Come one, come all, to the official Planet AvP review of what some are calling the end all Aliens gaming experience, Alien Resurrection! Predator here, and I have been hacking away at the game to bring you a no-punches-pulled final word of what I personally expected from the title, and whether or not it delivered. AR has been in the works for more than three years and went from something along the lines of Dino Crisis, into a full-blown first person survival horror title. That’s right, you read this correctly. This game isn’t Alien versus Predator on PlayStation. It’s purely about survival, and this game makes that pretty damned hard. Though AR is definitely a good, good game, a few stumbling blocks do hinder the experience, ultimately keeping it from greatness. So that it is easier for me to write and for you to read, I am going to do this in categories. Is that a problem? Didn’t think so!
Let’s face it; the first thing that reaches out and grabs you by the shorts in today’s video game market is usually the graphics. With the power of today’s hardware, even a second rate title often sells in spades because of eye candy. Unfortunately, the five-year-old PSX just doesn’t really hold up anymore. A (very) limited amount of RAM and a now inadequate polygon engine means that the PlayStation’s done about everything it can do. And unfortunately, Alien Resurrection is somewhat of a testimony to that. I credit the developers, Argonaut, for squeezing some fairly impressive visuals out of the old girl, but for those of us spoiled by 300$ PC video cards (cough, cough, me, cough) the game doesn’t quite strike your eye the way that you’ll probably be expecting it. It is my opinion that the greatest attention to modeling went hands down into the backgrounds. Though the PlayStation’s limited RAM means horribly pixilated textures, there is no denying that there is some impressive architecture in them there polygons. The developers had access to actual blueprints of the movie sets, and it does show. I have yet to play a movie-licensed game that retains the look of the movie as well as AR…
From the first time I wandered around the halls of the Auriga, I was definitely impressed with this. There are lots of little touches, like sparks and dripping blood from the ceilings that add a surprising amount of atmosphere. The closest thing I could compare the feeling to would be Half-Life, after the accident in the lab. And that obviously is a good thing. However, I am disappointed to say that the character models are, for the most part, pretty unimpressive. The human characters are… tolerable, but many of the alien characters seem like the developers were rushed for time when they made them. They are obviously of a very low polygon count, and while nice, high-resolution textures could have compensated for this, that is a benefit the PSX does not offer. The worst offender, in my book, is the mobile Alien Queen. It is one of the poorest 3D models I have ever seen of an alien. I wouldn’t have approved it. The head is ridiculously proportioned and the body is so plainly modeled that looking at the thing is the worst part of dealing with her. I am not kidding. The Newborn is also a disappointment, though it definitely looks better than the queen. The two types of “regular” aliens (is there such a thing?) are actually okay, with the brown drone being the better of the two. It looks the closest to what it is. Also of a mixed bag are the animations. While the animations of the drones diving from wall to wall and crawling up ceilings are pretty damned cool, (probably the coolest single animation in any aliens title to date) once they land they just run straight at you, with this stiff, wobbly routine. It seems most of the enemies fall into that category- some of the animation was obviously well thought out and executed, others simply weren’t. And no, Alien Resurrection is not Bleem! compatible. At all.
Now here is where AR absolutely, positively stomps a mud hole in not only AvP, but in most any game I have ever seen. AR by sound alone is probably the scariest game you’ll ever play. Fox Interactive also gave Argonaut access to the sound library used in the movie, and the result is atmosphere that is difficult to accurately describe. In case you haven’t heard, the game is completely devoid of any music (save for the cinematics) whatsoever. And though that seems kind of “what the #$%#?”, you’ll soon see and hear why. The backgrounds are filled with eerie ambience and ominous sounds that at the same time tell and deceive you as to what’s going on in your surroundings. Because of this, the game nearly feels real. This is best summed up in one sentence- you have to hear it to believe it. It is that good. Even the aliens are brought to life by authentic screams and hisses. I don’t think even the more critical eyes (or ears, in this case) could find a fault in this area of the title. Did you think AvP was scary to play in the dark? This game is many, many times scarier. Alien Resurrection is nearly worth playing for this accomplishment alone.
