Monday, 31 May 2010

Aliens V.S Predator 2010 Review

At the risk of entering into arse kissing territory worthy of an Oscar winner’s acceptance speech I would like to say thank you to AVP. That is for shattering my illusions of what I thought were once great movies. The game coldly reveals the Xenomorph has as much sense of direction as an Alzheimer’s sufferer sailing through the Bermuda Triangle; that Predators are as graceful as a sumo that has undertaken ballet lessons and the more obvious fact of Humans being pointless sacks of gore and pus.

Now I have a history with Rebellion (the developers) because I remember wasting my childhood away on ‘Alien vs. Predator’ for the Atari Jaguar. And as we know nostalgia acts as beer goggles for the memory, so I look back at every single school grade damaging second as if it were a kind gentleman rescuing a street urchin version of myself from a life of poverty; when in reality it was probably like receiving a twig for Christmas – disappointing and joyless. Regardless my exacting standards are higher than Pete Doherty in Amsterdam.

As always the game concerns an interstellar pub brawl which would frighten even the most hardened Australian, between three wildly different races. This allows for three varied campaigns each with their own unique game mechanics; unless we are referring to the Human scenario which is so by the numbers that even ancient civilisations that couldn’t anticipate their own demise would be able to predict how it plays. Quite why you would want to rent out an apartment in generic FPS town by playing as the meatbag when two vastly more complex lifeforms are available is beyond me – unless you happen to be Dexter Morgan and need to know what it’s like to be human. But being the third wheel, only really there to make the numbers and balance game play it should probably be renamed Charles Conrad (yeah I’ll wait while you Google search and prove my point).

Probably the most boring of all three factions, especially when you consider the other two either let you play with iconic and intriguing weaponry or at least fight like an overly excited feline. The human arsenal is the standard shooter set, simply given a futuristic and cosmetic make-over with a design tweak and by adding random nonsense numbers onto their names to create portmanteaus such as ‘ZX-76 Shotgun’. A weapon that stands out from the rest is the ‘M59/B Smartgun’, a heavy assault rifle that has an auto targeting system that will accurately perforate your enemies for you. Now while I can see the obvious advantageous applications this might have, especially against the faster of opponents, it does somewhat detriment the merit of the kill if you have the weapon do all the ground work for your lazy-ass. You’ll also be expected to utilize a great deal of equipment, all of which serve the same roles as the other species’ natural traits but less competently, such as flares to help illuminate your surroundings and a motion tracker to give a vague allusion to the location of nearby opponents. The portrayal of humanity’s ineptitude showing their infancy in galactic matters makes this the Friedrich Nietzsche of video games.

As the alien you’ll spend more time stuck in airvents than an obese cat burglar, casually dropping down every now and then like the stock prices for indecisive incorporated. Rarely will direct confrontation be an option which was strange because I don’t ever remember Ellen Ripley stating the Xenomorphs are made of wet tissue, surely shooting that exoskeleton will have as much use as trying to knock a house down with a crab mallet. If a bizarrely weak body isn’t to blame then I guess he is just shy. Stealth as the alien is part Che Guevara part Spiderman as you’ll weave in and out of airvents as well as every nook and cranny to rip your prey to shreds. Strangely enough the game’s engine went to the same stealth school as Splinter Cell, because as long as you are shrouded in darkness then it’ll be fairly forgiving as to whether you go unnoticed by the meat-bags, I guess that mysterious silhouette hanging off the ceiling like kebab meat in a take-away could be anything after all…

In combat the Xenomorph is quite capable, it can attack with its claws, use the tail as a blade or for a blunt force attack, as well as pouncing from above onto the sitting ducks below. It is here that you can perform what is known as a ‘trophy kill’, for the Xenomorphs this involves an unlucky target being pinned to the floor, and from the point of view of the aliens mouth we see their inner mandibles rip through the prey’s skull. For the Predator it is slightly more gruesome and seems as though he is showing off. Oh yeah and if the whole metaphorical male rape aspect of the facehuggers ever gave you the urge to try it for yourself well that is now possible, as at times it’ll be vital to propagate the race. Ironically enough where the Xenomorphs aren’t all that capable is their acrobatical prowess though this is down to the game mechanics being designed by disabled mouse, as invariably you latch onto walls you don’t need to be on, hampered by invisible barriers and jumping between surfaces is like trying to play Tomb Raider on a laptop using just your tongue. And while I’m on this harangue never include switch puzzles in a campaign other than the marine’s because it is out of place and shows that you haven’t got creativity; after all you don’t hire a biomechanical weapon of mass destruction to wash your car.

