What could be more fun than a video game that pits the Thomas brothers’ stealthy Predator against Ridley Scott’s acid-dripping Aliens?
It’s been done before – both as a side-scrolling arcade fighting game (Alien vs. Predator, Capcom, 1994) and as a first person Quake-like adventure/shooter for the Atari Jaguar (Alien vs. Predator, Rebellion, 1994). A PC version of the Rebellion title came out in 1999.
Monolith Productions’ Aliens vs. Predator 2 is the fully-3D sequel in which you play through the same series of 23rd century events from three perspectives: that of a Marine, that of an Alien, and that of a Predator.
In single-player mode, Aliens vs. Predator 2 provides three decent adventure stories interlocking as the paths of the Marine, Alien, and Predator cross during a failed bioengineering experiment on planet LV-1201. In the six multi-player modes, the game becomes a tense shoot-em-up battle in which each species has its own tactical advantages and disadvantages.
In Aliens vs. Predator 2 you begin the single-player game by choosing a species – Marine, Alien, or Predator – and a difficulty level. Each species has its own perspective on the storyline, its own sequence of game levels and objectives, and unique special abilities and weapons.
The species are different enough that you’ll play the same level very for each. AvP2 takes advantage of this, interlocking the stories by having you play on some of the same levels as an Alien, a Predator, and a Marine.
Each species’ story is divided into a set of missions (one per level), each with its own objectives. The stories are completely linear: your actions never determine what level comes next, you just move automatically from level to level by completing objectives. Each story has its own ending, but there are no alternate endings. If you die before completing all objectives of a mission, the game simply drops you back to a menu to play the level again.
Once you’ve completed a level as a species, the level is unlocked so you can go back to it at any time from the Single Player menu.
Note: This feature is tied to your player profile, which is named Player_0 by default. If you create a different profile for multi-player games, be sure to switch back to the Player_0 profile to play unlocked levels.
The Marine story begins with a botched landing on research planet LV-1201. You’re part of a team of Marines investigating loss of contact with the research facility. Your first objective is to find the place you were supposed to land – but Command forgot to tell you the planet is infested with insect-like, acid-dripping, head-biting Aliens. Your body armor and starting weaponry (a combat knife, a pistol, and a pulse rifle) are enough to handle the little ones. In addition to your weapons you have a shoulder lamp, flares, a nifty radar display giving range and position of friends and foes, and computer hacking gear.
The situation soon gets worse when you are separated from the team and have to fight and think your way to the rendezvous.
The Alien story begins with your Alien embryo escaping from a smuggler’s egg shipment in a cargo bay on LV-1201. Your first objective is to find someone to face-hug so you can gestate in his or her body. Once this is accomplished, you get to burst from his chest and hunt small animals and people for food. As you eat, you grow into a more and more powerful Alien.
You discover that human scientists are exploiting your hive for military research. Once they capture the queen of the hive, you have more to worry about than just eating and avoiding flame-throwers.
The Predator story begins with a communal hunt for human researchers and their security escorts in the lush canyons of LV-1201. As one of the Predators on the hunt, your arsenal includes wristblades for close-up decapitation, a spear gun for distance sniping, and a cloaking device that makes you nearly invisible. You get various new and more powerful weapons as the hunt progresses.
The hunt goes bad when you run into a party of Marines collecting Alien specimens, and they capture some of your Predator buddies (who you have to rescue).
Aliens vs. Predator 2 features three single-player games and six built-in multi-player modes, for a lot of variety.
The Alien, Predator, and Marine have different abilities, but they’re all basically humanoid. Most of the controls are familiar to anyone who’s ever played a first-person shooter. In addition to a set of shared control bindings for common actions like walking, running, looking up and down, and attacking, AvP2 provides separate control setting options for each species.
Because of the difference in gameplay for various species, the Gameplay Tips section of the manual includes three sets of tactics. These are presented clearly, without introducing cheats or spoilers – worth the read especially if you are playing one of the species for the first time.
You can maneuver using any combination of keyboard, mouse, trackball and joystick that you find appealing, and can adjust the sensitivity of each type of control within a comfortable range.
Special mention goes to the Alien’s “wallwalk” controls, which new players might find hard to use and very disorienting. These controls let you run anywhere on a level, including across ceilings and along walls, so prepare yourself for some very strange perspectives on the world and some confusion about exactly which way you’re heading. The on-screen “up” indicator helps – if you have time to look at it. Make sure you look straight ahead and level before wallwalking. Without this trick, it seemed that the on-screen view sometimes didn’t match the actual direction of travel of the Alien when wallwalking.
Overall, the controls are intuitive and allowed good freedom of action and movement, without getting in the way of the game. Check out the fun 3D animations on the control options windows.
The various vision modes (thermal, night vision, etc.) for each species are very useful in game, whether for deathmatch or single-player. Each has enough built-in drawbacks to balance its advantages and make you think about what vision mode is best for a given situation.