Unfortunately, this is the stumbling block I spoke of earlier. AR was designed for use with the Dual Shock analog controller, and work in the game’s favor this does not. One stick is used for aiming/looking; the other is used for walking and strafing. Now as is if this alone doesn’t take getting used to, (and boy does it) the analog is so ridiculously over-sensitive that no matter what adjustments you make to it, the first several hours of the game are nearly unbearable. I consider myself a very above average gamer, and I had a hard time targeting a guy who wasn’t even moving. Even the slightest tug often sends your view skyrocketing to the direction you pull it in, and when you’re getting shot or swiped by an alien, this gets really old. The closest a console FPS controller configuration has come to the mouse/keyboard perfection of a PC is probably the Turok series. AR could have definitely benefited by including a controller scheme similar to the one in those games. As it stands, the game is very difficult to come to grips with. And to worsen this matter, two very important things are lacking from AR that only hurt it worse- one of which is an auto aim, which could have helped the over-sensitivity of the Dual Shock. There is absolutely no targeting assistance of any kind. So if you are a millimeter off with your shot, then in this game it’s just tough luck. For a console with a lack of an immediately ready mouse and keyboard, this is unforgivable. Auto-aiming alone could have probably saved the title from much of the criticism leveled at it. Another important feature of today’s FPS that didn’t make it into AR are “kill zones” or, more accurately, specific parts of the body that can be shot for more damage. This is one of the best features of AvP. Targeting zones gave the marine a better chance against the super fast aliens, since he could blow the legs off of one to cripple their speed or drop them quick with a well-timed headshot. Perhaps some might find it unfair that I am comparing the two titles, but I do this to illustrate what could have made Alien Resurrection great instead of merely good. Anyways, trust me- get the mouse, and you’ll definitely get a lot more enjoyment out of the title.
The gameplay is fairly standard meat. You walk, you find a security access card, you kill absolutely anything that gets in the way of that process. However, some new cards are thrown into the mix, such as the much talked about underwater part of the game. I am glad to confirm that it is everything it could have been. The sounds are appropriately distorted, and the aliens look really cool underwater. Plus, you have to avoid drowning, which makes the situation even tenser. The weapons are exactly what you would expect from an Alien title; you have the flamethrower, a new, futuristic pulse rifle, the now-requisite pistol (which has infinite ammo) and shotgun, and when you are in control of Christie, you have access to his cool double pistols. There is also a pretty neat weapon called the electric gun that can be charged up to increase its damage. In a neat little touch, you can actually overcharge the thing and fry it out. Cool, huh?
Yes sir, no denying this one. Alien Resurrection is frickin’ hard as hell, even on the lowest difficulty. The humans are almost always dead on with their aim, the aliens are fast and deal crippling damage, ammo is scarce and new, more powerful guns are scarcer. Walking through acid can kill you as quick as the alien it came out of. But do I consider that a bad point? Not at all. I think the game that punishes you the worst is the most rewarding. AR is one such game. It pisses you off, but it feels that much better to conquer it. The swimming levels are especially tense, as not only do you have to contend with aliens, but drowning as well. The difficulty, combined with the unbelievable mood and tension, really makes your heart race when you are near death. Not for the squeamish, though, and definitely not for impatient types who are easily frustrated.
The Final Word
Alien Resurrection delivers in ways like no game before it, but at the same time is held back by a few things that keep it from greatness. The game’s biggest enemy is it’s own control system, and though there are (limited) alternative control schemes, none of them really get the job done. I almost don’t know whether to blame AR or to blame the Dual Shock controller. However, the game isn’t totally unplayable. It’s worth enduring for some of the neat stuff you see near the end (especially that underwater sequence!) Plus, there are four playable characters, though there are no discernable differences between them, save for Christie’s double pistols. And though I wasn’t that impressed with the graphics, they are quite nice for a PSX title, and they shouldn’t really be your reason for buying this game anyways. You should buy it for the mood, and no game out there on any system will scare you like this title. Do what the game tells you- play it in the dark. The frustrating controls can be overcome with patience, or more easily a PS mouse. Otherwise, it’s about as much fun as playing House of the Dead without a light gun- not impossible, but not as fun. Another unfortunate blow to the title is the complete lack of multi-player, which as we all know is the ultimate extender of a title’s lifespan. Even a simple split screen 2-player mode would have helped. As a result, AR has admittedly little replay value once you’ve beaten it. Nonetheless, Argonaut did an amazing job capturing the feeling of being inside an Alien film. Hell, Alien Resurrection the game is more frightening than the movie- by a long shot. If you have the patience to master the controls, you’ll discover the new standard for survival horror games.