Our favorite sound, probably out of all of them, is the ones made by aliens when they’re being horrifically slaughtered in their second film, Aliens. It is, we think, based on a heavily distorted recording of a trumpeting elephant, sped up to make it absolutely terrifying in a way only the panicked, high-pitched scream of a flailing pachyderm can be.
In second place it’s the dense, tinny shred of a pulse rifle. Every Aliens vs Predator game has understood the importance of replicating the most aurally recognisable aspects of its characters, and this release mostly continues that tradition. It sounds incredible, although we were a bit disappointed that many of the Predator’s sound effects appear to have been taken from the AvP movie, as opposed to the original Predator film. It’s a small issue, and one that won’t bother many, but we’re particularly fond of the original Predator’s vision and vocal sounds, which were replicated perfectly in Aliens vs Predator 2 back in 2001, so it’s a bit weird that they went with many of the weaker, “updated” sound effects. We really missed the wonderful whip-crack sound of the Predator vision kicking in.
Still, the overall sound design is rich enough to make us want to say words like “aural soundscape” and “crunchy sonic feast”. Here’s a game that’s mostly about inflicting horrendous injuries on deserving creatures, and it’s one in which you’ll appreciate every sinewy crunch, gargled howl, bloody slosh and hollow snap. Aliens vs Predator is sickeningly violent – more so in one of the three campaigns than the others, admittedly – in ways that are borderline comical and dancing on the periphery of decency.
Lovely, spine-tearing, eye-socket spearing madness then. Where the films lost credibility the moment they went PG, Rebellion’s AvP wears its M-rating with pride. In the area of brutality and scariness, these are Schwarzenegger’s Predators and Ripley’s aliens. Sadly, these are the same one-dimensional barking space marines you’ve seen a thousand times before, but the point stands – this game doesn’t flinch in showing you brutality on a level not seen since the early films. The good ones.
Three campaigns straddle the same plot arc, giving you three perspectives from which to view the various goings-on, and three markedly different experiences. The Marine draws the short straw: a panicking, fleshy sack of prey permanently seconds from being scythed in two by a swishing xenomorph tail. It’s a campaign of fear, into which Rebellion stir a steady stream of ratcheted tension. The cautionary beeping of your motion tracker is such a recognisable device that it hardly needs explaining, but here you go: the closer a moving object is to you, the higher pitched and more rapid the beep. The thing generates fear, and sounds just as you remember from James Cameron’s Aliens.
Registering false positives in nearly every darkened corner, the environment takes pleasure in suggesting random shadows might contain dripping alien death. You’ll be yelping at vents, alarmingly shaped shadows and dangling bits of wire which, in a case of misjudged engineering, look identical to the tails of lackadaisical, ceiling-dwelling aliens.
The Alien campaign, on the other hand, is a reduced affair. Weapons are replaced by tooth and claw, and the unique ability to climb on any surface allows you to stalk marines from the darkness like a pervert Spider-man.
Behind door number three is the Predator campaign, starring a more technical character who boasts thermal optics, camouflage, a plasma cannon, proximity mines, a big spear and a sharpened Frisbee. He can leap great distances: holding down the focus button projects a cursor onto platforms you’re pointing at, and, if it’s a valid spot, hitting jump will cause him to leap like a badass. Some may find this mechanic restrictive or too compartmentalized, but we enjoyed the ease in which we jumped around the environment.
That’s the cast, of which some work better than others. The Marine’s campaign has clearly had the most time, care and attention paid to it. It’s the longest of the three and features real voice actors, where the others use subtitles and squeaks.
Your odds are regularly shaken up, ensuring that you spend enough time genuinely fearing the blinking dots on your motion tracker, cowering and starting at the flickering shadows cast by your tossed flares, and enough time happily and fearlessly popping their acid-filled phallic heads with grenades and smartguns. It’s worth mentioning just how pretty Giger’s skittering sex metaphors are, too. Great greasy things are the aliens, moving unpredictably along walls and ceilings, at all times beautifully animated and intricately detailed. As absurd as it sounds, their flowing, flicking tails are their most convincing component, snaking behind their skeletal forms as they corner and leap from surface to surface.
No matter who you choose to play as, the campaigns are linear, checkpoint-pocked trots from one area to the next, and one from which every ounce of fat has been trimmed. AvP’s campaigns are worryingly short – you could race through the Alien campaign in under two hours, and the Marine’s in four – but they’re densely packed with well-constructed set pieces, engineered scares and often striking locations.
