I'm celebrity author and renowned street mime Panzadolphin56. This is my blog. I write things here.
...in case the blog bit didn't give that away.
Anyway! To the left you'll find my latest blogs, and beneath this you'll find a fairly comprehensive list of most of what I've written over the years (unfortunately some stuff does eventually get bumped off the list.)
I like to write from a fairly critical standpoint about games, usually analysis or talking about issues that interest me, I also do retrospectives from time to time, talk about games I've been playing, write the funny things that come into my head, and very occasionally do some crappy art.
I am mostly a story person, good mechanics are good mechanics but button pressing never does anything for me. I like Horror, I like Cyberpunk, I like Neo-Noir (especially crossed with Cyberpunk), I like good art and good writing, I like games that cut against the grain or choose to challenge social or industry norms in some way.
I don't have a single favourite game but I am a big fan of the MGS games, Snatcher, the Forbidden Siren series, Silent Hill 2, the old-school Resident Evils, Advance Wars and Power Dolls, among many, many others.
So I picked up a copy of Extermination a week or so ago, and was able to play through the game pretty quickly (in about four or fives hours), and that made me think about and then eventually do a pretty long write-up about Survival Horror essentials, but even though it inspired the piece Extermination only really got mentioned in passing. I liked the game though, so I thought I'd do a short write-up about how the game plays.
Extermination is a PS2 Survival Horror game that follows the story of a squad of marines who are sent to investigate a top-secret Antarctic research base when contact is lost with the facility; unbeknownst to them the scientists at the facility have been working on reviving a prehistoric bacteria frozen in an alien artifact for thousands of years. This bacteria is unleashed on the facility, revealing itself to be a pseudo-intelligent lifeforce capable of infecting and mutating living creatures and turning them into monsters, driven only by the urge to in-turn infect others.
Now, granted even at the time I'm not sure the description sounded particularly ground-breaking, and you can probably already tell where Extermination is taking its cues from in terms of story The Thing mostly, but nevertheless I found it interesting as it also borrows a lot from the Resident Evil games in terms of the general outline of the plot and the way events progress in the game. You have similar sorts of boss fights, and you spend much of the game doing those same sorts of fetch quests.
Overall the game could pass for being pretty forgettable for some (especially if the dialogue has anything to say about it!), but for a Survival Horror fan, and especially a fan of a lot of the mechanics at work in a Resident Evil game I was pleasantly surprised by a lot of the nice little things the game does differently.
The game features a fairly unusual enemy dynamic whereas most games would have you fighting pretty fearsome or imposing enemies right off the bat, Extermination doesn't. For the first, maybe forty minutes, you don't really meet any of the usual sort of man-sized enemies you might expect.
Much of the first quarter of the game is actually spent avoiding or hunting down these small, leech-like creatures, that slide absently across the scenery and whose only real aggressive action is to spit infectious liquid at you. I'm guessing that probably sounds kind of dumb, and not all that exciting, and individually the creatures really aren't much of a threat or atleast they don't seem it, but it's more a cumulative thing.
A big part of the game is your having to avoid getting infected, because if you do get infected then you have very little time (or the supplies) to get to somewhere where you can cure yourself. Though individually the 'bugs' (atleast that's what the game calls them, they look more like leeches) don't offer much of a challenge, as a group they can be very dangerous, and they often swarm areas in large numbers and a fair few of the areas are dark and claustrophobic, just the sort of situation where you might find yourself slipping up.
For the type of game it is, telling the type of story it is, it actually works really well. The game centres around the idea of this infection getting out, yeah? And how do we often think about disease or infection working? Often we imagine a single case of whatever it is infecting somebody, then that spreading to other individuals, before it explodes outward and becomes incredibly dangerous as it spreads to the general populous. The virus in the story works a lot like this, and the way the gameplay and levels and enemy progression, is designed reflects this really well.
Though the leech-like creatures don't initially pose much danger by themselves, as the game progresses that threat increases as both their number and the other threats in the environment increase. I think it also reflects the nature of the game that the biggest threat those small creatures pose is not one of bodily injury but rather infection you're more afraid of losing your humanity and becoming a monster than you are of dying in those early stages.
The infection system itself is pretty interesting too, you have two 0/100 meters, one for your health, one for your infection level. Health works as you'd expect, if it falls to 0 you just drop dead. Infection on the other hand doesn't lead to death but rather you enter this sort of limbo state in which you have reduced health, a large prominent patch of mutated flesh appears on your back, and you have limited time to find a recovery station.
Another important mechanic worth mentioning (especially in the context of what I just said) is that you have health supplies but you also have these sort of 'instant recovery pills' that completely recover your health and infection rate, but you can only use them at recovery stations. And once you are infected they're the only cure you have, and though the game does give you a generous amount of these pills there are a finite number of them overall. So you have to be careful.
I do also want to mention in brief the ammo system and how the gun(s) work. Unlike other survival horror games you actually have unlimited ammo in Extermination, but you can only carry so much at a time (determined by how many 'magazines' you have), so when you are low on ammo you have to find a supply room with an ammo dispenser in it. Essentially you have limitless ammo but given how few and far between the supply points are, and how dangerous it often is to get to them, you're forced to be very frugal with your ammo. It struck me as an interesting take on the usual survival horror mechanic of scarce supplies.
The way the weapon system works is also interesting, rather than having multiple weapons you have a single weapon an assault rifle, but that assault rifle can have a myriad of attachments that offer you different options in combat, including different sights, enemy tracking scopes, an underbarrel shotgun, grenade launcher and even rocket launcher.
Though one or two extra, secondary weapons, might have been nice, I do like the focus on having this one weapon with a single ammo reserve. I found myself worrying a lot more about having enough ammo than I did in other survival horror games, which is funny when you think about it - whereas most survival horror games give you a very finite, definite ammo supply, Extermination gives you unlimited ammo at limited supply points.
Admittedly there are a fair few things I didn't think were so hot about the game, I've mostly focused on the mechanics because they piqued my interest in the game it messes with the standard survival horror mechanics (well, standard to Resident Evil atleast) to do something interesting, whilst keeping a lot of the plot and narrative elements very standard, which I liked a lot.
On the other hand though those actual plot points are pretty standard B-movie material, you have the heroic lead character, his ill-fated friend(s), the (sort of) love interest, and a general confuddle of events and happenings that don't make a whole lot of logical sense at one point you discover that a few of the scientists have somehow survived and been leaving notes for one another around the infected base to meet up. How it makes any sense that two civilians could survive that long without having to be huddled in a closet somewhere and not a single soldier from the base manages to survive is beyond me!
