A new Aliens Vs Predator game has been a long time coming, and as of last week, it's here. Developed by Rebellion -- the same studio that created the original Aliens Vs Predator game in 1999 for Windows, the new Aliens Vs Predator once again allows players to play as a Marine, Xenomorph, or Predator. In addition to short campaigns for each species, an online multiplayer component is included that is ultimately the real draw to the game. If you've looked online, scores for this title vary considerably from horrible to outstanding -- personally, I found the game to fall very much in between.
The Campaigns - Marine
I fired up AvP on my PS3 and prepped myself for the campaigns. Players can start with any of the three species, but I chose the Marine. After each mission, you can switch to another species if you want, but the story is more coherent if you just play one species through at a time. Regardless of which campaign you choose, the story and locations are very similar, and nearly exactly the same. Obviously the neat thing about that is that you can experience parts of the same story from the perspectives of the different species. It's not a perfect translation, but you'll easily recognize locations and major plot events. Additionally, to uncover the full story, you need to play through each campaign -- something that should take you about ten hours or less.
The Marine campaign is the longest, although not quite the weakest, of the three. Players are simple known as "Rookie" and are otherwise nameless, faceless, and speechless until the final cutscene when you're seen from a third person perspective. The campaign is about as cliched as you can get too, with age-old gameplay design including everything from re-establishing power to flipping switches to having some omnipotent person in your ear guiding you the entire time. Nothing about the Marine campaign is spectacular, but it is at least entertaining, and quick. I was able to finish the campaign in about four hours on Normal. Most of the campaign is spent alone as every time you're just about to get help from some CPU AI, they die moments before you can get to them -- it's a kind of "roll your eyes" gameplay design we've all seen plenty of times. However, the handful of times when some
friendly AI are there to help, they do okay for themselves and I thought that gave the experience a boost. For the most part though, players are alone and left to fend for themselves against droves of Xenomorphs, the threat of a Predator, and eventually, Weyland Yutani's own Combat Androids.
We all know about the Aliens, or Xenomorphs, or bugs -- they move super fast and can kill a Marine in a heartbeat. Keeping your flashlight on and Pulse Rifle at the ready are key to survival, as is keeping your distance from the buggers. Of course, the Aliens prefer to attack up close, so to help the Marines out, Rebellion instituted a blocking and melee attack system. To block, which I actually only did once or twice, players have to press R1 and L1 when the prompt flashes on screen. Generally, just tapping R1 when an Alien is nearly at your feet works best. Pressing R1 when an enemy is near will knock them back with a blow from your gun. This generally can give you enough time to reload, pop in a Stim pack (for health), or switch weapons.
The Marine will always carry a pistol with eighteen rounds per clip, with unlimited ammo as his sidearm, but you'll rarely use the pistol after the first thirty minutes or so. The Pulse Rifle, Shotgun, Sniper rifle, Flamethrower, and even a few Smart Guns are your primary weapons. Players can carry up to two of all normal weapons, plus the pistol, or just the pistol and a Smart Gun. Sometimes automated turrets will also be in place to help you out too. Amusingly, you'll also find several dozen gas canisters that just happen to be lying around, just itching to blow up. Anyway, I found the flamethrower to be pretty ineffective in practice, since it takes several seconds for the flames to actually 'pop' the Aliens. The sniper rifle is excellent for Combat Androids, and the Pulse Rifle and Shotgun are equally handy to use. There is no upgrade system of any kind for any of these weapons, unfortunately.
Other than all out combat, the Marine will spend time flipping switches and accessing terminals. There are at least a dozen of these 'flip the switch' or 'find the terminal and hold Square' sequences, which are admittedly pretty cheesy. Somehow, your character just knows exactly what buttons to press for every Weyland Yutani terminal he comes across, which I thought was kind of silly, too. There are about five or six times when you need to use the Hack tool. Other than holding Square to have the Marine place the tool into the locked device, no other interaction is required. At least a couple of times these Hacking moments are turned into sudden 'survival scenarios' where you must outlast a barrage of Xenomorphs while the Hack tool does its thing.
