Alien vs Predator (2010)

FBT cheers for the underdog in Aliens Vs Predator

Somewhere in space, the Weyland/Yutani corporation has uncovered a Predator training ground. Activating the Pyramid and triggering a huge EMP blast, Weyland sets in motion a series of events – well, one event told from three points of view; the eyes of a colonial marine, the infrared of a Predator, and … however it is that Aliens can see without eyes.

Starting out as a Colonial Marine, we’re circling a planet after a distress call about a research lab being overrun – and a xenomorph may be involved. As our drop ship lands, another ship decloaks and attacks. Crashing on the planet - which does a brilliant job of calling to mind LV-426/Hadley’s Hope - the survivors are scattered. Our hero, ‘Rookie’ is ordered about by Corporal ‘Tequila’, a Vasquez-lite who needs us to find our CO so he can order a rescue. As soon as we’ve done all the usual ‘turn this on’, ‘shut that down’ missions while fighting through Xenos, Tequila realises the only way out is through – as in, the Alien nest, and we all know what’s in one of those.

The Marines section is ultimately a by-the-numbers horror FPS that coasts on our love for Xeno's, but the Aliens do elevate it, as does the attention Rebellion gave to the original movies; there’s tons of references, nods and subtle reminders of where all this started. It doesn’t help that our hero is about as generic as you can get though; Rookie should have been cut from the same cloth as Hicks but he’s largely Freeman with a pulse rifle. He gets the movie-standard flame-throwers, Smartguns and motion trackers - sometimes blips will disappear and you can’t be sure the aliens have left or just stopped moving; but it's standard FPS fare - if it wasn’t for those movie-moments that motion-bleep wouldn’t be half as scary.

There’s nothing wrong with the Marine section, but throughout the checkered history that is AvP, humans were always the bridesmaid, never the Queen. They’re not who we’re here for. The Aliens are fast and scary, use stealth and sheer-number attacks, skulk in shadows, run along the walls and ceilings; there are some great stand-up fights to please the Hudson in all of us but we never really feel like we’re in an Alien movie (and even less a Predator movie – they barely feature); just a regular shooter and AvP relies a little too heavily on button-mashing – Aliens recoil from a bop on the nose? - have Rookie do an auto-fire with a shotgun while yelling ‘eat this!’ when you hit melee instead! If Shepard can auto-melee when Geth get too close, why can Rookie? And you get pop-ups telling you to 'hold' to dish out a pistol-whipping - how much more of a hint do you need than huge teeth rushing at you?

Strangely, the nest isn’t the end for Rookie’s run-through. Once out the other side we have Weyland-Yutani to stop, further removing it from the AvP stars we bought this for. It’s just about getting the hell out of there. Meanwhile, the Predators are trying to get in.

Pred’s mission is fairly straight forward – contain the outbreak. Of course, it’s not as easy as it seems, but not because of the Marines, Weyland’s plans or even the aliens. It’s because for a Predator, it’s not very good at predatoring. They’re all about tactics, yet there’s nothing subtle about constantly going back to the menu to figure out which button does what – everything requires a button, everything; nothing’s automatic or intuitive – to even leap you have to press two buttons; the Predator is a stealth hunter, a master tactician - it should be fluid, automatic, a pleasure to kill - you’re a creature who’s turned hunting into an art-form but it’s like the Predator’s suit is running Windows 98; "aim the shoulder cannon - Are You Sure?" Oh, and the Aliens can see through your cloak. They're supposed to be the ultimate prey, their rite of passage, how are the Predators not better prepared? They’re not even acid-proof so you’re constantly taking splash damage.

And when it’s not the woeful under-preparedness, it’s personal admin. Weapons, shield and cloak all pull from a central power source which drains so rather than treating this like a sport, you’re distracted looking for power outlets. Is Pred wearing a Nanosuit from Crysis? And when it is powered up, it’s useless - in heat mode Pred can’t see Aliens, but in ‘Alien vision’ it can't see Marines. Normal vision makes it hard to see either. How is that super-predator behaviour? You’re always flicking, it’s like watching an 80s music video. I’m constantly taken out of the “Predator” moment – no marine is going to mutter “She says the jungle ... it just came alive and took him” when they see me flaying about and falling out of trees. Dillon had it right; bullshit, it doesn’t make any sense. Neither does Pred’s plot.

