Aliens vs. Predator Review: Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

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Think back to all of the films featuring Aliens, Predators, or both. In good times (Aliens) and bad (AvP: Requiem), have you ever wished you could be the Alien or the Predator in a videogame? I haven’t and I’m a huge fan of these franchises. These iconic monsters are great for target practice, not so much for role-playing. Rebellion vehemently disagrees with me on this point because Aliens vs. Predator is the third game they’ve churned out (after 1994’s Alien vs. Predator and 1999’s Aliens vs. Predator) that splits the single player experience into three campaigns: Colonial Marine, Alien, and Predator. Just like its predecessors, 2/3 of these parts are dead weight. Let’s break it down:

Colonial Marine: Blowing away packs of Alien xenomorphs and Predators never goes out of style, though this game tries its best to ruin the moment by employing shaky storyline decisions (in the future, should mankind build colonies on faraway planets, I have a hunch two-floor dance clubs won’t be in the budget) and unimaginative level design. On the plus side, unlike previous AvP games, this version uses authentic, 20th Century Fox-provided audio samples from the films. This means the sounds of the Marines’ equipment, from the rat-a-tat of the pulse rifle to the beeping of the motion detector, will elicit Pavlovian responses from people like me who have seen Aliens a thousand times. AvP overall is a below-par first-person shooter, but when you play as the human, it’s passable.

Alien: In this portion of the game, you play Xenomorph #6, an exceptionally nasty Alien who breaks out of a Weyland Yutani testing facility. Humans don’t stand a chance, right? Wrong, thanks to the same kind of clumsy control issues that have plagued previous AvP games. The films describe xenomorphs as the perfect organisms. While I’m sure the developer spent a considerable amount of effort trying to transpose the creature’s speed, agility, and ferociousness, you rarely get a sense of these traits. As a xeno, you’re faster than the humans and Predators that oppose you, but it’s hard to exploit this advantage because frenetic 360-degree movement isn’t feasible from AvP’s first-person perspective. On top of all of this, Aliens can’t pick up firearms and have to rely solely on melee combat. Repeatedly whacking foes over the head with your tail and arms isn’t very inspiring. And the xeno’s signature pièce de résistance—impaling victims with its mouth—is relegated to a drawn-out, hands-off, pre-scripted animation that leaves you completely vulnerable to damage for far too long. Boo!

Predator: My theory about Predators is that there are two sub-species. The first comprises all of the positively badass warriors you see in the movies who employ technology and brawn to make them into hard-to-kill, top-of-the-food-chain hunters. The second includes the domesticated impostors seen in the AvP games, who seem a lot less sturdy whenever you get the chance to walk in their shoes. Just like when you play as a xenomorph, you don’t approach the level of agility and maneuverability that their movie counterparts flaunt. Predators, at least, get to wield weapons, but its primary firearm, a shoulder-mounted laser canon, is only moderately effective in most situations. While there’s some shock value in the way a Predator can perform a trophy kill—players can use the Big P’s razor claws to eviscerate and decapitate victims—it’s not enough to make this part of the game entertaining.

In addition to the three single player components, there’s an instantly-forgettable multiplayer mode that will have you lunging for your Modern Warfare 2 disc and a Survivor mode that throws wave after wave of Aliens at you and other well-armed Marines. Other games like Gears of War 2 have pulled off the survival mode concept more successfully, but AvP‘s version is still the best part of the game and reinforces my overriding thesis about Aliens and Predators. They’re only fun to have around when you’re annihilating them with a well-appointed rifle or flame-thrower.

The obsession with playing as the Alien or Predator is what’s stopping these games from living up to their potential. It mercifully comes to an end with Aliens: Colonial Marines, which has a different developer than AvP and is due out later this year. This game is a straight-up squad-based shooter that wisely pits human-controlled marines against computer-controlled Aliens. Until this game comes out and maybe after depending on how it turns out, the definitive Aliens doesn’t exist yet.