I also thought it was odd that you cannot crouch. I know that might seem like a minor gripe, but that's a standard function in action games these days -- heck, even in 1999 it was. Couple that with the pitiful jumping ability and the short sprint time, and you have one unfit Marine.
The Campaigns - Alien & Predator
The Marine campaign will take you to about 47% overall Story completion. Next up, I wanted to try my hand at the Alien campaign. In it, players are Six, a Xenomorph that Karl Weyland himself has taken a liking too. A cutscene shows players 'growing' up from a chestburster to full grown bug. After a brief in game tutorial, you're ready to wreck havoc on the Marines and the employees of Weyland Yutani. You'll do so with your claws and tail. Besides being able to run really fast and identify targets through pheromones, the ability to climb on any surface is a big draw to playing as the Alien. I certainly remember that being one of my favorite parts from Aliens Vs Predator 2 from Monolith back in 2001. With the new AvP, controlling the Alien on different surfaces really didn't work out for me. The problem is at least two fold: surfaces you expect to be able to climb you can't, and transitions you expect your Alien to make from one surface to another don't happen. You'll see the "R2 Transition" prompt appear, telling you to press R2 to transition, but it just doesn't work fluidly. The camera gets wonky too with all of this surface climbing, especially when you're going from one surface to another quickly. Honestly the biggest struggle with Alien campaign wasn't in fighting Marines, Combat Androids or even Predators -- it was working the darn surface climbing controls and finding the right vent to crawl in.
Vents are really important in the Alien campaign but they could have been done better. Vents can be seen in Focus Mode (hold L2). When in view, a gentle ripple effect appears around the vent. To use it, you must get near it and wait or 'find' the prompt that says 'Use Vent.' I thought that slowed down the pacing, because you're often using Sprint to move around. Then, you get up to a vent, but rather than being able to hop right into it, I found myself having to pause for a couple-three seconds to get the prompt to appear. You know that's a fairly minor detail but I just think it's another example of the 'letdown' design that went into the campaigns. While I played AvP 2 on a PC years ago, I don't remember having this much issue controlling the Alien, so at least in that regard, Rebellion could have done better.
The Alien campaign ends up being quite a bit shorter than the Marines campaign and through it, players learn a little bit more about the overall story. I thought the ending was pretty cool too, but the campaign was still 'meh' at best -- enjoyable and satisfying enough for a play through, but I don't plan on replaying it.
I was looking forward to the Predator campaign the most, and it spans across the last 25% or so of the overall story. In it, players are cast as a new Elite Predator and the campaign begins with a distress call from a group of Young Blood hunters. You're sent in to investigate, and well, you start to kick a lot of ass from there. The Predator is of course decked out with different vision modes to spot pesky humans and Xenomorphs. He can also cloak, and Rebellion added the ability to jump and drop proximity mines too. The jumping mechanic is neat and requires that you press and hold L2 to mark where you want to jump to. The icon will change to indicate that you cannot jump there, but most any reasonable location at a reasonable distance works. Jumping high up into a tree or on top of a wall is fun stuff with the Predator. The shoulder mounted photon cannon is on the menu, as is a sharp throwing blade and close range attack claws. I'd still like to see a full game dedicated to the Predator that isn't Predator:
Concrete Jungle and that uses today's tech -- it's actually kind of surprising there hasn't been something like that yet. Anyway, while the Predator's campaign is also short, staying well under three hours, it was easily my favorite of the three.
There's frankly not a lot of reason to go back to the campaigns once you've been through them. The story doesn't get any better from its mediocre state, the scripted events and objectives are all the same -- other than trying to find each faction's collectible item (Audio Diary, Royal Jelly, Trophy Belt), or trying one of the other difficulties, once through the campaign should suffice. The real reason to stick with AvP, if there is one, is the multiplayer.
Multiplayer modes include your typical gamut of options -- Ranked and Friendly Matches, Leaderboards, Player Invites, ability to Create a Match with Private Slots, Search Filters -- nothing unusual there. Six multiplayer modes are included as well: Deathmatch, Predator Hunt, Species Team Deathmatch, Infestation, Mixed Species Deathmatch, and Domination. You'll generally find matches with eight players, but up to eighteen are supported, with some maps obviously better suited for that many than others.
