Good licensed games are hard to pull off, even moreso when you're talking about Aliens vs. Predator, easily two of the most recognizable sci-fi properties in movie history. It's a good thing, then, that Rebellion Developments is up to the task, having developed the well-received AvP games in the 90s. The franchise returns, respawned and ready for a new audience, but is this sci-fi shooter still a blockbuster at heart?
The Weyland-Yutani company's set up shop on a remote alien planet, inciting the ire of the territorial predators who don't take too kindly to the idea of humans tainting their sacred training grounds. Then there are the serpentine aliens, who finally decide to run amok after years of being used as training fodder and test subjects. Between the power tripping humans, the feral xenomorphs, and the menacing predators, it's never really clear just who the good guys are in this deadly triple tango.
Like the comics and movies, the game's story doesn't duck this quandary. There are three appropriately different vantage points to the tale, handily reflected in the distinct playstyles of each respective campaign. The plot itself is expectedly paper thin, largely following the silhouettes established in past iterations of the series. A few sly nods to the flicks, buried visually and in audio logs, as well as a bit part by Lance Henriksen, keep the fan meter running on high, though.
The defining charm of Aliens vs. Predator is the same in the game as in the concept itself: the needlessly awesome clash between aliens, predators, and the shrimpy little humans caught in between. A decade later, the idea remains strong.
Aliens vs. Predator's single-player missions are successful primarily for providing three distinct playstyles across each of its campaigns. Whether by the survival-horror inspired dread of the marines, the hivemind propelled impetus of the aliens, or the lone wolf mentality of the predator, each campaign looks, plays, and feels completely different from the other. The campaigns show some flashes of brilliance, but the overarching design doesn't go far out of its way to reinvent itself. What few new additions are present, like a stealth-action and platforming segment, are few and far between. Other original and intriguing elements, like narrowing out decapitated heads for security clearance, feel underused and never fully realized. You'll still hit your fair share of switches and monster closets, which keeps this 2010 reboot feeling decidedly plain and old school.
The campaigns vary in length and complexity, taking about roughly 10 hours in all to complete. Multiple difficulty settings, a ranking system, and hidden collectibles offer decent incentives for multiple playthroughs.
Multiplayer, a central feature of the original, returns as a centerpiece here, where shooter staples like team deathmatch and a co-op survival mode meet happily in the middle with homebred concoctions like infestation and predator hunt. The game's interesting spread of modes is a blast, allowing for a diverse palette of strategies depending on which species you run with in each match. As a whole, multiplayer pulls it all off pretty well, but it's still a little disappointing to see it lacking in areas where the modern shooter has thrived, as well the ways it's scaled back from previous installments of the series. The game definitely could have learned a thing or two from Monolith's take on the franchise, with various class types and species offshoots. You can progressively earn experience in ranked matches for extra skins, but you won't unlock weapons or abilities, which is a shame.
Aliens vs. Predator largely takes on the appearance of the original, playing it a little safe in the process. Its new single-player campaign isn't likely to leave too deep of an impression, though if you enjoy varied multiplayer modes with an AvP twist, then this one's for you.
The species in Aliens vs. Predator surpass mere loadouts; you'll visibly and mechanically change the way you play depending on who run with. The marines play the most like the traditional shooter, endowed with the most artillery, as well as a motion tracker that keeps tabs on all nearby targets. Aliens, meanwhile, are the fastest and most mobile of the bunch, stalking prey with lightning reflexes and skittering to cover when overwhelmed. The predators enjoy a vast array of death-dealing tools, with iconic gizmos like stealth camo, wristblades, and the plasma caster.
Each race is capable in its own right, and equally delightful to play. Species-specific quirks like focusing, which enables advanced tactics like homing pounces and platform jumping, add some mechanical garnishes to each race, though it's still hard overlook the fundamental lack of iron sights, leaning, and crouching. The Aliens arguably have the highest skill hurdle to overcome, with finicky movement and wall crawling that makes it difficult to traverse arenas with relative ease. Learning to assume the role and sneaking up on a hapless victim for a tail skewering, though, is one of the game's greatest thrills.
The new feature here is a rock-paper-scissors-style melee system, which recalls similar mechanics in games like Condemned and Zeno Clash. It brings an added layer of depth to the fray, though in hectic environments like multiplayer, the ubiquitous close ranged stealth and trophy kills undermine any semblance of strategy in close quarter combat. It isn't all that uncommon to see Gears of War-style kill trains online, and that's just silly.
Aliens vs. Predator's control schemes bear some inconsistencies and occasional moments of ridiculousness, but are otherwise strongly realized and encourage different ways to play. In cases like the alien, you may sometimes jones for a mouse and keyboard, but the console does well to make a steady compromise in the middle.
It doesn't necessarily set a new standard in graphics, but Aliens vs. Predator manages a gritty, gory look that fits well with the essence of its franchises. The visuals are crisp and well executed, bearing tasteful hints of motion blur during sharp turns, a subtle wide-angle distortion through the cylindrical gaze of an alien, and a craftily referential HUD when playing as the predator. Perhaps most noticeable are the inexplicably gruesome stealth and trophy kills, which spare no expense in eliciting shocks. These barbaric displays of violence certainly achieve some of the game's highest graphical praises; everything else, looks merely good by comparison.
Audio wise, the game gingerly pulls from the films' rich catalog of sounds, faithfully recreated here with great detail. From the muted hum of the pulse rifle to the iconic sound of the Predator mask's changing vision modes, it's hard for your inner nerd not to have an eargasm with the game's thoughtful, nearly purist level of detail.
As a standalone single-player adventure, Aliens vs. Predator hits a shaky equilibrium with carefully planted franchise winks and underwhelming set pieces. But for someone with an inclination for diverse experiences, interesting multiplayer modes, or even the AvP franchise as a whole, the game casts a pretty wide net of appeal. It perhaps isn't ambitious enough in today's age of shooters, nor does it tap into the creative reserves of its rich IP as deeply as we'd like, but as a game that channels entertainment and nostalgia, it capably and enjoyably does its job right.
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360.