Aliens versus Predator
The war of the Quake clones is getting so unbearably crowded that it helps to have a gimmick if you want to stand out. Here's a killer: Aliens Vs Predator - two classic movie monster licenses tossed into a single bearpit.
It's not the first time that this combination of cinematic nasties has been utilised in a computer game. Aliens Vs Predator is an unofficial sequel to the Atari Jaguar game of the same name which first surfaced several years ago to wild acclaim and, in some cases, unfettered screaming. While the game came too late to save the unfortunate Jaguar system, the modern PC update is set to arrive in time for the walletemptying carnival called Xmas.
Aliens Vs Predator is set in a military base on a far-flung planet at the very edge of the universe, where a series of biological warfare experiments have gone decidedly pear-shaped. A gang of aliens - which were being bred for shady and nefarious purposes - have escaped. It's gory bedlam down there, and you're in the thick of it.
Aside from the recognisable license, Aliens Vs Predator's main selling point is its sheer variety of gameplay. You can play as Mister Metal Fangs (the Alien), Mister Invisible (the Predator) or Mister Game-Over-Man (the human marine), with the entire gamp altering dramatically depending on your choice.
Play as the Alien, for instance, and you're in for plenty of xenomorphic unpleasantness. You'll be able to gob acid at people and watch their skin droop off and drip all over the floor like so much displaced pizza topping.
You can run around at a terrifying pace, scaling walls and ceilings in the blink of an eye, and use your 'magic' extra-terrestrial senses to hunt down the enemy.
The Predator's goal is more complex. Released from a captured scout ship, your task is to track down your fellow detainees and either rescue them... or avenge their deaths (the latter option being the 'funnest' one). Infra-red vision and the famous 'invisi-shield' thingumajig should aid your quest, along with an ever-expanding arsenal of really nasty things to throw at people.
Brave souls who choose to play as the human marine are in for an exercise in survival. Your mission is to avoid being torn limb from limb, melted to a pile of goo, or shot in the nose by a bloody big gun. That's the downside. The upside is the lovingly tooled military accessories at hand: shotguns, plasma guns, pulse rifles and, best of all, authentic-looking flame-throwers.
It's going to be an orgy of unrelenting horror, in other words. Having witnessed it in action, we can report it's also an orgy of unrelenting high-resolution, maximum-frame-rated, spangly-lighting-effect-laden visual lushness. Multiplayer deathmatch, in particular, promises to be a scream.
Next to Star Wars, Aliens has to be one of the best sci-fi films ever made. So how come almost every game based on it has been so crap? God knows how you can screw up, seeing as half the work's already been done. The aliens themselves were designed 20 years ago, and the weapons were first seen in 1986. You'd have thought that all that you'd need to do was design a few levels and balance out the gameplay. "When you compare it with all the previous Alien games - particularly Alien Trilogy - AvP has come so far and is so much more enveloping," says Jon Richmond of Fox Interactive. "It takes advantage of the technology in a way that makes Alien TYilogy look like complete crap. I don't like to say that,but it does."
"The reason we spent three and a half years doing this was to create the best game possible and not to rush it out," explains Paul Provenzano, head of development at Fox. "I was at Acclaim during Alien 3 and Alien Trilogy, and the difference in attitude is degrees apart. As somebody who worked as a publisher who licensed Aliens, compared with somebody who is actually responsible for keeping the integrity of it, your focus and dedication to the project is very different. It's not just a game, it's keeping it true and building on that. This game is much closer to the source."
The A2S Always Were A Bit Twttchy
Aliens Vs Predator first appeared back in 1994 for the ill-fated Atari Jaguar console. Giving players the opportunity to blast it out as either a marine, an alien or a predator, it was essentially a Doom clone. And this PC version isn't just a remake either - it's not about running around dark corridors having your face ripped off.
'The variety of the environments is something that people will be surprised about," explains Paul. "When we talked to people about some of the locations, they became excited about the places that they are familiar with from the films."
"With Quake or Unreal you are in a place you don't really know anything about - you could be anywhere," chips in Jon. "WithAvP, yes, you are in a defined world, but it's a world we are all familiar with to the point that it becomes so much more real. It enables you to suspend belief more easily. You are in a place that you can identify with. It's going to be a lot more fun."
Looking at all the other 3D games out there, it seems that if AvP were to come unstuck it would be down to the variety element. After all, the characters have only a handful of weapons - up to six each. Admittedly you can play through the game with three different characters, but will there be enough for people to play it through to the end?
