There aren't many franchises I keep tabs on, in fact I can probably name them on a hand or two (mine or yours, doesn't really matter), there are fewer still series that I approach with anything less than pure scepticism at announcement and without a litany of top-mark reviews and justifications for my interest before putting down hard cash. I've played my fair share of shitty games and shitty sequels, and wasted a lot of money in the process, so I feel justified in that respect. Every once in awhile though something comes along that makes me go a bit silly in the head – either through some nostalgic attachment to the franchise or because of of how interesting the game's premise sounds.
I feel that way about Rebellion's 2010 Aliens vs Predator game; I looked into it a little before release but mostly just went into it completely blind, I didn't even really wait for the reviews to come out; because I trusted the developer, and to a fair extent I believed their hype aswell. I trusted that Rebellion would make a great Aliens vs Predator game.
I was so wrong, so very, very,
My interest in the Aliens vs Predator games began in the early nineties, as a child catching scattered glimpses of the Jaguar AvP game (also by Rebellion) in issues of various Sega magazines of the era, but not really having access to a Jaguar (and having the monetary wealth of most 6 or 7 yr olds) there wasn't really much I could do other than be impressed by the look of the game.
My interest in the franchise didn't really develop properly till the release of the 1999 FPS Aliens vs Predator (I know what you're probably thinking, and unfortunately innovative titling for the AvP franchise has never been their strong suit). I'd seen Predator as a kid and been scared shitless, was ridiculously scared of xenomorphs, and loved horror, so immersing myself in the world wasn't too hard an ask. The game was simple enough even for a kid to play, with a sort of arcade-y feel to the levels; there was a little bit of story and a few simple cinematics, but you can mostly just rush through levels, most taking about 10 minutes, 30 minutes at most.
What really made the game was just how terrifying and brutal it could be at times though, whereas the Predator or Alien had fairly decent health and could hold their own in most fights the marine was pretty much dead meat walking. If you've played Aliens vs Predator then you'll probably have a fair idea of how difficult the marine campaign is, Aliens seem to respawn in seconds, bursting from the darkness to tear you to pieces (it literally can take just two or three swipes to die sometimes). As an adult it can be unnerving, but it's easy enough to push through to the objective, but as a kid it was terrifying - Xenomorphs bursting out vents, the ominous scuttling sound of a nearby facehugger, it was absolute psychological murder. That sort of experience really stays with you.
A year or two later came Monolith's effort – it's probably a good idea to point out at this junction that unlike a lot of franchises or series where they all come from one developer, Aliens vs Predator games have pretty much been made by whoever Fox feels like licensing the IP out to. That said, most of the Western FPS entries in the series have been Rebellion efforts, but there's also a Japanese arcade game based off the IP and I think atleast one strategy game aswell, rather bizarrely.
Anyway, back to talking about Monolith's game: AvP2 was very much a jump ahead both in terms of graphics and gameplay compared to it's predecessor, though released only two years later; it wasn't quite as scary as Rebellion's effort but offered a lot more in terms of story and atmosphere. You had three interconnected campaigns in which you played as the Alien, the Predator and the Marine. A xenomorph outbreak on a human colony leads to an infestation and loss of communication with the planet, a marine force is dispatched to investigate, whilst the predators are drawn in before the outbreak, during a hunt that goes awry.
In many respect it was a homage to Aliens the film, with touches of Predator throughout. It also, for me atleast, hit exactly right on the money when it comes to what makes a good game: strong story, solid gameplay mechanics and good graphics (for the time.) The scares weren't quite as good as in the original Rebellion game but the Aliens seemed more true to their film counterparts than they ever had in the original. It was the great mix of gameplay, story, atmosphere and homage to some classic films that made me really love the game, and has made it one of my favourite horror games, even to this day.
So you can imagine, I was FAIRLY excited to see this new game, given how scary the original AvP had been and the sort of Aliens/Predator/horror-mix template that AvP2 set down. I didn't even bother to wait for a review, it was £20 on Amazon pre-order and I went for it. Expecting greatness.
