Alien season? Predator season? Wabbit season?
Making video games based on pop-culture artifacts is apparently a pretty tough job. Just look at all the Batman and Mummy games. While there's obviously a formula for these half-witted creations, none of the factors appear to be quality. In fact, I imagine the formula goes something like this: superhero + game = cha-ching!
So when a really decent pop-culture to game conversion appears that happens to throw quality into the formula, we reviewers naturally rejoice (it's nice to know that the industry isn't completely dominated by greed). However, when three distinct adaptations of pop-reality are incorporated into a single game, and then are carefully interwoven with each other, you start expecting to see flying pigs and Satan on ice.
The game in question is Sierra's new Aliens Versus Predator 2. It has its share of annoying bugs and obvious flaws, but otherwise manages to successfully create the illusion of what it might be like to be a Predator, Alien, or colonial marine. In the case of AvP2, the word immersion is simply inadequate.
AvP2 is a first-person shooter that allows you to take control of the fearsome, dark-dwelling xenomorph, the all-powerful Predator, or the all-fearing colonial marine in three separate single player campaigns. You can also choose to play as the corporates in the multiplayer mode, but they're essentially the same as the marines.
The three campaigns and their stories all interlace around the efforts of a deranged scientist and his corporate cronies to capture the alien empress on planet LV-1201. The plot unfolds creatively for all three races, with you catching snippets of conversation as you scuttle through the vents as the Alien, stalk high above in the treetops as the Predator, or stand before the man himself as the colonial marine.
The creatively orchestrated story lines help make the single player campaigns really shine. Each campaign has a distinct feel.
For example, as the Predator you get a taste of the confidence of being the most technologically advanced bad-ass on the battlefield, with time to deliberate as to exactly how you want to make your enemies into mince meat, since you almost always see them first and they almost never have the displeasure of seeing you.
As the Aliens, you've got darkness on your side and the ability to be practically anywhere at any time. This feeling is augmented by the alien's powerful new "pounce" feature, which allows the alien to leap with amazing velocity in whatever direction it happens to be looking. You're also hyper fast, and though your prey can usually see you coming, they're often powerless to do anything to stop you.
Finally, as the marine the general mood seems to be one of paranoia and at times straight up terror. You're slow, you can't see very well, and all that's between you and death are some extremely big guns. You've got a motion detector, but as opposed to helping, it usually adds to the sense that even the walls are out to get you.
As in the first AvP, the marine is easily the spookiest and moodiest of the three. While hunting with the Predator is fun and racing around as the Alien has its perks, the tension of the marine missions is unrivaled.
The marine and predator both get some new weapons in AvP2, though neither are terribly exciting. Most of the weapons bases were effectively covered in the first AvP game. The predator now has a spear-like beat down stick and a net launcher, which is especially useful for slowing down the fast-moving aliens.
Unfortunately, the game has a number of flaws and shortcomings, one of which is the somewhat rickety LithTech engine. While adequate, it doesn't do the game justice graphically. This is most noticeable on the outdoor Predator campaigns, where you've got to hop from ugly tree to ugly tree.
For such substandard graphics, the game is awfully demanding and fails to run smoothly on any but the most powerful computers. I tried it on a 500 MHz computer with a decent video card and plenty of RAM, yet the game is practically unplayable on any but the low detail graphics setting. Fortunately, it doesn't look that much better on the high-detail settings, so even if you have a midrange computer, you won't be missing out much.
It's also easy to get stuck on terrain as the Alien. Since speed is your main weapon, getting caught on something like a step can be fatal and extremely frustrating. This happens a lot in multiplayer games and is just as irritating there.
AvP 2's data-storage is occasionally unreliable. Quick saves are sometimes mixed up, which is irritating. I expected to encounter some bugs, but more of the acid-bleeding, flesh-rending kind.
Multiplayer contains some extremely provocative scenarios, but 99% of the servers only host team death match games, which aren't very sophisticated. However, in these games you can use any of the twelve classes you like (light, medium and heavy types for each race), which is a nice bit of freedom.
Even though it's frenetic and chaotic and ultimately exhaustive, AvP2 multiplay is some of the coolest around. Kicking ass as a xenomorph is fast, fun, and ultra-violent.
Although burdened by some flaws, Aliens vs. Predator 2 delivers three of the most unique gaming experiences ever and is a game no fan of fast-paced, in your face, brain-eating action should pass up. God save the queen.