Alien Versus Predator (2010 game)

Welcome all to my first video game review! It took me awhile to figure out which I’d start with, but after some thought, I figured AVP – the 2010 game – would be as good a place as any. And given the recent release of Prometheus, I thought it would also be appropriate, not the least of which was because some of that movie’s content ruled out certain aspects of this game.

But mainly I’ve decided to review it because it was very cool. The game play, the graphics, and the storyline were all consistent with some of the best traditions of the Alien versus Predator franchise. And of course, there were plenty of weaknesses too, which were also consistent with the AVP game series. And above all, it was a fun play, assuming you can get it to work. No offense to the makers, but this game required a beast of a machine to run at a decent resolution and with all the bells and whistles!

Oh yes, I should also mentioned that this is a Steam game, meaning it’s uploaded and played through the Steam interface and is networked to the site during game play. As such, players get to unlock achievements and gain points for completing various levels, beating difficulty settings, and accomplishing assorted tasks. Now that’s all covered, onto the game’s story!

Storyline:
The plot of the game involves three intertwining plot threads which come together in a grand climax once all three campaigns are played. The first involves the perspective of the Colonial Marines, which have been dispatched to the planet to deal with a Xenomorph outbreak.

As usual, they are enforcing Weyland Yutani company policy, which as usual involves rescuing a research outpost which has been conducting Xenomorph research. Once in orbit, the Marine ship is attacked by an unidentified alien ship which blows it apart and sends its drop ship tumbling towards the surface.

The Marine campaign begins shortly after the dropship forced to crash land on the planet. The gamer then wakes up on a stretcher in the cargo bay, the others having left you behind to go off and deal with the problem. This necessitates that you find your way to them and begin reinforcing them. For the most part, this involves fighting xenos on your own, but here and there, you get to shoot it out with some backup. Of course, they usually die in the process…

Things change when your team leader, Tequila, is captured and you have to go and rescue her. At this point, you are being directed by an android who is deep within the facility and reveals what’s being going on there. And of course, this leads to an eventual confrontation with a Predator (aka. “Hunter”), which just happens to be one of the most challenging parts of the game. But of course, confrontations with a Queen and Praetors (queens that have not fully matured) are also pretty tough. Once that is done, you work your way to Tequila who has been placed inside a cocooning room, a la Aliens, and who is already infected.

Once you save Tequila, you and she work your way to the android helper and the medical facility where the outbreak took place. Here, she explains that the experiment went wrong (as always) and begins a procedure to remove the parasite from Tequila’s stomach. This is interrupted when another android, who has been programmed with the mind of Mr. Weyland (played by Lance Henriksen), cuts off the power to the lab. You are therefore forced to put Tequila into cryo-stasis to keep her safe and alive until help arrives.

Your next mission is to find your way to the Weyland droid and find the tracker he has so you can summon a new dropship to you. He is currently hiding in an underground temple which WY have been excavating. The temple, like just about everything else on the planet, is of Hunter construction and its hundreds of thousands of years old. And of course, they came upon preserved specimens of Xenomorph eggs, which prompted them to begin hatching them. Once you defeat the Weyland droid and grab a hold of the transmitter, the dropship arrives and carries you and Tequila to safety in orbit.

But of course, there’s a double-cross. It seems that the personnel aboard the dropship are taking their orders from another of the Weyland droids. They signal that they have a live Xenomorph specimen (in her) and also the emergency transmitter, which just happens to contain all of Weyland’s research. The key bit of information, which he uncovered from his extensive research inside the underground temple, is the location of the Xenomorph homeworld!

Onto the Alien campaign where things take place from a single Xenomorph that has been bred inside the WY facility. This campaign, as noted, overlaps with the Marine (and later Hunter) campaigns, and involves the Xenomorph’s mission to escape the facility and begin breeding. The first step is to escape confinement from the medical bay and set the others free.

Once this is done, you work your way through the facilities sewers, taking down all personnel you see and attaching “Facehuggers” to them. All the while, the Queen directs you via pheromones, which act as a sort of telepathy, to help her establish a hive on the planet’s Refinery. Here she rests, until the arrival of the Marines causes things to come to a head.

