleased to see a good game in this series once again, while FPS action fans will also find themselves enjoying this one, despite the few hiccups it may have.
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