The Predator campaign, in particular, is almost puzzle-like in delivering small arenas of patrolling humans and tasking you with murdering the lot of them. Your distract ability allows you to target a single marine and lure him to a point using a voice recording, a highly telegraphed but useful tactic which creates an opportunity to grab and violently dismember the wandering victim.
Aliens grab too. And where Predators jab wristblades into eye sockets, aliens spear chests on barbed tails and plunge their inner mouths through foreheads to regain health. You’ll gag on your own nostalgia gland as, when playing as the Alien, you realise you can still slash limbs off corpses and leave them lying about the place for their friends to find. Scooting up and down walls is at first disorientating, but soon becomes second nature – and as long as you’re in the dark you can take a moment to relax and figure out if you’re upside-down or not. Darkness effectively makes you invisible to marines who aren’t alerted to your presence, working very much like the Predator’s cloaking device. Once they know you’re nearby however, they’ll poke about with flashlights until they’ve found your hiding place, requiring you to move and jump between shadows, hissing to lure individuals before tearing their faces off in showers of blood, skin and bone.
So those are the campaigns. Three discrete experiences, each one adapted to suit the mechanics of its given species, with the Marine’s more fully realised than the others. Number Six’s journey ends all too abruptly, and does away with the fun larval stages in AvP2. The Predator’s amazing and explosive murder-jaunt, on the other hand, doesn’t offer the level of tension you experience as a huddled, terrified Marine. What it offers instead is glorious disgust. Hitting those fear-notes by draping silhouettes of scary objects in front of you is something Rebellion excel at, and the Predator campaign, while a panacea for the feeling of vulnerability you’re left with having finished the Marine section, certainly isn’t where AvP’s best bits lie.
They lie instead in the game’s multiplayer, a collection of game modes lifted from the popular sports of the day: straight deathmatch; a Left 4 Dead-style Survival mode in which you and three other marines defend yourselves against waves of xenomorphs; a Domination game mode in which aliens and marines fight to control three points of the map; Infection, in which a team of marines is whittled down by aliens, with each fallen human joining the ranks of the increasingly powerful alien brood; and Predator Hunt, which pitches one player as the Predator, slaughtering other players before passing the mantle on to the one who bests him in battle.
Crucially, they all work within the context of the three characters and their abilities. Survival is the co-op mode you dreamt of after watching Aliens – a desperate last stand against an unending tide of flashing claws and teeth. It’s a basic, boiled down affair though, featuring nought but players, their guns (with an occasional autoaiming, xeno-seeking smartgun drop), and an endless supply of angry, angry scuttling enemies.
Elsewhere, the straightforward three-way deathmatch is pretty finely balanced. Both Aliens and Predators can perform their unblockable trophy kills by moving behind enemies and hitting the button prompt. Once locked into the gruesome animation, the attacker is then at his most vulnerable, creating the potential for a ridiculous conga line of trophy killers, or for one intelligent player to hold back and toss a few grenades or plasma cannon rounds into the fray. Marines lack the ability to tear bones right out of another player’s body, and instead rely on countering melee attacks, which gives them more than enough time to pile a few shotgun rounds into their stumbled victim.
The multiplayer modes are fast paced – which makes sense, as more people are being stabbed and speared than shot – but it remains faithful to the fiction. Few concessions are made in porting abilities from the single-player campaign to multiplayer – admirably, you’ll be cloaking and leaping from shadows as a Predator, dropping from the ceiling as an alien, and running away from moving objects as a marine.
The constant exchange of what are essentially backstabs doesn’t grate either, instead the experience is closer to playing on an instagib server – that is, you’ll kill, die and respawn with enough regularity that you’ll place little value in your continuing existence, scoffing nervously at death as it buzzes by you over and over again.
Aliens vs Predator is a brilliantly authentic and cinematic experience, tinged with a vague sense that more could’ve been done with the single-player to properly spear our eyeballs into attention. It’s savage, dark, and ultra violent, but holding it back from a higher score are Alien and Predator campaigns that end too soon and don’t reach a satisfying conclusion. Does it compare well to the rest of the series? Yes, of course it does, at times it tears the throat out of the previous two games and dances on their acid-speckled, increasingly decrepit corpses. But will it make as big an impact? No. It’s old-school, a shooter from a decade past, and with that comes all the baggage you’d expect: often startling linearity, irrelevant plot, and scenes two steps away from the Modern Warfare-style blockbuster set pieces to which we’re fast becoming accustomed.
We’d argue that we wouldn’t want it any other way when it comes to Aliens vs Predator. It’s deliriously gory, unwaveringly confident and spectacular fun. And, at the very least, it’s far better than the dogshit films.
Feb 16, 2010