From this point onward, your job is to fight and kill the Marines while simultaneously taking out the facilities systems. After that’s done, you work your way into the temple complex where Hunters show up to intercept you. After killing them, you are forced to battle an Elite Hunter until he’s weak enough to be subdued and then infected by a Facehugger. This gives rise to the hybrid Hunter-Xenomorph (aka. Predalien) that is central to the Hunter campaign.

However, things go awry when the Refinery is destroyed and the Queen is trapped inside. This event, which is part of the Marine campaign, causes the Xenomorph to be stunned and captured. It is taken back to the Marine vessel, where it then escapes and sets up a new hive, becoming the new Queen!

And thus the Predator campaign begins, with the arrival of the Hunter ship and its destruction of the Marine vessel. As an Elite Hunter you are then deployed to the planet to begin hunting the Marines, as punishment for desecrating their temple site, and killing any Xenomorphs that have escaped. You are also responsible for locating any dead Hunters and retrieving their trophies, as well as collecting weapons and sacred artifacts.

Your missions then involve infiltrating the Marines bases, disabling their systems, and releasing the xenomorphs. You then find yourself following the “Rookie” Marines path, which leads to the sacred temple where you are forced to battle Praetorians. Moving inside to the underground temple, you come upon the Weyland Yutani party and its compliment of combat androids. After destroying them and retrieving the last Hunter artifacts, you are forced to do battle with the hybrid Predalien.

Once this is done, you are ordered to set the temple to self-destruct, in order to cleanse the taint of the human’s presence and ensure that none of the secret’s within ever fall into their hands again. However, unbeknownst to you, WY has already retreived the vital inro about the xenomorph’s homeworld. Once you return to your ship. the same info is shared from the sacred Hunter mask which you retrieved from the planet below. Apparently, this information has been lost to the Hunters, who have been breeding Xenomorph’s in captivity for training and now seek to contain them, lest someone else (i.e. the human race) try to breed them as a weapon.

Hence, all three storylines come together and point in one direction: the Xenomorph homeworld, where the next chapter is sure to take place!

Good Points:
This game’s positive aspects should be obvious to anyone. As an AVP game, the game play is automatically very fun and intense. This applies to the Marine campaign, with its assortment of Pulse Rifles, Incinerators and Smartguns, though I honestly didn’t care much for the hand guns, shotguns and sniper rifles. Those weapons just seemed clunky and kind of primitive, given the time period in which everything is happening.

And of course, the Predator campaign was pretty damn awesome, given the claws and plasmacasters. The way the equipment was updated to be a little more limiting in terms of energy requirements was also a nice touch, since in AVP2 the Predator’s arsenal was a little too easy to maintain and hence pretty overwhelming. However, the new limitations they put on available weapons was something I did not like. Aside from your claws and plasma gun, all you get is the disc and the combistick. What happened to the net guns and claw launchers?

But what really impressed me was the Xenomorph campaign, where your cheif weapons are your claws, tail, and sheer mobility. You can climb walls, jump from surface to surface, and sneak attack like nobody’s business! You can also facebite with your little mouth, which is pretty damn gory and awesome! The way you can retrain people to put a Facehugger on them also adds to the overall level of detail and coolness of this aspect.

On top of it all, the feel of the game is spot on. When dealing with AVP, one immediately expects a level of intensity and intrigue which can only come from dealing with scary Xenomorphs and deadly Hunters! As the Marine, you constantly have the feeling of vulnerability and impending doom. And in the end, the only way to win is to stay mobile and be conservative with your ammo supply. As the Hunter, stealth and patience are your ally. If you engage too quickly or easily, you will be discovered and overwhelmed by superior numbers of Marines or Xenomorphs. And as the Xenomorph, the ability to move hide, move quickly, and use the surrounding environment to your advantage is the key to success. This balance of abilities and weaknesses is key to making the gaming experience feel faithful to the franchise and as realistic as possible.

Bad Points:
But alas, there are some weaknesses. The first is the most obvious, and one I mentioned already. This game has some pretty cool graphics and game play features, such as the blurring effect which you can turn off and on. With it active, you experience blurring whenever you turn fast. This adds to the overall suspense and intensity of the game and makes it that much harder. But this, like everything else in this game, requires you have a fast machine with a good graphics card. Otherwise, expect things to be slow, choppy, and look pretty grainy!

