Retrospective: Aliens vs Predator 2

By Alec Meer on March 12th, 2008 at 4:35 pm.

Not coming out of any goddamned walls now, are ya?

I’ll attempt to counterbalance my recent whining about Aliens with some celebration of Aliens.

I have only foggy, slightly disappointed memories of Aliens vs Predator 2 – handled by FEARmeisters Monolith rather than the first game’s Rebellion – so, hungry for Gearbox’s upcoming Colonial Marines, I though it was about time I revisited it. Specifically, to talk about its one moment of genius.

Unfortunately, it turned out I couldn’t be bothered to play much of the game again. It’s not as dripping in menace as AvP the first (of which I penned a retrospective of sorts here), the Aliens don’t climb walls properly, there’s a bit too much cutscene drone going on, and I was haunted by terrible visions of the space-cows from the expansion pack (which wasn’t handled by Monolith, in fairness). It’s a reasonable enough sequel, going through most of the motions it needs to, though somehow the cruder, more claustrophobic, disco-light look of the first game now seems more presentable than Monolith’s glossier, higher-tech take. AvP seems to my nostalgia-addled eye to have a certain visual language of its own, whereas AvP2 much more bears the look of Any FPS From That Era. I could say the same about, say, Quake and Quake IV.

(I’ve occasionally muttered that 2D games, in general, seem to date less than 3D (until the likes of WoW, The Sims 2, Ico and TF2 threw in an art-curveball, anyway), because their appearance is that much more defined by their artists, not the level of technology they were created with. I wonder if the same is true of earlier 3D games versus most of what we’ve seen this century. When the graphics have a certain level of blocky, cludgy simplicity to them, perhaps we’re better able to shrug off its paucity and let our imaginations bolster it – whereas a game that’s crept within spitting distance of realistic makes us notice instead what doesn’t quite work, has us moaning about blurry textures, cubist hands and blob shadows. But then in this case I’m talking about games released within two years of each other, so I’m probably talking bollocks. Sorry. It’s a habit of mine.)

Anyway! That celebration of Aliens I promised. AVP2 has one great moment that absolutely shames AVP1. It’s the start of the Alien campaign; in AVP1 you begin it a fully-formed Alien warrior, an engine of slashing and headbiting destruction from the off. In AVP2, you begin low to the ground, with nothing to your name except a surprisingly powerful jump and the ability to climb walls. The nearby remnants of an Egg reveal the curious truth. You’re a Facehugger – an iconic monster we have, until now, only gotten to shoot at. What does a Facehugger do? It hugs faces. Then sticks a hideous protuberance down the huggee’s throat and pumps parasitical genetic material into their belly. So that’s what you’ve got to do.

The level that follows is ten minutes of panicked crawling through disorientatingly similar airducts, but possessed by a rare sense of absolute purpose. You aren’t trying to escape, or kill everyone, or score points – you’re looking for a victim, a host. The game teases expertly – you pass over oblivious or nervous civilians you’re desperate to get to, but the closed metal tunnels forbid it. Oh, the frustration – you’re like a tiger in the zoo, staring forlornly at all the delicious meat standing just outside your reach.

Finally, you spy a way out of the vents – and into a room with humans in it, no less. Scientists. Unarmed scientists. Oh, yes. You drop down, you pounce smoothly onto pink, fleshy face, and you sit back in satisfaction as your new host writhes on the ground, clutching futilely at his choked neck.

Then a soldier runs in with a flamethrower and it’s all over. Oh. Facehuggers had it easier in the movies.

No matter: you’ll just have to catch someone on their own. Quickload, sneak past the scientists, carefully dodge more armed guards, slip through a hole in the wall and… there he is. He’s asleep. He’s alone. He’s beautiful.

Pounce.

Fade to black.

Fade into… red?

Has the game broken? And what’s that thumping noise? Better click a button.

Oh.

Ew!

There’s muffled screaming as you keep clicking, keep chewing.

At last, the beating of his hideous heart stops. And…

Freedom.

There’s even an open window, the curtains fluttering to signpost your escape route. Out you go, into the dark streets. The first thing you see is a human. You’re still small, but now you have teeth. Chomp. The human screams and runs, beckoning over soldiers. You don’t last long.

Weaker prey is needed, clearly. There’s an occasional sound in the distance. A baby? A bird? No. It’s a cat. Ah yes – that’ll do it. The next few minutes offer heart-in-mouth tension, avoiding armed guard after guard, sticking to the shadows, seizing your moments to dash, all the while desperate to be more powerful – your knowledge of the Aliens movies means you know full-well what gruesome butterfly you’ll soon become, and it translates almost into a survival instinct. Again, that sense of real purpose, so lacking in most FPSes – you know why you’re doing this, and what your reward for it will be.

