Preview: Aliens vs Predator

Note: seems like my first impressions of this demo back in Sep '09 turned out to be wrong!

If you read my articles and previews often you may have noticed a negative tone to my writing. Okay, so I’m a grumpy old pessimist, but right here is the antidote to that poison. While there has been a limited amount of coverage surrounding the single player campaign of AVP (in particular that of Predator) very little has been seen of the multiplayer. I had the chance to sample the very new v1.04 of the game, and played as all three classes in an 8-player deathmatch, which was played on two different maps. The levels were largely outdoors with some cave sections, one named temple and the other called jungle, and they both had a strong visual similitude with the 2004 AVP film.

Rather frustratingly, the Sega rep wouldn’t let me put balancing on, but I did get a glimpse into how it would work. There is species balancing and team balancing, all fully customisable so that the player can choose whether two teams of three marines are enough to combat two aliens and a predator. Thanks to the rep, everyone was free to choose whichever species they desired and the format was free-for-all, meaning inter-species killing was on. Of course, this meant almost every round was 6 or 7 predators, with only one or two hapless marines or aliens making up the numbers at the bottom of the scoreboard. Predators are equipped with a cloaking device (triangle), infrared vision (circle), which can be used simultaneously. The only thing preventing you from having one or both of these permanently on is when receiving or dealing out damage, but they can be reinstalled once the combat ends. They also have a self-healing ability, and have at least two guns available, selected using the d-pad and fired using R2 or L2. One is a disc-hurling gun and the other an explosive, charge setting device, though I am assured there will be others available in the final build. On top of this, Predators are also granted the power to lock-on to characters, with a red glow appearing around them, even when they are supposed to be invisible. This feature also allows the player to launch themselves up to high up platforms, selectable using the lock on mechanic. Finally, and perhaps most devastatingly, Predators have giant wristblades mapped to R1 and L1 which can destroy any enemy in 3 or 1 strikes respectively. Evidently, Predator is the most powerful, even if only at first glance.
Marines have it toughest. With a Left 4 Dead style lack of close aiming and only a rifle and pistol for attack, it is by far the hardest species to control. Marines are equipped with a block, activated by holding R1 and L1, which can block any light melee attack and they also have the ability to counter any close range attack by hammering R1 at a precise point of attack. Despite this, it is devilishly hard to come out on top at close range when controlling as a marine, and the other two species certainly have the advantage at this distance. The marine’s best hope at victory is at range, and their firepower is superior to the Predator from range, so ambushing from a distance is the best tactic for a marine. Generally they control like any conventional shooter, and there is not much remarkable about the human class.
Aliens are definitely the wild card. I doubt that many will remember the multilayer from Turok Evolution, but basically you could chose from a regular gun-toting dinosaur hunter, or one of two small raptor-like creatures. They were mercilessly underpowered, with their superior speed and one-bite kills insufficient tools to beat players wielding a machine gun. But if you gave human players a bow and arrow only, or if you had three raptors to one human, the game became hugely enjoyable. Alien echoes this setup, with an open, well-lit encounter between an alien and one of the other two species usually ending up in defeat for the alien. Nevertheless, with the ability to knock out lighting and two powerful melee attacks, aliens can be devastating. They are small, quick and hard to track and they are almost invisible in dim areas. They can climbs vertical walls, and fluidly leap about from structure to structure, using an Assassin’s Creed-like system, holding R2 to stay on course, or manually walking and leaping yourself. The camera can be disorientating however, and it requires some practice before players can master the creature. Tactically, the aliens will hide or shift about for stealthy attacks, perhaps sometimes swooping in to finish off skirmishes between two other players.
Some artistic licence has been taken, it’s noteworthy to mention. The finisher moves (initiated from behind the enemy) are somewhat violently gratuitous and are already a bit repetitive, and feature events that could not be considered to be franchise canon. One even illustrates Predator mauling an alien, with the acidic blood dripping all over him, though of course it has no effect in the game.
Although it was only an unfinished version of the game, and I saw nothing of the campaign mode, AVP has left me itching for more. I felt like I was getting pretty good at all three classes, winning most of the rounds with all of them. I am desperate to see how the species will be balanced in real online games, and what scope will available for custom scenarios, as well as how effectively the individual species campaigns are designed with the different tactical approaches in mind. Keep an eye on this one for sure.

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