A stand-up fight, or just another bug hunt?
After finishing Aliens vs. Predator’s Marine story last night, I wanted to post some thoughts. In a nutshell, die-hard fans of the franchise need not despair at the game’s mediocre critical reception – AvP is solid, playable, and fun.
Rebellion has done a fantastic job with pacing and tension-building, both feigned and (especially just as you finally let your guard down) mortally deserved. Sound design is the true star of this game, and sets the stage in every way – whether via the faithfully-delivered touchstone AvP sound effects, or through the fantastic usage of surround sound and contextual soundtrack. My heart literally kept pace with the pulse of my motion tracker, revving up predictably as the rising pitch of the gadget indicated an impending xenomorph rush.
That said, just as I won’t make excuses for the lukewarm A&P franchise sequels, likewise for this new AvP game. In many ways, the game is a throwback – a reincarnation of Rebellion’s original 1999 shooter, dressed up with (relatively) modern textures and high fidelity sound. Certainly, the game’s visuals have been the subject of some criticism, but I did not find them terribly lacking. In the end, the locales that the subject matter demands – cramped industrial compexes, pre-fab colonial structures, sterile research facilities, steaming jungles, and ancient temples – are all here and rendered sufficiently well. Sure, AvP is no Mass Effect 2, but a strong effort nonetheless and good enough for suspension of disbelief, and that’s what it’s all about, yes?
More pointedly, the game’s control offerings are a bit below the curve as well. Don’t misunderstand – I had no problems navigating, aiming, selecting weapons, etc. However, I did find myself groping for many of the conventions we’ve come to take for granted in modern shooters. Sure, a cover mechanic is not yet ubiquitous, and the lack of said option could certainly be forgiven – if not for my character’s inability to even crouch down behind a crate while taking fire. Perhaps his knees were damaged in the rough dropship landing during the opening sequence? I also found myself missing an “iron sights” ability to focus my aim down the length of my weapon, but the zoom function on the scoped rifle did serve as a partial replacement.
Lastly, the difficulty of the game was of a varying consistency. In places, I found myself almost stymied by a sudden, frenetic rush of xenomorphs in an otherwise nondescript map section, while several of the major setpiece chellenges were easily defeated and almost anticlimactic. One warning here regarding the game difficulty – Rebellion has not provided us with the option to adjust the game difficulty on the fly. If you find yourself overwhelmed, you’ll need to restart the entire campaign to bump the difficulty down a notch.
But let’s not point fingers at muddy textures and slightly-clunky game play per se – Dragon Age: Origins was no glamorous looker either, and its queued-up-action gameplay was positively frustrating at times. Still, DA:O received its laurels largely due to fantastic writing and an engrossing setting. In the same way, Rebellion’s fierce dedication to evoking the AvP franchise’s distilled essences has left me satisfied and temporarily sated. More soon as I progress in the Predator and Alien story modes…
Wait, Lance – what do you mean, temporarily sated? Why, faithful reader, I allude to nothing other than the forthcoming release of Aliens: Colonial Marines, currently in development by Gearbox Software. Yes, that Gearbox – the talented cats who developed a little shooter-looter called Borderlands. A:CM is a squad-based shooter with full 4-player story co-op, basted liberally in the juices of James Cameron’s classic film Aliens. Randy Pitchford and crew, I am drinking the Kool-Aid you’re brewing up!