I quite like B-movies though so I liked the plot generally, but it is admittedly very dumb at times. I don't think it helps very much how wooden and forced the dialogue sounds. And when I say wooden I do emphatically mean wooden, we're talking 80's anime/D-list movie level performances. For the most part it's ok, but like with a lot of not very well dubbed/translated foreign games I get the sense the original Japanese version probably made more sense and affected the player more (I could be wrong, the plot is still very B-movie, even ignoring the voice acting).
Overall I doubt Extermination is the sort of game that'd impress anybody whose not a fan of the genre but for a Survival Horror fan like myself I was pleasantly surprised by my experience with the game. Kinda glad I got it for next to nothing though!
So last week I happened to pick up a copy of Extermination, an old PS2 title from the early days of the console, a survival horror game. This year I've been a lot more interested in trying to look into old games from consoles that I never really got a chance to play when they first came out for whatever reason, predominantly horror games.
Having read up a little on the game I was interested to find out that some of the people who worked on it had also worked on Resident Evil, something which some actual playtime with the game confirmed for me. Though it's not Resident Evil, it has a fair few of the tried and tested mechanics of the early games.
That got me thinking again about the mechanics and tropes that help define Survival Horror, I've written about this before but I felt as though it could be interesting to write about again, especially considering how much there is to talk about.
And hey, it's not like I've ever said I wasn't a broken record on the subject, right?
First and foremost I think perception of challenge in survival horror is important; not challenge in the sense that everything in the game must be hard to do necessarily, but rather the game must feel like a struggle of sorts. The player has to feel as though they're fighting an uphill battle as they play, they have to feel that they're going against the odds, and surviving through some combination of luck and skill.
Though we don't often think about it a whole lot most games are centred around the premise that you have power, or that you will have power, incredible power. And because of this they tend to fall into more action movie territory in terms of the kind of engaging experience you have. Survival horror necessarily has to try and oppose that if it's going to have any effect on the player and note that the game doesn't necessarily have to be literally difficult or set large-scale obstacles in your way, it's more that the player has to feel challenged, they have to feel as though there's no surefire, easy way to solve their problems. Otherwise the game will lose it's sense of tension.
Good examples of this are Forbidden Siren (just Siren in the US) and Resident Evil: Code Veronica.
The Siren games feature purposefully clumsy controls, slow-moving, weak characters, they poorly handle firearms (the few there are) and are mostly useless with hand weapons. As such you as the player are forced to be a lot more careful about how you play, which keeps you on your toes. Your overall goal in Siren is never to 'win' or to succeed in some dramatic fashion, you're not launching a nuke or saving the world, you're just trying to survive, but the player's perception of how difficult that task is, given the gameplay, is in part what makes it scary.
Code Veronica (and infact many of the earlier Resident Evil games) is(/are) a good example of the other way that perception of challenge can work, though the game can be challenging and difficult at times it's largely designed to be a smooth ride (atleast smoother than Siren), and the tasks you have to do to complete the game are relatively simple, but the nature of the way the tasks are presented in the game is such that you as the player are made to feel that you're near enough the last survivor and that each sequence of events, each boss battle, is you surmounting ever larger obstacles, as still even larger obstacles are placed before you.
In both games you have the perception of challenge, but each handles it differently, with Siren the challenge is in the actual gameplay, your goal is relatively simple (to survive) but made difficult by the gameplay. With Code Veronica the challenge is more about how the narrative portrays your tasks and their scale, more than the difficulty of the gameplay.
More generally speaking it should be pretty obvious to say that if the ghosts you're fighting, or the werewolves you have to sneak past to end the level, don't pose any threat, and don't make the player feel afraid, then there's not going to be any sense of tension or danger, and hence no fear.
Realism is kind of a big part of that.
Though we don't tend to think about it a whole lot, a lot of the games we play are very unrealistic, and that's not just a reference to the obvious stuff like Mario or Sonic, but also more generally to games like Modern Warfare or Uncharted. True those games may have a high level of visual fidelity, but you do play as characters capable of absorbing large amounts of gunfire, who are often capable of feats of inhuman skill, dexterity or strength and seem almost 'unique' in their ability to avoid death.
Not to say this is necessarily a bad thing, just that it's a fact about the games we play. Recharging health, respawning supplies (and enemies), boss battles, high scores, even stuff like cutscenes or how attractive videogame leads are, are some distance away from reality. There's a point to all this though, which is the enjoyability factor. A lot of these concessions to fantasy are made because we want the game to be fun, we want a smooth ride, and we want an experience that feels empowering in some way.
Like in an action film, if the lead character got (realistically) cut down by the first group of thugs he came across it'd be a pretty boring film, and over very quickly. He (or she) has to do inhuman feats because it's the fantasy of it. With games, different sorts of concessions are made to fantasy, with characters being bullet-sponges, capable of using firearms or heavy weapons with little or no training, recharging health, etc. It's also to some degree an acknowledgement of gaming's less technologically sophisticated origins, and also how complicated it would be for games to have 1-for-1 control systems, but that's less important here.
And note: again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the point is that with survival horror that distance between reality and fantasy must be considered carefully. You may want your character to be able to pick up a grenade launcher and take down groups of zombies but would letting them dropkick the zombies across the level be empowering them too much for the type of horror game you want?
It's very much a balancing act between the type of fun you want the player to have, and the type of story you're telling. You obviously don't want the player to be bored, but you also don't want to make them too powerful, in-case it ruins whatever tension and atmosphere you've created elsewhere in the game.
Again, using Forbidden Siren and Code Veronica as examples.
Siren made you weak, made you relatively incapable of using any weapon with any competence, and because of this it's punishingly hard at times but it's fun and very scary. The fact the gap between reality and fantasy in the game is so small makes the horror come alive in a sense.
Whereas in Code Veronica (and indeed all of the Resident Evil games) there's a definite edge of unrealism Claire's ability to fit an ample supply of herbs, small arms and even a rocket launcher into those tight pants is the stuff of legend.
It's unrealistic but for the type of horror experience the game is trying to create i.e. a sort of action-movie-esque one, it wouldn't do to have the main character (realistically) having to carry around a huge backpack and wearing body armour. It's also obviously unrealistic that Claire could get bitten or injured as much as she is during a zombie apocalypse and go onto to survive and be healthy, but it's a concession to the type of experience they're going for. Because the game is about fun at the end of the day, and the realism is just there to facilitate that entertainment more than anything.
