It used to be that television derived itself from film, film drew its inspiration from radio and stage drama, and the two mediums took their cues from literature. Things were pretty cut and dry then and the concept of one mass communication media evolving to the next was easy to grasp. Conversely, in the midst of the current information explosion and the globalization of the world's economy, you can never again be so sure about where things are coming from. In addition to all the aforementioned media, there're also video, laserdiscs, DVDs, VCDs, comic books, anime, videogames, international films, and the one thing spearheading it all, the Internet. Only in this day and age could a game of such amalgamated ideas like Aliens Versus Predator (AvP) exist. But did the game take its creative direction from the six movies featuring the two sci-fi antagonists, or was it the never-developed screenplay for the vapor film (of the same name) that never materialized? What about the series of Dark Horse comics? Then again, wasn't there already an AvP game for the underachieving Atari Jaguar system? Or maybe it was based on the game that was based on the comics, which was based on the screenplay(???). Take your pick, the chicken or the egg. In any case, though we may never know exactly what brainstorm gave birth to the (now) PC game in question, we should all thank the stars because this is one heck of a game.
AvP is a conventional first-person shooter (FPS) on the surface with all the usual trimmings. Gory bloodletting, techno-eyecandy, extreme firepower, multiplayer fragfests, and almost everything else fans of the genre have grown accustomed to are present and accounted for. However, at its core, AvP transcends the genre because it accomplishes something that many similar games fail to do. It successfully drew on my natural instincts and played with my perception; fully immersing me into its world. It's rare for a game to evoke that kind of alertness in me and when it does, I know I'm playing something special. So how did AvP hit what so many others have missed?
Much of the success is attributed to the developers, including the concept of three playable characters (human Marines, alien Xenomorphs, or gamely Predators) and fully embracing each species' unique abilities and limitations. The differences aren't simply cosmetic, they extend far into the gameplay. Marines, for example, have limited visual perception and mobility, but make up for it with sheer firepower. Aliens may be lightning quick and have the remarkable ability to scale walls and drop in on unsuspecting victims, but their attack and endurance are limited. And lastly, Predators are extremely deceptive with their cloaking abilities and multitude of visual detection modes, but they only possess finesse weapons that lack versatility and mass destruction-capability. All of these contrasts required that I tackle each character with a fresh approach and also challenged my perception, visually and aurally. Let me get into a little more detail what it meant to play each role.
Portraying an Alien meant adjusting to the characteristic fish-eye vision, which was relatively easy compared to what it takes to navigate across ceilings and walls. It's an often disorienting experience in that 'Descent' kind of way, yet it was loads of fun, to say the least (once I got used it), to be able to wall-crawl my way through stages any way I liked. Playing as a Predator is nowhere near the mental hurdle that playing an Alien is, but shuffling between the trademark visual modes (infra-red being the one most recognizable from the movies), cloaking ability, and precision-zoom sniping is still quite the eye opener. Yet even with all the new gee-whiz abilities of the Alien and the new-fangled knick-knacks of the Predator, I still got the most satisfaction being myself (well, not really), the human Marine. This often meant dealing with limited lighting or being totally engulfed in pitch-darkness, requiring me to use the green-tinted image intensifier. But even with the visual aid, this game still evoked an instinctive fear of the darkness much the same way the Blair Witch Project film does and let me tell you, both the AvP and the movie scared the living crap out of me! Intense is barely adequate to describe what it feels like to go up against two aliens coming at you from the walls underneath a strobing light that allows you to hardly see the gun in your own hand! No matter which character I selected, it really got me into thinking, moving, and attacking as the species I was playing would. That, to me, is action role-playing at its finest.
The audio portion of the game was well up to the task of fulfilling the potential that AvP holds. All the famously distinctive sounds (from the Alien's hiss, the Predator view-switcher's flash, to the pulse rifle's fire) have all been authentically replicated. Good use of positional sound (with or without EAX technology) also added to the intuitive feel. And unlike the overused Star Wars soundtrack, it was refreshing to hear unfamiliar movie-quality scores in a game that really shook me up and added the right moments of tension at all the right moments. The audio really grabbed my attention from the start and few games incorporate their sound and music together better then AvP.
Many other reviewers overly criticized AvP for its extreme difficulty level and for having mundane stage designs that lowered scores a notch or two. While I agree that AvP was notably tough, even on its easiest level setting, I couldn't disagree more with the claim that the stage designs were generic. I didn't feel the objectives overly revolved around the "find the key and exit" premise and I liked how the stages didn't feel contrived and actually resembled the movie backdrops that inspired them. But still, what bothered me most about those complaints was the way they took for granted the sheer effort and inventiveness it took to meld these movie franchises together and additionally how they failed to praise the game for really finding its own vision of the way FPSs should be perceived. It is rare that a game can change my own personal perception and deeply immerse me into its world and AvP was successfully at doing this. Many critics were reluctant to put AvP alongside legends of the genre like Doom, GoldenEye, and Half-Life, but I had no such hesitation and gladly add AvP to their ranks.