GRUESOME GAMER: ALIENS vs. PREDATOR

ALIENS vs. PREDATOR Review

 

Genre: First Person Shooter
Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC

 

 

I’ll start this review by boldly attempting to introduce a new phrase into the video game review lexicon: “Crippling Potential”.  Making a game about Aliens, Predators, and Space Marines on a modern console is the Golden Ticket for any game developer. All the properties are established, popular, and, well, badass.

 

So why are my fingers slowly applying controlled pressure to the wing-grips of my 360 controller, wondering if my concentrated rage and disappointment can finally snap this sucker in half?

 

Aliens vs. Predator plays like a game that excels at whatever it is you aren’t currently doing. The uneven combat of the campaign modes surely must suffer because the game’s strong suit is its multiplayer (it’s not.) The impossible stealth missions feel like necessary toils for the later reward of fantastic in-your-face melee and gunplay (they aren’t, it never happens.) The levels are filled with trigger-able booby traps and elevated sniper’s nests, but enemies come all at once, horde style, so you start a level fighting for your life, then awkwardly trotting through numerous empty rooms noting, “This location would have been fun.”

Admittedly, the developers were brave to re-introduce the O.Y.D. (Oops You’re Dead) Engine™ from sidescrollers of the 80’s. Playing as a Colonial Marine, an Alien, or a Predator, you can be at full strength, shield, cloak, or chutzpah and still be killed with one random hit by the enemy.  Each level is so set in it’s goal to kill you that the game becomes more of a memorization challenge, like Dragon’s Lair or Space Ace, than a great combat game like.. well.. Aliens vs. Predator for the PC back in ‘99.

 

To answer the most important questions, no, it’s not fun playing as the Alien or as the Predator. The Alien’s controls are a complete mess, and even worse, unresponsive. This is a problem when you’re expected to move quickly, stick to walls, then strike. Instead, I often found myself sticking to the wrong surface, trying to right myself, then getting unceremoniously shot in the face. And when I chose to play an acid spitting xenomorph, I didn’t sign on for numerous boring stealth levels, ala Splinter Cell. Admittedly, I’ve never seen Sam Fisher shove his crenulated tail through an enemy’s eye socket, but the tedious waiting around still seems beneath the Aliens. Playing as a Predator means memorizing a non-intuitive button layout, and having to choose between shooting a cool laser, once, or maintaining a life-saving shield, as they both drain from the same battery. Switching into thermal vision mode is clunky and unhelpful, and cloaking seems to have little effect on enemies. They always know where you are. More to the point, I never felt like I was playing as an Alien or a Predator. I felt like I was fighting bad controls against overpowered AI.

 

Finally, let me weigh in as a horror nut. When you’re playing as a Marine, the game is constantly going for “startle scares” via loud noises and random blaring soundtrack stings. This is a game with ALIENS and PREDATORS; it’s far scarier to know you’re in a quiet room with something just out of sight, patiently waiting to disembowel you. In this game, you get 3 loud noises, an Alien attacks, then you hear spooky music with children whispering. Really? Really?! And when playing as the Alien, you get the same musical jump scares. You’re the Alien! What exactly are you supposed to be afraid of?!

I wanted this game to be great. We all did. And casting Lance Henriksen as Karl Bishop Weyland gave me hope. But it simply wasn’t enough. Part of me wishes they had just bribed Bungie to make Alien and Predator skins for the HALO engine. The end result may have lacked the necessary scary, but at least it would have been fun.
 

Good:
·        The first ten minutes of the Marine campaign fulfilled a fantasy I didn’t even know I had: fighting Aliens in a techno club while a stripper version of Cortana dances for me. Naturally, everything after that was a letdown.
·        The first time you take a human trophy as a Predator.
·        The movie-perfect sound effects of a motion detector and the Predator’s thermal vision.

Bad:
·        Alien controls were invented by a 16th century Inquisition sadist.
·        NPC Marines have exactly one line of dialogue: “Don’t relax just yet, Marines.” After the ninetieth time you hear this, the words don’t even make sense any more. They might as well be saying, “We have to fight, Marines. For our right. To parrrrrrtyyyyy.”

Nitpicky:
·        When your Marine character takes a stim to regain health, he sounds exactly like the beginning of this clip. Which is more than a little unnerving: http://speecyspicybrokeback.ytmnd.com/
·        If your game has a collection mini-game where I have to find hidden items in each level, don’t program your NPCs to yell at me for taking the time to collect them.
·        No in-game instructions for online multiplayer; you’re left to the tutelage of fellow Xbox Live players. You can guess how well that turns out.

–Jack Conway