Eventually, you locate the source of the sound, a room containing quarantined cats, and finally the game gives you a break – there’s a convenient hole in the fence. In you go. Perhaps mercifully, you’re not shown the actual cat-munching, but the awful squelchy noises and subtle spray of blood tell you all you need to know.

Fade to black. Fade in to….

From hereon in, it’s the diminishing returns of familiarity and repetition, but there’s one last reward before the game reverts to type. All those soldiers you had to humiliatingly hide from to reach that darned cat? Yeah. Go get ‘em, tiger.

AVP’s the better game, but what it never did was put you inside the Alien’s head as well as its carapace. It’s half an hour of glorious, gory tribute to one of cinema’s greatest monsters; I’m unlikely to ever play through AVP2 again, but I’ll always respect that moment of gruesome genius. It neatly exemplifies the nature of an FPS – start off weak, be rewarded for progress by becoming stronger – but this time there’s a great reason for it, rather than expecting you to believe the space marine you’re playing as didn’t think to bring all his best guns with him.

I hope the Monolith who thought up that section of AVP2 are the Monolith making Project Origin. I didn’t notice their calling cards in F.E.A.R.

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41 Comments »

  1. Kieron Gillen says:

    Any level which starts with you inside a human’s chest is okay by me.

    KG

  2. Flint says:

    What AVP2 lost in atmosphere, it won in actually having a plot* (and unlike you, I quite like cutscenes so I didn’t mind that) and making playing with Predator more fun.

    But yes. The crowning moment of the game that everyone will remember is the start of the Alien campaign. Just a shame about the cat, I don’t like killing cutesywoo fluffy kitties.

    *not a great one, but still better than the nothing of the first game

  3. Cruz says:

    I would love to play another AvP game, but without the P. I thoroughly enjoyed the Marine and the Alien lifecycle campaign, enough to where I’d put AvP2 somewhere in my top 10 fps (sadly I have not played the first AvP).

    Don’t forget, when you did get face hugged (in multiplayer) you got to see that awful little protuberance, as Alec put it, squirming about and taking up your whole screen. Certainly one of the more horrifying shots I’ve ever seen in a video game.

  4. Alarik says:

    Hmm, I didn’t like the Alien play in AvP2 much.

    But what surprised me the most was the fact (in my opinion, of course), that Predator part was the hardest one (yes, synthetics with sniper rifles), Marine being the easiest. Very disapponting.

    AvP2 still looks kinda good even nowadays. Even though AvP aged better IMO.

  5. Phil says:

    I remember an Inner Space rip-off shoot-em-up from the 16-bit era, a bit like Team 17′s Project X, with levels that started in the human stomach, heart, brain and lungs – you didn’t get to burst out of them though, more just scroll left while shooting thousands of white blood cells and the occassional butterfly or crawly thing. I always felt bad for the clearly lost butterfly.

  6. Fat Zombie says:

    I never played AVP, unfortunately; but what I do remember is enjoying AVP2, lots. I never got to play online, however. I must try and find it again.

  7. crozon says:

    there are people still playing avp2 online. it ain’t bad

  8. Pax says:

    I, too, never played the original AvP (which is a shame, considering how much I love me some Aliens), but I thought the story and setting and everything of AvP2 was spot on, drawing me into the setting I love so much (mmm, pulse rifles).
    The best thing about the story, I’ve always thought, was that you not only had to watch the cutscenes, but you had to play all three campaigns, find and read all the notes and logs, and then think about all the puzzle pieces to finally get a complete picture of all the horrible things going on on LV-1201.

    But arranging your own birth and then chowing down on scientist heads for health was good fun too.

  9. MPK says:

    I own both the AvP games but I don’t think I’ve ever went more than a couple of levels into the Predator side. I never wanted to be him, I’d rather be Arnie, or even Danny Glover.

    The Pred belongs in a more stealth based game imo; Splinter Cell without the air vent climbing and with more leaping from rooftop-to-rooftop, scouting out worthy kills.

    After this I may even install the original AvP and see if the multiplayer servers for that are still up (or was it peer-to-peer? Must find out). Playing as the Alien was more fun than is really necessary.

  10. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    Anyone tried playing AvP under Vista? This has made me long for it, I don’t think i’ve played it for YEARS AND YEARS. Then again, I also haven’t seen my discs for YEARS AND YEARS. I bet it’s dirt cheap on ebay though.