Aliens have an unfair advantage because whilst they are lounging safely around they can also see their enemies through walls, and evolution has certainly looked kindly on them as your vision is colour coded (threats being highlighted red, synthetics are blue and civilians are green). Quite how this ability developed in the short time its race has been in contact with the colonists is a question the game slyly avoids as if it were dropped soap in the showers of a male prison. As an addendum to my previous statement, the creature’s perfectly honed senses are capable of penetrating even the Predators’ cloaking mechanisms, giving you an edge over a prey that believes it still has the element of surprise. However this is complete bullocks and biscuits because it completely negates the tactics of players whom step into the massive shoes of Predator, as you lose the stealthy edge.

I understand that it is done to balance gameplay, but I felt this had already been achieved by giving the aliens the ability to hide and run at super fast speeds. And the implications of this reach the carefully crafted universe that Rebellion have created, since despite spending millennia mastering the art of cracking Xenomorph skull, the Predators either haven’t figured out that they may as well be holding neon signs reading ‘I’m next’ above their deformed heads, or are unable to brainstorm a solution. Whichever the case may be it’s an uncharacteristic moment of impotence for a species that make Ming the Merciless seem like Ming the Messiah.

The final faction are the aforementioned Predators, tribal warriors who have mastered the art of honourable warfare by using their hyper-advanced technology to decimate more primitive lifeforms – very honourable indeed. Again you can utilize the same party tricks that the Predators from the two (and only two) movies use such as; active camouflage, mimicking voices to cause a distraction and jumping from surface to surface, before moving in for the kill. He also has a nasty habit of packing more heat than an Eastcoast gang, here are just some of the weapons that you’ll use to maim, lacerate and dissolve all those that are foolish enough to cross lances with you: wrist blades, throwing spear, throwing discs, proximity mines and shoulder canons. But don’t have too much sympathy for the nameless marines, because frankly if you’ve just witnessed a colleague’s spinal cord being perfectly ripped out by a hideous 7ft creature that epitomizes murder only for it to escape, and you go back to patrolling the perimeter loudly declaring every noise as ‘a little odd’ then flaying comes highly recommended.

The Predator’s famous Heat Vision is available for use which allows for crystal clear vision of the marines even from great distances, as though they were an attention seeking Christmas tree. However this will result in the Xenomorphs becoming almost impossible to detect, assumedly meaning they are Ectothermic entities – that noise was the sound of the door slamming shut as anyone with any self respect has just left. To counter this you must either return to the normal vision HUD,(which admittedly doesn’t help because this generation’s graphics are as good for the peripheral vision as a wacky carnival mirror would be for deciphering a M. C. Escher painting) or use Alien Vision mode once you have obtained the ancestral Predator mask – though this makes everything else impossible to see.

Obviously it was designed this way to create tactical gameplay because if you are in a scuffle with two different races you’ll have to juggle between the HUDs – however I’ll tell you why this is a worse design choice than Mark Croft. In the heat of combat all of your senses need to be alert, especially vision- now the Heat vision and Alien Vision HUDs are wildly different; the former engulfing the screen in a thermal rainbow of blues, purples, reds and yellows and the latter is essentially night vision with a hint of greyscale. Being forced to rapidly switch between the two is a good way to disorientate yourself as well as drawing a percentage of your focus away from what you should be doing…killing things that are different, Nazi. I guess the point I’m tediously alluding to is that you shouldn’t ask a chef to juggle chainsaws while making a Frittata.

If you have read the comics or played the previous games then you will know what to expect in terms of story. Humanity having just got their cunt license that entitles them to conquer space attempt to colonise planet BG 386; however the Predators disgusted by this because it is one of their many sacred Xenomorph hunting grounds decide they are going to slaughter every last human. Meanwhile Mr. Weyland obviously feeling having both an evil disposition and intelligence would be letting the side down, has been conducting experiments on the Xenomorphs - namely one of the protagonists, specimen six. Unsurprisingly specimen six escapes and releases its fellow aliens causing the proverbial shit to hit the proverbial fan. The colonial marine protagonist’s over arching goal is to escape the planet and once he does Weyland discovers the location of the Xenomorph home planet, exactly where the playable Predator elite is heading – which is probably the most obvious set up for a sequel since The Matrix Reloaded’s ‘to be continued’ ending. While the story is interconnected to the three characters their respective campaigns can be viewed as separate stories that merely fill in the each other’s plotholes.