Paul disagrees: "For the marine, every weapon that you've seen in the films is there. The more you use them, the more you realise that there are certain techniques for each one. There is a learning curve, so the weapons don't get old fast. It's not a cure-all to pick up a weapon and just blast away.
"The predator has fewer weapons, but they're not 'traditional' ones. You have to rethink the way you use them. They are much more an organic part of your being.
"Your best weapon as an alien is stealth and speed and getting in close to attack. It's not always easy, but you can make use of walls, ceilings and ventilation shafts. The challenge here is playing a first-person shooter when you've got no weapon to shoot. I don't think the fact that an alien can't pick up a pulse rifle is a limitation; it forces you to look at the game differently. It's not about picking up bigger and bigger
cannons, it's about making do with what you've got. In the films you were left on your own, and it's the same here. You have to figure out what you are supposed to be doing with a limited amount of tools. That's realistic, and it creates a whole new level of challenge over just randomly killing something every 12 feet."
They Mostly Come At Night
We've been lucky enough to play Aliens Vs Predator, and there's little doubt that it could well take the title of Scariest Game Yet. For one thing, enemies don't always start in the same place. And as an alien or a predator you can take out the lights to leave the marine reliant on flares and infra-red. In multiplayer games, the difference between the three characters becomes even more apparent: the predator can cloak and utilise three modes of view, while the alien can move with frightening speed across every surface. You are also able to change the attributes of each character in deathmatches. At the moment the predator is the strongest, so it's a major achievement if an alien can take him out. And if you don't like the set-up, there's an option to change it.
"Aliens Vs Predator is a game that challenges people's perceptions as to what a first-person shoot 'em up should be," says Paul. "It provides three very disdnct viewpoints about playing the same game, and creates three different games as a result. It's the game that people think about when they are playing or designing games. If you want a game where you can play as an alien or as a predator, well here it is." As Hudson from Aliens would say: "We're ready to get it on!"
Quite clearly, I'm mad. Bonkers, in fact. If I'm not going around the proverbial twist, then why is it that I think Aliens Vs Predator is so damn fine, while everyone else in the office is shrugging their shoulders with indifference and still spouting about Halt-Life? Sure, Half-Life is the best 3D shooter ever made. But does it have Aliens? No. Does it have Marines? With smart guns? No. Instantly identifiable, the three subjects AvP-Marine, Predator, Alien - are those that every game since Doom has wanted to poach for themselves. Nearly every 3D shooter of the last five years has nicked at least one idea from Aliens - if it wasn't those spindly insectoids with phallusshaped heads, it was usually the facehuggers. The reason for this plagiarism is that whether you admit it in public or not, Aliens are scary. They are scary because we all know what they can do. If they don't rip your face off first, they'll play a kind of tonsil-hockey with you that's so unpleasant, you'd rather snog Thora Hurd. Either way, you die. AvP may not be the best-ever 3D shooter but, thanks to its cast, it's certainly the scariest. Well, a third of it is.
Indulge me for a second while I explain to you what happened when I first played the Marine demo in the office back in December. The lights were on and everyone around was running around trying to get the January issue finished. I was in a different world - sneaking down a flickering corridor, chucking flares ahead, listening for movement. This didn't stop me screeching like a girl minutes later, though.
Work stopped immediately and concerned faces appeared, thinking I'd put my fingers in an electrical socket. I hadn't, of course. The reason my hair stood on end and a white crust formed around my lips was that an Alien had dropped from an overhead ventilation shaft and torn my face off. I had to take a break. Ten minutes later, I was back for more.
No other game has pushed my adrenalin level so high. Playing as a Marine for six hours with the lights off would probably kill you. I dare anyone not to scream like a baby when a facehugger first leaps at your head and deep-throats you.
As a Predator, you are spared any real pantbrowning moments because, against Marines, you have little to fear. Against Aliens you feel a little more confident, with a spear gun that pins enemies to walls, and vision modes that enable weapons to automatically lock on whenever anything comes into view. It doesn't quite have the offensive capabilities of the Marine but, in a dark corner, immobile and invisible, the Predator is the perfect camper.
Choosing the Alien is a different experience. You collect health, not by picking up medi-kits, but by burying your inner jaws into human skulls. And you can only do that by sneaking up on Marines or finding civilian colonists, which means taking out guards first or chasing colonists into a corner. Movement takes some getting used to, but the ability to scout swiftly over every surface adds another set of skills. You have to keep moving to avoid being split apart like an over-ripe peach, use shadows and air ducts to get in close and personal, then make your kill and move on.