The single-players games in Aliens vs. Predator 2 are typical of any 1st person shooter. You watch the opening cinematics, find the exit from an area, kill some enemies, jump between moving platforms, dodge flying debris, pull switches, and avoid getting killed.
If you want fast action and a familiar game strategy, play as the Marine. Marines have the same variety of weaponry as in any space-marines shooter, and they shoot things. What could be more traditional? The Aliens come at you really fast, and the Predators sneak up on you cloaked, so you find yourself making a lot of split-second decisions, turning and firing, and worrying about your ammo and health.
To find your way, just walk around until you overhear characters discussing some new plot point – it almost always you’re going in the right direction. You’ll also find plenty of documents such as maps and tablet computers, some with game hints, others just for atmosphere.
The puzzles in the Marine game mostly have to do with jumping into narrow spaces, finding secret stashes of ammo or weapons, finding ways to electronically hack doors open, and shooting things. The biggest challenge of the Marine game is the Aliens and Predators who have many advantages over you despite your superior firepower.
I found two slightly annoying aspects of the Marine’s game. First, at every level change you switch back to your default weapon automatically, even if all you did was walk around a corner. Second, the Alien AI seems primitive (at least on the normal game settings) – you’d think hive creatures would coordinate their attacks, instead of just rushing you from one or two directions.
Playing as the Alien is weirdest. The heads-up display is greatly simplified (just a health bar at the bottom of the screen), but movement is more complicated because you can crawl on walls and leap broad chasms. The Alien has no armor or equipment, just claws, a tail, and your jaws, so you don’t have to worry about ammo or changing weapons. You heal simply by eating your victims.
Initially the Alien is very weak, but from birth it can see in the dark, jump very far horizontally, and climb effortlessly on walls and ceilings. It attacks using claws or a vicious “head-bite”. It has no armor (other than its exoskeleton) and no weapons.
Playing as the Alien mostly involves remembering that you can go anywhere on the level, and using that to surprise your enemies. Find unusual ways to move secretly, then attack quickly without getting shot. The Alien’s leaping attacks are lethal to both Marines and Predators.
It’s fast-paced, but in a different way than the Marine’s game. The puzzles in the Alien’s game often challenge you to think differently about strength, height, movement and vision. To solve them, you must walk on walls and ceilings as if they were floors, use your night vision or thermal vision to spot exits and enemies invisible to your normal vision, and tear through gates and gratings with your claws.
Our only real annoyance in the Alien’s game was the control issue mentioned above: make sure you level out your vision before wallwalking.
The predator seems at first like a very powerful player. Part of the fun of playing as the Predator is to take on his mindset – that of an honor-bound big-game hunter. This means, for example, that it’s not good enough just to kill your enemy – afterward, you must move in close and take his head!
Your visor provides normal, thermal, electromagnetic, and night-vision modes. The thermal mode easily pinpoints humans (including Marines) even in dense brush but hides Aliens; the electromagnetic mode makes Aliens stand out as bright white outlines but hides Humans; the night-vision mode highlights Predators, synthetic humans, and also, for some reason, gun turrets. Many advanced predator weapons have deadly auto-targeting modes when used with the visor.
A Predator has no armor, but can heal his wounds using energy stored in his body. The advanced Predator weapons and cloaking device also use this energy. When your energy supply is used up, you can get more by decloaking and using your energy sifter, a device that gathers energy from the world around you. Be sure to hide before you do this, because the energy sifter is noisy, creates a bright light that attracts enemies, and prevents you from running or using other weapons.
The Predator’s game features huge outdoor maps and platform jumping puzzles, because the Predator is a wilderness type who is excellent at jumping both up and down great distances without getting hurt. Greatly outnumbered in every situation, the Predator relies on stealth, self-healing, and smart weapons to survive.
With six built-in deathmatch modes, Aliens vs. Predators 2 is one of the most versatile multi-player games I’ve seen. In addition to the expected individual and team deathmatch modes, the game includes four additional team modes with team-dependent scoring and objectives.
Half of the deathmatch modes in this game are so “creative” that very few on-line servers run them. The other half are very fun to play and very popular.
There’s a nice menu-driven system to configure your map lists and game parameters, but no console, no bots, and no ability to intermix the different gametypes without restarting the server.
Several of the deathmatch modes deliberately prevent players from respawning once they’ve been killed. As a “dead” player, your team chat messages are filtered, and you can fly freely around the map or click to predefined fixed observation points. Missing: chase cams that follow the surviving players or surviving teammates.
A patch is required for playing on-line; it also fixes several problems in the CD version of the game. The game will automatically check for patches when it starts up. Check out the Sierra AvP2 Download Site at avp2.sierra.com for the latest patches and map packs.
