Summary: Play as the Alien, Predator, or Marine in Rebellion's latest shooter. AvP brings the classic gameplay from the original into 2010, but is it as fun as the original? Read Vandy's take inside!
Rebellion made FPS history in the early 90s when they created Alien vs. Predator for the Atari Jaguar console. While the crossover of these two science fiction franchises had already become commonplace in many mediums, the idea of a game with an amalgamation of different races, each with their own distinct play style, was nearly unheard of. Even today, such a thing scarcely exists outside of the real-time strategy genre, where StarCraft made its mark in much the same way.
The developer rehashed and refined its unique concept for the PC and Mac with 1999’s Aliens Versus Predator, when the advancements in game technology allowed the differences between Alien, Predator, and Colonial Marine be magnified to great effect: Aliens could climb freely along walls and ceilings, Predator used an array of optical sensors to highlight specific enemies, and Marines were scared shitless by who-knows-what setting off a motion detector from the shadows.
More than 10 years and a couple of crappy movies later, AvP has been reincarnated by Rebellion yet again, but this time they’re talking about a sequel. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though, I’m sure you’re itching to find out if this game is worth your time and money. Well, the PC version has mouse aim (useful for playing Marine) and much higher resolution graphics than its console counterparts, all for $10 less. Sounds good, right? Read on!
The single-player component of AvP consists of a separate campaign and storyline for each of the three races. Following a basic training sequence, you set off on a string of missions that leads you through a variety of locations, usually revisiting the same areas you’ve treaded before in the other campaigns. An over-arching storyline is revealed from the three perspectives, although there is a bias toward the Marine plot due to much more spoken dialogue and interaction with other humans. As Alien or Predator, you are alone most of the time and stumble upon random bits of knowledge as you carry out orders from your superiors.
The human campaign will be the most familiar in terms of FPS action, but it is also the most intense and frightening. You will be alone virtually the entire time, easy prey for some of the most fearsome life forms in the universe. Your main goal is to survive long enough to be rescued, but until you do, expect a lot of dark corridors and scripted sequences engineered to make you soil yourself. Luckily, you are more than capable of defending yourself with the help of such weapons as: VP60 Pistol (with infinite ammo), M41AV2 Pulse Rifle (with grenade launcher), M56 Smart Gun (auto-fires on cloaked enemies), M42A Scoped Rifle (highlights enemies that are cloaked or hidden), M260 Flamethrower, and double-barreled shotgun.
An extraordinary xenomorph specimen dubbed “6,” you are being held prisoner for study in a Weyland-Yutani research facility. Freshly grown in captivity, you learn the basics of the hunt by indulging your captors’ experiment involving some very unwilling participants. Claws, jaws, and tail are your weapons, each capable of devastating effects when used properly. Run freely across walls, ceilings, and other surfaces to evade and confuse your enemies. Focus on one target at a time and pounce to stun, then grab and finish him off in a manner as humiliating as it is violent. Similarly, you may sneak up behind your quarry to effortlessly initiate the execution.
Recently promoted to the rank of Elite, you have been called upon by your elders to attend to the disposal of several fallen brethren. The risk of humans uncovering the secrets of your technology is too great to leave their bodies intact, so it is important to purge every single one. Your skills in stealth and subterfuge, augmented by advanced technologies, will aid you in avoiding drawing undue attention to yourself as you go about your mission. The cloaking device will shield you from optical detection, as long as you avoid jamming signals from sentry turrets and large bodies of water that might cause a short. Do not depend on it to conceal you from Serpents, though, because they do not rely so much on their sense of vision to detect their foes.
In a continuation of the disturbing trend, Aliens vs. Predator uses a peer-to-peer matchmaking system that supports up to 18 players per game, similar to Modern Warfare 2, which is also Steam-based. Unlike MW2, though, the game ends abruptly when the host disconnects and you cannot join games already in progress. Rebellion had promised that dedicated servers would be ready for launch, but as you might guess, they were not. They’re supposed to tide us over with beta versions that have limited functionality, but there’s no telling even when that will be. If you’re willing to look past that, you can expect various modes of play, including the following:
Each race has a slightly differing set of key bindings, sharing only basic functions like move, sprint, walk, jump, attack, etc. All three have a secondary function that is unique to them – melee/block for Marine, surface transition for Alien, use selected equipment for Predator – as well as tertiary functions that vary in number and purpose. For example, hissing, flashlight, and cloaking are exclusive to their respective species, and some will have more of such utilities than others.
There is a special option to enable or disable Alien “auto-transition,” meaning it allows you to run up walls without pressing the transition key. It’s somewhat of a Catch-22 because auto-transition can be very disorienting when you start flipping sideways or upside down when you didn’t mean to, especially in tight spaces, but it’s also very cumbersome to have to run up to a wall and press a key in order to switch over to that surface. I decided to leave auto-transition on and try to get used to the constant shifting of perspective, but by the time I did, the game was over!
Running with a GeForce GTX 275, Aliens vs. Predator’s graphics are not cutting edge in any way (particularly the characters), but they’re not any worse than many console games these days. At least we can take solace in the fact that it definitely looks better on PC. The lighting is probably the best feature, which is good because shadows and dynamic light sources play such an important part for Aliens’ tactics.
Most textures are super crisp when you crank them up to the Very High setting, but they’d better be, considering the game takes up 16 gigabytes of disk space. I took a gander at the install folder, and about 75% of that is contained in the environment folders alone, so it seems that high-resolution assets are indeed the reason.
One of the few games out now that support DirectX 11, AvP is actually based on DX10 technology. As such, you want to run the DX11 mode for improved quality and performance even if you don’t have a Radeon 5000 series GPU. Of course, you will need such hardware to enable Shader Model 5.0-specific features. There is a DX9 mode, as well, for those of you that are stuck with Windows XP or have an older video card. Unfortunately, it seems FRAPS is not compatible with the DX11 version of the game executable, so all the screenshots you see are depicting DX9 visuals.
Most sound effects are fairly good quality and convey the spirit of the sci-fi universe the game is based upon. In many cases, they’re ripped straight from the films; there is no mistaking an Alien’s squeal or Predator’s clicking vocalization, and both are equally blood-curdling when you’re playing as a rival species. Similarly, the high-pitched shriek of the violin, characteristic of many horror movies, makes damn sure you jump out of your chair at particular moments.
Brutal melee combat and gore in general. It may not be your cup of tea, but I think it’s as awesome as it is gut-wrenching. Rebellion deserves props for refusing to water it down, even when there was some pressure to do so.
Very short campaigns. There are less than 20 missions, and none of them last long.
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