Aliens vs. Predator PC Review
All seemed well for a while in Aliens vs. Predator land. The developer of the first fantastic game in the series, Rebellion, was back at the helm and doing their best to recreate the magic. Publisher Sega was giving them plenty of time and resources to finish it, and there just wasn't anything coming out quite like it. Hell, the new AvP even got to launch in a quiet February alongside little competition. But the honeymoon is over and now that the smoke has cleared on the release of Rebellion's re-launched AvP, it's clear to see that they had a few great ideas but just couldn't nail the execution.
The game starts off with three distinct campaigns that you can choose from right from the start, and your progress is saved in one if you switch to another. The Marine campaign has you landing on a world for "just another bug hunt", but it clearly goes beyond that as you discover that the Weyland-Yutani corporation, run by a face (or at least a voice - Lance Henriksen) familiar to fans of the Aliens series, is meddling on this backwater colony world. The Xenomorph aliens escape quarantine and the Predators close in at the same time, causing some major fights between all three races.
Ok, they're not that major at all. Rebellion put so much effort into their new lighting and shadowing system and use so many of your PC's resources to keep it running, that fights with more than three or four enemies at once are rare. This means that enemies have to be powerful to keep the game challenging; even when you're controlling the all-powerful Predator, you'll feel fragile in a way that just doesn't seem right. Xenomorphs have the same issue, too, where a burst from an assault rifle will kill you very quickly - and you'll have to keep appearing from the shadows and popping back to them after every kill.
The Marine campaign is probably the best one of the three, even if it does follow so many first person shooter stereotypes that it's hard to keep track of them all. Nameless protagonist nicknamed "Rookie"? Check. No voice? Check. Taking orders through your intercom? Check. Orders make very little sense and only push you from one objective to the next? Check.
But what I think is probably the biggest failure of the Marine campaign is that it simply failed to be scary. I had many more jumps during BioShock 2 than I did fighting off Xenomorphs in the dark. Sure, the motion tracker beeps like it should when enemies move nearby, and yes, the developers did try to make aliens sneak up on you, but you can quickly learn to back down a corridor and the Xenomorphs have no choice but to expose themselves to get to you. The odd part is that when you play the Alien campaign (which reuses some of the levels), you do realize that there are ventilation shafts that allow the aliens to move intelligently and sneak around behind you to take you by surprise, but they almost never do. And once you learn to block their melee attacks, then counter with your own melee attack and then shoot when they're down, they become little more than an annoyance.
The Alien campaign could have been a blast, but the controls are just awkward as hell as you try and transition from floors to walls to ceilings to climb on, and your melee attacks are slow and cumbersome. Marines will exhibit some very poor AI, but if you fail at taking them completely by surprise, you've got little chance to close in and finish one without taking that one solid burst of gunfire that kills you. This means that after every kill you'll have to pop back into the shadows and lay another trap, and the tedium of this will start to wear on you quickly.
The Predator campaign really does start out great, with cool features like the thermal imaging view (with authentic sound effects), cloaking, and shoulder plasma cannon really getting you into the action. But the Predator's melee attacks are weak and the signature moves he does - like removing a Marine's head with attached spine and admiring it before springing back into action - leave you completely open to attacks during it. The game makes these "Grab" attacks very powerful, but then forces you to sit through long signature finishing moves while you get shot repeatedly. Most of his cool abilities must be recharged by finding power cells throughout the levels, so you often wind up having to just hop around and use melee attacks to finish off your opponents. If the game sent more enemies at the player and offered unlimited energy for camouflage and firing ranged weapons more often, I think this campaign could have been much better. The later weapons you get do help this somewhat, but by then you've got other frustrations you'll be dealing with.
The biggest issue that permates the whole single player game is a sub-standard level design that seems to intentionally confuse or annoy you, especially when playing as the Alien or Predator. And as the Marine you'll find that large, empty rooms are made to artificially increase the playing time with strategic placement of big boxes and crates that funnel you around in a long, winding path through many rooms. Worse, invisible walls and other obstructions block your every creative move when playing as the other two, making for a very linear experience that could have used a much more open approach in development. And the AI is so bad that you'll find enemies taking cover in places that expose them to you. Hell, the Marine campaign's final boss actually glitched out and started walking backwards towards me without even trying to kill me, allowing me to get an easy victory in mere seconds.
Online play was supposed to save all this, as the idea of combining all three races into one big online blast does sound intriguing. And many elements of the single player game are reproduced here, but what you quickly find is that the clumsy melee system of the campaigns is even more annoying here. The PC version's online support is also rudimentary at best, with poor matchmaking, long waits before getting into games, nasty lag if host machines' connections aren't solid, and a complete disconnection whenever the host decides he's had enough (which, in my experience, happens very often). The gameplay modes that were designed are actually quite interesting and I could see them being great on a LAN - if this game had LAN play, that is. Instead, everyone would have to buy their own copy and go through the matchmaking system to play, and that is just not terribly likely to happen if you've got more than a few people in one room.
Aliens vs. Predator does offer some nice visuals and atmosphere, mostly through a great lighting system and some interesting setpieces now and then. The action is often solid and the weapons and abilities are usually very fun to use, but the game's missing the glue that should be holding it all together. The campaigns are just too frustrating to be worth the trouble, and the online play suffers too many technical difficulties to lure you away from other, superior online games. The thrill of getting a gruesome close-up kill as a Xenomorph or Predator can't be discounted, but those perks alone can't carry everything. Rebellion had the right idea with AvP, but they just didn't fit all the pieces together properly.