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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Aliens vs. Predator (5.6/10)

Anyone know Joe Juba's phone number? I owe him an apology. He wrote a review of Aliens vs. Predator in Game Informer a while back that got my blood boiling! How dare he give it a lowly 6.5 out of 10? Blasphemy says I! It's got Aliens... it's got Predators... what's not to like?

Buuuuuut then I played the game... and as much as I hate to admit it, he was right in his assessment. It's the game itself that is the disappointment and Rebellion and Sega who should be called out for this catastrophe against some of my most beloved franchises.

The draw of the game (the original on PC way back when was pretty awesome) is that you get to play as all three main species: the Marines, the Aliens, and the Predators. So why was it such an unmitigated disaster? Well, let's run down the checklist. The story is beyond lame for all three campaigns. Honestly, I know we are reaching for reasons to bring them all together in a bloody battle royale (again), but this stuff is just getting silly. It's not engaging, it's poorly written, and the voice acting is laughably bad (even the reappearance of Lance Henrikson can't save it... but more on that later). It's kinda clever how they all tie together, but it ends up being even more disjointed.

The Marine campaign revolves around your classic space grunts getting downed on the surface of a planet where the Weyland-Yutani corporation has discovered another "Hunter" temple. You, the no-name "Rookie," get separated from your comrades (what did you expect?) and are alone, in the dark... with a pistol. The aliens get loose, start eating everyone, then the Predators show up, and things get really hairy. Before too long you get all the iconic weapons we've seen before: pulse rifles, smart guns, and flame throwers, not to mention your motion tracker. When this thing starts beeping, it's brown trousers time.

When you play as a Predator you take control of a young warrior tasked with eliminating both the serpents who are your mortal enemy and the human interlopers who are desecrating hollowed ground. You get all the cool Predator toys: cloaking, shoulder mounted plasma canon, wicked bladed discs, and even the collapsible spear. Obviously, this campaign is focused more on stealth, utilizing your cloaking ability to harry your opposition into committing seppuku because all their friends keep winding up dead sans spines. With all the tools in your arsenal you can mix it up and get creative. For the most part they work fairly well... until you get spotted. Things then devolve rather rapidly into a running cluster$%#@. Par for the course really, but the aforementioned twitchy controls make death all the more likely...

Then there is the Alien section. It's short, like less than three hours short. It's weird, playing as the Alien is easily both the most fun, yet conversely, the most frustrating of all. I realize you don't have much of a narrative to work with when your protagonist is a mindless killing machine, but I think it says more that the developers didn't believe in their own work enough to make it longer. Naturally, the aliens don't have a proper ranged attack, not to mention they are killed relatively easily, so it's all down to sticking to the shadows and making fast escapes. It's fun climbing on the ceilings and walls to stealth kill unsuspecting victims (although it can be very disorienting), but it's repetitive and the canned death animations get old quickly. They obviously didn't try to add any more to it than that which left it a short and unsatisfying experience... although the ending made me smile.

And there are so many cliches wrapped up in each part of the story that it's more eye-rolling and groan-inducing than engaging. I know we are working with source material here people, but a little originality wouldn't go amiss would it? Everything is stock and standard: the dark corridors with stuff scuttling around in the background followed by "Holy crap!" moments when baddies pop out to try and eat your face. Sega and Rebellion did manage to get the atmosphere right, I'll give them that. But everything in the game has been taken, in one form or another, from things we have already seen on the big screen.

I'd be okay with all this if not for the fact the game's source material is tempered by the graphics, which are embarrassing. They are laughable really, since they look perhaps slightly better than what the last gen of consoles could churn out. There are frame rate drops, straight freezes, and texture pop in issues, which is astonishing considering how bad it looks to begin with. Both facial and character animations are canned and repetitive, as are the close-up kill moves. The sound isn't as bad, but still not great. All of the classic sound effects are there from the cloaking of the Predators and hiss of the Alien moving in for the kill, to the distinctive sound of the pulse rifles and the incessant "beep beep beep" of the motion tracker. Oh, and Lance Henrikson is back! Talk about milking a role (I kid I kid, Bishop rocks!). But even he can't save the poor script, awful dialogue, and terrible voice-acting from the rest of the cast. Honestly, I guess that makes the xenomorph sections a little more bearable as you don't have to listen to the inane crap people are spouting.