With survival horror the emphasis on realism is paramount, sure like with an action movie or an action-anything your character may have moments of superhuman ability, but more generally they have to be shown to be fallible, to be just human, if you want the player to be scared.
I think a good example of how to look at how it works from outside of horror is the difference between playing multiplayer in a game like Modern Warfare and a game like Counter-Strike. Sure in Modern Warfare things can get tense but the almost instant respawns, the plentiful ammo and the (relatively) high health mean you don't worry too much about dying.
With Counter-Strike things are a lot different, you can die in just one shot if you're not careful, you often don't have much ammo (unless you've been playing for awhile) and you don't instantly respawn. You have to consider your actions a bit more, and because of that the experience is a lot more tense and can involve a lot more forethought.
A good survival horror game tries to give you that same feeling, it just tries to scare you at the same time.
I think it goes without saying that most people know a big part of survival horror is limited ammo and supplies, and it's a point worth making again. It's not just about limited ammo though but also about ammo and supply placement, and the way the gameplay is set up to encourage scrounging and to make the player feel as though they're lucky to find any supplies.
A good example of this is System Shock 2, where any large supply caches (only relatively speaking, you don't tend to pick up all that much ammo) are hidden away in boxes or at the back of storerooms. The enemies you do fight don't tend to drop much, so in many respects it's better not to fight (given the cost in health and other supplies there is to fight); and you spend much of the game weighing up whether it's worth the fight or whether you should try to sneak or run past an enemy.
I think part of the reason why Resident Evil 4 and onward (5 and 6) don't really work very well as true horror games is partly because of how they monetise combat, they make it profitable to kill enemies, to get more ammo and supplies, rather than encouraging the player to avoid combat so it's less scary. If you have to worry that you might not be able to find anymore supplies if you use them up fighting then you think more about what you're doing, you weigh your choices more.
It's also worth noting that how you fit those pick-ups into the game world has a big effect on the player's perception of the game. For example, if your random Spanish villagers drop submachine gun ammo or grenades (something real Spanish villagers don't do when they die, trust me, I've tested it) it does take away from the sense of realism somewhat. For the most part if you want your survival horror game to feel real then where the player picks up and finds those supplies has to feel real too that means putting ammunition where one might expect to find ammunition, healing items where you might expect to find healing items, etc.
I've talked about atmosphere a lot before so it probably doesn't need expanding on a whole lot, but needless to say it's important that as you play a game that you feel a certain way: the environments you wander through, the situations you find yourself in, they all have to provide a certain kind of response, and note: this doesn't have to necessarily be about scaring the player shitless, but rather more about unsettling them. It's often better to be very subtle about the way you create atmosphere aswell, dead bodies hanging from walls have their place, but you might want to make the uncomfortability more subconscious a broken window here, a smeared bloody handprint there, spent shell casings on the floor maybe. The point is to infer a story to everything, and let the player's mind fill in the blanks. Because frankly, their imagination is probably the scariest tool you have.
I have a feeling I've mentioned this before (possibly multiple times) but it's worth mentioning again, because I think it's one of those things that often gets ignored or overlooked in a lot of more modern horror games:
Any really good horror game needs good breaks between the fighting if it's going to have an effect on the player. Like in a good horror movie you need those moments where you don't know where the monster is, where you're sure something's going to pop out but you don't know exactly when. You need a sense of tension, a sense that you've sort of escaped but on some level you know you're not out of the woods yet (obviously, since the game hasn't ended.)
Long walks down quiet corridors, exploring empty rooms or moments where you have to backtrack are often good for this. You don't necessarily need to have something jump out at you, indeed sometimes it's better to just throw a few red-herrings the player's way have a window randomly break with no consequences when the player's nearby, have a monster growl in the distance, have a door slam shut. Whatever makes sense to the type of story you're telling.
Build-up and tension is a big part of making horror work.
Sort of leading on from that is a sense of forethought to the world you create in the game.
Again, this is one of those things that I think doesn't get talked about too much in games, we tend to focus on the foreground elements a lot, but in horror games it's often the background that's most important to the effect you have on the player.
I think with horror, and particularly survival horror, you need to set the scene, you need to create environments that feel lived in, with characters and enemies that feel like a realised part of that world this can be anything from having a table cluttered with personal belongings, to having a corridor smeared in the bloody hand prints of recently deceased scientists, to a security guard-turned-monster who still has an identifiable ID tag on the tattered rags clinging to his chest.
Again, it's part of atmosphere, tension and build-up, it's important to establish a sense, even if it's just subconscious for the player, that the things in the game world relate to each other in a real way.
Part of the reason why Resident Evil for the GameCube worked so well was it's attention to detail in the environments and backgrounds, everything felt a part of the story and that helped immerse the player. Siren: Blood Curse is another good example of this I think the game has 1-for-1 unique zombies, and each environment has obviously seen a lot of attention to detail, with a lot of emphasis put on making them feel like really lived in rooms before the apocalypse. It's not about running through a series of empty, box-shaped rooms but rather realistic-seeming environments. So as the player you get this sense that you really are in this zombie-apocalypse village, trying to escape, and that in turn heightens the fear.
Though I don't have a whole lot that I can say about it, I do think music is also key. Music can play a huge part in the atmosphere a game creates, and as such it should always be an important factor. One of the more interesting ways I've seen (heard) it used was in Silent Hill 2, where in the background you can often hear what sounds like *something* without really knowing what's there. It creates a sense of dread and anticipation for a completely imaginary danger.
That's more direct, because it makes you feel as though there may be enemies about, even when there isn't, but even just background music can have an effect on the mood, if you quicken the pace of the background music while the player walks down a corridor, how will that change their mood? Will it make the game more or less tense for those fleeting moments?
Horror is often as much about confusion as fear - as the two are linked. Silent Hill 2 is a good example of a game knowing that and using its music to that end.
Something else I did want to mention that I think doesn't often get mentioned is the random element, or the unpredictable.
It's not often something that comes up in a lot of games because it's too much effort to implement but part of what makes us so scared is not knowing what's ahead. If we don't know what's ahead we can't be prepared. Hence why a lot of games stop being (as) scary when you replay them.
Once we know where the monsters are coming from we can know how to prepare for them, which makes them less scary.
Though I can't think of a proper example of a survival horror game that randomised enemy locations I think, funnily enough, Resident Evil 3 is the game that really solidified this principle for me.
Though it only does it in a limited way the locations of supplies randomly shifts between playthrough, and though you can know roughly where they'll be you won't know for sure till you check the rooms where the supplies randomly pop up.
