Game Review - by James Allen
Two of the most successful sci-fi movie franchises in the late 70s and early 80s are Aliens and Predator. Almost everyone is familiar with both of these titles and their subsequent sequels. In an effort to combine each of these in a single computer game, Aliens vs. Predator was put on the et several years ago; I remember seeing it around, but I never actively played it. Intent on proving upon the original, a strange grouping of Sierra, Fox Interactive, and Monolith formed what has become Aliens vs. Predator 2. The sequel builds upon the original, offering campaigns from each of the three perspectives: aliens, predators, and marines. Will Aliens vs. Predator 2 be full of face-hugging action (from the alien perspective), or be full of face-hugging action (from the human perspective)?
As I noted in the random collection of disjointed words I like to call an opening paragraph, Aliens vs. Predator 2 features three different campaigns for each of the three species present in the world of AvP2: aliens, predators, and humans. These three different experiences are something that is not found in many other first person shooters, and the three campaigns combined reach the amount of gameplay (time-wise, that is) found in other shooters. Not included with the release, but available on the AVP2 website, is a set of level building tools to make your own custom levels; many games are doing this now, seeing the success and longevity that Half-Life experienced. I'll talk more about the single player missions later on, so let's see what multiplayer has to offer.
The number of multiplayer modes found in Aliens vs. Predator 2 is more than what may be found in most other games. We, of course, have the classic deathmatch and team deathmatch versions of gameplay, but four extra ways to play online are included. In Hunt, one player is "it" and must try and kill the other contestants. In Survivor, one player starts as a Mutant, and tries to capture Survivors to bring over to their evil side. In Overrun, Attackers vie to kill all the Defenders before time expires. And in Evac, the Attackers are trying to prevent the Defenders from reaching an Evac point on the map. These are all variations on the "kill everyone" theme, but it is nice to see that some variation in multiplayer gameplay is found. On top of this, the chaos of aliens, predators, and humans dueling with each other makes for another aspect that most other games miss. With the variance derived from having three distinct species playing at the same time, Aliens vs. Predator 2 delivers in the features department.
In a game that is punctuated with atmosphere, it is important to have appropriate sound and music to complete the experience, and AvP2 does this in a convincing manner. Firstly, all of the sounds are taken directly from the movies, from the sound of the pulse rifle to the roar of the Predators. This goes a long way in creating a believable sci-fi environment, especially for people who have seen all of the movies. Secondly, the background music is also appropriately haunting, and picks up the pace during tense scenes. This is the type of sound we expect from a game based on a movie franchise, and Aliens vs. Predator 2 certainly delivers.
The gameplay in Aliens vs. Predator 2 comes in three flavors, one for each of the included sides. Each of the three species dictates a different approach to gameplay, and all of these are dissimilar enough to make it feel like three different games every once in a while. The marines are the most traditional of all the sides to play. They come equipped with pistols, shotguns, pulse rifles, smartguns, flamethrowers, rocket launchers, grenade launchers, miniguns, and sniper rifles. Of course, we have the motion tracker to build the tension when many blips appear, heading your way. I found that the motion tracker was sometimes slow in updating after I relegated enemies to smoking piles of acid, but it's a small problem. The marines regenerate health by picking up medical packs. The predators, using the cloaking device, have mostly close combat weaponry, such as the wristblades and spears, but you'll eventually get plasmacasters, spearguns, and disc launchers. In the most unbalanced issue in the game, the predators can heal themselves using the medicomp, and recharge their power that the medicomp uses with the energy sift. This means that predators can effectively never die, and is a balancing issue that I am surprised was overlooked. Predators have several vision modes (seen in the movies) to detect their prey more easily. Aliens have the least impressive arsenal, and just rely on clawing, headbiting, pouncing, and tailwhipping. Of course, they can also walk on the walls, so they are not relegated to the classic notion of gravity (take THAT Newton). Aliens also have a night vision mode, and eat their prey to regain health.
The levels themselves are very well done: they are mostly linear, offering few chances to explore, but the outdoor arenas have more options. Another nice touch is the fact that the three campaigns tie together: you can see yourself as an Alien during the Marine campaigns: that's cool. As the Alien, you progress from a facehugger, finding a viable host, to a chestburster, to a full grown adult: that's cool. It's also cool that the developers didn't wussy up and shy away from the Mature rating; this is a game based on a couple of rated R movies. The bad aspect of the game is the heavy amount of scripting used: the enemies will always appear from the same locations in the same numbers every time. This makes replaying the same level after you've died much less surprising and repetitious. Despite this, Aliens vs. Predator 2 is still loads of fun and a blast to play.
Aliens vs. Predator 2 uses the Lithtech engine for rendering graphics, used in No One Lives Forever. Now, the Lithtech engine isn't the most beautiful graphics engine around (see Quake III), but it certainly does a good job here depicting the dark and moody levels for the game. The detail of the people, places, and things is very good, and the beheading sequence is especially convincing. You'll easily recognize the exotic species during the game, which are pretty well detailed. The people at Monolith did a wonderful job in warping the Lithtech engine to show convincing levels. The story itself forwarded by the way of cutscenes, which conveys the movie atmosphere of the game. All told, the graphics in Aliens vs. Predator can compete with most game on the et, and look very well done and professional.
Aliens vs. Predator 2 builds upon the foundation laid by its predecessor, and ends up being one of the better first "person" shooters around. Varied gameplay stems from the inclusion of three distinctly different species, and this keeps the game fresh: if you get tired of being a Predator, just switch over to another campaign. The graphics and sound are first-rate, and the multiplayer has some innovative modes of play. Aliens vs. Predator 2 is one of my favorite shooters, and I routinely come back to play some more of the game. Anyone who is a fan of shooters or the movies (or both) should not be disappointed by this juicy offering.