Second, there’s the rather tired duty of the storyline where reasons have to keep being given for why you are on your own as the Marine. With the Hunter, it’s obvious why you’re fighting solo. That’s simply the way they fight, every Hunter in his own domain stalking and killing his prey and taking trophies. But for the Marines, the standard deployment tactic is by squad, coordinated and covering each others’ back. The fact that you’re constantly alone as a Marine just doesn’t make sense.

Sure, in previous versions, when the game just wasn’t sophisticated enough, this was understandable. A single person, first-person-shooter was simply the best they could do with what resources and money they had available. But now? With the kinds of AI’s and sophistication the latest games boast, there really isn’t much of a reason for making the majority of the Marine campaign single person FPS . That, and the constant reasons for why you’re on your own (i.e. the rest of the squad got killed, the last dropship got shot down, the door slammed shut and separated you from them) just gets annoying after awhile.

And lastly, there is the storyline which is a bit confusing. The part about scientists in a WY facility breeding Xenomorphs, that’s perfectly understandable. In fact, that’s the setup of every single AVP story: the evil corporate goons breed Xenos, they get loose, the Marines go in to clean up, they find Hunters there doing the same thing, and everything devolves into a three way fight.  But why are they breeding Xenos if the purpose of the colony was to uncover ancient Hunter ruins? Kind of seems like the traditional plot was laid on top of this other one in order ensure that all the plot elements are there.

Prometheus’ Plot Changes (Spoiler Alert!):
In the end, the purpose of this game was to bring all sides together so they could learn the location of the Xenomorph homeworld. That way, something that was never revealed in the original franchise was now being previewed, the gamer being left with the distinct impression that it would serve as the backdrop for the next game. Unfortunately, the movie Prometheus ruled this out by saying that the Xenos were a “Engineer” (aka. Space Jockey) bioweapon. If they are in fact weapons this race engineered, then they don’t have a homeworld.

Granted, this can be explained away by simply saying that the Engineers set up a “colony” for the Xenos, an entire world that was set aside for keeping them and breeding them in isolation. Since the retreat of the Engineers, this colony could have since evolved to become a festering hive of Xenos, with multiple Queens battling for supremacy and conflict giving rise to new and frightening sub-species. That could work, and it could be downright interesting.

And hey, if there is to be no sequel to this latest AVP game, someone will probably do some fan fic dealing with it. Who knows, it might even be me. I’m a fan, I can kinda write! Pay me to do it!

Cool Weapons!

Last time, I spoke (at length) about all the awesome firearms that come to us from a variety of science fiction franchises. But let’s face it, there’s a lot more than just guns to speak of! In fact, part of the genius of sci-fi is in how it is constantly inventing entire arsenals of weaponry, tools, and the various nicknacks that make the world go round. Any director or writer who show attention to detail will make sure that their characters come equipped, looked the part, and that their settings have plenty of believable gadgetry taking up space in the background. Here are just some of the cool examples:

Claws:
Predator_clawsAlong with the burner/plasma caster, these weapons are the most basic of Hunter weapons in the Predator universe. According to tradition, every Hunter must distinguish themselves in battle by confronting an enemy in single combat using no other weapon than their claws. Based on the two non-crossover films (Predator and Predator 2), this is apparently done once all lesser prey are eliminated and only the top prey is left. When that occurs, the Hunter will ensure that this finale opponent has been deprived of any additional weaponry, and then will shed every other weapon in their arsenal and engage them in hand to hand combat.

Combi-Stick:
Part of the Hunters arsenal, this weapon comes from the Predator universe and is part of their wider arsenal of cool weaponry. The name refers to the fact that this staff serves multiple functions. Collapses, it serves as a sort of quarter staff. However, the stick has telescoping sections with a blade like end, which when deployed turn it into a spear. In Predator 2, a hunter used his stick on multiple occasions. Against a group of the Jamaican gang members, it was used strictly for impaling, but during a later scene, it was used as a throwing spear against Danny Glover’s character.

Crysknife:
The Fremen weapon of choice, made from the tooth of a Maker (i.e. a Sandworm). The name and design of the weapon are based on the kris, a ceremonial dagger that was traditionally used in Indonesia and is associated with many cultural legends.

