I have to admit that I’ve been struggling with how to review this game. With some games, you can immediately say “it’s good” or “it’s bad.” Aliens vs. Predator, however, is not one of those games.
It’s tempting to lay out the elements of the game, measure them against how well other games do similar things and then determine a score based on the difference. Many other sites review their games in just this way, based on things like graphics (they suck), story (meh), voice acting (heard better) and game mechanics (out-dated). If I were reviewing Aliens vs. Predator based on those criteria alone I would be giving it a very low score, because, frankly, it’s far too similar in all of the above respects to the original Aliens vs. Predator from the 90s than it should be as a modern-era shooter.
But I’m not going to review it like that. Not because it wouldn’t be fair to the game, or the developer (original AvP dev, Rebellion), but because it wouldn’t be fair to you, the person reading this who needs to decide if this game will be fun to play. The simple fact is that, in spite of numerous lackluster elements, the sum total of Aliens vs. Predator is fun to play. It’s a blast to play. In fact, it’s easily one of the most interesting and immersive shooters of all time, just, in fact, like the original was all those years ago.
Let’s take the bad news first. For starters, the graphics are selectively lousy. Characters and textures are disappointing in most instances, and the scenery is pretty repetitive. There are exceptions, like the wonderfully-rendered aliens who fade perfectly into the shadows, and the various weapons, which are the hallmarks of the franchise, but overall, this game will leave you wondering whether anybody at Rebellion has noticed that art design has moved forward in the decade-plus since they last visited this world.
Likewise uninspiring is the game’s story which, through the course of three interconnected narratives (marine, alien and predator) tells the tale of the discovery of the ancient Predator shrine to the Great Predator who first defeated The Great Serpents (AKA “The Aliens”) by evil scientist/entrepreneur Bishop Weyland. Weyland turns the shrine into a secret facility for harnessing the destructive power of the aliens, things go horribly awry (of course), the marines get called in, and then the Predators decide to show up, too. Cue: mayhem.
While a version of this story has been told in various forms (graphic novel, movie, etc.) the videogame version is far less interesting and sadly the most interesting parts unfold about 15 minutes in via cutscene. The rest of the story, which you get to play, is pretty much meaningless and predictable, and the voice acting, with the exception of the character of Weyland, reprised by movie star Lance Henriksen, is dull and lifeless. This makes it all the more shameful that the graphics aren’t better, considering Lance Henriksen’s character looks nothing like him. You’d think that one would be a no-brainer.
So what about this game is good?
That’s the million dollar question, and the answer is: everything else. One of the problems with re-creating a game like Aliens vs. Predator is the fact that almost every shooter ever made has borrowed something from the Aliens franchise. In order to make a fresh and interesting game from the IP therefore, you have to not only present what has been borrowed and re-hashed hundreds of times in an interesting way, but you have to do it faithfully to the very thing that’s been borrowed and re-hashed hundreds of times. This can be a tricky line to straddle.
I honestly can’t explain how Rebellion managed it, but they did. As soon as you step into this world as a Colonial Marine it will feel instantly familiar, yet fresh and new. The game’s claustrophobic environments become characters in their own right and every dark corridor or shadowy jungle path becomes a potential kill zone. The aliens can come from literally anywhere. Turn on your flashlight, or pop a flare into a darkened corner, and you may discover they’re already there, watching you and waiting to strike. Games have done aliens and marines plenty of times, but few do justice to the creeping terror of being alone in the dark with an acid-blooded xenomorph, armed with a high-tech weapons that somehow only manage to piss the damn thing off.
The alien missions in AvP are somewhat forgettable, but playing through the Predator and marine campaigns will remind you why these movie franchises have captured imaginations for decades. The first time you hear the familiar, stuttering burst of the pulse rifle, or the haunting, tweeting heartbeat of the motion tracker, see a shadow move, pop a flare into a corner and realize it’s just a piece of metal that looks like an alien seconds before the motion tracker goes nuts and you discover the actual alien is right behind you, you’ll experience a moment of pure, unadulterated bliss the likes of which only a videogame can muster. A terrified, adrenaline-filled bliss perhaps, but bliss nonetheless.
Or perhaps your moment of bliss will come in the Predator campaign when, as the Predator, you leap from treetop to treetop, camouflaged and all but invisible to the squad of marines below, and slowly stalk them one-by-one, luring them into shadows where you can pounce and rip out their spines, or switch to heat vision and vaporize them with a powerful blast from your shoulder cannon.
Or maybe it will be as a marine again, surrounded by aliens swarming out of the walls, running low on ammunition, and you switch to your pistol just in time to headshot an alien coming in for the kill, only to fall to the spray of acid blood that showers you in the alien’s wake. Or, as the Predator in the same scenario, when you switch to your third vision mode and suddenly the walls around you glow bright green, revealing the presence of dozens of aliens, circling for the kill.
Or maybe it will be any number of similar events, rendered with love by a studio utterly devoted to recreating one of our favorite escapist experiences one more time for the videogame medium. Ultimately, in spite of it’s numerous flaws and dated design, Aliens vs. Predator is a game in which it’s entirely possible to lose oneself to the moment and remember how videogames can be great – and why this one is.
Bottom line: If you can get past the surface flaws, Aliens vs. Predator offers a memorable and exhilarating gameplay experience that will definitely leave you wanting more.
Recommendation: If you’re a hard-core Aliens or Predator geek, you’ll probably want to own this in order to revisit the experience over and over again. Otherwise, its 12-15 hour length places it squarely in the “rent” category.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
Russ Pitts is the Editor-in-Chief of The Escapist and has watched Aliens more than is probably healthy.