Allow me to paint a picture. The year is 1999 and five boys at the tender age of sixteen gather their bulky, noisy and often overheated PCs together for one of numerous LAN party occasions. The excitement is palpable – a new game has been released that encompasses each male’s youth in 3 glorious words. Alien…Versus…Predator.
Over the past ten years each had been exposed to the R-rated films of Aliens and Predator, be it via older brothers, unconcerned parents or just the ancient pastime of browsing late night television. These early acts of youthful rebellion had solidified the motifs of both films within each of the children’s heads: big guns, dark corridors, skinned bodies, acid hurts and Arnie always wins. The very idea that they will be able to recreate the intense backs-to-the-walls scenes of Aliens, while also chuckling (Billy impressions welcome essential at this point) as they approach a squishy, unaware Marine and place 3 red dots on his forehead, thrilled them with more excitement than pixelated images should.
Despite these lofty expectations the game was everything they could have possibly wanted. Much like its 1994 predecessor, the single player offered three separate storylines, one for each of the famous characters: Alien, Marine or Predator. The Alien campaign had players scurry across walls and ceilings on the hunt for human meat, as well as the occasional Predator. To add a suitably gruesome feature, it was possible to decapitate your opponent as the Alien bared his teeth in front of his cowering victim. The highly atmospheric Marine campaign saw the hardy warrior’s battle through flare lit hallways, with the iconic pulse rifle as a companion. Rarely has a video game player felt so vulnerable while looking so tough. Lastly, a personal favourite, was the Predator story. Every weapon from the 1987 film was available, from a throwing disc to the aforementioned shoulder cannon. Not to forget the crucial ability to cloak and switch through vision modes, on average players spent ten minutes, per game, solely switching their view purely to hear the well known sound*
* Potentially a made up fact.
However, single player is not where the bulk of the fun occurred, nor the reason for this clandestine gathering. Multiplayer was the order of the night and a scenario of four Marines versus one predator was the challenge. I should point out that due to a high standard (read as zero social life) of gaming skill, this four to one battle was entirely even and the rock, paper, scissors mechanic of most tri-character video games was not present in this one. It was just as likely that a single marine could defeat the Predator as it was that the Predator could slice up four Marines before any of them could utter the words “You’re one…ugly motherf**ker!” So the players were set and after twelve long hours, ten cans each of your favourite branded fizzy drink and a metric ton of chocolate, the combatants emerged into a blurry eyed sunrise, never to speak of the night again…ok they talked about it a lot. The night had been a true success; never did they tire of shouting “Come on…Come on! Do it! Kill me! I’m here!” as the last survivor scurried to the nearest dark corner. Neither did the Predator tire of responding “Anytime” before plunging his metallic claws into his victim’s spine. The only true casualty was their neighbours ears, as Long Tall Sally by Little Richard played for the forty-second time. The games ability to create a terrifying atmosphere was outstanding, the sound effects and superb graphics all contributed to a stunning representation of the two franchises.
So why, I hear you ask, is this an article about the crushing disappointment of a game release? Surely there is nothing left in this Holy Grail of energy weapons and combat drops to evoke such dissatisfaction in the gaming industry. Well, you are correct; this game was perfect, but in February of 2013 Sega published a highly anticipated sequel to the film Aliens, titled Aliens: Colonial Marines. Prior to this the company had released a re-worked version of the older game simply called Alien vs. Predator, which certainly had its high points but was never able to invoke the ambience that the previous game had managed. While a sequel to the Aliens film would never be able to recreate one Predator, four Marines (for starters you couldn’t play as a Predator), the game trailers conveyed that same sense of fear and danger that permeated the 1999 outing. Being on a new generation of gaming consoles was also a bonus, as Sega released the title on multiple platforms. Fortunate, since times had moved on for this quintuplet and the days of splurging on towers, monitors and the occasional foray into water cooling had long since died. So it was with a childlike glee that each man received his shiny new copy of Aliens: Colonial Marines. At this point allow me to pause in my tale of sorrow in order to compose myself from the hurt that still lingers following that initial moment of joy…
… Ok, I’m ready. When first playing this new Alien release the keen observer would notice that what was seen on screen in no way matched those ground breaking trailers. By now this is a much discussed failing and it really was a true disappointment to not see the intense graphics you had been promised, especially as they contributed to the much sought atmosphere. But the poor visuals were nothing compared to the actual gameplay. While it was exciting to dive into the world that had been graced by Hicks, Apone and Hudson the player slowly noticed that the single player campaign began to make no sense. Hicks is still alive…what? Oh and what happened to the squad based commands we saw? Sorry, but they were dropped. What was left was a fairly repetitive combination of open door, shoot Alien and repeat. No variety and certainly no challenge. However I am a forgiving man, especially as, once again, single player wasn’t the main purpose of the game. If the multiplayer came anywhere close to what we had experienced before then I was sold (well technically I was already sold but I would at the very least tell others about it). Unfortunately this wasn’t the case – the game was split into 6v6 teams, comprising of Marines and Aliens. Anyone who has seen the films will know that the Aliens advantage lies in numbers, so making the teams even gave the Marines a much easier time. This was especially true when armed with a smart gun, a tracker and a sentry gun. Granted, after each round players swapped, but in my experience this mainly resulted in a tie. I won’t go into detail on the four different game modes – suffice to say the Marines dominated in all of them. The game did offer a variation of Alien type, yet this did nothing to even the odds and less to assist in navigating the map whilst upside down or on a wall. To pre-empt a criticism of my criticism I appreciate we were looking for a certain experience, nay a very specific experience, one that may have come with a Predator, which was hardly likely in a game based on the Aliens movie. Yes, true, but allow me to counter with a generic description of our glorified experience: a group of grizzled Marines sticking together through dark corridors and eerie sounds, awaiting a slight twitch in the distance that will give them the opportunity to unload all hell onto an alien foe that outweighs the men in speed, power and gravity. A description, I think you will agree, that could be applied to either Alien or Predator.
So what is the point of this tale of woe?
- You can never go back to the good times. Those nights of Aliens versus Predator will forever be embedded in the minds of those five young men, but will never be experienced again.
- A harsh lesson that games developers do not make games specifically for five people. This was a tough lesson, one that I personally experienced with Assassin’s Creed, (I still don’t like the whole future element of Abstergo etc. Being solely immersed in the Assassin’s particular world made much more sense to me), Army of Two: The Devils Cartel (I really hoped this was going to be more than two player co-op, also why are we not Tyson and Rio!) and Warhammer 40k: Space Marine (so the bolt gun doesn’t really have explosive shells?)
- Gaming excitement is not in repeated franchises (with a possible exclusion of Battlefield). Unfortunately each of the big, well known series of games has had its let down. Gears of War: Judgement was a disappointment, Halo 4 was a step back from Reach and I’d rather not talk about every new WWE game.
With all of this in mind I look forward to the games of the future: Titanfall, Watchdogs, and Destiny to name but a few. Each will be played with an eagerness to be drawn into a new world of pixels, searching for the next Aliens versus Predator moment, always with a gleam in our eye and a knowing smile on our face, remembering the times that used to be.