A testament to Herbert’s ability to incorporate historic and cultural elements into his stories, the kris is an enduring symbol of the Dune universe and was used by Fremen for warfare, duals, and ceremonial purposes, much like the real thing! In addition, the Fremen had very strict rules about the use and exposure of these knives. According to the Shadout Mapes – the Fremen housekeeper in Dune – who gives one to Jessica: “Who sees that knife must be cleansed or slain!” And as Leto II remarked in Children of Dune: “The crysknife dissolves at the death of its owner.”

Lasgun:
This weapon was the brainchild of Frank Herbert, and is a familiar weapon in the Dune universe. According to Frank’s many novels, the lasgun was a continuous-wave laser projector weapon that when fired emitted a constant, narrow beam of photons. Though it was able to cut through just about anything and was the weapon of choice in the Old Imperium, it had since fallen into disuse by the first Dune novel.

This apparently had to do with the invention of personal shields. Rather than protecting against a lasgun burst, the interaction of the two would cause a reaction that rivaled that of an atomic explosion. Hence, attacker and defender would both be killed instantly if either ever came into contact. Much like the prohibition against the use of nukes in Herbert’s universe, one would get the distinct impression that he was commenting on the futility of nuclear deterrents and arms races.

But that’s another matter. The lasgun, from its first appearance in Dune, has gone on to inspire many a sci-fi franchise. One that immediately comes to mind is Akira. In this movie, riot squads and the military employed large, external cell powered weapons to fire focused beams of light on a large mob, hewing off limbs and burning holes straight through some people! The main character Kaneda also commandeered one and used it to fight his psionic friend, Tetsuo, near the end of the movie.

Lightsaber:
Just what is it about lightsabers that make them so unbelievably cool? Is it that warm glow? The otherworldly feeling one gets from seeing one being activated? Could it be that crack, hiss sound they make when they clash, or that warbling noise when they’re spun around? Or could it just be the fact that they deflect blasters and cut through anything? Well yes! It’s all of the above, clearly! Yet another brainchild of George Lucas, meant to call to mind scenes of swashbuckling and chivalry from old samurai movies, the lightsaber has since gone on to occupy a central spot in the collective unconscious of an entire generation. It is a staple, perhaps THE staple, of pop culture’s take on sci-fi.

Making its debut appearance in the first Star Wars movie, the lightsaber was the established weapon of the Jedi. In addition to being their mainstay, lightsabers were also highly personalized, every Jedi being tasked with building one as part of their training. Originally, the only two designs were that of the blue and red, the former being associated with Obi Wan and Anakin Skywalker (which Luke then inherited), and the latter being associated with Darth Vader. However, Luke went on to create his own and fashioned a green beam. With the expanded universe, significance has been given to different colors, each one associated with a different class of Jedi, and indicating whether they are a member of the Sith or the Jedi Order.

For starters, blue is the color of the Jedi Guardian, the warrior class of the order who focus on combat training and fighting. Green is used by the Jedi Consuls, people who focus more on the force and accumulating wisdom and insight. Yellow represents a sort of middle ground, belonging to those Jedi who focus on a combination of both and are usually called upon to settle disputes and act as arbiters. When it comes to the Sith, only one color appears to be used, and that is red. However, purple, orange, and other closely related colors have popped up from time to time in various places as well. In addition, Mace Windu, the Jedi Master portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson, wielded a purple lightsaber as well. However, this was apparently due to Jackson’s insistence that his character have a purple weapon, as well as the initials BMF etched onto the side!

Ma’Tok Staff:
Coming to us from the Stargate universe, the Ma’Tok is a combination laser gun, club staff that is used by Jaffa warriors (the specially-bred human servants of the Goa’uld). According to the Stargate Wiki, the Ma’Tok relies on a plasma discharge to strike and cauterize the enemy, causing severe damage and intimidating resistance. It takes its power from an internal cell that employs a liquified mineral (Naquadah) to generate plasma energy. This liquid mineral gives the staff a virtually indefinite shelf life, making it the perfect blend of aesthetics and lethality!

Monomolecular Wire:
Here’s an idea that comes in various forms, but for the purposes of this post, I shall stick to the examples that I know best. The first one comes in the form of the Yakuza enforcer from Johnny Mnemonic! Anyone who’s seen this movie (or read the short story it was based on) will remember the main badguy who had an artificial thumb that contained a long filament of glowing wire. When he pulled that thing out and started whipping it around – LOOK OUT! – things began to get lopped off and sliced up! Another example of this being used as a weapon is from the Japanese anime Hellsing. In that show, the butler of the namesake character had monomolecular wires attached to each finger which he would break out whenever there was a crisis. Perhaps they were fashioned from silver, I really can’t recall. Would make them more effective against vampires though!

