Note: This review was written in cooperation with The Idiosyncracy of Life in Words‘ editor bino32.
AVP: Alien vs. Predator and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem were entertaining crossover movies, so does this also work in gaming form as in Rebellion‘s first-person shooter/runner Aliens versus Predator Classic 2000?
Aliens vs. Predator 2000
(UK 2010, developer/publisher: Rebellion, platform: PC)
Aliens, predators, and marines battle it out on planets and space stations, each faction trying to defeat the enemy on their own terms.
Three stories and one universe
Despite offering three different campaigns, there isn’t much of a story or even characters to remember. While it’s understandable that choosing to play them in any order makes an interconnected narrative impossible, there could have been a bit more plot development. The Marine missions are probably the closest to becoming immersed, with FMV messages via monitors giving the player instructions and background info. These are also present in the other campaigns, but as mission objectives are mainly provided in text form, following the story without cut-scenes isn’t very engaging. This doesn’t mean that the missions are completely random, because they build on one another in each campaign, giving a sense of progression with specific goals for each faction, e.g. the marine and predator trying to kill the alien queen and the alien trying to enter a spaceship bound to Earth. It all feels close to the comic book series or the crossover movies in so much that the experience is more about delivering fan service rather than telling a suspenseful story with characters one cares about.
Locations of the Alien movies like the planet LV-426 (as in Alien: Isolation, only less impressive visually) or Fury 161 (as in Alien 3) are all easy to recognize, while the spaceship and colony levels are thematically close to the first two movies as well, with other similar places or even the alien lair itself fitting the Alien universe, too. If only the Predator series would have been given the same treatment, as recycled levels only to be played by different factions are a bit disappointing.
How to play a marine, predator or alien
The marine is probably the easiest to get into, as one is used to him from other FPS games, with having enough firepower like a rifle, grenade launcher, or flamethrower. In addition the motion tracker helps to be relatively prepared for all kinds of incoming assaults. The predator is similar in movement, although he can drop from higher ground without any damage), but he’s also able to cloak himself, heal himself (all by using energy that has to be renewed by picking up energy sources or destroying containers that have them) and auto-target enemies with various weapon systems, making him an offensive and stealth character. The alien is the hardest but also the most fun to play, as doesn’t only move incredibly fast on the ground, but also on walls and ceilings. An exhilarating, but also disorienting and nauseous experience, to say the least. Going through ventilation shafts, dropping from above on enemies and killing them with one hit is a pretty satisfying and unique strategy that is essential to survive the powerful weapons of the opposition who can also often kill the alien with one or two hits.
This is certainly not a game for people with a weak stomach, not only because of the extremely fast-paced action when one runs around on walls, but also when dismembering enemies. Beheading marines or helpless scientists with a quick alien tongue attack is only the beginning, as tearing their bodies into small pieces and eating them for replenishing health is the next step to survive. Having the predator use his spear gun to pin people’s heads to walls is another sight some people will be a bit shocked despite the low-res graphics, while the terrified screams and facial expressions on some unlucky victims add to the gratuitously violent presentation that is only true to the comic book source material.
Save yourself, but only a few times
The fast movement has already been mentioned, and while it perfectly captures the speed of the alien and therefore matches the frenetic gung-ho action of a movie like Aliens, it becomes a problem when playing as a marine and not being able to hit the enemy, especially facehuggers that are so fast that killing them is more down to chance than skill (or in the case of the predator a target-seeking weapon). The game also becomes unfair when a facehugger attaches itself to one’s face, as it’s impossible to shake them off, resulting in instant death. This wouldn’t be a problem if the savegame function wasn’t so unfair, either.
Depending on the difficulty level, it’s only possible to create a limited number of savegames, i.e. 8 for “Easy”, 4 for “Hard”, and 2 for “Director’s Cut”, per level. The developers themselves realized that many people were understandably frustrated by this “feature” and later added a patch that enabled unlimited savegames (adding the “-unlimitedsaves” command line in the properties of the game’s launcher), which is a very welcome addition. It might take away a bit of the terror of what lurks around each corner, but unlike Alien: Isolation, the deaths in this game are pretty cheap, which also has to do with the level design and some A.I. problems.
