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Aliens Versus Predator (1999)

It hurts…

Played on GoG.com Galaxy Client

Screenshots from GoG/Steam Store 

Aliens Versus Predator suffers from its own commitment to authenticity.  Each of the race’s campaigns are faithful to their respective movie’s look, sound and tone, but at great cost to gameplay.

For example, grainy night vision is constantly required to spot aliens in the Marine campaign, but the contrast of white on green burns into your eyes and genuinely feels damaging to your sight.  This CCTV type effect is iconic to the ‘Aliens’ movie, but used briefly – as if James Cameron knew that it couldn’t be comfortably viewed for more than a few moments.

The intense music has to stick around for much longer than a movie action scene and the repetitive trumpet squeal and bass is headache inducing. The constant horde of Alien attacks are scary at first, like the movie, but soon become a tedious and cheap way to increase difficulty.

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A Xenomorph being able to climb along walls like a spider, move swiftly and deliver deadly close range attacks is amazing to watch, but horribly disorientating to experience when playing the Alien campaign.  Enemies have guns so anything other than a stealth attack is almost guaranteed to get you killed.

The Predator campaign starts off the most promising, but amazingly manages to encompass all of the issues of the other two campaigns – with multiple vision types to boil your eyes and a character that moves so fast so as to be detrimental.  Often I found myself accidentally sliding into rooms full of soldiers to be quickly shredded apart by gunfire.

AVP wants to relive the experiences of the movies, and many elements of the sound and visuals achieve this – even with the ancient, near Playstation 1 era graphics.  However, as with many spin off games it can be easy to see when gameplay/enjoyment is second to atmosphere and movie callbacks.

That isn’t to say that AVP was lazily made, but when it came to striking a balance between authenticity and gameplay, gameplay lost every round.

The basics

Progress can be saved only 3 times per level, making the decision to save difficult as you will have no idea of how far you’ve progressed into the stage.

The Marine and Predator campaigns have respawning aliens,  effectively acting as a soft time limit.  Your ammo and health are not infinitely replenish-able, so you cannot hang around to constantly fight.

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It’s like a Doom speedrun on Nightmare difficulty – where memorization of a map is required to learn the correct order in which to flip switches to get to the end quickly.  Engaging in any combat or stealth is pointless as enemies won’t go away and will always find you.

The atmosphere fades fast as you start approaching levels with a purely mechanical mindset.  You aren’t fighting intelligent creatures in a dangerous world, but practicing an obstacle course to see what rules and mechanics can be exploited.

As a marine you traverse a military/science complex trying to not get killed. The scenery is faithful to the movies and the sound design effectively replicates the tense atmosphere, keeping you on edge,  and becoming genuinely panicked when attacked by groups of aliens.

This all falls apart when you realize just how little bullets are required to kill them and that their quick movements can be completely neutralized by shepherding them into a narrow corridor.

They will eventually overwhelm you.  Not in a scary way but in a very annoying way that makes combat dissatisfying because killing them seems pointless.

These near constant attacks amplify the problems of the aesthetic design.  The beep of the motion detector is irritating and ultimately useless  as you know where aliens are – in pursuit of you, always.

The near painful light/dark contrast of night vision waters the eyes and the intense frantic music begins to drill into your ears similar to how a child screams for attention – all while you try to look out for enemies.  I wasn’t killing Aliens for fun or challenge, but to get moment of peace so I could figure out how to get out of the maze.

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As the Alien You posses only melee attacks but can crawl at high speed on every surface to approach enemies from potentially every angle.

All these attributes were a detriment to the experience.

Intended to be ‘Alien’ in appearance and deliberately muddy and old, the starting level was literally difficult to look at.

Clinging to surfaces and moving from ceiling to wall to ground made me quickly lose orientation.  The quick run speed adds to the confusion, causing an entire room to flip perspective in an instant.  The Alien ‘Vision’ wasn’t helpful as it simply made all surfaces the same colour.

I died regularly when fleeing to a new surface,  gunned down because I was standing on the open ground as opposed to the ceiling to which I assumed I jumped.  Your ability to use all surfaces simply gives stationary enemies multiple angles from which to shoot you.

I found myself running in circles, not realising that I was repeatedly entering the same room because of the new angle from which I approached.  A room looks completely different from the perspective of a wall as opposed to the perspective of a ceiling.

This is the opposite of how aliens are portrayed in the films.  Aliens are the ‘Force’ that can be anywhere at any time.  They’re meant to induce confusion and panic, not experience it.

Every attempt at the first level ended with me quitting in frustration due to these fundamental mechanics, all of which probably sounded great on paper, but were hideously executed.

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The predator campaign was the most promising of the 3.  The obstacle course like element still existed, but felt more suitable to the Predator’s playstyle.  It  encouraged efficiency, and consideration when approaching a situation.  Since marine enemies won’t respawn there was satisfaction from the sense of progress and no pressure to bulldoze through areas.

I enjoyed being a technological ghost against weak scared marines.  There was a compulsive challenge to balancing stealth resources and ammo – as both pulled from the same finite resource.  Killing groups of marines before they knew what hit them felt rewarding.  I felt like the predator!  The different visions, sound effects and music all fell into place.  The promise was delivered, I was there!

Then aliens happened.

I was having too much fun and they had to rein it back.  4 levels in and the Xenomorphs make an appearance, causing the game to revert back to the frantic scream fest that was the Marines campaign – but worse.  The Predator’s tools are not meant for this faster paced combat since it possesses no rapid fire ballistics.  Switching weapons was also slower and ammo scarcer for the predator than it was for marines.

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Once again enemies attacked endlessly in large numbers, startling and confusing me as it had previously, but without the gear or time to react appropriately.

It’s completely at odds to what the predator is, a stealthy hunter –  intelligent, advanced, efficient and calculating – Which was the case for the first few levels before they pop you right back into  space bases with hordes of aliens.

I have no idea as to whether the campaign reverted back to predator stealth after that level.  I refused to tolerate it anymore.

Overall stuff

The level design is confusing.  Old graphics wouldn’t have been a problem had levels been designed uniquely or intuitively (see Duke Nukem, 20 years old with sublime level design even though the graphics have mummified).

Everything is a science or military base composed of rock, pipes, computers, large machinery, metal doors and elevators.  Many of the marine levels were difficult to mentally map out because rooms had little or no unique features.

Suicide runs were required to figure out the sequence of rooms I needed to visit.  If it looked like the place then I would die, restart then try to get there normally.

The constant need of night/predator vision also added to the confusion.  Enemies are near invisible due to how they blend into the scenery, so this vision is essential for combat – but turns all rooms into the same green/blue box with no stand out features.

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“Plot”

I never mentioned the plot because it isn’t worth mentioning.  All the campaigns missions direct you to press a button or destroy something (which is functionally identical to pressing a button), then  go to another place to and press a button, and repeat until the exit.  The only other characters that appear are those who either talk to you, or at you, through computer monitors.

AVP is as narratively and mechanically ancient as Doom, but less enjoyable.

The one positive thing I will mention is that the final boss fight of the marine campaign actually had mechanics to it.  Not that it was incredibly clever or original ( spoiler, you blow the Queen out of an airlock, which I’m sure has never happened in an aliens film).  But C- for effort.

Games age.  Some better than others but even those that age poorly can be worth a look if there is something unique or exceptional, or solid at it’s core.  AVP has no standout gameplay, music or story and its atmosphere has been replicated more realistically in more recent AVP games (so I have heard).

AVP has nothing to offer and isn’t worth the time or the frustration to experience.