Rebellion Gets A Forth Swing At AvP
Back in the first half of the 1990s, a little-known game development company called Rebellion released its first major title for a brand-new game console called the Atari Jaguar. That game was called Alien vs. Predator, and even though the ill-fated Atari console died after a short run, the title is still remembered as a shining star in the early days of first-person shooters.
In 1999, Rebellion was commissioned to develop a similar title for the PC. Dubbed Aliens versus Predator, the game will always be on my list of all-time favorites. It offered a triple campaign that allowed you to play through as a colonial marine, alien, and predator, all with their unique strengths and weaknesses.
Aliens versus Predator was one of the first PC games that let gamers experience really diverse cross-class multiplayer combat, and is the first PC game I can recall that really delivered a great multiplayer co-op survival mode. At the time, 10 years before Left 4 Dead's survival mode, people were helping each other survive an endless onslaught of fierce and endless aliens. Afterward, Aliens versus Predator 2 was handed to another game developer: Monolith. This company delivered a solid story, but in my opinion, Aliens versus Predator 2 never quite captured the creepy atmosphere of its predecessors. While Rebellion was again employed to create Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem for the PlayStation Portable in 2007, it is a movie tie-in title that wasn't very well received.
When I heard that Rebellion was in charge of the third PC installment, I was elated that the company was given another chance to once again provide a solid dose of sci-fi survival horror with the newest game in the series, simply called Aliens vs. Predator. More than 10 years after the original, I'm playing the spiritual sequel. But unfortunately, like almost everything else I've allowed myself to be enthusiastic about, the result is a little disappointing. Is the new Aliens vs. Predator a bad game? I don't think so, but the single-player campaigns seem to be missing a star quality that the original had.
The most unsettling thing about the sequel is that I can't quite put my finger on exactly what--if anything--is wrong. The graphics are lovely and the controls seem adequate enough, even if they can be finicky. Combat is updated appropriately and the proper challenges are where they should be. Playing a marine is unsettling, playing a predator delivers a powerful hunter vibe, and playing as the alien lets you experience the ugly fun of toying with hapless human victims before sneaking in for the kill.
I re-played the 1999 classic to see if I was watching the past through rose-colored glasses. The graphics are dated, but instead of being put off by the antiquated title, I found myself enjoying the experience. In the new game, the marine is lead around by an objective arrow, but in the original you just have to explore and find what you need to go on. I find this adds a lot of suspense and forces me into places I otherwise would try to avoid.
In the new game, aliens are somewhat slow to reach you, but are surprisingly resistant to gunfire. In the original, they come at you incredibly fast and are a bit easier to put down. The speed they wield in the original leads to more surprises, and even a jump or two. Another difference: the new game allows marines to push back aliens with melee in order to get an extra second to reload, but melee is not a marine's option in the original.
Are there any other differences of note? Predator players plan their jumps using a target reticule and land exactly where they designate, but in the original you have to manually run and jump. Sure, the old-school platform-style can be frustrating, but it's definitely more involving. The current title does allow the predator to jump a lot higher and stalk prey from treetops, which is cool. In the original, playing as an alien seems a bit more vulnerable, and this fragility causes you to employ stealth a little more when stalking your prey. Admittedly, this is a subjective observation. Aside from the characters, the new levels seem a lot more linear and the player is often corralled through a valley with one way in and one way out. In the prequel, the corralling was a little more subtle and the on-rails feeling wasn't as in-your-face.
Looking over my comments, it seems like I can sum up my complaints about the new single-player Aliens vs. Predator experience in two words: dumbed down. It's not as easy to be unsettled by danger when someone's holding your hand and telling you what to do and exactly where to go. There's no need to cover the map when you simply have to follow your objective marker and there's no opportunity to explore when you're locked in a valley. The direction of the new Aliens vs. Predator might well suit the tastes of many gamers, but for me it fell a little flat.
There is one single-player option that does seem to capture the spirit of the original game, and that is survival mode. Essentially, it's a gauntlet where the player tries to hold out as long as possible against never-ending and increasingly larger waves of aliens. This is a great diversion when you have a limited time to play and it does seem like the aliens might be a bit faster and more aggressive than they present in the single-player campaign. Maybe it's just the sheer number of them and the fever pace, but it's fun nevertheless. This mode is also available as a co-op multiplayer mode.
Speaking of multiplayer, any dumbing-down is less relevant because you're testing yourself against other thinking human players instead of AI bots. Other players face the same limitations and advantages you do. Indeed, multiplayer offers a greater challenge and a lot more satisfaction for someone who wants to test their predator, alien, and marine skills against worthy opponents. Frankly, I've played so many death matches over the years that this simple game type usually bores me without any metagame objectives. Nevertheless, I get a real perverse pleasure in playing a marine stalked by predators and aliens. There's definitely a wonderful atmosphere that this game carries, and in multiplayer, I find it to be very satisfying.
There are also some fun and unique game types, such as Predator Hunt and Infestation. In Predator Hunt, one player is the predator against everyone else playing a marine, and if a marine takes out the predator, he or she becomes the predator. In Infestation, all players start out as marines except for a single alien player and every marine that is killed re-spawns as an alien.
These are some great ways to take advantage of the Aliens vs. Predator license. On the downside, it can take forever to join a ranked match (the only way to unlock alternate multiplayer skins) and there are no dedicated servers yet. But this is a feature Rebellion has promised to add in the future.
Of course, there's another factor to consider when talking about the new Aliens vs. Predator: DirectX 11 enhancements. The game will take advantage of new-generation Radeon and GeForce cards to enhance the experience with tessellation effects, shadows, and DirectX 11-exclusive anti-aliasing (AA).
Now that the subjective portion of the program is over, let's dig into some objective data: image quality, DirectX 11 functionality, and performance with a wide range of graphics cards.