Resident Evil 3's a pretty easy game, so apart from making speed-runs slightly more troublesome it's no big deal, but applied more generally random or unpredictable events, supply locations and enemy spawn points could have a big effect on how we play, and increase the sense of tension, as we lose our certainty about where we're safe.
And since Extermination and Resident Evil started this off, how about some runner-ups when it comes to what makes survival horror survival horror, huh?
-An annoying amount of backtracking -Multi-stage bosses that just won't die -Escaping on some sort of transport -Heroes who don't know how to run away -Tank controls -Journals written by people who actually write ellipses in their journals -Dialogue that sounds like it was written by a 10 yr old -A master of unlocking
...And those are my thoughts! Thank you for entering the world of...
I played a lot of games as a kid, and I mean A LOT, pretty much all demos really because we didn't have any money. Some stuck with me, some didn't. I have vivid memories of playing (and loving) Midnight Resistance on my cousin's Amiga, the early Sonic games on the Megadrive, Streets of Rage, Sol Feace, Revenge of Shinobi, Virtua Racing 32X. I'm leaving a lot out here obviously.
One of the games I remember most vividly though is Doom.
Doom scared the hell out of me as a kid (I think I was about 6 or 7 when I first played it), I remember booting it up and creeping through corridors, fighting off imps, rushing to grab the chaingun or a rocket launcher the first chance I got, and a cold shiver running down my spine at the oh so familiar cry of a Baron of Hell. I don't think it helped much that I first played it on the Sega 32X (FPS gamepad controls weren't up to much in those days.)
What I remember most about Doom though, and specifically the first Doom, was it's box art.
(check the gallery below for a much larger version of the picture)
As a seven year old confronted with the cover of Doom I was terrified. Though I obviously wasn't the man on the front cover (despite having the best damn six-pack of any child in the neighbourhood!) I could relate to him and feel the horror of his situation to the best of the ability of my child mind. Assailed from every direction by nightmareish creatures, desperately struggling to beat them back as they reach out to snatch him away, it was the stuff of nightmares.
I don't think it helps much that I come from a part of England that is sort of atheist, sort of agnostic, but values the Christian traditions as part of it's middle-class identity, so the idea of demons and angels were familiar to me, and here I was, a little kid, face to face with actual demons ...atleast as actual as a really good painting seems to a kid.
It made an impression on me, to be sure.
I think the one thing I remember most about the picture, and that sort of sealed the deal (so to speak), when it came down to scaring me, was the single demon at the forefront of the box, to the left, closest to you. He's not looking at Doomguy like the others, he's looking straight at you. An almost mischievous smile on his face (on one of the covers his tongue actually comes down over the border on the box, almost as if the box is just a window), and a knowing looking in his eyes. As a kid used to reading and watching pretty passive media, to be able to 'play' a game like Doom and to be looking at this piece of art that almost seemed to break the rules of how pictures worked (in the mind of a child) with a character looking at us, it offered the terrifying prospect that what I was seeing and playing might not just be entertainment but real aswell.
Even now the picture still unsettles me a little.
Why is this important?
I think box art for games is important, not just as decoration for the cover of your game but to draw people in, to excite them. We may not be kids anymore, excited by dumb stories about muscle-bound action heroes and princesses that need rescuing, but that doesn't mean as adults we've lost our imaginations. Why else do we play games? Surely we'd just mess with spreadsheets or wireframe games if all that mattered were the mechanics.
Games are about imagination, action, excitement, exploring fantasies and worlds we never could in real-life, and I think the box art of a game can say a lot about the experience you're in for.
Maybe it's because of the gaming era I grew up in in the 90's but 'box art' for me (and I include board game art, videogame art, book covers and CD sleeves in this) is about conveying a sense of what the thing is about, sure some games work best with non-descript covers but I think there are games that would benefit from a strong piece of art on the cover, and for the most part games seem to have forgotten that they can impress us.
Granted I'm now a jaded old man so maybe my judgement's a little obscured, but I haven't really seen a piece of box art that really blew me away in quite awhile. I should probably admit aswell that I am pretty biased towards the old-school oil paintings that primarily used to end up being used on covers. The Doom cover is a brilliant example, but I remember the cover art for Revenge of Shinobi, Streets of Rage, Dune 2, Golden Axe and X-Com the cover to X-Com especially I remember giving me similar vibes to Doom, with the alien seemingly lunging out of the cover.
I guess it's a part of the way the medium's changed that the covers have changed so dramatically the culture around gaming was much more nerdy and closeted in the 90's, and tbh sort of orientated around children and the idea that you had to capture the imagination of the consumer to get them interested in your game, which considering the graphics of the day and the attitude that most people had to games was understandable. The culture hadn't really grown up properly yet, people didn't really know where to look to really find out about games so cover art could be a big factor in whether a game stood out to you and piqued your interest enough to make you buy it.
So the art was a lot more over the top at times, and a lot more focused on emphasising drawing the viewer in (hence using the fourth-wall so much). Now things tend to be a bit more subdued, most people know about a game before they pick it up (atleast there are generally more people 'in the know' than there were back then), so games don't try to wow people so much.
I kinda miss the art though, like I said I think good cover art serves an important purpose with anything we consume, we can't instantly know what a book, or a DVD, or a game, is about, and having that visual element can be important to making a good first impression on the consumer. Arguably the rise of digital has reduced the importance of box art, but aslong as physical retail exists, and indeed aslong as publishers try to foist collector's editions on us, there will always be some importance to good box art.
I think the MGS games were probably the last thing to impress me with their boxart, though that's probably more because I like Yoji Shinkawa's art than because they really captured the atmosphere of the game or made an impression on me.
I was kind of hoping given the topics and themes it seemed to be tackling that Bioshock Infinite would do something interesting for it's box art, but then it just turned out to be a white guy with a gun, and I felt somewhat under-impressed.
I 'd love to see a few games come out though and try to impress you with their box art. I know it'll never matter anywhere near as much as anything else about a game like the graphics, or the gameplay, or the sound - and rightly so, but it'd still be interesting to see how the box art may in the end help shape the impression of the game that the player has.
So what do you think? Is there a piece of box art that you think really stood out to you?
So... there's this game that released this week, and err... it was kind of sucky...
Like, really sucky.
I am ofcourse speaking of: Panza's Creepy LovehouseALIENS: COLONIAL MARINES
As an Aliens fans, and an AvP fan (THE GAMES, THE GAMES DAMN YOU) I have to say I'm really, really disappointed. I was expecting, well yeah, a shooter, but maybe an intelligent one which maybe tried to make some clever points like Aliens whilst also being a lot of fun and a fitting tribute to a franchise of films of which about half I love.
