Aliens vs. Predator: the Marine Campaign Review

Aliens vs Predator screenshot

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!

Aliens vs Predator: Resist the Lure of the Hive Mind!

I came to an epiphany this morning.  (Sure, it was a trivial and geeky epiphany, but don’t be judging on my epiphanies, man!) After reading the mixed critical reviews of Aliens vs Predator last week, I had decided not to purchase the game, or to at least hold off until the price dropped.

I realized that I was getting sucked in by the industry group think.  Sure, an average/mixed review consensus of the typical title might prompt me to hold off, but this is the freaking Alien(s) and Predator franchises, for cripe’s sake!  If there’s a bigger fan of those properties in the Lehigh Valley, I’d be highly surprised.

I had previously played Rebellion’s original 1999 AvP game on PC, as well as the 2001 follow-up by Monolith.  A quick check of Wikipedia shows that the original AvP received 80% scores from the major houses, and AvP2 roughly 60%, and I had a complete blast with both games!

So what the hell was I thinking?  This is a major release involving my favorite movie ever (James Cameron’s Aliens – duh!), and I was going to give it a pass??  I suppose this example serves to illustrate the prodigious mojo that game reviews (let alone the mighty and impersonal Metacritic score) exert over the modern, highly-wired fanbase.

Having recognized that chilling fact, tonight I throw off the chains of the IGN/Gamespot hive mind.  I can already vividly hear the increasingly frenetic ping of the motion tracker, the chatter of my M41A pulse rifle, and the elephantine screams of my inhuman, horrific foe.  So beware, xenomorph queen, and cower in your steamy, dark lair – I come for you tonight!

Dali's Dilemma

Last night, my wife and I were watching the first season of Battlestar Galactica on DVD. We’d only seen the miniseries prequel so far, and holy cow! This show does *not* disappoint, or pale in any way compared to all the hype. Give me more!

I digress though. While watching said delectable sci-fi goodness, I was working at importing the rest of my music CD’s into iTunes for eventual transfer to my beloved iPod Photo. I’d only had about 1/3 of my library on the iPod to date, and so at work today I had access to a lot of beloved tunes that I hadn’t listened to for a while.

I’ve got to turn you on to one album in particular: Manifesto for Futurism by Dali’s Dilemma. These guys only ever made one album from what I can tell, but *wow* what great stuff. If you like progressive rock – Dream Theater and the like – even a little, I highly encourage you to check this great CD out! Absolutely vibrant tracks, anywhere from blistering to beautiful. Great, great stuff. My good friend Mike had turned me on to them a while back, and so I’m passing on his great recommendation – thanks Mikey!

Here’s a link to the album on Amazon, and another at their label Magna Carta. Both sites contain audio samples that you can check out.