The ultimate question is, ‘Aliens or Predators, which one would you prefer to bite your face off?’ In a title which brings together two of the biggest sci-fi franchise demon brutes, it’s surely what we all want to know. However, what I thought was going to be a thoughtful meditation on this topic, filled with deep and melancholy characterisations and a meticulous plot turns out to be nothing more than a generic action title. Perhaps I was expecting too much.
It’s a third-person (or should that be third-monster?) slasher. You play as both (both!) the Necromorph Aliens and the Jungle Hunter Predators. On a distant planet, the Super Predator clan enlist the help of the Alien species in order to wipe out the Jungle Hunter Predators who they’ve been feuding with for decades, presumably because someone forgot to return their ‘Best of Barry Manilow’ DVD. I completely understand.
As an Alien, you must destroy the Jungle Hunter Predators who have enslaved your people. As a Jungle Hunter Predator, you have to hunt down the Alien Queen to make sure your clan remains in supremacy. As a buyer of the game, you might be a little confused as the App Store description states that the Aliens are out to destroy the Super Predators instead of the Jungle Hunters. This means they’re going to bump off the clan that asked for their help in the first place. I think this might have been a typo.*
After selecting which species you want to play as, you’re thrown into the game with no tutorial whatsoever, and tasked with ripping out the throats of your first set of enemies. Immediately you’ll notice a few of things: a feeling of not quite knowing what’s going on (something that persists throughout), the incredibly dark setting which makes harder to know what’s going on, and the awful camera which makes it pretty much impossible to know what’s going on. Going. On.
As you bound around tearing the soft parts out of scientists and completing cursory objectives that involve doors and switches, you frequently feel as if you’re not only fighting your adversaries, but the game itself. The camera refuses to reposition in the heat of battle meaning that enemies frequently approach from off-screen, leaving you with the tactic of fleeing from them in order to create enough space to attack. It would really help if the camera auto-locked onto foes, but alas not. Stuff like the cool executions which act as finishing moves are rendered cumbersome as the virtual button that triggers them appears over the head of your enemies, but becomes smaller and fiddly to get to as the screen zooms out. Swipes and taps frequently go unnoticed too.
Combined with stiff animations and enemy AI which occasionally leaves you puzzled (witness me repeatedly slashing an android from behind as he does nothing but run into a crate), and combat isn’t nearly as engaging as it should be, ending up a chore.
‘AvP’ also suffers from lackluster presentation. For such a big IP, it has awfully low production values. Everything feels cheaper than me in my most expensive suit (don’t diss charity shop clothing), with menus that are uninspired and lacking polish. Music is similarly flat and generic with no real personality, and sound effects lack punch.
The in-game visuals as a whole are generally nice though. Some environments lack detail, and nothing looks as if it’s been crafted on a cutting edge engine, but then you’ll notice a tarpaulin flapping in the breeze which looks fantastic, or pause the game and realise how much like a watercolour painting it looks (seriously, try it in the middle of a fight). There’s also some brilliant lighting on display – check out how characters are illuminated against some of the portable lights strewn amongst the stages.
And there are a few redeeming moments – playing as a Face Hugger searching for a scientist to attach yourself to is a neat idea (Hugger seeks mate. Promises not to get clingy). Unfortunately it turns out to just a be a humdrum scuttle through a short level when it could’ve been a lot more exciting with a bit more impetus. The fact you can play as both an Alien and a Predator is cool enough; being a Predator is a bit more fun as the range of executions is more interesting (including the classic ‘Trophy Kill’ where you rip an enemy’s head out with spine attached), and you get thermal vision and cloaking to mess around with, even if the game doesn’t give you enough to do with them.
But you never feel 100% confident that you know exactly what’s going on; an uncomfortable feeling of disjointedness presiding over proceedings. There’s an overall feeling here of the license not living up to its potential.
And as for the ultimate question? I’ll leave you to decide which one gets the trophy of your face. Either way, it’s coming off.
Face it. You should follow Kevin on Twitter @KevThePen.
*Thanks to Brrobotix for pointing out that I read the story incorrectly. The Super Predators didn’t ask the Aliens for help, they enslaved them in order to use them against the Jungle Hunters. The Alien Queen is out to free her people, thus not destroying the clan that asked for her help, but getting revenge of the clan that took her people against their will. The App Store description isn’t 100% clear on this, but I suppose anyone with common sense could’ve worked it out. I am clearly not that person.