It was not this.
It was so not this.
I don't want this to descend into a diatribe about the faults of the game itself, rather I thought I'd talk a bit about why the premise of the game sucks as far as I'm concerned. So, less 'hey, the motion tracker's useless!' and more 'why is this a dumb shooter?!'
Why is this a dumb shooter?!
I mean I get why it's a shooter Aliens has always been seen as action-heavy, and I get that Alien(s) is the sort of big-budget IP that a publisher would probably want to see out there as a AAA game, top-shelf material, and at the moment pretty much every best-seller is some sort of action-heavy, run-and-gun macho shooter.
I get that, and from the sounds of things the game has had a LOT of development problems. I just don't get why more generally there seems to be this notion that all you can make from the Alien(s) franchise is a straight shooter.
Don't get me wrong, I love shooters, and I'm not saying it shouldn't have been a shooter, I'm just saying why did it have to be this kind of shooter? Why a linear shooter? Why a game about a male white marine shooting stuff up? Why all the same clichι gung-ho tropes?
I mean I don't want to get pretentious sounding, or holier than thou about it, because at the end of the day Aliens is just a piece of fiction, an IP like any other, and I think a certain amount of twisting or contorting of source material to cross mediums is not necessarily a bad thing the series has had plenty of spin-off games that have taken liberties with the source material to do what they want, and there's nothing particularly wrong with that. One of my favourite Aliens games is AvP Arcade, a game that borrows from Aliens, borrows from Predator, mixed into together with a typical arcade game storyline and a host of stock game tropes (end of level bosses, heroic action hero characters, etc). It does all this in a very easy-going sort of way, taking a lot of liberties with the license (Dutch from Predator gets a cool cyborg gun arm!), and by doing so removes a lot of what made the movies the kind of movies they were (the atmosphere and realistic themes), and shifts the tone quite a bit.
However, it does this well.
It's fun for what it is. Which is the point.
Another of my favourite game's is Aliens vs Predator 2, released for the PC in 2001, it was an FPS that allowed you to play as all three races Aliens, Marine, Predator, but interwove a plot between the three campaigns and tried to add something of the cinematic depth of the films to the game, whilst still remaining A GAME. In doing so it added a lot of stuff but also changed things, it cut and merged the two universes until they fit, it took elements from the films and expanded on them the colony for example in AvP2 is much larger, and more like a mini-city than the frontier-town that the one in Aliens is.
In short it took liberties, but it did it in such a way as to capture the spirit of the films whilst observing the conventions of how a game works. It adapted the source material, but did it in such a way that it still felt like an 'Aliens' thing. It felt like it fit somewhere in the fiction, even if it wouldn't fit in the canon. Much like AvP Arcade.
While obviously the bugs, the poor graphics (at times) and the lacklustre narrative frustrate me a lot, they don't annoy me half as much as the apparent lack of thought and sense of integrity to the IP that's been displayed in Colonial Marines. Maybe integrity's the wrong word, it comes off sounding almost draconian, authoritative, as if there's only one way to make an Aliens game, and that's really not what I'm trying to say.
It's that sense of capturing some of the point behind the original films that matters so much, Alien was a horror movie, slow-paced, tense, agonising to watch; Aliens was a fast-paced scary action film, making a point about war and also the self-defeating aspect of human nature the corruption, corporate evil, that sort of thing. AvP Arcade was so good in part because it discarded a lot of that it wouldn't have made sense in an arcade game (though aspects of those points are brought up, just without the atmosphere of the films), it just made it about beating aliens and soldiers up, and cobbled together events that echoed parts of the film. AvP2, meanwhile, because it could make more sense (and make for a more engaging shooter) kept those themes, and explored them, using the starting point of 'well, what if Weyland-Yutani found an Alien planet and decided to put a research facility there, what would happen then?'
It's fun not just because the gameplay and levels are well put together, but also because there's an intelligent hook at work a story to reel us in. My biggest disappointment with Colonial Marines is that it doesn't have that. It just feels like a dumb shooter, designed to be a dumb shooter, with lots of fan service to an old film. Which is disappointing.
I think I could have atleast enjoyed it as a shooter if there had been sort of intelligent hook, or if the game had done something different compared to other games say had a black heroine as the lead, or multiple viewpoints to play from.
It's especially frustrating considering how fundamental challenge is to the franchise, Alien in part succeeded because it was challenging the norm in films at the time of the helpless heroine; with the monster as an allegory for the darker side of sexuality, and reversing the male/female dynamic; aswell as the different stages of the xenomorph life cycle having vaguely sexual connotations. Whilst Aliens was a reaction to the hawkish war-hungry attitude, the bravado, corruption and the sometimes self-destructive quality of human nature.
....HEY DEVELOPERS THOSE ARE REALLY COOL THINGS TO PUT IN A GAME!
ESPECIALLY AN ALIEN(S) GAME!
It's not even like you have to force them down people's throats, just have them going in the background, hinted at in dialogue or whatever. That's how AvP2 did it so well - most of the story you learn from overheard conversations or the occasional notepad.
At the very least they could have made you a female marine, as a nod to Ripley, or shifted up the dynamic in some other way. For example, with multiple marine characters, a story that branches, or perhaps a WY secret campaign, where you have to fight for the opposite side as a corporate merc, that unlocks after you finish as the marine.
Any of those would have been interesting.
It's terribly sad to me that the best thing to come out of Colonial Marines is that I found out that there was a 1984 game that was more imaginative about what to do with an entry in the franchise than Colonial Marines.
In 'Alien' you play as the crew of the Nostromo, and have to try and eradicate a single xenomorph. The interesting part being that it's a 'what if?' scenario, where the facehugger randomly attacks one of the crew members, and how you play, and how the game reacts to how you play, effects the eventual outcome whether you end up with everybody surviving or nobody.
Sure, it's simple, it's butt ugly, but atleast it's interesting. It's a 29 year-old game, that does something more interesting than a game that's been in development for 6 years and probably had dozens (if not more) of people working on it. That's depressing, SERIOUSLY. What's more, its a good adaptation of the source material, it gets the point of Alien and runs with it to create an interesting game. Why can't they do that with Aliens?
It's sad that we now have the technology, and publishers the resource might, to create really engaging, immersive worlds for games, yet instead of publishers saying 'this is what we want you to do!' or developers pushing for that themselves, seemingly the best thing they think they can make with the license is just a game where you move from room to room, shooting stuff, and waiting for your useless AI partners to open doors for you, because hey, if you could open them yourself then you'd be able to skip the boring combat sequences. Also, that might seem like choice or interacting with the world, and that's scary.