  11. Alec Meer says:

    I played it on Vista 64 just last week. Don’t recall hitting any problems.

  12. Funkula says:

    AvP2 had the best team deathmatch evar. Well, until recently.

  13. Duncan says:

    AVP1 was possibly the most fun I’ve had playing on the office LAN at lunch :-)

    The lighting was just so much more atmospheric than in AVP2, in that there wasn’t any – so you had to rely much more on your motion tracker, your NV goggles and those lovely flares, which leads to much marine friendly fire hilarity because everyone’s so jumpy they start shooting at anything that moves on their trackers. Also, those using NV goggles would get blinded by anyone running about chucking flares around :-D

    Ahhh, many a happy hour spent huddled in a dark corner with some mates screaming “oh shit, movement! He’s over there!” and ritually abusing that taunt button. The feeling of dread as you watched your last flare gutter out was fantastic – especially if your mate was up in some vent somewhere hissing at you with the taunt key >:-D

  14. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    “I played it on Vista 64 just last week. Don’t recall hitting any problems.” This is excellent news. Now, to find my discs. Easier said than done I fear.

  15. Alec Meer says:

    Oh, balls – you meant AVP1, not 2. I had some problems with that under Vista, I think.

  16. Chaz says:

    Phil, that would be Microcosm by Psygnosis. It was the first game I got for my short lived CD32 (I feel kind of ashamed about admitting to owning one of those). After the initial WOW! of the FMV intro and the games tunnel effect had worn off it was a pretty crap game really.

    As for AvP2 I actually liked it better than the first one, as it wasn’t quite as brutally hard, and I always liked the Marine bits better. The Predator missions in the first one were also great though. I never really got the hang of the Alien missions. What I did like about AvP2 was where certain parts of each story intersected, and you got to see bits you would have done playing as the other characters from each of their perspectives, if you know what I mean.

  17. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    It’s okay, I just went through my bin bag of old cds and couldnt find it. I did find Stars!, FX Fighter, Overlord, Grand Prix 3, Screamer, X-Com Apocalypse, Silver, Tribes 2, Flying Corps, Tomb Raider, Grand Theft Auto, Privateer, Privateer 2, Grand Prix 2, FF7, CM2, Half life 1, Hidden and Dangerous and Theme Hospital though. What a haul!

  18. Hexx says:

    Ah yes, that was great. I vaguely remember that level. My favorite part of that game though, hands down, was multiplayer. I even liked it better than tha AvP1 mutli.

  19. Homunculus says:

    Please be a boot, please be a boot…
    Heyyy, it’s a boot!

    The Marine campaign had a great little atmospheric prelude that ratcheted the tension up quite nicely, peppered with little deliberate decoys such as startling, hopping, outsize indigenous bugs and chain/crane machinery that silhouetted like an Alien, which also swayed in the wind and set off your motion detector.

    The claustrophobic interior of the suspended scientific module was also rather well conceived and executed as well, I thought; cramped plastic and technogubbins, very Syd Mead and space shuttle.

  20. Zeno, Internetographer says:

    The Alien campaign in AVP2 has the best ending as well. It’s twisted as hell, but oh so satisfying.

  21. malkav11 says:

    I vehemently disagree that earlier 3D holds up better than more recent 3D.

    Still, gotta track down a copy of AvP1 one of these days. I have two and played a little bit but didn’t get anywhere really.

  22. Tak says:

    The only thing that AvP2 missed (on launch, anyway, may have been added as a fan-made or something) was the bunker defense map from AvP. Multiplayer in that thing was a hoot.

    Three or four people (your lan buddies) start at a crash site (iirc). There’s a bunker down a hill and a way aways, so you run to it, trying not to become alien meat in the wave after wave after wave of aliens. Get to the bunker, it’s now full of aliens since the door was open. You clean it out and try to keep them from squeezing in the windows. So things go well, you lost a buddy or two, and now you clean house from inside. Mowing down waves of aliens, torching the ones that get too close…then you die. Crap! The aliens busted through the door (exposed electronics, see, they just ripped it to shreds). So now you’ve got a back-door to watch too….

    Madness in a LAN. Pure madness. AvP2 was great fun for LAN as well, but that bunker level was missed greatly.

  23. shotgunguy says:

    The avp2 multiplayer scene is still alive and well. While it’s nowhere as large as it was in the year after the game was first released, it’s still great fun to hop into the game and mow down some bugs. With the addition of ultimate map pack 2, several new sound packs that fix the human taunts from the weak “i’m coming” to a more suited war cry, and some new skins the multiplayer game stands up to almost any game i’ve played to date.

