Cinema’s favourite monsters haven’t exactly flourished on consoles. The Alien franchise hasn’t had a good game since Alien Trilogy on the PS1 and Predator is still waiting. PC gamers have enjoyed the clash of these mighty beasts for many a year though, and finally, so can the rest of us.
The plot is pretty basic and shares a few small similarities to the first AVP movie; thankfully the awful Dawson’s Creek-esque sequel has largely been ignored. The Marine plot is filled in better if you pick up audio diaries, similar in nature to those in Bioshock. Just as all three stories begin to get interesting though, they finish, leaving you disappointed but tellingly, wanting more.
With the way the game has been promoted for its multiplayer elements you may even be surprised to hear it has a single player mode. It’s good to see the effort has been made where others couldn’t be arsed though, ‘cough…MAG… cough.’ However, the graphics seem to have been neglected a bit, they’re not bad, they’re just so lacking in effort.
There are three separate campaigns to play through in single player as a Marine, Alien or Predator, who each have five missions. Locations are shared but with different routes. Most importantly though they all feel different enough to make it feel like a fresh experience each time. If you don’t try and hoover up all the collectibles there’s only a few hours’ worth of gaming for each species, but in all honesty their general purpose is to give you some practice before you brave the online universes.
So how do they play? The Marine is pretty standard human shooter fodder. It’s unfair to criticise this mode for being generic though when James Cameron’s Aliens provided the blueprint for much of the shooter genre. The movement tracker with the encroaching pulse signalling incoming threats where you can’t see them, perfectly matches the tension of the film and naturally the Pulse Rifle feels like an old friend with that noise it makes every time the trigger is pulled, sending shivers down the spine of any fan.
The main difference from other shooters is that you can’t aim down the sights of a weapon; it’s strictly from the hip. This is only a problem when trying to shoot the skittish Facehuggers. Expect a lot of face-rape until you get used to that. All species can block melee strikes by holding L1 and R1 then countering with R1. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds, whacking these enormous creatures with a rifle butt shouldn’t be effective, but in a pinch, you’ll be glad it is.
The Alien is surprisingly fun to play if you take your time. Melee strikes with claws and tail feel slow and weak, but stealth is how the Xenomorph is meant to be played. Through some initially cumbersome controls, the Alien can attach itself to the walls and ceilings of any surface, allowing you to creep up on humans. It can be massively disorientating but effective for hiding. The Alien also has the advantage of being able to see an outline of prey in the dark and through walls. Get behind an unlucky marine and you can perform a very messy stealth kill, or if you find any civilians you can set them up with an eager Facehugger.
The Predator plays a similar game to the Alien – poor melee and good stealth. Instead of clinging to the ceiling, the dreadlocked menace can target an area and jump great distances to it. It works especially well in the jungles and makes the experience nicely match that of the classic Arnie flick. Stealth camouflage is in and so is the classic heat-vision that looks a bit crap, but in a good way because it’s just like the films.
The shoulder-mounted Plasma Caster works well, but ammo is in disappointingly short supply. The spinning disc is meant to follow where you point the cross-hairs but it takes too long to come back and barely does any damage. The awesome javelin-like Combi Stick can be used over enormous and short distances to great effect but it’s given to you way too late in the game.
Those nasty-looking wrist-mounted blades work for melee strikes, but are most effective for the various stealth kills. My god are they gruesome and grim. I don’t know what the Daily Mail’s going to be outraged by first: the bits of bone and muscle erupting from a ripped neck or the look of absolute terror in the marines eyes while you do it.
Early on it was surprising to see gamers enjoying playing as a healthy mix of the three species’ rather than playing it safe with the marines. They all share a similar amount of health to even things out. Marines have a motion tracker and guns, Preds have camouflage and heat vision and Aliens have devastating speed and multi-surface running.
Many of the arenas are very dark making it hard to see what you’re doing. If you want to play during the day, I recommend a nice, thick set of black curtains. Satisfyingly though, you can tell when you’ve got the killing shots on an Alien or Predator as they’ll have a huge final eruption of yellow or green blood respectively. Once you’ve seen that bigger burst of blood you can be on your merry way to your next target, or watch in disappointment as you’re lifted off your feet by a sneaky Alien tail ripping through your chest.
Even matches against small numbers can be terrific fun, especially with a marine and a Predator going at it. Looking out for a glimpse of a spark – the tell-tale sign of stealth camouflage can be a tense affair. Or there’s those ‘I’m screwed moments’ when you see the tri-locking laser settle on you.
Players can block melee strikes like in the campaign, but this time there are no on-screen prompts to help. Strikes from the non-human combatants feel quite poor and leave you open to pulse rifle blasts as they knock back the marines to a safer distance, so stealth kills are key again.
Firing from the hip isn’t a problem for Marines as the weapons are all pleasingly accurate, which keeps the matches hurtling along at great speed. You rarely get campers too, thanks to X-ray/heat vision. Also, you’ll never be waiting more than six seconds to re-spawn which keeps the excitement and enthusiasm high and boredom to a minimum.
Game modes that can handle up to 18 players include: Deathmatch, set species Team Deathmatches and mixed species Team Deathmatches. Domination is a familiar team battle for territory via capturing nodes. Infestation has one player picked to play as an Alien, the rest as a team of marines who are also turned into Aliens when they get wasted, turning it into a game of hide and seek, with the winner being the last surviving human.
Predator Hunt is one of the best modes, with Marines getting the chance to play as a Predator if they take it down. Once you get hold of a Plasma Caster, things can get very messy indeed. The winner is the player who racks up the most kills as a Predator. Stealth is a rare thing in today’s shooter, but it works fantastically here, stalking your panicking prey in the dark or from above in the tree’s canopies.
There’s an unranked Survivor mode for up to four players against an onslaught of Aliens which plays brilliantly, it’s just a shame there’re only a couple of maps for it. There are only six maps for the other modes too which will hopefully get beefed up by incoming DLC. There’s no split-screen multiplayer which is a big disappointment, as the game joins the long list of current-gen shooters that don’t think we have any friends that don’t live online.
Levelling up earns you new skins but that’s it. So it does feel a little bit light if you like unlocking new abilities, perks and weapons. However, as far as fast and fun goes, Aliens Vs Predator is high on the list of quality shooters and will hopefully be well supported with future DLC. The single player game may be short but the more unique aspects of the multiplayer warrant the interests of any shooter fan.