I think what Colonial Marines shows, apart from that buggy games are incredibly annoying, is that like with RE6, not everything can be a current-gen style, straight-shooter. Not every property or idea works that way. And note: I'm not saying that not everything can be a shooter, I'm saying that not everything can do things the way shooters at the moment do them and work not everything needs refilling health, waves of enemies, quick-time events, unlimited pistol ammo, AI partners, co-op, etc all that stuff. If something ruins the atmosphere or harms the point you're trying to make with your game it's probably a good idea not to stick it in, and you definitely shouldn't put anything in a game just because other games have it.
It annoys me especially because the fact they made the kind of game they did kind of implies that they thought that that was all they could do with the story and the gameplay, like as if somehow if they'd instead opted for a very claustrophobic, atmospheric experience with lots of build-up and downtime between fighting the xenomorphs, that somehow that wouldn't have worked. The 2010 AvP was a lot like this aswell, a very dull, middling shooter with really no sense of originality to it, that sort of felt as though it was trying to say 'well, what do you expect? This is all games can do!' Which I don't think is true.
I like the idea of the Spectrum Alien game, even though I think the game's probably long past it's sell-by date in terms of what consumers expect from a user interface and the graphics of a game. Still, it's interesting. I guess in the end what I'm saying is, of all the IPs out there I think Alien(s) is one of the most open to being adapted in all sorts of ways. Perhaps they could make a shooter with a branching story or levels; perhaps procedurally generated gameplay; perhaps a game with multiple characters to play as, each who add something different to the story, and give you a different kind of gameplay. Even if said game ended up being only a few hours long, if you could replay it over and over again in different ways and the plot was interesting, that would be awesome.
It's just generally a shame nobody seems to want to do anything interesting with the IP, so all we get is mediocre shooters.
5 random ideas for Alien(s) themed games that I think would be cool:
Corporate Exec you play a Weyland-Yutani corporate type (think Burke, you lucky dog you), and you have to move your way up the corporate ladder helping Weyland-Yutani collect xenomorph specimens, harvest eggs, avoid detection by the government, and generally being all sneaky and underhanded in order to exploit the aliens for the good of the company. With your end goal either being xenomorphs taking over the Earth (bad ending) or retiring to a tropical island somewhere (good ending) ...not long before xenomorphs take over the Earth.
Xenoworld Let's not kid around here: this is just Jurassic Park with aliens. You're the David Attenborough's brother of the Aliens universe and you're desperate to show everybody these super cool aliens you've found! Now try to show all those nice people what they look like without too much chest-bursting, lest the colonial space authorities come down on you!
Alien Just remake the Spectrum game. That sounds awesome.
Prisoner: Cell Block Xeno you run a prison, on a lifeless planet somewhere in the depths of space. It's desperately hard work, having to balance incoming funds against expenditures... I so hope a xenomorph doesn't pop up and ruin everything! WOOPS, spoke too soon. Now try running that prison without too many 'unfortunate prisoner accidents'!
Another Glorious Day in the Corps! This would be a bit more like a standard shooter, a bit like Battlefield 3 or Medal of Honor (the 2010, slightly less shit, one), only better: you play different marines, each having different experiences of some sort of xeno-infestation. Say, a regular marine, a smart-gunner, a co-pilot, the gunner on an APC, that sort of thing. Each sees something different that adds in a different way to the plot, and potentially you could use different characters for different purposes for instance making the gameplay for one horror-orientated maybe the co-pilot's involved in a crash and then has to survive with just a pistol, whilst another could be used for the full-on action sequences, say the smart-gunner. Also, the game would include proper female characters, not just ones shoe-horned in after the fact.
Nothing. The darkened passageway is empty. I'm alone. I relax my grip on the controller, letting my finger slide off the shoulder button, my view swinging back forward.
Then a roar erupts ahead of me, as a mishapen, lumbering form charges from the darkness, and I scrabble to turn and run before it can reach me. Hoping that if I can just overrun it then maybe the darkened corridor will hold some respite from my pursuer...
This is Hellnight. This is every playthrough of Hellnight.
Of all the games I had to pick up and play, I chose Hellnight.
A game designed to torment, to dangle the prospect of freedom before me repeatedly, before wrenching it from me at the very last second.
Escape is always only a few steps ahead, a stairway out, an elevator up, but over and over again obstacles are put in your way, and your progress is pushed back, forcing you deeper and deeper underground.
All the while chased by that thing, as you desperately try to figure out why you're involved in all this, and how you can escape.
As games go Hellnight is pretty interesting, and also relatively unique, forcing the player to rely on their wits over brawn (which even when you have it is relatively useless); it's also somewhat unknown outside of survival-horror gaming circles, and should never be confused with the film starring Linda Blair ever, ever.
Released back in 1998/1999 for the Playstation by Atlus, it's a survival-horror, puzzle game where you play the part of an anonymous male lead, who after the subway train he's on is freakishly derailed by some unknown creature, finds his only escape is to head deeper underground with the only other survivor of the crash, into the network of tunnels and passageways that lie hidden beneath modern Toyko, in a desperate attempt to escape their pursuer.
You spend much of that time creeping round corridors, desperate not to run into the creature. Aside from a few niggling problems (hello sloppy translation!) it's probably one of the most unique experiences I've had in a survival horror game; while what exactly it is the game manages to capture so well remains difficult to pin down exactly.
Is it the sound? The visuals? The atmosphere?
Maybe a little of all of the above. It's not a difficult game to explain, just difficult to effectively convey just how terrifying an experience it can be at times.
It's not even like the game is complicated, you don't have to push ten different buttons at once, you don't have to worry about micromanaging ammo or even supplies - there are none! Yet when it works, when you're in the moment, it's possibly one of the scariest games you'll ever play.
It's scary simply because of how helpless and weak you really are in it, one touch is all it takes to kill, and you'll never really know how long you've got between encounters with the creature, you just know you have to push on and hope it doesn't show.
Because you are the prey.
And out there, somewhere, is a creature whose sole intent is to hunt you down and kill you.
If you remember what it was like to be hunted by Nemesis in Resident Evil 3, then you're getting close to how it feels, but not quite. Nemesis had limits to where he could go, and you had guns. Here, the only sanctuary you have is the odd room or branching corridor, out in the open it can get you anywhere. And as the game progresses the threat from the creature increases, as it itself evolves into more and more deadlier forms.
