Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Aliens vs. Predator

Post-Launch Review
Aliens vs Predator (PC)
Developer: Rebellion Developments
Released: February 2010

Aliens vs Predator is a standalone third entry in the AvP game series of first-person shooters based on the film franchises. A squad of colonial marines are sent to investigate a Weyland-Yutani research facility that has gone silent. Things go horribly wrong when the marines discover that the corporation was experimenting with both xenomorph and predator physiology and tech. Aliens have gotten loose, predators are sent to destroy the bodies of their captured fellows, and the marines are caught in the middle of it all.

At Launch
Critical reception was not stellar, averaging out to the high 60's across all versions. Reviewers mostly enjoyed the game's atmosphere and thought it did a good job of replicating the film franchises, particularly in terms of quality graphics. Almost every other aspect of the title was rated as mediocre: writing, game design and mechanics, multiplayer, dialogue, enemy AI, whatever. The greatest point of criticism was that the same maps are used across all three single-player campaigns — in different orders and from different directions, but the same maps nonetheless.

Post Launch
AvP received frequent updates from its release until July 2010. There were many bug fixes and performance tweaks, and a lot of multiplayer balancing. In particular, multiplayer was updated so that XP points and leaderboards are updated in every multiplayer mode, with the difference being that ranked games have skill-based matchmaking and player games don't.
Two DLC map packs were released at $7.50 each: Swarm and Bughunt. Both map packs add new stages to multiplayer and to co-op survival.
The Good
The game's plot isn't anything new for the franchise — evil corporation doing weapons research, things go wrong, blah blah blah — but the way it's told is pretty cool. The marine, alien, and predator campaigns each feature fragments of the story from different perspectives, so you don't get the entire picture until you play through all three campaigns, at which point apparent plot holes are plugged and everything makes sense. The marine's story is fairly complete in and of itself with a few unexplained events; the alien storyline is mostly a sort of prequel explaining how the xenomorphs broke out and tore apart the facility; and the predator storyline is mostly concurrent with the marine's and fills a few more gaps, like why a protected generator went down why the marines don't find any predator tech or bodies.
Atmosphere & Game Mechanics
Each of the three species functions very differently. The marines are mostly typical FPS fare; aliens are stealthy melee attackers that can climb and pounce anywhere; and predators are both stealthy and tough but vulnerable to speed and numbers. The mechanics of each species provide a very different mood for each campaign, making each species very well differentiated and distinct.
Marine Campaign
The marine campaign is the best one by a long shot. The first level is excellent, really giving you a pure Aliens feel (as in the second film). It also has the strongest story, partly because characters actually communicate with words and speech, and partly because it's easier to identify with a human than a vicious animal or alien hunter. The pulse rifle looks and sounds exactly like it did in Aliens, and the smart gun feels super powerful with its auto aim and enemy highlighting, and is ridiculously fun to use. There are a couple of horrible clich├ęs — your character's name is Rookie for crying out loud — but it's a lot of fun and there are a couple of good twists.
The best part is the motion tracker. The soft, constant ticking gives a warm feeling of safety, and alert beeps give you a sense of dread and anticipation to know that an enemy is coming before you can even see it. Plus, aliens are impossible to see in the dark, so things get scary fast.
Weyland — one of the two founders of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation — makes a significant appearance in the game. As it turns out, the Bishop android from Aliens is a model based on the voice and appearance of Carl Bishop Weyland. Best of all, he's voiced by Lance Henrikson, the actor who played Bishop in the movie. Awesome.
Gratuitous Violence
Now, you might not agree with me on this one, but for some reason I loved all the special kill animations for the alien and predator. They're ridiculously brutal and violent — ripping a man's spine out through his stomach, for example, or sticking claws into his eyes and pulling his head off. They're so over the top that they become kind of funny. If you don't like extreme violence, though, you don't have to ever see these animations. Just keep attacking in melee instead of hitting the special kill button.
Survival Mode
Survival is a co-op mode where you're a marine stuck in a sealed room with a tiny circle of light where the only ammo is off in the dark, and you face increasingly dangerous waves of aliens. Admittedly, it's pretty hard to screw up a survival mode, but this one does a really great job of feeling claustrophobic and scary — just like you'd expect from a last stand against a horde of perfect killing machines.
The Neutral
