There are certain unwritten laws in the “Gamer’s Guide to Gaming” (pending trademark by the way), especially when you’re talking about the horror-survival genre. Three of the most important of these conventions as far as this particular genre go are: lights off, curtains closed and crank the bass up to 20. Of course if you’re me – which you’re obviously not (I hope) – then there is a fourth as well, and that’s “no pants,” but we don’t ask everyone to do that... especially if there are kids around. This week we turned off the lights, drew the curtains in the middle of the afternoon, took off our pants and cranked up the bass, as we went hands on with Aliens vs. Predator’s single player campaigns. Three species. Two missions on each. Three totally different experiences.
The marine’s campaign thrusts you into the shoes of the unsuspecting rookie who takes part in the traditional survival-horror chapter of the game. The opening 30 minutes of the marine campaign is a slow and arduous jaunt to learn the rather simplistic mechanics of the game. If anything, as well as introduce you to your toys and the controls, I think it’s safe to say that the opening 30 minutes are there to capture the mood by creating this feeling of isolation; a feeling that the marine is constantly trying to shake throughout.
Your first objective is to make your way across the colony and restore power to one of the generators. Along the way you’ll navigate through claustrophobic, low-level lighted corridors with a hint of danger in the air, with nothing but a hand-gun and a flashlight to help get you through the perpetual darkness. If it wasn’t for the constant blipping of the radar - which can’t be turned off - the mood would be perfectly set. Shortly after the rookie restores power to the colony of Freya’s Prospect, he encounters his first taste of what it feels like to be the hunted as he is left to fight off the advances of a solitary Xenomorph with his hand-gun.
The real action kicks off when you’re instructed by your contact to investigate the goings-on and whereabouts of a marine patrol in the colony’s night-club; a night-club that appears to have been transformed into a Xenomorph's breeding ground. The Xeno mucus drips down the walls and the bass of the club echoes around its empty shell. All that exists in this deserted club is a computer generated pole dancer. No marines. Nothing. After making his way up to the second floor, here the marine encounters his first Xeno onslaught with wave after wave of blood thirsty Xenos appearing out of nowhere. Being armed with a pulse rifle with grenade launcher attachment makes the Xenos easier to take down here, and making use of his trusty flares means that you can cast a much needed light source on the proceedings.
From this point on the battles in the rookie’s campaign seem to rise in scope and more often than not, have you firing aimlessly assuming you just saw something in the shadows. In the next 10-20 minutes alone you’re left to fight a swarm of incoming Xenos alongside a heavy duty turret; fend off a pack of them whilst you wait for an elevator; and holding point as a group of them pile out the mines across a nearby bridge on the planet’s dusty surface. The only thing that changes seems to be the environments though which doesn’t say a lot for mission variety. The opening few chapters consisted of typical clichéd set-pieces that really stay true to the roots of the franchise.
From the very first mission you can tell that the Xenomorph’s campaign is going to be the shortest out the lot. In contrast to the marine’s campaign where you’re constantly striving to lighten up the environment to give yourself a fighting chance, the Xenomorph seeks out to do the exact opposite. Having the ability to take out lights with your tail is one way the Xeno can get an edge. The emphasis here though is on speed and stealth as you use the simple controls to circumnavigate armed guards using vents and sticking to the dark.
You’ll kick off the campaign finding yourself strapped up in a giant clamp inside a laboratory as scientists throw live bait in to test the Xenomorph’s unique capabilities. As it always is the case with the Alien films, whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, but in this case, you’re a Xenomorph, so that spells freedom for you.
After you’re sprung from your cell, your objective is quite simply to make your way through the facility using vents, the ceiling, sticking to the dark and also devouring guards along the way, to free the Queen. Unlike the other two species, the Alien has regenerative health, but that won’t save you if you decide to take on the guards head-on. Suffice it to say, they can’t take an insane amount of punishment and you have to play to the strengths of the species if you’re going to survive. They are organic melee monsters after all.
The early levels are fast paced, with the Alien able to move at considerable speeds and transition from surface to surface in the blink of an eye. In fact, the chapters seem to be all over in the blink of an eye also, which will certainly be a shame if it translates that way across the whole campaign in the final version. You know, considering the Xenomorph campaign is something fresh that Rebellion can bring to the first person genre.
Like its Xenomorph counterpart, the Predator’s campaign also relies on becoming the hunter and using the element of surprise to get an edge over your opponent. More so than the Xenomorph though, the Predator will have to rely on tactics. If you’re going to stand toe-to-toe with the marines, you’re going to lose. Simple as that.
Using invisibility and isolating marines play the biggest role in the Predator’s campaign. If you’re going to run into a group of them and think you can blast or slash your way out, you’ll be in for a shock. Even using the one-hit-kill “killmoves” in a group is not the wisest idea, even if there are only two of them to take care of. Those two seconds where you’re ripping off someone’s head can leave you incredibly vulnerable.
The Predator’s campaign kicks off with a similar tutorial section, and like the other two, it stays true to the roots of their respective franchise. In a test of spirit ritual, the Predator must prove themselves before they’re sent out into the open on their own. This will mean grasping the ins-and-outs of the melee and blocking system, learning how to use the shoulder canon and also how to move around quickly. Out of all the species, the introduction to the nuances of the Predator species are probably the most important as it’s the fancy gadgets that will save you more often than not.
After all is said and done and the Predator has proved himself worthy enough, his adventure (is it a him?) starts in the jungle. His objective is simple; locate fallen comrades and self destruct their remains to get rid of the Predator technology that can be used against them. Each comrade in this opening “story” mission is found in progressively trickier areas, with the first being found out in the open jungle, whilst the second is nestled under the watchful eye of a patrol of marines in a building adjacent to a swamp. The swamp actually throws up a few potential stumbling blocks however, as when you get wet, your invisibility cloak will no longer function, so it’s essential to stick to the trees. A nice little obstacle that actually makes you think about your action-plan a little more before rushing in.
Your tools are fairly limited in the opening few sections with you progressively getting more as you advance. Starting with just the invisibility cloak and a shoulder cannon (that needs charging at certain points throughout the maps very regularly), you slowly pick up the trademark tools of the trade, starting with the proximity mines. Combine these with the Predator’s lure ability and you have a devastating attack combo at your disposal – the distract ability allows you to replicate a human voice and lure a marine to a location of your choosing.
The Predator campaign in all seems to be the most unique of all three and offers something that many first person shooters don’t... and that’s gadgets and a little bit of strategy. Again, variety was a little lacking and there was maybe a bit too much melee combat in the early stages, but otherwise it was quite enjoyable experience.
All in all, the three campaigns offer three totally different play-styles and the ability to switch between them, when and as you see fit, will surely be welcomed with open arms by gamers. A few interesting design decisions have been made including the constant beeping of the radar and having no iron-sight in the marine's campaign leave us scratching our head, but they sure got the survival-horror aspect nailed there. The Xeno's controls are fairly simple once you get used to them, but the whole experience can be nausea-inducing as you constantly bounce from one surface to the next.
Having sampled the opening chapters of each campaign, if there is anything that will let the game down when it ships, it’ll be the mission variety. We assume that will change as you get further into the game and the three species start to lock horns with one another - well, at least we hope so - but in the opening few chapters, everything was a little bit samey. We won't know for sure how that pans out until the retail game ships, but in the meantime, check out the multiplayer demo on the PSN.
Aliens vs. Predator is out February 16th and February 19th in North America and Europe respectively.