    I’m probably biased. I haven’t stopped playing the game since it was released.

  24. Richard says:

    I can’t play AvP games. I’m just way, way too much of a wuss to handle the facehuggers. I lost a mouse thanks to the demo of the first game.

    It was a wireless mouse, and there was an open window just behind me.

  25. Nimic says:

    I can’t remember if it was AvP or AvP2 (probably 2), but I remember my cousin having the demo of it, which included multiplayer on one or two maps. Back then I wasn’t much of a “multiplayer”, but I had some great fun with that demo, particularly as Alien. I still remember once in the beginning, where I, without meaning it, right-clicked (I think), which sent you flying, and I went straight over an edge, landing on some poor Marine who then got his head bitten off once I realized what I had done.

    Aaah, the good times…

  26. Sum0 says:

    I honestly loved AvP2, I’ve played it through two or three times, and I actually think it’s that rare thing – an old FPS that doesn’t look dated. It’s got such strong art design that you don’t notice the low polygon count.
    And I loved the way the time-skewed plot tied together (e.g. when playing as the Predator you see the Alien break you out of the restraint, and then playing as the Alien you break the Predator out…)
    Add to that the fact that it wasn’t merely a film adaptation, it was an adaptation of two films and a comic book and it still managed to be faithful to all three, it’s definitely looking like one of my all-time favourite FPSes.

    The only thing I didn’t enjoy was the Marine campaign – it was good, but I so dearly wanted squad-based combat, which is what the damn film was about. Instead it’s just you and a commlink.

  27. unclebulgaria says:

    I had finished AvP when I drove a mate round to another mate’s place for some multi. We had AvP2. I was sitting opposite Gaz when, during my first match as an Alien, I scored a kill as the facehugger on Gaz’ poor Marine. None of us had played multi AvP before. We had to get a cloth to wipe the beer off his monitor :)

  28. muteh says:

    As someone said above, AvP2 was one of the great, /great/, lan games. Not quite as much fun as stomping on people in duke, but right up there.

  29. Garth says:

    [quote]…Privateer, Privateer 2…[/quote]
    Fuck! I’ve been trying to buy Privateer two for… like 9 years. I found it in a store once for (5 years ago) ninety dollars. It was the most expensive game in the store, and the clerks could not understand why the fuck it was so expensive.

    I still miss those fantastic math-based missions about getting slammed on Bex Beer, and drowning in your own vomit…

    As for AvP (the first one), probably my best LAN games ever. Once we had four of us in a room – two Marine, two Alien. I was one of the marines, and to turn the tables on the aliens, who could hear our sound, I would whistle, to exactly the same pitch, the tracker pinging. I would randomly speed it up to make them think I had found them, and they’d panick, running around a room trying to find me.

    I laughed my ass off when they finally realised it was me doing it… oh man, good times.

    I agree with a post above though, in that the Predator parts were awful. I felt like a tank fighting children with spears.

  30. madhaha says:

    AvP is incredibly atmospheric and a great LAN game. It doesn’t even try to equalize the races, it simply says: Predators are superior, Humans are twitchy prey and Aliens are made of tissue paper and acid. Balance came from class caps and gameplay modes. In terms of animation and sound it was far closer to the films. Sadly the tech was all in house and it rarely runs well on modern systems. As a singleplayer game it alternates between aimless maze solving and unforgiving death but the atmosphere can’t be faulted. Scarier than System Shock.

    AvP 2 is a game with some fabulous features and gimmicks. Pilot the exoskeleton! Start as a facehugger and claw your way to queenhood! Play as a Marine or a Corporate Mercenary! Unfortunately it has terrible netcode. Its noticeably laggy even on a LAN. The races are rebalanced so that everyone is equivilent and as a result it doesn’t feel true to the source material. No longer are you a desperate stranded Marine or Predator against hordes of deadly xenomorphs, you’re simply playing team deathmatch. The weapons are nearly all instant kill and 100% accurate with redundant ammo. Fire is a minor nuisance instead of all blinding, all consuming death that even Aliens fear and the Acid Blood has been toned down to Mildly Sour Blood. What’s the difference between a Marine and a Corporate? The Corporate gets a 360 degree motion tracker. So who the hell WANTS to play as a Marine? The singleplayer is a pretty solid game but its not really meant to be scary. Just mildly challenging romp through the scenery that you imagine would be in the films. Meh.

  31. Iain says:

    I only ever played the demo of AvP2, and I didn’t really like it, for two reasons:

    1) It really lacked the tension of the original AvP. The scripting of the “shock” events was so telegraphed you could see them coming from a mile off. AvP was truly, frantically scary, AvP2 felt like a pale imitation.