So then it came in the post, early one morning, and I felt a rush of excitement as I realised what it was. Unpackaged that bad boy, slipped the disc into the drive and sat through the mandatory 12 hour steam install as I bounced up and down on my chair in anticipation.
Loaded it up, got the menu, thought: this looks a bit stupid, but what the hell, menus don't make the game!
Started the marine game, but for some reason it wouldn't let me play, my marine wouldn't even get up.
Thought ok... day one bug on install from disc... is a little stupid, but no worries...
Did a little research, found the fix. Fixed it and started it up again, ready to play!
So finally I get into the game, the intro cinematics are short, don't really give much story, but that's ok – I felt a tingle of disappointment, this sort of isn't what I expected, but what the hell, bet it get's more awesome later on!
So I got into it, wasting a whole day as I plowed through the Marine singleplayer, stopping for bouts to try the Alien and Predator campaigns. There I was, blasting away for hours, not really sure how I was feeling but wanting to enjoy it.
Till suddenly it hit me: hang on a minute... this is a bit shit
And from there the curtain of illusion fell at an alarming rate, startlingly obvious questions suddenly flooding my mind:
Why isn't this scary?
Why do the marines all have the same faces?
When will that guy stop shouting 'watch your back, marine!'?
Why does the campaign only last a couple of hours and feel like a shoddily scripted series of multiplayer levels?
I realised what that undetermined feeling was that I'd been having ever since I started up the game: it wasn't just an aesthetic dislike or me being picky – the game was boring, poorly designed and generally underdeveloped as an idea, at times I felt more like I was playing half or quarter of a game hastily pasted together to get out the door rather than a full-game.
Granted I'll admit it was partly my ridiculously high expectation that led me to feel so disappointed by the game: I was expecting a game version of a cross-between the Aliens and Predator films; much like Aliens vs Predator 2 had felt back in 2001, but with a lot prettier graphics, and a whole host of new features to meet modern gaming standards, with a campaign that really lasted – or atleast felt as though it ended at the right time. What I got was a passible shooter with an Aliens vs Predator theme, that could be over in about six hours, which seriously felt like the Crystal Maze at times, what with the whole 'areas' thing they had going on: Basically each level had a theme, like Colony, Temple, Research Facility, etc, for the simple reason that the developers wanted to be able to cut each up to turn them into multiplayer levels, but because of how short the game is they ended up all packed together, so you end up with this weird crystal maze like experience where you jump from one themed zone to another within the space of five minutes!
...just, you know, minus Richard O'Brien :(
But what really depressed me about the game is that some of the hype had been true about the game - at times the atmosphere, the sense of being outnumbered and weak was there, it just got ruined five minutes later by something stupid. There's one bit in the game I really love, where you're forced inside the colony complex by the aliens and you bunker down with some marines, watching the shutters close overhead and the automatic sentries scan back and forth, only for those same marines to get brutally slaughtered moments later, leaving you all alone (sorry, spoiler!), but before this sense of isolation and oppression can be used to any real effect you're pushed on to a different level and it's lost.
Moments like that sort of crystallised everything that was wrong about the game for me: it was a series of shoddily constructed scenes strung together with a passable plot which sped past you before you had time to think or feel anything, leaving it feeling like a dull and rather flat gaming experience. Not to mention the fact that any time you might start to feel as though you were claustrophobically cooped up for segments of the game you'd suddenly get pushed back outside again, killing any tension that might have been building up.
The game just left me feeling sooo.... underwhelmed.
Replaying it now I feel a lot of the rage I had for the game dissipate, only to be replaced by an apathetic reaction of 'meh' to much of the game. It's no great icon of gaming but it's not terrible either, it's just a generic shooter, with a few cool bits to it (the monorail and the synthetic combat troops stick in my mind as pretty cool ideas.) Otherwise it's a waste of a game.
I went into the game expecting a homage to some pretty classic films, what I found instead was a multiplayer shooter with a tacked on singleplayer game that really felt like a waste of money.
I guess this is what you get for being too over eager, and believing in hype.