Well I say that they fill in the plotholes when I really mean explain how it was the Xenomorph that drank all of the Marine’s milk after the empty milk carton is discovered in the Human storyline. I found the only character that drew any emotion from me was the Xenomorph simply because its race was only on the planet to provide live game for the Predators, and to top it all off the race is held in captivity. Any sympathy for the creature is somewhat tarnished after it has helped itself to abit of face for the 40th fucking time. AVP fails magnificently in providing a reason as to why Weyland continually attempts to capture the creatures that have repeatedly bypassed his security and slaughtered the entire company payroll – if he wants trouble that badly he should become a bartender in Edinburgh.

Inconsistency is also an issue here, for example by the end the gun toting space cowboy has ploughed through more extraterrestrial foes than you can shake E.T at; yet when a single Xenomorph is controlled by the player the sneaky bastard is responsible for more human deaths than John Wayne Gacy. So this creates an interesting scenario where both sides are a destructive force to be reckoned with unless they are in a party of two upward in which case they are unable to get a table at the restaurant called competence. A more obvious reason for would be because the A.I is thicker than Paris Hilton. And that isn’t comedic exaggeration. If you anthropomorphised the A.I, sat it and Paris in a room together and forced them to undertake an IQ exam at least she would nearly be able to spell her own name correctly. The NPCs have next to no survival ability as they’ll either adopt gung-ho tactics or take cover at the wrong end of a wall leaving their back exposed. When you are taking a stealthy approach and your cover is blown simple evasion is enough to make them forget the toothy death machine that almost made them brunch is still in the area, which is something I’m pretty damn sure I would at least make a note of.

Only Norse mythology fanatics will understand this reference but the game is comparable to Grid and Hildr from the Fornaldarsaga ‘Illuga saga Gríðarfóstra’; we are drawn by the outstanding beauty of Hildr only to discover it’s hiding the hideous Grid. The graphics are really fucking beautiful but unfortunately not beautiful enough to mask the fact the levels are uninspired, linear, generic and recycled more than a crackwhore at a drugs party. I have composed a check-list of all the locations you will visit in the game; a generic laboratory, a generic military complex, generic jungles and generic alien ruins. It’s as inspired as the homework of the world’s number one plagiariser.

During the Xenomorph campaign the level designers could have let their creativity run free, creating multiple routes by using its acrobatic capabilities, this would have allowed for non-linear navigation, instead of leading us around with a leash and diluting the appeal. The marine’s early escapades take place in poorly lit, tight and confining corridors where danger can lurk at any angle and being British this creates an image of trying to return an overdue library book, without being caught by the demonic, jobsworth librarian. These levels effectively create a constant feeling of dread and paranoia, as well as fuelling your trigger finger’s temptation, thus forming the trifecta otherwise known as ‘United States military strategy’. Once the action moves outside of the decrepit complex where you realise everything is actually bright and cheerful, and if Daybreakers taught us anything it’s that things stop being good once you involve the sun or Ethan Hawke for that matter; effectively shattering any flimsy pretence that the game isn’t completely pedestrian.

Finally a quick overlook at the multiplayer, because I will argue that this is what’ll provide most of the draw since the single player is only just substantial enough to be classed as ‘training’. There are few modes, but they tick the required boxes; deathmatch (allowing for faction limitations and variations), domination (an offshoot of capture the flag), infestation (virus mode from Timesplitters – that’s not to say it is like virus mode but that it is a damn clone), Predator hunt (exactly the same as infestation except you are pursued by Predators) and survivor (an online skirmish mode, the type that has flooded both 1st and 3rd person shooter town like refugees, after being popularised by World at War and Gears of War). Ok so the selection of modes may not be anything to write home about, unless asked to document genericness but locate 18 people (and preferably ones you know because online gaming with anonymous players is an experience you don’t want to go through) and it makes for interesting games especially if the ratio between the three species is properly proportioned.

Overall AVP is a decent effort to revive the glory days of the franchise using our hyper technology of today, but it tries to be the jack of all trades and ends up being substandard at all. And while the multiplayer is good the closest the original ever needed to involve other players was forcing your impoverished friends to watch you play on your expensive Jaguar just to see the look of jealousy on their faces, like enjoying the world’s last Twinkie in front of Sergeant Al Powell.