You spend much of the game either exploring, collecting or figuring out the pieces to the puzzles that let you move ahead or running from the creature, slipping into rooms to hide and hoping that when you leave again it'll be gone.
When it came to deciding what I wanted to write about for this blog I had a few thoughts - I've had my fair share of scares with the Fatal Frame series, the Siren games, System Shock 2, REmake, and even Dead Space, but my experiences with Hellnight stood out.
It stood out because in all those other games I was at one point or another in control, I was powerful, even if momentarily, I had the upperhand, but I never do with Hellnight. All you can ever do is slow the creature, never stop it. You will always be running.
One of the most vivid memories I have of playing the game is from about midway through, when you find yourself in a sort of livestock area - a large open space that's been converted to house animals, with a series of small sheds and pens, all orderly arranged along a grid system, but equating to little more than an open maze for me.
I knew it was coming. I hadn't heard it, or seen it, but I knew it was somewhere out there in the darkness; I hadn't seen it for a long time, so I knew I was due a visit. So I was being careful: cautiously moving forward, never moving too quickly, lest I use up the stamina I might need in a tight squeeze. I felt ready, ready enough atleast.
I was wrong.
I had to search the sheds, one by one, explore every inch of the map. I had to escape but I didn't really know what I needed to escape. I'd left the shed behind me, having found nothing - most of them were empty, and I found myself absently turning and walking to the next shed, glancing over my shoulder, expecting it to come from behind me. Only to let go the shoulder button and hear the creature roar ahead of me. I found myself caught between pens as I desperately scrabbled to turn and run, to get out of there. To somehow escape back into the dark unseen.
Hellnight is the sort of game that would never have won awards for best graphics, or most bombastic, energetic, singleplayer experience even at the time, but it does something with its atmosphere, the sights, sounds, and gameplay, that most games never do. And that's without even getting onto the story, which though obscured by the poor translation hides a number of subtle nods to some classic Sci-Fi movies.
I remember Hellnight most though for those moments: those slow, silent pauses between the monster popping up (and it does literally seem to just 'pop' up); the ones when I'd run and hide, and find a piece of a puzzle; and those other moments when I'd leave a room, confident that I was safe only to find the creature right in front of me.
Because those moments, those are the ones that real horror stories are made of.
It's always been felt that games need a strong sense of identity to sell, especially mainstream ones, modern games tend to create that sense of identity themselves by creating characters and worlds that developers know will capture the interest of consumers. It wasn't always like this though, there have always been mascots and icons in games but there was a time when developers weren't as sure of creating their own sense of identity, or indeed weren't capable of because of the limitations of the hardware at their disposal. Borrowing from movies, or licensing movie rights, then offered a nice middle ground between creative freedom and a proven intellectual property.
In some cases this was more like inspiration or copycatting, Blade Runner partly inspired Syndicate and Snatcher, but also fed into the inspiration for a lot of games in the early nineties that never made it very far. Other games were able to license and officially represent the IP. This happened with various movie franchises, with varying degrees of success, one of the more successful examples being the Aliens Vs Predator series.
As far as I know Aliens Vs Predator started with a comics crossover, but then moved to games in the early nineties on the jaguar with Rebellion's Aliens Vs Predator (forewarning, this is literally the name of almost every AvP game, and it can get a little confusing without platform or year notes nearby). That original Aliens Vs Predator for the Jaguar was a sort of arcadey shooter that had some success; I won't go through every iteration in the franchise, but there was also a pretty decent side-scrolling, fighting game made by capcom for the arcades aswell, between that and the semi-sequel/semi-reboot in 1999.
The next AvP game (atleast as I'm counting them) was Rebellion's 1999 effort, a more modern attempt at an AvP FPS - it was 3D and let you play as all three races, with each having their own separate story. It was a very arcade-ish game in some respects, you didn't really have proper objectives and missions were very short but as the marine atleast it could be scary as hell and very challenging. Not everybody thinks it stood the test of time and truth be told its kind of gameplay has fallen out of favour these days but it still retains some of the fun it had back in the day.
AvP2 was a different sort of beast entirely though. Created by Monolith, who'd only just had a series of successes with games like Blood 2, Shogo and No One Lives Forever, it was a completely different experience compared to Rebellion's effort. It was narrative heavy and pretty scripted but also very cinematic and a lot more engaging compared to its predecessor. In many respects it emulated the experience of the films a lot better.
So what is it the game does so well?
I think probably the biggest thing the game has going for it is the quality of the story, not only is it solid and believable it also makes sense in terms of the context of the movies (atleast the Aliens movies), and in many respects it feels like a cinematic continuation of the story of the Aliens movies, just with predators involved, in a game.
I think it achieves this primarily because so much of the story is borrowed from the movies and then extrapolated on. For example, in the movies Weyland-Yutani pretty much fits the archetype of the evil, faceless corporation, with no concern for human life and whose only desire is to exploit everything and anything they can. As such the xenomorph to Weyland-Yutani is just another resource to be exploited, for whatever technological or biological advantage it may give them over their competition. Perhaps it's because of hubris or ignorance but they don't really see the xenomorphs as the hostile alien killing machines, the biological plague, that they are, because they want to exploit them.
This is probably the key motivating factor behind the events of both Alien and Aliens: Ash betraying the crew and manipulating them to further possible collection of specimens in Alien; and Burke ordering the colonists to investigate the ship in Aliens, leading to the small colony becoming overrun.
This is taken to the next logical step with AvP2. LV-1201, a jungle world, is discovered to be the site of a giant alien hive, home to thousands of drones, alien queens but also an empress, aswell as apparently ancient structures constructed by some unknown race (the predators). A large colony structure is then built, seemingly several times the size of the colony on LV-426 and called the P.O.C. or Primary Operations Complex, aswell as the Forward Observation Pods that serve as a hub for all research and development that goes on. Whereas the colony in Aliens is more like a frontier town, the colony in AvP2 is like a mini-city, with over a thousand inhabitants (atleast before the aliens woke up anyway).
The principal storyline focuses on an administrator and scientist, Dr Eisenberg, who is obsessed with exploiting the xenomorphs for everything that they're worth. His family influence puts him at the head of the Weyland-Yutani venture on LV-1201, and the large colony and research facility are built to service those corporate interests.
As the Alien you play the part of a rogue drone birthed through an accident that occurs when a shady blackmarket deal goes wrong and a shipping container breaks open allowing you, as a young facehugger, to escape into the colony at large. You then navigate the colony structure to find an unsuspecting host; as a newborn drone you then go on to cut your way through the P.O.C., assisting your fellow trapped xenomorphs as you do so, to get to Eisenberg, who is your final boss.
