Rebellion is back! These guys are the Father of Aliens vs. Predator gaming as we know it today. They brought the franchise to the first person genre with their AvP title for the Atari Jaguar. They created a terrifying experience on the PC with their 1999 title and now, for the first time in 10 years, they’re back to bring AvP first person shooters to a new generation of gamers and gaming as we know it.
I’m a console gamer and I’m proud of it. Ever since that S-controller for the original X-Box came out I’ve never had a more comfortable way to play FPS games. Way back when, there was supposed to be an AvP FPS game coming out for the X-Box and PS2. It was called Natural Selection. Somewhere along the line that game evolved (devolved?) into AvP Extinction. So for me, the chance to play AvP on a console has been a long time coming.
Sega was kind enough to provide me with a review copy for my beloved X-Box 360. Coming into this review, I’d like to say I’m looking at this game from the perspective of a casual gamer and an Aliens vs. Predator fan. Let’s see how Rebellion’s latest entry into the franchise holds up against those eyes.
I opted to start with the Aliens campaign since it came first chronologically. We open on the sight of our character, Number 6, birthing into captivity. Our escape attempt catches the attention of Mr. Weyland who takes quite a liking to us. Story wise the Alien’s initial goal is free the Queen and from that point onwards, it seems to get lost in shades of grey. A lot of the campaign is basically removing threats to the hive.
While I understand it is difficult to mold an effective story around the Alien character, I feel that the first person format of the game, may have made it less ridiculous to try and create a more personal story. There are elements from the Aliens franchise, such as the genetic memory established in Alien Resurrection, that could have made it easier to provide backstory and add more depth. I had initially been expecting a revenge story, similar to the Alien’s pursual of Dr Eisenberg in AvP2. Except here I had been expecting us to be chasing William Hope’s character, Dr Groves. The final result is much less substantial.
At times, I did often find myself wondering where it was all leading to, where my road was going and this lack of direction in the story does pull the campaign down somewhat. I did manage to form some sort of emotional bond with Number 6, however, as during the closing cutscene I felt empathy and sadness initially and then during the very end, I felt pride. If Rebellion had crafted a story around these basic emotions, I feel they would have made a much more effective story.
The gameplay style is what helps the Alien campaign shine. There is a steep learning curve initially but once you’re able to grasp the controls, it plays like a charm. Rebellion has done a fantastic job melding the Alien mechanics to the controllers. I soon found myself able to zip around the map, I could lure hapless marines away from their squads using the hiss button.
The Alien relies heavily on his agility and ability to see in the dark. With these key features we’re able to move around unseen. With no ranged attacks, getting close to your enemy unseen is of grand importance. Actually, I tell a lie. The tail attack has a good bit of range on it which I found to be extremely useful during the encounters with the Predators. That section is the only part during single player where you are required to get into the actual rock-paper-scissors melee action. The Predator will only use its ranged weapons if you try and escape.
However, not so much for the marines you spend the majority of the game playing against. If you put yourself in front of the marines, you’ll find yourself struggling to survive. The moment they see you, they’ll open fire.
It’s the ability to move on the walls, to get to all the light sources, which helps the Alien to level the playing field. Stealth is key and the shorter stealth kills are vital to you when you do manage to draw a marine away from his squad. Normal trophy kills leave you vulnerable too long.
One thing I was extremely disappointed with was the lack of hive levels for the Alien. In the opening marine level, the hive texture looks so amazing and the Aliens look fantastic as they crawl down and camouflage themselves within the resin. I would have loved to have been able to do that. For me, it would have added a whole new realm of depth to the immersion effect of the game.
I did find the lack of phrases for the marine AI to be irritating at times. One particular section, during the Refinery level, you’re in a massive generator room. The marines would often continually say the same one or two phrases. While not being a game breaking complaint, I do wish there would have been more variety there.
In terms of replayability, the Alien campaign has numerous achievements based around completion. Find and destroy all the Royal Jelly Canisters and find and harvest all the civilians. I intend to attempt both of these.
I did enjoy the campaign and I find the Aliens gameplay mechanics to be extremely fun. I was just really disappointed at the lack of a real story and the exclusion of hive based levels. The Alien campaign took me 2 hours, 15 minutes to complete on the Normal difficulty.
Second up was my baby, the Colonial Marines. I’m going to lay it out bare naked for you. This campaign has been one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had since Rebellion’s original Alien vs. Predator. Exhilarating is the only word I can think of to describe the experience.