Then we can focus on the controls... which suck. They are twitchy as hell no matter which species you're using (but especially in the Alien campaign). While all three campaigns are essentially first-person shooters, the super fast camera panning doesn't help. It actually makes things worse, especially considering how quick the bloody aliens are. Seriously, they are a blur and trying to get them sighted is a huge pain. Then there are the finishing move animations which take waaaaaay too long. Don't get me wrong, the high gore factor is pretty awesome, but this wouldn't be such a problem except for the fact that you still take damage while doing them! So if you start to finish off one poor sod by ramming your inner mouth through theirs and their buddy happens to glimpse the horror out of the corner of his eye he'll pump 60 or 70 rounds into your exoskeleton before you've even finished your brain snack. As soon as you come out of the animation you'll be near death, one more round needed to finish the job. Needless to say this can be exceedingly frustrating which is further exacerbated by the fact that the checkpoints tend to be too far apart. Having to replay entire sections that weren't any fun to begin with is more than slightly annoying.

There is also a confusing scoring system that I can't, for the life of me, figure out why it's included at all. Basically you get bonuses for completing missions in a certain amount of time and doing so in a particular fashion. What's the point?  If you're going to give a score per level if the player completes arbitrary actions there should be some reason for it. It's actually detrimental because you are thinking about it as you are playing rather than just reacting to situations. Sure, some of it is worth exploring, but I found it more distracting than anything else.

Another thing I find surprising is the lack of split-screen for multiplayer. There is apparently a cool pseudo-horde mode (a la Gear of War 2) but you can't play it on the couch with a friend. Instead, you'll have to find someone who actually still owns this disaster and try to play with them online. Needless to say, I couldn't be bothered.

But what really struck me about Aliens vs. Predator wasn't the poor graphics, crap controls, or even the distinct lack of originality... it was something at a more basic level. I'll sum it up like this: the level design can be clever as most are mazes, just as you would expect from the movies. But as you work through all three campaigns you realize the developers commit yet another cardinal sin; namely that you play the same damn levels over and over albeit from different perspectives. Seriously, it took me forever to complete this game because it was such a bore, but when finishing up the Marine campaign I suddenly realized that I had, in fact, already played through these same sections as both the Alien and the Predator. I get that you are trying to over lap the narrative to see it from each perspective but still. It feels cheap, like they couldn't be bothered... which is actually an apt description of the entire experience if you ask me.

By the end it occurred to me that if they had tried to make three separate games; one for each species, and really focused on each individual experience rather than trying to cram it all into one package, then it might have worked. The human campaign, with a bit of polish, could have been perfectly passable. Same for the Predator section. With all those cool weapons at your disposal it certainly had potential. Hell, you could have tacked on the Alien campaign as an unlockable for giggles, as short as it was. What you get instead is a bug-riddled mess that doesn't work properly on any level.

Here's the thing that will probably convey just how annoyed and disappointed I am with this game. I started writing my notes on this WAAAAAY back when I first started this blog (about eight months ago for those of you wanting a bit of perspective), and it's taken me this long to finish it. It could have been better with a little more effort. No, scratch that... it should have been better. It's inexcusable in my opinion; these are venerated franchises that deserve more respect than the drivel that has tainted them in the last several installments across multiple mediums (I'm including poor movies, novels, and comics under that heading). It's a pity really-we are left lamenting what could have been. 

God, I can't wait for Aliens: Colonial Marines! But if that one sucks I'm officially giving up...


Score = 5.6 / 10

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