In 1999, Rebellion released Aliens vs. Predator for the PC, bringing the three-front war to gaming with separate campaigns for each race involved. It was hailed as one of the best games in the genre by many, making the excitement for the developer's 2010 return to the series all the more substantial. With a new coat of paint and a robust online multiplayer selection, the developer sets out to prove that despite failures at the box office, there's still plenty of potential in the ongoing struggle between Aliens, Predators, and Colonial Marines.
Players shouldn't approach Aliens vs. Predator expecting a typical first-person shooter. While there are segments that are, indeed, right in line with other games in the genre, Rebellion once again thought it wise to split the story into three parts, which take place simultaneously from different points of view. It all focuses on the Weyland-Yutani corporation's practices on a planet that turns out to be home to ancient secrets for the Predators, detailing their age-old conflict with the Xenomorph aliens. Weyland obviously wants to get his hands on this information, setting into motion a mad dash by the Predators to protect their ancestry, the Colonial Marines to deal with the Xenomorph outbreak, and Aliens to, well, do what Aliens to best: kill everything. While the actual plot itself isn't all that engaging, and the overlaps are few and far between, the way Rebellion blended together three campaigns is interesting in its own right. There are plenty of "Oh! That's why that happened!" moments, and it should provide a different experience depending on the order in which the campaigns are played.
Each side has its own mechanics, bringing with it a unique set of accomplishments and a unique set of problems. The Colonial Marines section is likely the most typical of the bunch, clocking in at about four hours and playing out like a traditional first-person shooter. While it's likely not the Colonial Marines games Aliens fans have wanted, it portrays the struggle between Aliens and humans fairly well, and gives players all of the tools they've come to expect in the universe. This means, among other things, that there are a large number of battles in cramped, dark corridors, with Aliens jumping out at the marines from vents. In these situations the game shines (though not literally, the player's flashlight is woefully incapable of illuminating the room), and there are a number of memorable set-piece battles that will have fans talking for years to come. It's a tense, action-packed experience that only falters as it becomes stale in the ending levels.
Flash forward to the Alien campaign, which sets players in the body of Six, a Xenomorph that Weyland has had a strange infatuation with since it burst out of its first chest. While shorter than the other campaigns, it feels entirely unique. Controlling the Alien provides an experience not unlike playing as the Dark Knight in Batman: Arkham Asylum. The Alien relies on stealth, launching devastating melee attacks before jumping back into the shadows to avoid gunfire. For as deadly as the creature is, a few shots can blast it into a mist of acidic blood, so playing smart is important, as is the ability to crawl on just about any surface. It can be dizzying at first, and there's a definite learning curve to successfully scale the environment, but before long most players will likely find it simple and rewarding to traverse all dimensions of the world. Not only that, but an indicator in the middle of the screen provides the necessary point of focus to assure motion-sickness isn't an issue unless players really push the three-dimensionality to its limits. While on the subject of the environments, it's worth mentioning that while the presentation is fairly impressive at times, it's not up to par with other games in the genre, and looks low-resolution compared to its contemporaries. The sound, on the other hand, is nearly perfect, filled with familiar effects and music from the movies. However, for as good as the score is, the voice acting leaves much to be desired, and the Colonial Marines in particular repeat the same few lines of dialog over and over again.
Sneaking up on enemies and delivering powerful finishing moves is cringe-worthy and fantastic, and the ability to harvest unarmed humans by holding them in place for facehuggers is a brilliant move on the part of Rebellion. Sadly, both of these aspects of the campaign have issues, with the former locking the Alien into an oftentimes lengthy animation while under fire, and the latter being useless besides achievement grinding. If it were possible to break animation and free foes the first issue would be less detrimental, and if harvested humans eventually gave way to additional Xenomorph allies the second problem would, instead, be a brilliant gameplay mechanic. Yet, despite having the potential for greatness, the animations cannot be broken, and if harvested humans are turned into allies it's not apparent or all that useful.
Bringing the single-player portion to a close (but not literally, as they can be played in any order), the Predator campaign plays out like a mix of the other two sides, with enhanced stealth thanks to the ability to cloak, and a robust armory gained throughout the four-hour long campaign. The added ability to jump long distances between areas, distract enemies, and change utilize different visors makes playing the Predator feel more like a hunting game than a shooter, which is likely the intended result. Stalking prey and finding ways to isolate each enemy to perfectly clear an area is an important aspect, though it's not all too difficult to forgo most stealth in favor of using the Predator's advanced technology to blow apart opponents.
While the Predator campaign has the benefits of both other races, it also has the negatives, feeling repetitive by the end, and falling victim to poor level design from time to time. Just as is the case with the Aliens, lengthy kill animations are gleefully brutal, though there are too few on the whole, and they cannot be broken once started. It's impossible to know if the Predator is simply going to slash the enemy's heads clean off or take his time, ripping out the spine and basting in the kill, meaning delivering the grab maneuver is much more unpredictable than it should be. While on the subject of predictability, another issue that troubles all three of the sides is that enemy AI is simply too predictable, and most battles end up playing out in essentially the same way. Too often, each side is tasked with holding out in a room and fighting waves of enemies, and while it fits at times, it feels as though it should have been paced better. Other issues, such as control hitches and poor level design, pop up in all three campaigns, bringing down the quality of the game in a big way. Luckily, it's just so damn fun at times that it's easy to overlook the flaws, and while they're somewhat abundant, they're not detrimental.
Stretching out the replayability a good deal is a healthy multiplayer offering, giving gamers a wealth of options to battle the three factions against each other. Traditional deathmatch and team deathmatch play out exactly as can be expected, feeling fresher than most of its contemporaries thanks to the three diverse factions. Other game modes give wholly different experiences and take advantage of both the lore and the factions, such as a setting where one player is a Predator trying to take down a group of Marines, and another where one player assumes the role of a Xenomorph, turning the opposing humans into allies one by one. If nothing else, it feels completely different from just about every other FPS on the market, breaking away from modern military shooters in favor of something more risky. With great risk obviously comes great reward, and for anyone already interested in the series, there's absolutely plenty to work with here.
Beyond playing competitively, another option plays off the "hold out against waves of opponents" game type that has been extremely popular over the past year, and sets up to four players against groups of Aliens that grow increasingly difficult as time goes on. While it's not as polished or refined as Gears 2's Horde or ODST's Firefight, it should fill the Aliens: Colonial Marines gap, at least for a little while. The main issue with the Survival game type is that it only comes with two maps, when there are a number of locations from the Marines section of the singleplayer game that would have made for great arenas. Hopefully they'll make their way over as downloadable content of some type, since it has the potential to be much more entertaining than it is right now with some new locations.
While there is a lot to like in Aliens vs. Predators, it's far from a great game. There's usually something to complain about at every turn, and every great element is flawed in some small way. Despite these faults, mistakes, and missteps, it's still an utterly enjoyable and unique experience, making the game more than the sum of its parts. Like the Xenomprohs, the problems are there at all times, ready to leap out from the shadows and strike. However, unlike the Xenomorphs, they don't get in the way, and while that alone doesn't forgive the problems, it definitely makes them less detrimental.