We play the character of the Rookie. He’s the quiet type of guy but he’s a marine to the core. Our squad is responding to a distress signal but the appearance of the Predators leaves us without a mothership and nothing to do but help out whoever sent the signal. The first mission takes place in the colony of Freya’s Prospect. While not exactly the same as Hadley’s Hope, the colony does come across as what pre-fabricated colonies would look like 30 years after Alien3.
The first level is just packed with atmosphere and tension. The steady pulse of the motion tracker, the sounds in the distance, it all adds to the dread. More than that, I think it contains one of the most memorable fights I’ve ever experienced in an Aliens vs. Predator game: The strip club fight. Seeing those Xenomorphs crawl through the resin, trying to use the darkness to get around me. It was exciting.
But I’d already played that at Rebellion once. It didn’t stop the replay on my own being any less amazing. The Refinery level just took things up a notch. We’re thrown into the Alien’s territory, into the depths of their hive. It’s filled with eggs and it’s filled to the brim with the warriors. “They’re coming out of the Goddamn walls!” They literally were. Just as we’d seen in the Alien announcement trailer, the warriors crawl from the resined walls and attack you. It felt so authentic and it certainly made a refreshing change from the hive battles in Monolith’s AvP2.
After these levels, the game seems to wind down as you move from the enclosed corridors into the open space of the jungle where we find ourselves encountering the Runner. What I liked was that the Runner variant (or Jungle Alien, as I believe the game calls it) would actually stalk me, sticking to the trees and walls, using its ranged acid attack. While it was a nice change of pace from the heart-stopping tension of the first two, the levels out in the jungle just weren’t as enjoyable for me and I feel that if the game had kept a constant drive of that tension and adrenaline, it may have been even better.
The game kicked into over-drive when we finally got to the pyramid levels. The tension is back, the brilliant locations are back. It pulls nicely from Paul Anderson’s lore from Alien vs. Predator the movie and gives us some new locations that have never graced our gaming screens before (Open Pyramid Project for AvP2, aside). The action doesn’t let up during these later levels and you’re constantly on the move, playing through a particularly beautiful hive within the pyramid.
I particularly enjoyed the Lab levels of the game where we get to fight our way through the location you started in as Number 6. I enjoyed the experience as I got to understand the location from a different perspective and understand the layout some more, adding to immersion of the story.
The marine campaign does make use of boss fights. They’re old school and everyone loves old school. I found them to be a love/hate gameplay mechanic. The early boss fights I really enjoyed but the end ones, in particular the very last level, I found could only be solved with the Smartgun. Attempting to use any other weapon would guarantee death. It was especially disappointing in the final fight; I found I couldn’t move anywhere. I’d be dead if I tried to move away or use anything other than the Smartgun. It made for an underwhelming fight.
Despite coming down as part of a squad, you find yourself alone for majority of the game. The only constant companionship you have is through Tequila and her voice through your radio. As I progressed through the game, I found she had a similar likeability to her that many of the marines in Aliens had. They (and she) may have only been cookie-cut but I was certainly happy to finally meet up with her and help her out towards the end of the game. The bond was there and I felt gratified during the Lab levels.
There are up to 15 audio diaries throughout the levels for you to collect. Unlike the jelly canisters or the trophy belts of the Alien and Predator campaigns, the diaries added some background to the story. In particular, the diaries of Weyland and Dr Groves. Weyland’s diaries go into the “mystery” of his character, teasing us to his backstory and reveal more about him so we can understand our antagonist.
Rebellion could have fallen into the trap of just letting the campaign be another generic shooter but if there’s one thing these guys know, it’s how to make you crap your pants. The tension and atmosphere that Rebellion injects into the marine campaign make it something special. It’s the updated Colonial Marine experience I’ve been waiting for and it delivers. Oh boy, does it deliver.
Last but not least, I played through the Predator campaign. While starting concurrently to the Marine campaign, it’s harder to specifically nail when the events take place. The story for this campaign is significantly better than for the Predator’s extraterrestrials counterpart. The story starts off with us heading to BG-386 to investigate the disappearance of some Young Bloods who are hunting.
Along the line we discover ancient ruins that seem to indicate that the planet is the location of the first time the Predators ever hunted the Aliens and the burial location of the first Predator to defeat an Alien in battle. It becomes a revenge story, of the Predator attempting to remove the sacred artifacts from the hands of the humans and to stop them from defiling the honored location.
