Is anything scarier than a xenomorph swarm coming at you in a dimly lit corridor? With only a crummy torch and a few flares to light your way, the sight of these man-sized nasties, leaping about from wall to wall and slamming into your horrified face is one reserved for the very worst nightmares. SEGA and Rebellion's Aliens Vs Predator always had this quite primal sense of fear going for it. It's you against the beasts. The problem is, we had this over ten years ago in the original PC game, and while marine vs alien is great fun, that's just a small part of the overall experience.
AvP is quite a feature packed release. On the single-player campaign front there are separate storylines to play through for the marines, xenomorphs and predators, each offering gameplay tailored around the three different species. There's a full suite of multiplayer features here too, with deathmatch, species vs species team games, predator hunting and even some survival maps in which you and three others try to stay alive while swarms of aliens descend on your position.
The good stuff first then. This first-person shooter from Rebellion is the best game the UK studio has made in quite some time and shows games like Shellshock 2 were blips rather than the peak of its abilities. The marine campaign, complete with iconic motion sensing bleep device, is really quite excellent. It loses its way slightly when the action moves away from the tight corridors and into more open terrain, but while it lasts (each campaign is shorter than the norm due to there being three) it's a nerve-racking, incredibly tense, swear-filled thrill ride.
Along the way you'll get hold of some familiar weapons, including the pulse rifle and flame thrower, as well as see some sentry turrets - you know, like the ones in classic movie Aliens. There's a generous auto-aim in the console versions of the game, which comes in handy when trying to target fast-moving enemies in the dark. About half way through the campaign you'll also get hold of a brilliant smart gun that tracks enemy movement and locks onto then as long as you're aiming in the general direction, and a one-shot-kill scoped rifle that can see enemies through walls.
When you're playing as a marine it's all about keeping your head, but it's easier said than done. Coming face to face with a cloaked predator is heart-stopping, but suddenly seeing a couple of long-tailed, double-jawed aliens fall from the ceiling in front of your face will test your bowel control to its limit. It's all too easy to panic and fire a shotgun at close range into the disgusting alien face that's trying to eat yours, but doing so will only make matters worse. Aliens have acid blood, so get involved in bloody close-quarters combat and you'll be losing health every time you're hit with spray.
Letting down the side is the story itself, which struggles to be anything more than a way to get you fighting the extraterrestrial terrors. NPC characters aren't exactly well developed (possibly because most don't remain alive for very long), so you're left with quite a lone-wolf experience, even though you'll be fighting alongside other marines quite frequently. This lack of sophistication isn't a problem that hurts the adrenaline fuelled gameplay, but just don't expect much in terms of depth.
So, with a third of the single-player campaign offering great fun, it's a shame that the rest doesn't follow suit. While neither the Alien nor Predator campaign is terrible, they lack the thrill delivered when playing as a marine. The Alien campaign puts you in the shoes of a xenomorph, able to crawl across walls, leap large distances, run through air vents, and eat human skulls. The predator plays like a mixture of the marine and the alien, able to leap large distances and take on enemies up close, but also has a shoulder-mounted cannon and an invisibility cloak. Both campaigns have an emphasis on stealth, luring enemies into position and then taking them out in gruesome ways - the Predator in particular performs some incredibly gory finishers in which the human head and spine are removed as a trophy.
Fans of the two alien species will appreciate the different gameplay mechanics, but there's no question that neither comes closes to the sheer fun and downright terror experienced as a marine. The storylines here are also rather flimsy, fairing even worse than the marine campaign in terms of plot. The Alien campaign begins when, shock horror, you escape from your restraints at evil mega company Weyland Industries, and then go mental as you take instructions from the Alien Queen - although how they know to interact with control panels (even if only through violent means) is beyond me.
In the multiplayer arena the different species each come into their own, though, offering more than just different character skins with class-specific weapons. The style of combat is different and your approach to taking down enemies varies wildly, although the lack of reward for playing might hurt the game's long-term appeal online. A big disappointment is the meagre two maps on offer in survival mode, arguably AvPs most impressive multiplayer game type. This will likely get expanded upon with DLC, but it should have been a real standout game mode.
From an authenticity point of view AvP gets a lot right, with the look and sound of the game instantly taking you back to the movies. Highlights include the marine weapons and motion sensor, the predator's vision modes and the movement of the xenomorphs - the way they scuttle about across all surfaces and blend in with the environments will send shivers down your spine. On the whole, though, AvP lacks the visual quality we've come to expect from modern shooters, with the outdoor areas in particular looking quite bland and dated, while character models pale in comparison to those seen in the likes of Killzone 2 and Crysis.
Aliens Vs Predator is a great deal of fun, but there's no getting away from the fact that it feels somewhat dated and that the marine campaign is head and shoulders above the other two. A more fleshed out marine campaign and more maps for the survival multiplayer game type would have made for an altogether better experience, but what Rebellion has delivered is still worth taking a look at. This isn't the perfect Aliens or Predator video game, but it does a lot right.