A big part of the Alien's plot is the story of the scientist, his motivations, but also the open secret of corruption and dirty deals that forms a central part of daily life in both the P.O.C. and the F.O.P..
As the Marine the story is a bit narrower, it focuses on the story of the marine contingent that comes to investigate the distress call of the P.O.C. right after it's fall, and specifically on the part a single soldier, Andrew 'Frosty' Harrison, plays in the events that unfold on LV-1201. It's pretty much your standard FPS campaign (or atleast standard for late 90's PC), though arguably it is done pretty well. Again the proportions are blown up, you see a lot more marines (die) than in the film, and a lot more hardware, so if you're a fan of the survival/military aspect of Aliens you'll enjoy that part of the campaign especially.
The Marine story is a lot more focused on the personal, human, element of what happens and though it does add to the overall story of the events on LV-1201 you don't really have an specific villain to go up against. Indeed the final boss for the campaign is an Alien Empress.
She doesn't really say much.
As the Predator you play a fairly young hunter, and it's implied you're of royal or atleast noble descent, perhaps a prince; LV-1201 forms the basis of the game primarily because it's a breeding ground for xenomorphs, with a vast underground hive buried deep beneath the surface, this in turn attracts predators to hunt there, that in turn (in part) attracted the corporation and people to the planet. Whilst hunting on the planet some of your fellow predators are caught in a trap laid by Weyland-Yutani soldiers, using advanced EMP weaponry.
The central fulcrum of the Predator campaign is a character called General Rykov, the infirm and drug-addicted leader of a PMC, the Iron Bears, who was once a colonial marine and the only survivor of a predator attack on an outpost. Rykov is left crippled when trying to make his escape, but somehow miraculously survives and goes onto walk again - apparently because of blackmarket connections, but is left a husk of a man, obsessed only with hunting down the creature that crippled him, and taking his anger out on any of its kin he should stumble upon.
If you hadn't already guessed it, you're said predator. Or atleast it's heavily implied you are through cutscenes and found documents in-game.
That's probably a little more detail than most would put into explaining the story, but I really think one of the strongest things about the game is just how solid the story is. It takes three completely different gameplay styles and characters and interweaves them all beautifully into a story that hangs together really well even compared to a lot of modern games it's still a very well-written story.
It's also worth noting that they've done a really good job of merging the two universes and deciding on which elements to pick from the movies to put in, to make it all fit together. There's plenty of nice little nods to not only Alien and Aliens and Predator but also Predator 2 and Alien 3.
It's also worth noting that the game has some interesting imaginative elements aswell, that seem like them taking liberties with the license to be creative elements of the colony design for example, the badass miltary power-loader you pilot at one point in the Marine campaign, and the combat synthetics. Some of this obviously inspired by the comics.
Regardless though it all contributes to making the game work that little bit better as both a homage to two old franchises and as an original property.
Another large positive worth mentioning is just how well put together most of the game is, you get a really good sense of atmosphere from most of the levels especially the Marine levels in the dead colony complex, the way that the xenomorph sequences are scripted and the way that the levels themselves are designed works well, and not only can it be quite tense but also genuinely scary, especially since aliens have a habit of coming out of nowhere to claw at you.
To this end aswell there are a lot of very good, large-scale set pieces at one point as the Predator a dropship swoops down suddenly in front of you before unloading on the landing bay you're stood inside; as the Marine you fight an Alien Empress, and this happens in an underground hive, just moments before you make your escape to the surface followed by swarms of drones; and as the Alien you have several boss fights with predators aswell as a tense hive-running sequence.
So there's a lot going on. At the time all this stuff really blew me away, but even now it's impressive how much effort they put into the game. There's obviously a lot of love in the game.
So what doesn't the game do so well?
I'm reluctant to say it but the graphics do look a little dated, I'm mostly reluctant to say it because I think they still hold up fairly well considering how many years have passed (like 12!). Sure it's obviously no Far Cry 3 or Arkham City, but the game still looks alright and is still pretty atmospheric considering its age, in-game characters look like people not weird block monsters and it's perfectly playable. Just don't get weirded out if you see corpses blink...
As a sort of secondary point, perhaps the biggest downside to the game is the reuse of game assets, and the element of error in some of those assets. (For the time) the game looked stunning, very, very, beautiful, and even now it does look pretty good, but it seems like that came at the cost of how many assets they actually made and the detail work that went into them.
They reused a lot of the NPC assets, especially the marines - there's one character in the game called Duke, who's like the comic foil, or Hudson, of the Marine campaign, always whining and complaining, but they use his character model repeatedly in place of generic marines. At one point you're moving through an underground system of tunnels and pass his corpses multiple times he even gets pulled into a vent at one point. And a few of the less prominent marines (who seem like they have unique character models) are re-used like this.
This would be ok, if not for the fact it's never really explained who's who, so when you're playing through you can be confused into thinking a character's dead when they're not, I mean after finding generic Duke dead it would be easy to presume the character were dead if it weren't for the fact he shows up later in the game.
It's also sort of compounded by the fact the story, though very well done, can be a little sketchy at times when it comes to details. You're part of a marine contingent, but it's never really explained how many of you there are, how the force is organised, or even what squad you're in. The only clue you have is that some guys have white shoulder pads, some red. In terms of gameplay it doesn't ruin anything but it makes the story a little confusing.
Also, I think there's maybe 7 or 8(?) voice actors in the whole game, and you will notice the same voices coming up playing different characters, that sort of adds to the confusion, though a lot of the voice-work is very well done.
None of this is enough to ruin the game in any way, but it does confuse things a little bit, it's hard to know what's going on sometimes.
Probably the only other major downside, and one coming from somebody primarily a fan of the films, is that the xenomorphs don't really act much like they do in the films. To be fair this was also equally true of AvP1 but it's still a shame. Xenomorphs don't really hide or sneak up on you, they just pop out and rush at you. It's still scary, just don't expect to get pulled up into the ceiling anytime soon.
On top of this, AvP2 swaps AvP1 one's random xenomorph spawning for scripted attacks, obviously first time through you won't know where they'll come from, but on subsequent playthroughs you'll know when to expect attacks. Again, it doesn't ruin the game, and given the age of the game it's forgivable, but eurgh, I'm being pedantic here so it matters.
Though the game arguably shows its age in a lot of respects Aliens Vs Predator 2 still stands up as a really solid, enjoyable experience, and a fitting tribute to both the Aliens and Predator universes.