And I won’t lie, from a fan’s perspective the way they handled the history and the property was lovely. We had references to the Yautja culture with “Young Bloods” and referring to shoulder cannon as the Plasma Caster. It shows that they took the different corners of the franchise into account to create something for the fans. I really enjoyed the story and it shows they are capable of weaving a story around something not from this Earth.
Level wise, I think the Predator campaign was the only one whose gameplay style went well with all the locations you played through. They all made great use of the Predator’s agility and the ability to focus jump. I never felt out of place or bored in the levels.
The gameplay mechanics are a mixture of the melee driven Aliens campaign and the ranged weaponry of the marine campaign. The melee system does take some getting used to, recognizing the animations for the different attacks. To be honest, I think the multiplayer is where you will gain most of your experience for the melee, potentially making re-plays of the campaign more fluid when you’ve had the time to master the controls against human controlled enemies.
I felt the mixture of combat styles melded quite nicely, although for the majority of the earlier missions you only have the energy dependent Plasma Caster and mines. It can feel like the game is sometimes forcing you into melee combat as to lock onto enemies, you need to charge the Plasma Caster and your energy will only supply about 5 charged shots. A charged shot won’t always take an enemy down either.
However when you gain access to the disk towards the middle of the campaign and the spear towards the end, it provides some fun moments. Both are ranged weapons, the disk controllable in mid-flight which can lead to some fun moments sending your disk through a crowd. While the spear appeared as melee weapons in Monolith’s AvP2, it is a ranged weapon in this. Which I prefer actually, since you’re wrist-blades provide all the melee you need. With good accuracy the spear can take an enemy down in one. It is also has greater range than the disk and is incredibly fun. Both weapons don’t run off your energy but have a small cool down time.
Something that did irritate me was that despite you fighting Aliens from the very first map, you don’t actually gain the Alien vision until half-way through the game. The reason behind why you’re mask isn’t enabled with the vision also seems to go against the lore established in the AvP movies.
The collectibles for the Predator campaign are trophy belts. They hold no purpose other than to be collected. Given how Rebellion handled some of the visual methods of telling the backstory of the Predator’s, I would have preferred to have seen some collectibles that maybe told the story of one specific Predator from millennia before who hunted on the planet, provided more depth to the story and the experience.
Like the marine campaign, the Predator campaign also utilizes boss fights. I think over all, this aspect of all the campaigns weren’t best handled. Sometimes there is only one specific method to defeating the bosses which can become repetitive (the final Predator fight for example).
I was able to complete the game in 9 hours, and 35 minutes on the Normal difficulty. With recent triple A titles such as Call of Duty have 6-8 hour long single player campaigns, AvP offers a respectably lengthier single player component.
The AI of the enemies varies somewhat. Sometimes the Aliens demonstrate amazing intelligence, using the darkness and the environment to their advantage; they will try to flank you. If you get surrounded while playing as a marine, you’re pretty screwed – which is why it’s so important to keep your distance and to use the melee to drive them back. Other times, however, they really take their time, almost as if inviting you to get in a free hit.
Following the tradition of recent games where you limit the amount of weapons, the game only allows the marine and Predator to carry up to four weapons each. Not that the limit makes much of a difference since the marine only has 5 weapons (when carrying the Smartgun, you only carry that and the pistol due to the size of the Smartgun) and the Predator only has 4. Some might complain that isn’t enough but I found that those weapons provided everything that was needed. The only one I missed was the netgun for the Predator.
Also the much criticized lack of crouch mode. Only once during the game did I found the lack of crouch a hinder; during the sections of the marine campaign where I faced off against combat synthetics. They would often to be using cover and it felt like I was being denied that protection. It certainly wasn’t the game breaking issue that many insisted it was, just a inconvenience that might have been solved with some sort of cover system.
For me, the over-all arcing story of the single player (and complete lack of in the Alien campaign) was a disappointment. I think this stemmed from the way that no set story was down as the game was being made. From what I understand, the story constantly changed and as a result seems to have lost some coherency. For example, the Predators you play as an Alien. Where did they come from and as you investigate that area as a Predator, where have they gone?
With Rebellion setting up a sequel, I’d love to see them sit down and come up with a complete story before hand and stick to it. One of the aspects that Monolith’s AvP2 was superior to Rebellion’s was that the storyline for AvP2 was consistent and understandable with a timeline. It all felt into place properly. I want that same single player experience from a Rebellion game.