Traditional free-for-all deathmatch fare. You can limit the number of Marines, Aliens, and Predators if you want, for example, an all-marine game. Aliens vs. Predator 2 comes with twelve deathmatch maps; another four official DM maps are available in a free downloadable map pack.
About 30% of the on-line servers are running Standard Deathmatch.
A traditional team deathmatch. Aliens vs. Predators vs. Marines, all at once but each species score counts together toward the frag limit. Uses the same maps as Standard Deathmatch.
This seems to be the most popular on-line mode for Aliens vs. Predator 2 – probably 50% of the servers at any given time are running Team Deathmatch.
In Hunt, there are two teams, the hunters and the prey. Only the hunters can score. If prey kills a hunter, the prey player becomes a hunter and his victim respawns as prey. You play to a frag limit, on the same maps as Standard Deathmatch
Don’t get it? Neither do most on-line players from the look of things - very few on-line servers run this unusual game mode.
Survivor is nothing like the popular television show. Instead, all players start out normal, and as soon as one of them dies he becomes a mutant. Normal players (“survivors”) get one point per second they stay alive. Mutants get 10 points for every survivor they kill; the victim becomes a mutant. The player with the highest score at the end of the level (frag limit or timer) wins.
This mode uses the same maps as Standard Deathmatch. It’s creative, but also very different from traditional deathmatch. Few servers run it.
Two teams (by species) play this game mode, which is basically about genocide. The Defender team tries to end the round with at least one survivor, while both teams try to wipe each other out. The round ends when one of the teams is wiped out, or a time limit is reached.
Players don’t respawn. Scoring is relatively simple. If the time limit is reached, the Defenders get 1 point per surviving player and the Attackers get nothing. Otherwise, the surviving team gets 1 point per survivor and the wiped out team gets nothing.
A clever twist in this game allows you to set the number of lives each team’s players are allowed. For example, if you set the Attacker’s limit to 3 lives, each Attacker can respawn twice before having to sit out the rest of the round.
The Overrun mode has dedicated maps. Three are included with the game, and another two official Overrun maps come in the free map pack.
The overrun mode shows up on servers about as often as Survivor does.
Evac mode is a lot of fun. There are two teams (again by species). One team is trying to escape from the map, while the other team is trying to kill them off. Nobody respawns.
To escape, the evacuating team has to get any team member to a designated spot on the map and, once there, defend him for a certain amount of time (adjustable, but typically 2-10 seconds). An escape is worth 1 point, killing off the other team completely is worth 1 point (and ends the round), and if the timer expires the attackers get 1 point. As with Overrun, you can set the number of lives a player gets before being unable to respawn.
Aliens vs. Predator 2 comes with three dedicated Evac maps, and there are another four in the free map pack.
This seems to be the most popular of the “unusual” game modes (Hunt, Survivor, Overrun, and Evac). I still only see it on about 5% of the servers.
There’s been a lot of buzz about the coolness of the Lithtech engine used in Aliens vs. Predator 2 (versions also used in Shogo: Mobile Armor Division, No One Lives Forever, and other titles). I was expecting to be blown away by the rendering in AvP2, but I only noticed two things that really contribute to my personal gaming experience: large, open outdoor spaces, and attractive weather effects. The lighting was really nice, too.
The cinematics are attractive, with some nice surprises like random blinking, moving eyelashes and moving jaws of the humans. The models themselves are nicely shaped and detailed, although some of the in-game skeletal animations, especially of the human characters, seem unnatural.
The maps are a mixed bag. Generally the texture and architecture work are both good, but the buildings and compounds in the deathmatch maps all tend to look alike. The outdoor Predator maps provide good variety, contrasting with the too-familiar, almost cliché dark interiors of the Marine maps and the maze-like, claustrophobic Alien maps.
The visual effects look good and never seem out of place. The most common visual effect - the way different races are illuminated using special vision modes – is entirely believable as well as very useful.
Aliens vs. Predator 2 features great voice acting, including a variety of actors and dialects. You also get seamless blending of sound effects and ambient sounds into the environment.
One annoying aspect of the audio is a “badguy theme” that plays whenever you are about to be attacked in the single-player game.
The $49.95 price tag of Aliens vs. Predator 2 is typical of what leading PC game companies are asking for new titles. The three single-player games and six multi-player game modes provide excellent value (in terms of variety) for the money.
- Three built-in single-player modes with interlocking storylines
- Six built-in multi-player modes and plenty of maps for great DM variety
- Large outdoor maps with pretty lighting
- Who wouldn’t want to be an Alien, or a Predator, or a space Marine?
- Abrupt story endings, with no alternate endings, in single-player mode
- No bots or console in multi-player mode
- Unchallenging enemy AI at default difficulty setting
A good buy for players who like 1st person space marine shooter / adventures or are fans of the Alien and Predator series.
This review originally ran on mindlessgames.com 1/20/2002. The site is now offline.