As other Predators go off to conveniently act as mini-bosses in the other storylines, our Pred gets off easy; he’s tasked with destroying the Aliens which Rookie did for him, then turns his attention to destroying the Pyramid for no real reason since it’s all destroyed anyway – one of his pals gives birth to a Predalien and that’s the only bit of business Pred has really; and it turns into a platforming bounce-around over lava. Tactical.

The only thing that makes the Predator stand out is its spectacularly OTT trophy kills. Get close to a marine/alien and you can execute the kind of kills even the movies avoided, with blood and vertebrate spraying everywhere. But even that seems a bit daft. The skulls are trophies of the hunt, not the kills. The Alien on the other hand, doesn’t have anything to prove.

It’s odd that the Alien is given the best storyline out of all of them. It’s even odder that they’re the best character, the best gameplay and the best reason to even bother playing this. I expected old hissy to be the least satisfying but it’s a whole other level. Referencing Alien Resurrection, we’re in a clinic breeding Aliens. As the scientists collect chestbursters from test-tubes attached to the victims, they notice the sixth specimen is missing. Turns out ‘Six’ smartly chose to leap out of the mouth to escape. Although the attempt fails, Six catches the eye of Weyland and is spared, only to be trained as a bioweapon.

When Wayland opens the Pyramid and triggers the blast, it shuts down the lab and Six breaks out, frees it’s stable-mates and decimates the facility. Then we’re off to rescue the Queen and create a new colony where we all live happily until some marine decides to come clomping through looking for the exit.

Six is just brilliant to play. Being an Alien is constantly thrilling, clever and tactical; the Predators are, when not player-controlled, a serious threat to Six as are the Marines - in the open Six is exposed, but it’s not a stealth game. You have to be as aggressive as strategic and lying in wait for a Marine then leaping out is the stuff of Dietrich’s nightmares. Obviously, it’s all close-quarter fights, flinging claws, tails and teeth but it’s so clean and efficient. You can crawl over walls and ceilings (auto triggered, take note Predator), see through walls (again, Predator?) and be an ambush predator (Predator). It is so much fun and to top it off, Six also has an army of Facehuggers. If you pin down a human you can impregnate it instead. Eugh. Six also has ridiculous trophy kills, even a POV shot from inside the mouth. Where are their eyes?!

Conveniently, Six is distracted by the Predators (not our Pred; no idea where he went during Six's mission, likely stymied by a four foot-high wall or gone to charge his suit) while Rookie takes a shortcut through the nest, and recapturing Six becomes Weyland’s focus as everything goes to hell - the scene is set for our generic hero, anti-hero and non-hero to finally meet as we all head to the same final showdown. Which we have to wait for the sequel to see... FFS. Sure that layabout Predator was happy about that.

Six itself is constantly referred to an exception and more conniving that it’s brethren, and the ending implies a reason for that increased intelligence; it’s annoying that Six was only one third of the game, it’s the absolute star of the show. It’s as if Rebellion took Ash’s line about Kane’s Son having a hostility matched only by it’s perfection and made that its character-arc; I become self-aware death, playing more dangerously and aggressively, bolstered by the sheer reputation of the Xeno and the marines' terror when they catch sight of me. It’s my all time fave silent hero, hissing aside, yet completely impossible for me to relate to or impress emotions onto it; usually I’d complain about not understanding a character’s motivations, but here it’s freeing and compelling. It is the ultimate non-human character to play - literally alien - and that you’re tortured and manipulated in the opening scenes gives you a revenge angle that lets you be a total badass.

While Rookie is a seen-it-all-before shooter with just enough franchise cap-doffing to get away with it, Pred’s should have been like the original movie, with one squad to take out in a game of cat and mouse, or at least a black-ops cover up, leaving no witnesses. He's cool-AF in the cutscenes but clunky-AF when it comes to game-play. I’m supposed to be ‘El diablo cazador de hombres’ not ‘el diablo jugando como mi madre’.

Another frustration is how linked yet unaffected the separate missions are. They do all impact each other but only in the cut-scenes – Rookie’s faceoff with the Queen has a huge impact on Six, who derails Pred by facehugging one of his pals while Pred … actually not sure Pred does anything to inconvenience the others. It would have been much more interesting to see choices you make affect the others. I’m not asking for Aliens Vs Predator: Mass Effect edition, but a little cause and effect would have gone a long way – we know the Aliens and Predator universes; we know what’s in the nest, what Pred has on his wrist; the idea seems to be you need to play all three stories to get the whole picture, but we’ve seen it all before. Except Six. It was something else. AvP would have worked better as just A.

2010 | Developer Rebellion Developments | Publisher Sega

Platforms; Win/Steam, PS3, X360