Plasma Sword:
And we’re back to the Halo universe for another example of cool gear! And today, the item in question is the plasma sword. As gamers are no doubt aware, this weapon is melee weapon of the Elites, but can be employed by humans as well since it’s your basic hand-held weapon. And much like lightsabers and lasguns, it can cut through just about anything and makes short work of any opponent. In many ways, its even more effective than the ballistic and energy weapons in the game. Whereas those can take several shots to take down an enemy (especially someone infected by the flood) one good hit from this baby will turn them into pulp! And if you see an enemy approaching you with one, be sure to hang back and unload your weapon in their direction!

Stone Burner:
Doubling down on the Dune universe, the next example of cool weapons comes in the form of Stone Burner. As a tactical nuke of limited yield, this weapon was the only form of nuclear device that was not prohibited by the Great Convention. This body, in addition to banning all forms of AI’s, also put a stop to the use of nuclear weapons, though it did not forbid the Great Houses from owning any. In any case, Stone Burners, when used strategically, could have a devastating effect on an enemy.

This weapon makes only one appearance in the Dune saga. In Dune Messiah, Paul Atreides is lured into a trap in the old quarter of Arrakeen where a stone burner is set off, which leads to the loss of his eyes.  Though physically blinded, Paul was not deprived of his vision (i.e. his prescience). This all had to do with a larger plot to force Paul to surrender his power as Emperor in order to save his children. And I think we can all agree, any plot that involves a tactical nuke and blinding your enemy Samson-style is pretty badass!

Throwing Disc:
Another Hunter weapon, this particular one made its first appearance in the second Predator movie and then went on to become a regular part of the Hunters’ arsenal. Much like their other weapons, the throwing disc appears to have many variations and may even be personalized to an extent. This may be the result of constant upgrading, or it may be that individual Hunters have a hand in designing their own gear. In either case, many types of throwing discs have appeared. Some employ simple curved blades, blades with spikes, or even shuriken-like appendages (as the picture at right demonstrates). In each and every case, the result generally involves hewed limbs and decapitations!

Thermal Detonator:
“Because he’s holding a thermal detonator!” Yes, whenever a bounty hunter pulls one of these out, you know they mean business! This weapon, which comes to us from the Star Wars universe, made its first appearance in Return of the Jedi. Since that movie came out, the device has been mentioned and referenced countless times in the expanded franchise. Apparently, thermal detonators are the grenades of the future, using plasma charges that when detonated, cause a large explosion that will burn through just about anything. Always be sure to bring one to a negotiation, just be sure to get the ones with the fail-safe triggers!

Vibroblades:
My third and final act of doubling down on a single franchise! Vibroblades are an integral part of the Star Wars universe, but also appear in a number of other franchises. In each case, the weapon revolves around melee weapons that are powered by ultrasonic devices. This increases the weapons cutting effectiveness, and makes them almost as dangerous as a lightsaber. Well, more like a distant second! But non-Jedi’s got to settle for what they can get.

In the video game Knights of the Old Republic, vibroblades and melee weapons are used due to the introduction of personal shields. Some might call this a rip-off of the Dune universe, but in this case, its not so much a matter of necessity as practicality. If an enemy can absorb your blaster fire, then rushing and attacking them with a sword kind of makes sense. And it gives the characters some practice with melee combat before they learn to harness their Jedi abilities.

Last Word:
Okay, I got nothing! Yep, after looking through all the aforementioned examples of cool weaponry, I really couldn’t find any particular patterns that were worthy of comment. Basically, it all comes down to things that augment or go beyond the usual arsenal of guns. It’s only where the swords and knives come into the mix that I see anything beyond simple coolness. And just about all that drinks from the cup of Frank Herbert, a man who merged the ancient and futuristic in order to make a point about technology and how one could find the past in the future and the future in the past. Yeah, that stuff was deep!

As for the rest of it, it’s just plain cool to behold… and fantasize about! Yeah, twenty years later and I still want a lightsaber of my own! 😉