With such diverse characters to choose from, AvPis a bit different to Half-Life anti the rest. The Marine's motion tracker works up the fear factor by registering not only enemy movement, but also breaking glass and flying limbs. Blow an Alien to bits and they'll register until they melt through the floor.
Graphically, AvPis unique. While you won't find any Unreal-stye over-the-top effects, what you do get is just as thrilling. The way the Aliens scoot up the walls, close in for the kill and come apart in an explosion of limbs and acid is spectacular. Take their legs away with a few slugs to the midriff and they pull themselves relentlessly across the floor. Flickering lights even cause you to see things that aren't there. Then, when you're convinced you're not going mad, an Alien drops from the ceiling or a Predator phases into view.
The missions unfold more like a beat 'em up: complete the six missions for each character in 'training mode' and you open up two more. Finish them all in 'realistic mode' and you unlock a couple more. Do the lot in the 'Director's Cut' and you have access to over ten missions per character, each of which is replayable because the enemy doesn't necessarily start in the same place every time.
What's The Story?
There's no story to speak of, regardless of which character you choose. It's basically you versus the world. When it comes to playing as a Marine, AvP would have benefited from a few intelligent comrades running around. You do see some in the later missions, but they're killed almost immediately.
Playing as an Alien, you feel completely alone and, considering the fact that you have to overcome an often confusing control method and have no ranged weaponry, the game would have been far more enjoyable if you were acting as part of a collective. On the sound front a few wisecracks from the Marines would have cBB helped. And remembering how, in the films, the Predator could , emulate the human voice to cause a diversion, there's still more that could have been tapped from the licence.
But what makes AvP so enjoyable is that for the first time since Aliens on the Spectrum, someone has finally made a decent Aliens game. If there was an award for the scariest game ever, AvP would win it hands-down. It's tense, challenging, frightening and, above all, different. I defy anyone not to enjoy its simplicity and revel in its moments of terror. It's a scream.
Aliens Vs Predator Vs Marines
Play as part of a team for the best experience
As a pure deathmatch game, Aliens Versus Predator is not the best around. If you want a game of 'every man for himself', then you're better served with either Quake 2 or Half-Life. AvP works best played as a team game We played It In the office as a squad of Marines against hordes of Al-controlled Aliens. After the initial confusion blew over, it was a blast. You can set the Aliens' and apply different frag points to each character, having each one equal or making the Predator the ultimate scalp to take.
Players in the PC were concerned about the difficulties inherent in playing as an Alien, but this is offset by the fact that they are hard to kill. Mallo complained that they moved too fast, and Charlie, seemingly unable to grasp the concept of taking out lights, wasn't too happy about being left in the dark.
It's too early to tell whether AvP will catch on as a multiplayer game. It takes a lot of getting used to and, if you're still learning the ropes in Quake 2, you're going to have to train very hard to get anywhere. But the potential Is there, and multiplayers hankering for the Aliens experience will not be disappointed with what's on offer. As with the single-player game, AvP Is a very different experience from what we're currently used to. I'd be surprised if AvP took over the world, but glad if it did.
THE PREDATOR JUST shouldn't ever, ever be this weak. It cheapens the history of Arnold's fight against the beast to have him killed so easily by regular aliens and humans. You're supposed to be an elite one as well. It's hard to believe these goons would be feared across the galaxy if they were as feeble as this. But in that nonsensical way that videogame developers think, whenever you have to fight an AI Predator, they're tough as nails. So is your Predator a haemophiliac or something?
And don't get me started on the performance issues. I can take a bit of slowdown every so often, my computer's not the best in the world, but crikey o' blimey, the freezing was unbearable at times. And perplexingly random too, not having much rhyme nor reason to it. At least there was a lot of the game to play through, three different campaigns and... no, wait a minute, they were all the same, weren't they? Just repeats of the same levels that I'd already been through, mostly. Nice one, Rebellion. Cheers for giving me value for money.
At least I could enjoy myself as a Predator by remaining cloaked and not being spotted by humans. Oh yeah, that doesn't happen either: a mere glimpse of you uncloaked means marines can home in on you for as long as they're alive, no matter how far away or how many times you've disappeared.
Thanks Rebellion. I'm fed up now. I need some Anadin.
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Game features:Single game mode
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