If there is any game that's guaranteed to make me excited, it's a game involving Xenomorphs. As a huge fan of the Aliens franchise, I've been excited about Aliens vs. Predator for a long time. Rebellion have a long history with the franchise, and their previous AvP games are critically acclaimed. Armed with better graphics, tighter controls and more gore than you can shake a stick at, Aliens vs. Predator for the current generation has all the tools for greatness.
However, like most things in life, having the tools and putting those tools to good use are two entirely different things.
Aliens vs. Predator, like the intergalactic creatures it stars, is about as mixed a bag as you can muster. It's clever and varied, scary and intense, yet by equal strokes it's confused, slapdash and, at its worst, undeniably broken. Outstanding. Now all we need is a deck of cards.
Aliens vs. Predator (PS3, Xbox 360 [reviewed], PC [reviewed])
Aliens vs. Predator is fragmented into an impressively large amount of game modes. We have three single-player campaigns, revolving around the Marine, the Alien and the Predator, in addition to a Survival mode and plenty of multiplayer match types. The basic premise involves a colony on the planet of BG-36, owned by the omnipresent Weyland-Yutani Corporation. The three single-player campaigns all take place around the same time and work together to tell a complete story.
The allegedly overlapping story doesn't really come through and could have been handled much better. In fairness, the idea comes off as exactly what it is -- a none-too-subtle excuse to re-use environments for each campaign. Still, each campaign has its share of quality moments, and the different play styles help to make them feel uni que.
The Marine campaign is more survival horror than straight shooter. As a human, the Marine known only as "Rookie" is the physically weakest of the three species, and even the most common of drones are capable of killing him. This lends itself well to creating a tense and terrifying game, but sometimes feels very frustrating and cheap. Deaths regularly come out of nowhere, and often the game will strip you of ammunition or weapons, forcing you to use a standard pistol that is completely incapable of dealing with even a single Xenomorph. Still, the game eases up in the latter chapters, and overall the Marine campaign is tightly scripted, atmospheric, and even features a few cool boss battles.
The Predator is by far the weakest of the three campaigns, not least for the fact that you never really feel like the badass you should. The hunter species does well against Marines, who are fun to distract and decapitate at will, but against Xenomorphs he is next to hopeless, and he'll be fighting Xenomorphs often. His projectile weapons are quick to die and not really effective against the fast-moving Aliens, and players often need to resort to fisticuffs. Even though a Predator can easily take out an Alien in the multiplayer, the bugs take too heavy a beating and spray too much acid to be anything more than an abject pain to fight. The final boss battle is also one of the most horrific I've encountered in a long time, and not in a good way. More in an imbalanced, glitchy, totally unfair way.
By far the standout campaign is the Alien one. Although more time and effort went into the Marine campaign, it's the Xenomorph's story that is the most interesting, and the Alien's unique cat-and-mouse gameplay that is the most satisfying. As the test subject "Number Six", players must break free of a research facility, rescue the Queen and establish a new hive. The Alien's campaign truly captures the predator/prey dynamic, as players hiss to lure enemies into dark places, drop from ceilings, and pin down colonists for some sexy Facehugger action. It's also really not that difficult to orient yourself when crawling on walls and ceilings if you take the time to get used to it. So long as one remains spatially aware, it's quite easy to navigate the game's scalable surfaces.
Each of the three campaigns have their strong points and low points. Most of them have intriguing story elements, some nice set pieces, and the occasional spurt of very cool gameplay. However, the sheer strength of the enemies, clearly designed for multiplayer and not tweaked for single player, leads to plenty of frustration. Altogether, the Marine and Alien missions are well worth playing and provide plenty of fun, but the Predator campaign loses its footing after the first level.
That leaves us with the multiplayer, which I'd love to hail as a triumphant success, but unfortunately cannot. Tragically, everything is in place for a fantastic multiplayer experience. The three species are surprisingly well balanced, the personal and slow-paced approach to versus play is surprisingly satisfying, and the sheer volume of fun game modes makes for plenty to do. However, the game is ruined by poor matchmaking, a lack of dedicated servers, terrible lag, and a number of other technical problems that stomped all over what is, at its heart, a brilliant game.
First of all, the matchmaking. It's a mess. If you're in the mood for a particular match type, don't hold your breath on getting it. I found that the only way to guarantee a swift match was to select "Quick Match" and "Any." This of course means that you have to trust to fate and hope you get the match you want. With seven multiplayer modes to choose from, that's a massive amount of hoping.
Once you've gotten into a match, you then have to hope the host never leaves or you won't get hit with one of the other connection problems that will boot you out of the game. As you might expect, this is a common occurrence and if you are doing particularly well during a match, be warned that you could lose all your hard-earned XP at any time. There's no host migration or dedicated servers right now, so if anything goes wrong with the connection, as is common, your progress is toast.
Then we get to the game itself, which has lag by the bucketload and too many technical problems to name. Not getting awarded points for kills? Check. Getting back-attacked by enemies that you're facing? Check. Dying even though you've still got health showing up on your bar? Check. Trying to perform instant kill moves but having the animation cut short and not lead to anything? Check. Attempting to sneak up on someone, only for the game to lag out and have you ending up in front of the person you were stalking? Check. Not getting points for the kills you've made? Check. The game feels messy and broken and the sad part is that it's through no fault of the game's own mechanics, it's the plethora of technical crap that's bogging the whole thing down.
Without the problems, Aliens vs. Predator is an inspired and clever take on multiplayer combat. The opportunistic nature of the gameplay, the idea that death can come from behind at any moment, and the satisfying feeling of stalking an opponent and finally putting the blade, claw, or bullet in them is a fantastic experience, provided you can get get over the idea that it's not a run-and-gun. Rebellion did a fantastic job of making you feel like the iconic monsters, from the heavy, swaying camera motion when the Predator runs, to the swishing of your own trail when you turn around as an Alien, the game comes as close as we've ever gotten to putting you behind the eyes of two sci-fi greats.
The variety of the multiplayer is also a commendable high point. Highlights include Infestation, in which one player takes on the role of an Alien and slowly kills a team of Marines, turning them into further Aliens until the team numbers have been reversed, and Domination, which is surprisingly chaotic and fun in the AvP universe, despite the fact that Xenomorphs wouldn't be interested in control points. Predator Hunt, a glorified tag game in which players take turns to be the Predator and try to score kills, is a rather boring affair, but otherwise the varied game types really work. I just wish the game awarded points for things other than kills. It doesn't make sense to earn no points for killing Aliens in Infestation, or not being rewarded for taking control points in Domination.
Unfortunately, the good that AvP does is overshadowed by the fact that it feels so very cobbled together and unfinished. The multiplayer problems are things we simply should not be experiencing after so many years of games that work. There should be a minimum standard of functionality that Aliens vs. Predator does not meet, and that's made all the more frustrating when you realize just how good the game could have been.
With a patch or two, Aliens vs. Predator would be a truly great game, but I can't write a review based on potential. I have to deal with what I have in my hands, and what I have is a single-player mode with some noticeable highlights and a multiplayer mode with too many problems to remain enjoyable, despite all its promise. Rebellion has failed itself. It had everything it needed to make a great game, but let itself down with a mess of technical problems that got in the way of all the fun. It truly is a shame, because I want so badly to love this title, but I simply can't.
Fans of the franchise should definitely check it out, but as the game exists right now, it's not worth all your cash.
Score: 6.5 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)