More design obstacles to overcome
Without any map, navigating the labyrinthine corridors or ventilation systems is extremely difficult, especially when thinking in three dimensions in the case of the alien. Even if the mission goals aren’t the most original or memorable ones, they’re still varied enough and always keep the player on his or her toes during missions, as they often change. However, overlooking switches to open doors is as common as finding new enemies literally dropping from the ceiling, making it even more difficult to remember where one has been before. At least the overwhelming number and speed of enemies is somewhat compensated by the A.I.’s stupidity, often leading to instances when they become stuck in front of walls or on top of each other. During the final boss encounter of the Predator campaign the alien queen wasn’t even moving in between two pillars of stone, which was actually quite fortunate, as it was a very enclosed space with additional facehuggers running around that made it nearly impossible to complete without that bug.
Completing each campaign isn’t the end, though, as bonus missions can be unlocked. While some locations are recycled and only mission objectives are changed, it’s nice to try out a jetpack for the marine and a grappling hook for the predator, although it’s a bittersweet experience, as one soon realizes that these special abilities would have made some of the original levels more fun to play. One shouldn’t expect any narrative connecting these segments, with the lack of cutscenes making it an even less cinematic or immersive experience. It also requires a lot of patience to unlock all the bonus levels, because completing the main game on the hardest difficulty is mandatory to play the last levels.
A modern re-release
Aliens versus Predator was originally released in 1999 without even the option to save a game in a level (!), but was then updated in the Gold Edition with the limited save slot function and more multiplayer levels, in addition to newly filmed video screen parts, with the former ones involving hired actors that were replaced by the Rebellion staff (although it remains questionable if the quality is really improved, as the acting is still rather ropey). After the game became difficult to purchase in retail form, Rebellion decided to release it digitally with the Classic 2000 edition that is the definitive version, as it offers widescreen and Xbox 360 controller support as well as the aforementioned option to have unlimited saves and modern internet multiplayer.
Playing with real humans
Of course in a game like this, multiplayer is predestined to be a cool experience, and it turns out to be one. With many gameplay modes and settings that can increase movement speed even further, this is for the dedicated FPS fan who wants to try something a little bit different from the standard rocket launching and jumping around. While this can still be done with the marine to a certain degree, it’s just more fun to try out the alien lifeforms. Without connection problems and with easy-to-find lobbies, the network code works great, although one should definitely train first with a friend before going against more seasoned gamers. Unfortunately, some maps can be too big for only two players, because just as in the single-player campaign, many are locations are labyrinthine in design, and running around without encountering the opposition can be frustrating, especially since one starts from the beginning of a level each time one dies, making it even harder to get back into the fight.
Like most 3D games, Aliens vs. Predator Classic 2000 hasn’t aged well with its graphics. Except for the low-res FMV cut-scenes, the marines or scientists’ faces look as ugly as the level textures, while the jerky animations of them aren’t much better, either, which also holds true for the predators. However, seeing the aliens run seamlessly from ceiling to walls and then to the ground is still an impressive visual feat even today, as their movements are fluid and watching them blow up into pieces with acid thrown around is extremely satisfying, again re-enacting that non-stop action feeling of the original Aliens. Still, the lighting effects are well-done, with some stand-out moments when flickering lights in a corridor induce pure terror. There is also a fair bit of realism, e.g. when one has to use night vision goggles in the dark, only to be blinded when stepping into light. Visual effects can be found with the other races as well, e.g. the alien’s somewhat stretched perspective that is reminiscent of the chasing sequences in Alien 3. Last but not least, the CGI cutscenes are also pretty cool in their cinematic presentation of the movies, although there are only two for each campaign at the beginning and at the end.
… but sounding great
The audio is excellent with both music and effects. The former takes individual score pieces from each franchise and even if these are played in a loop, they’re enough to set the mood, changing from scary exploration to intense gunfire fights. Hearing aliens being torn apart under fire with James Horner’s militaristic score of Aliens has never sounded this good, while listening to rain falling outside a colony installation after having walked through endless, claustrophobic corridors is also highly atmospheric, which of course goes for the iconic bleeping motion tracker device, too. The Predator missions are accompanied by an orchestral choir soundtrack that fit the warrior theme perfectly, while the Alien campaign features some more subtle horror music.
Three games and two franchises for the price of one
Aliens versus Predator Classic 2000 is an easy-to-love and easy-to-hate game. Playing three very different factions is a unique experience, especially if one knows the franchises. Shooting one’s way through aliens, sneaking behind humans, crawling on walls is all fun despite the confusing level design, the hard-as-nails difficulty, and the limited savegame function. It certainly helps to recognize all the different movie locations and spot the references as well as to listen to an amazing best-of-Alien/Predator soundtrack mix so that one easily forgets the outdated graphics. If only the story segments were more engaging and there would be at least one character who is memorable, this would be the perfect adaptation.
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