Ever since the Predator and Aliens franchises made their debut on the silver screen, people have wanted to see them wage war against one another. In 2004 their wish was granted with an abhorrent film adaptation, followed by another poor attempt in 2007. In an effort to breathe new life into the struggling franchises, Rebellion Games (the very same studio that brought us the last great AVP effort in 1999) is taking a stab at a virtual iteration for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. It delivers three short single-player campaigns along with a suite of multiplayer modes and maps.
You've got Aliens, you've got Predators and you've got hapless space marines. The only question left to answer is: is it any fun to play?Note: For this review I played on an Alienware desktop running Windows 7 with an Intel i7 processor running at 3.2 GHz, 6 gigs of RAM, and a GeForce GTX 260.
While that answer will be stretched into the next thousand words or so, I will start by saying that Aliens vs. Predator has an extraordinarily steep learning curve if you're playing as either of the extraterrestrials. For that reason, you're going to want to start with the marine campaign. It's a much more straightforward first-person shooter that does a good job of introducing you to the world around you. You'll hear the same radar blips from the films and that telltale machine gun effect has certainly made the jump to the virtual world as well. The audio effects adequately pull you into the Alien world, it's just too bad that there's nothing beyond that to enjoy. See, the design of the marine's campaign is very cookie cutter as far as FPS design is concerned. There's some fun to be had, and it provides an introduction to the melee mechanics that you'll need for the Alien and Predator campaigns, but at the end of the day there are just too many better FPS games out there.
Now, one might think that when you venture into the two alien campaigns things are bound to get cooler and more fun. That's not really the case in AVP due to the poorly constructed mechanics. Both the Alien and Predator campaigns make use of melee attacks. While the Predator has some ranged options in his repertoire, your main attack is still going to be the blades strapped to your right and left hand. As anyone who played Namco's Breakdown knows, first-person melee is tough to pull off. Sadly, AVP is no different. The camera can be entirely too shaky, the pseudo-lock-on function can cause needless deaths, and, to put it frankly, melee attacks with these characters should be more fun.
Thankfully once you do take the time to understand the finer points and frustrations of the melee combat, AVP presents some interesting abilities and play styles -- for better or worse. When playing as the Alien, speed is key. The Alien can move on walls and ceilings at a blinding rate, but sometimes it can be too fast to handle, especially when you click on the left stick to sprint. The Predator is more about stealth. You'll need to stick to tree branches and the tops of buildings to take your prey. All of the sneaking around made me feel a little underpowered when playing as what appeared to be such an impressive creature. Thankfully (or perhaps not) once you get the combi stick combat is greatly simplified, perhaps to the point of being unbalanced thanks to the one-shot kills.
So, while the single-player component doesn't hold up when compared to the Call of Duty or BioShocks of the world, it does a fine job of delivering the separate universes in AVP. Playing as the marine can be haunting, the Predator is out to hunt his prey and the Alien is built to get in and out of combat quickly without drawing much fire. Now if only the mechanics had panned out better and the design had been more imaginative, then we'd have something truly special on our hands.
Thankfully the multiplayer piece to the puzzle fares better than the solo play. There are six adversarial modes complete with six maps. This, paired with the four-player co-op offering across two maps, makes for a nice serving of fun with your friends. The modes are nicely varied and largely stick to what makes sense given the subject material. One mode has Aliens infecting marines, another has one Predator hunting a pack of humans. It's all solid fun, especially when you get 18 players willing to work together and play to the strengths of their respective characters.
Where the multiplayer stumbles a bit is in the total of lack of expandability. I understand that there's a concern with balance, but the fact that you gain only new skins and no new abilities as you level up your character is a real drag. Couple that with a few questionable design decisions, like the whole game quitting when the host leaves or drops his connection, and the multiplayer package is slightly less attractive. I ran into a few instances of slowdown and lag in the PC version. While it was fleeting and didn't happen in every game, it was something that wasn't present in the other versions of AVP.
Where the adversarial play drops the ball, the cooperative mode known as Survival is right there to pick up the slack. You and up to three buddies can hop into a map and take on endless waves of Aliens. It's modeled after the many Horde-style modes that we've seen before, and it works quite well. But as with so much of what AVP offers, there is a fault. For whatever reason Rebellion decided to package only two co-op maps in the standard edition of Aliens vs. Predator, thus limiting your play experience significantly.
In case you haven't seen the trend developing in this review, for every positive note, there seems to be a negative one. There are next to no glaring issues – less a few unsightly bugs – but nearly everything in AVP is held back by one of its faults. Thankfully the overall experience is enjoyable, especially if you're a fan who has been disappointed by the movies, but it really could've benefited from some more time in development to give it that needed layer of polish.
Speaking of polish, the graphics have been given their due on the PC. Textures on surfaces and objects look much better and are much higher detail when playing on my rig with maxed out settings. Gone were the muddy looking exteriors of the Predator campaign and the slowdown that popped up on the consoles is almost entirely removed on PC. The only spot where I ran into an issue was during multiplayer, but that was likely due to the host's connection rather than a fault in the game itself. Campaigns other than the Predator's have seen the same bump in visual fidelity. The Marine's closed off interiors have better looking models and the same goes for the Alien's levels. The only downside is that the PC version was obviously held back slightly by its console-bound cousins. Despite the improvements enabled by the hardware in my PC, there weren't many effects that were specific to the platform and designed to take advantage of some of the more impressive graphical possibilities.
While the visuals have seen a bump thanks to the increased specs on my PC, the sound effects are identical to what you'll see hear in other versions. Every sound that should be recognizable from the Alien and Predator worlds comes through just as you remember them. From the marine's machine guns to the Predator switching between different vision modes to the Alien's unpleasant hissing sound, it's all here. Sadly the voice acting, less Lance Henriksen as Weyland, is subpar. The story isn't all that good to begin with – nor does it need to be – but it's not aided by characters that lack emotion.
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