Five maps come with the game, including Gateway, Jungle, Refinery, Ruins, and Temple, all locations you spend at least a little bit, if not a lot, of time in the campaign at. I've played a few hours of multiplayer to this point, and have yet to experience any technical issues or slow down. I haven't used a mic in this game yet, nor have I seen
anyone else using one, so there may be some issues there that I'm unaware of.
AvP's multiplayer has an XP and leveling system, too. I've not leveled up my profile very much to this point, but one of the first things you unlock is additional skins for each species. Players don't level up their species individually, but instead level up their profile as a whole no matter what species they play as. Between the three, I actually prefer playing the Marine the most. Other than it being the most familiar species to play as, I just can't get a consistent, comfortable handle on the Alien control to want to use them. The Predator is a good choice, but getting to be a Predator can be tough in a Ranked match and I find it too tempting to hide out and cloak, waiting for a hapless Marine to walk by only to get with my photons or claws.
As for the Modes, Team Species Deathmatch seems to be a very popular one, and it's fun. It plays out just like it sounds. Players on the same team can see each other's whereabouts with an arrow icon that appears in the game world to indicate your allies' location. This same arrow system is used in the Mixed Species Deathmatch. With only a three second respawn timer, quick deaths aren't nearly as frustrating as a typical online title where respawn timers can be twenty seconds or more. Still, there's nothing quite like getting insta-killed from behind by a cloaked Predator or Alien that you didn't see. The Marine doesn't have an insta-kill move, but there's nothing better than finding a Predator and Alien tied up in a finishing move -- for the Marine, this is usually going to result in at least one kill. But regardless of whether you're Marine or Predator or Alien, the balance between these is nice and very tangible. Team Species Deathmatches are decided by the first team to 50 kills, or by a timer (usually set to twenty minutes).
Infestation is a cool mode in which a group of Marines must fight off a single Alien. The catch? Every Marine that the Alien kills turns into an Alien. This is an intense mode because what started off as a 7 on 1 match quickly turns even, and suddenly the Marines are outnumbered. These matches can be over quick, but they're good fun.
Predator Hunt is another cool mode in which one player is randomly selected to be the Predator. The other players are Marines, and they must find and kill the Predator. Whoever kills the Predator gets to become the Predator. A timer set on the Predator keeps him from just cloaking and hiding in a corner; if you don't kill a Marine within about two minutes of becoming the Predator, the role of Predator gets put onto another player and you become a Marine once again.
I was surprised that there were only five maps, but I thought they were pretty well designed. Each map caters to the different species by offering areas of darkness for the Aliens, high ground for the Predators, and, well -- ground for the Marines I guess. Seriously though, the maps are interesting and work out well; I'm sure we'll see more maps in DLC before long anyway.
Finally, to wrap up with some thoughts on the presentation. Graphically, AvP does well, but I can't say anything about it was outstanding. Between the campaigns, I would say the Marine campaign was the strongest, primarily due to its use of lighting. I thought the Alien campaign looked kind of washed out and bland, on the other hand. The Predator campaign, from a graphical standpoint, may very well be highlighted by the detailed gory finishing moves that you can execute. All in all, while I didn't have any major clipping issues or technical problems, AvP just looked okay to good, never great.
As for the audio, it's a little better, overall. Expect all of the textbook sound effects from the Aliens hissing and screeching to the clicking sound of the Predators and the audio ping of the Marine's radar system. The nearly absent soundtrack fits the atmosphere of the game, but some of the voice overs were painful. Now, most of the Audio Diaries you find during the Marine campaign sound great. But, more commonly you'll hear Corporal Tequila or Katya in the Marine campaign, and other Marines in the other two campaigns. No matter the campaign, several lines are used over and over, and I couldn't help but notice the annoying impatience of Tequila while playing as Marine. It's also annoying when you find an Audio Diary (in the Marine campaign), and you're listening to it while walking along, and suddenly Tequila chimes in with another useless bit of info, cutting the Diary playback off. You can listen to the Audio Diaries in the main menu at any time, though, but her interjections were annoying.
To the summary...