[12 April 2010]
I was a freshman in college when Alien vs. Predator came out in the theaters. My brother was a senior. He had a car and friends and that meant that I had a car and friends, and together, in my car with my friends, we went to go see the film on opening day. Afterwards, awed by its massive success, my brother commented, “The only thing missing from this movie is power meters at the top of the screen.” Rebellion Games felt the same way. Unfortunately, though, the game more closely resembles the joy of Alien vs. Predator: Requiem—a film so poorly constructed, written, and conceived that in two separate viewings (I unabashedly own it and have, yes, watched it twice), I have little or no idea of the plot, protagonist, or drive. But I digress.
The story behind the game loosely approximates that of the original film: Gallivanting and vain Mr. Moneybags, Charles Weyland, finds ancient ruins that he subsequently activates, initiating an intergalactic war. Only this time, you’re on Mars, and it feels definitively less like a coming of age ritual (the likes of which the film portrayed) and more like random, utter destruction and carnage.
In Alien vs. Predator, you’re afforded the ability to play as Alien, Predator, or a random space marine caught in the middle of the aforementioned intergalactic war. Each role has its benefits and quirks, but they all also have a fair amount holding them back. It’s obvious that Rebellion didn’t really know where to go with the various characters, leaving stories that are full of holes and devoid of the dedication needed to make a truly greater first person shooter (or mutilator, as is the case in Alien vs. Predator?).
The marine storyline is predictably the most intuitive. There’s little about this aspect of the game that’s original. It’s a basic horror, survival shooter right down to the creepy, random sounds, a noted lack of enemies for a majority of the time, leading you down dark, spooky hallways to build suspense (in fact, you don’t even see an enemy for the first 10-15 minutes of the game), and a flashlight tool that’s taken directly out of Doom 3 (albeit with the convenient and less terrifying option of leaving it on at all times). In an effort to keep you on the edge of your seat, you’re equipped with a proximity monitor that beeps every time that you’re close to another living object. The game designers use it effectively and often make it go off without sending any enemies, forcing you to spin frantically around looking for where the Aliens are coming from.
When you are inundated with Aliens fighting is exceedingly hard. Alien is smart, fast, and lethal. They usually come from the ceiling somewhere and crawl in the darkest areas of an environment. You’re encouraged to throw flares in their general vicinity, but you’re usually better off not doing it. Shooting at the Aliens is a pretty fruitless affair to boot. They’re too fast to manually aim at, and auto-aim only works when they are very close or in the light. Though probably true to life, it doesn’t make for adequate gaming.
Alien and Predator’s respective missions are a little different. Alien is fast—almost to a fault—aggressive, and violent. You get your fair share of humans pleading for their lives before you punch a hole in the back of their head with your tiny, face tongue, splattering blood all over the screen. The key to success if staying out of the light, where you’ll be invariably shot at, and creepy crawling along the ceiling and walls and any surface that will have you as an inhabitant. This is both captivating and infuriating. The controls are so sporadic because of Alien’s speed that you find yourself disoriented and oftentimes unaware of exactly what wall or object you’re standing on. For the most part, this doesn’t put you in the line of fire, but it does make you spend a lot of time focusing on why you can’t move a certain way.
Predator’s missions are similarly unique and require the same amount of stealth. You hop from platform to platform hoping not to be seen. Unlike Alien, though, if you are seen, you’re dead or at least near dead. Alien’s speed allows it to get away from marine gunfire pretty easily. Predator is not so lucky. Fortunately, you can become invisible and trick unsuspecting marines with what is otherwise ventriloquism, throwing your voice around the space and directing the marines at will.
The problems with Predator’s mission represent an overall problem in the game, though, and revolve mostly around the concept of immersion. The key to this game is really feeling like you’re Predator or Alien or, well, a marine trapped in space trying to kill a bunch of aliens. The problem is that littered across the screen of both Predator and Alien missions are subtitles like “Press A to use vent”, things that wholly destroy the aura of being a blood thirsty alien. For Predator, you end up looking for illuminated platforms that you can hop to. And the marine interface is so cryptic and unreadable that it’s hard to even see how much ammo you have left. Some of this is expected. There’s a pretty steep learning curve when becoming a difference species to the extent that each role has it’s own ridiculously masked tutorial at the beginning, the likes of which I thought they did away with after Nintendo 64. But learning curve or not, I haven’t played a game that this explicitly guides you through how to play in a long time, and it takes away from the experience significantly.
Ultimately, Alien vs. Predator is a fun experiment but doesn’t offer the kind of expansive experience or staying power to fulfill it’s potential. Littered with technical problems, each character clearly needed a more dedicated development team and platform to really flesh out its concepts and aims.