This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Aliens vs Predator.
Aliens vs. Predator is one of those concepts you're probably not supposed to think too much about, especially not the title. Surely they're both aliens, and come to think of it they're both predators, too. Perhaps a more explanatory title is necessary, like Big Dribbly Black Thing That Likes Eating Lance Henriksen and Has a Head That Makes You Wonder About What Sort of Relationship H. R. Giger Had With His Father vs. Big Clicky Invisible Thing with a Crab for a Face That Always Seems to End Up Getting Beaten Up By Big Stupid Lads Wearing Dirty Pants.
Really, any title would be better than Aliens vs. Predator, or at least easier on the filing system. Try not to confuse this Aliens vs. Predator with the Alien vs. Predator for the SNES from 1993 nor the arcade Alien vs. Predator from 1994 nor indeed the Alien vs. Predator for the Atari Jaguar from the same year, although feel free to confuse it with the Aliens vs. Predator released for PC and Mac in 1999, because it's the same fucking game!
The plot is that Aliens plot, for there is only one. You know what I mean. That one plot Giger's Alien drags around everywhere it goes like a fucking security blanket. Aliens take over facility, Marines get sent in to take care of it the same way that bits of bread get sent into ponds to take care of the ducks. And there's inevitably some stupid, evil business/military guy who wants to harness the Aliens, and the more times this happens, the more evil and stupid they get: "Okay, so the last 60 evil, stupid guys who tried to control the Aliens all got their brains spread on cream crackers and served as canapes at the Alien hoedown, but I think their problem was just not being evil and stupid enough!"
This is Aliens vs. Predator, though, so there are Predators, too, who show up now and then to a chorus of "WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?" from nearby human NPCs. And I'm waiting for someone to reply, "It's a fucking Predator, you moron! The human race has only encountered them like 50 times!" Did no one document anything? Didn't at least one survivor put an entry on his fucking LiveJournal? Or did we use up all the data storage media recording all these fucking audio logs?
As usual, there are three story campaigns, and in spite of the title the Marine campaign is the longest, probably because of racism. It's also by far the weakest, a fairly generic FPS that at first takes the Doom 3 route to creating easy horror by putting you in dark rooms with a flashlight circle the size of a leprechaun's testicle, but after a while it gets bored and flicks the light on for the remainder in a spirited attempt for the generic gold medal.
It's not even that scary, because current-generation graphics being what they are, the Aliens all have this wet glisten effect that make them easy to spot, like they're adorned with Christmas lights. That's when they even bother to show up. There's a fine line between atmospheric pacing and just having fuck-all happen. Half-an-hour in, I'd gone to three or four empty controls rooms to press magic plot continuation buttons and was starting to wonder of the Aliens hadn't gone to the wrong address or something. The sidequest is collecting audio logs, and they're all the usual suspects: passive-aggressive man who complains about how the guys running the place are all evil and stupid, hysterical man in a cupboard who gets abruptly cut off by grisly noises, and that one very credulous fellow who starts worshipping the Aliens as gods and who will probably end up deliberately sucking on a facehugger, nature's communion wafer.
Then there's the Alien campaign, which is much better. If I must listen to all the human characters' dreadful voice-acting, at least let me chew their necks off afterwards. The setup is agreebly uncomplicated: humans tasty, let's eat them all, yum yum. From there it's really a loosely-tied sequence of stealth missions where you crawl around the walls, ceiling, and ventilation system cracking open unaware skulls like so many Cadbury's Creme Eggs. The annoyance is that stealth is your only option. Toe-to-toe, you're about as effective against assault rifles as a glass tea towel. Getting around in the dark, enclosed environments is a wee bit wonky, with the really fast movement and constant shifting of orientation. This isn't the sort of thing that works well from a first-person perspective. It's like playing from the point of view of a cat in a tumble dryer, and with roughly the same sound effects. It's also the shortest campaign. It's like taking a little lunch break between the human and Predator missions to eat at the Chateau de Biteyhead.
Now the Predator tends to be the odd one out in these things; the other two campaigns seem to have trouble finding things for him to do. Besides the fact that part of the game takes place in his holiday home, and the occasional skinned body hanging down like the meat in a kebab shop, his only presence is one fight for each character. Personally, I blame the humans. It's not supposed to be Aliens vs. Predator vs. Dipshits. Humans fighting off two slavering, murderous extra-terrestrial races just feels a wee bit redundant.
As for the Predator's campaign, it's pretty fun, too. It's also very stealth-focused, as again you can't seem to take much machine gun fire. I guess all that expensive Predator armor is about as much use as hanging tea cups on your nipples. When humans are around, you just have to Batman Arkham Asylum their fat arses by using distracting noises, since they're all as thick as asphalt milkshakes. When Aliens are around--that is, the other kind of aliens--it plays like a hack-and-slasher that was designed by a pilchard. Knocking them down with light and heavy swipes and pressing X to finish them off sounds straightforward enough, but the Predator is nothing if not a massive drama queen who insists on taking his sweet time with his fancy, overlong finishers, leaving you exposed and immobile for several seconds while every other monster in the room queues up to bite off your combi-stick.
The trouble with this kind of superstar tag-team crossover event, especially with video game development being the time and money black hole that it is, is that it can't focus on anything. Three campaigns means three mediocre stories, three sets of mediocre gameplay mechanics, and three equally ugly protagonists. It's called spreading yourself too thin. The Marine campaign especially is like a stupid fat kid who your parents force you to play with and who leaves half-eaten toffee apples all over your treehouse, giving you less time to spend with your other friends, Dribbles and Joey Crabface. You know what? Predator campaign, six-hours longer, with tightened combat from a third-person perspective and with AI that can tie its fucking shoelaces - that's a game I'd recommend. Except then you'd pretty much just be playing Arkham Asylum after Batman lost his moral compass and tried to French kiss an angle grinder.
Alias vs. Editor: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I'd normally put something here but I'm stuck dumb by how good that pun on the author credit was
And now it's time for Me vs. Chip Sandwich