AvP is a DX11-capable game, but you can't tell from looking at the human characters. Their models and animation leave much to be desired, particularly the faces. The game's environments look pretty good though, and the lighting effects are great, especially in the levels designed to look like the Alien movies.
Predator Campaign
Mechanically, the Predator campaign is awesome. You can cloak, leap from vantage point to vantage point, and hunt however you choose. The Predator has four weapons in addition to the wrist claws: the combi stick (a powerful thrown spear that returns to you), the smart disc (a spinning saw blade that follows your laser sight), proximity mines, and of course the plasma caster. The mines and plasma caster use energy, which you can recharge by draining batteries. You can also distract a single target, moving him to a position of your choosing to isolate your prey. Against human or android targets, you'll jump around while cloaked, picking off enemies one by one, and probably collecting trophies along the way. Against aliens, though, your cloak doesn't work — they can smell you. Combat becomes a melee brawl where you need to block and time your light and heavy attacks carefully.
Unfortunately there's not much in the way of plot. Your job is to destroy any evidence of predator presence on the planet and (spoiler alert) destroy the alien-predator hybrid. You get a glimpse of predator history, but that's pretty much all there is to it.
Alien Campaign
Again, like the predator campaign, the mechanics are solid. The alien can climb and sprint on any surface, and can leap from one surface to another. Your crosshair always points towards the ground and turns black when you're in shadow — two very useful yet simple indicators. The alien is pure melee, but it can do a longer-range tail strike to attack enemies from darkness and take out lights to create more darkness. Like the predator, the alien can hiss to distract targets, but it's not as focused and attracts sometimes several marines to your location. Alien gameplay is almost a puzzle — since you can go anywhere, it's a matter of picking off the right target at the right time.
But, also like the predator campaign, the alien's story is lacking and consists of “do whatever the queen tells you”, which is usually “kill guys” or “activate/destroy this button/power source”. Worse, it's not even really clear what you're doing. You free the queen in the first level, and then you wander around turning off electric fences and proceeding to the next area. The queen would've made a better final goal than intro.
AvP's multiplayer had some cool ideas, unique game modes, and interesting balancing factors. For example, there's a game type where one player is the predator and the rest are marines. The predator hunts the marines, and if someone kills they predator, they become the predator. Awesome! Even team deathmatch has a neat twist: team size varies by species because of the different mechanics and power levels. Aliens get the most players because they're restricted to melee; marines are in the middle because while they're vulnerable from behind they're extremely powerful from the front; and predators are the smallest team because they're the most powerful overall.
But why did I say multiplayer had some cool ideas, and not has? It's totally dead. If you have a bunch of friends who all have the game you could have a blast, but good luck finding a match online.
The Bad
Collect All X for a Reward!
This is very minor, but it did bug me. In the loading screens you'll sometimes see the tip “Collect all audio journals/predator trophies/royal jellies for a reward!”. That reward is an achievement, nothing more. I'd prefer they just say “collect all X for an achievement” because while an achievement is technically a reward, I thought it meant concept art or multiplayer skins or something.
Voice Acting
It's not very good. You can hear overdone pauses and emphasis in most characters' lines. What's really strange is that even the predator's laugh is badly done. What, they couldn't even find a single person who could laugh convincingly in a deep voice? The only exception is Weyland.
Also, the voice acting isn't very good overall, but one thing stands out in particular:
Marine Chatter
No matter which campaign you play, there are sometimes marines around, and they get incredibly annoying. Two voice lines are repeated over and over, which is especially weird because they took the time to record a couple of versions for both male AND female marines.
The Verdict
Recommendation: Play it.
Is AvP the best game ever made? No. Is it a fun addition to the franchise? Yes. Is it expensive? Nope — twenty bucks on Steam. Just don't buy the DLC packs — together they cost almost as much as the full game, and with no one on multiplayer there's no way you'll get your money's worth.
Anyway, as a fan of the franchises involved, I had a lot of fun with the game. Each campaign is relatively short with only six missions, but it's almost like getting three episodic games. The way the events of each campaign are interconnected is really cool, and while each one tells a story on its own, they come together to make something bigger, and surprisingly leave room for what could be a really good sequel.

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