    2) At the time I tried the demo, I’d also been mainlining Deus Ex, so whenever I kept trying to open a door with the Marine, I’d blow myself up with a Pulse Rifle grenade, leading me to castigate myself repeatedly with the words “Use! Is! Not! Bound! To! The! Right! Fucking! Mouse! Button!”

  32. Fumarole says:

    One of my favorite gaming moments of all time was playing AvP at a LAN. We were playing Last man Standing on the Hadley’s Hope map, with about five or six marines and one alien.

    In this particular round, one of our sneakier friends was the alien. Being a particularly jittery lot, all of us marines had gathered in the control room, thinking that there was safety in numbers. How naive! The alien took his time, letting the tension build up. Eventually he dropped through the ceiling right into the middle of the group of marines – except me. I was standing in a corner armed with the minigun. I panicked and hit the mouse button. When the smoke cleared, nothing was alive but me. Yes, in about two seconds I had managed to kill every other person (and alien) in the game.

    Being known as a person who is very particular in where he shoots and seldom commits friendly fire, my friends still rib me about it to this day. And it always brings a smile to my face.

  33. Nimzah says:

    I think a lot of the stylistic differences between the two games came from the fact the original was sourced directly on the movies, which were pretty much all about horror/scares whereas AvP2 was sourced from the Dark Horse comics/novels (which are more about conspiracies and humans being norty).

    I liked both games immensely (AVP2 just topping it), but like many wish the dynamic lighting and general slickness of the original had made it into the later, as well as the co-op skirmish mode, which was always fun over a LAN. Story and execution of it was excellent though, the level design was outstanding too. It’s vastly superior to FEAR in every respect that matters, heck it even looks nicer (art design variety > shaders).

    It really disappointed me how content-free FEAR was in comparison: Attrociously dull level design, lack of character, lack of originality, lack of story development/intrigue. It’s like they’d forgotten everything they made before. I too hope Project Origin has more akin to AVP2 and isn’t just a shaderfest.

  34. Spiffae says:

    Never played AVP on LAN, but remember fondly playing three humans against one alien in AVP2 – if you played the alien right you could sneak up the humans, climbing on ceilings, killing one guy, and then jumping halfway across the map. Ah, good times.

  35. ju says:

    Seriously, this game is my favorite multiplayer game to ever be created. I mean you can be a Pred alien, that while slow could allow you to leap across maps and land on a marine with a large blood filled explosion. S.A.T.I.S.F.A.C.T.I.O.N.

  36. Skylance says:

    Man, AvP was a scary game. I never played either of the AvPs (Jaguar version doesn’t count) online, but I remember being more afraid playing the Marine campaign in the original AvP than any other game I’ve ever played before or since. In fact, I’ve never even managed to get more than halfway through before I just had to quit–it was simply too intense for me.

    AvP didn’t have music, that I recall. Just a quiet *tick, tick, tick* sound from the motion detector. It was always so freaking dark that, just for a moment, your whole world would become that sound. So when a door opened, or a fan turned on or something would spark it would damn near always make you jump. That wasn’t what really got to me, though. Plenty of games and movies use that technique. What got to me were those goddamn aliens.

    The thing about the aliens that ultimately would end up scaring me out of the game was their sheer freak speed. You had, oh, maybe a quarter of a second to react if one of the chirps on your motion detector turned out to be an alien. You’d hear something, fire off a flare, maybe at the other end of a hallway you’d catch a glimpse of movement, and suddenly that fucking thing was right there eatin’ on your face. And if you managed to kill the thing in time to save your life, you’d then relax a little bit just to realize, Oh, crap, acid. And then you didn’t have legs. And then more aliens came and started eatin’ on your face.

    God, I hated that game. I loved it, but I really fucking hated it, you know?

  37. guy says:

    Just want to say that the wall-walking in AvP2 is easily the most enjoyable character movement mechanic I’ve ever played. Even better than Mario 64. The level design quite often worked against it, sadly. And yes, being an alien in multi is incredible.
    I’m astonished that the new FPS is all-marine. Wasted opportunity.

  38. Alex Taldren says:

    It isn’t all-marine is it? I thought it just focused on the marines and would still, obviously, feature aliens. I’m tired of the Predators… they are boring.

  39. The Shed says:

    It was a good bit.

    ColMar better have more open level design to it; I remember hoping that the original AvP would simply be huge levels popultaed with Aliens, and you trying to escape- but no such luck, it was a bit more linear than that. The second one even more so. Of course, i know shit all about ColMar anyway.

  40. jon_hill987 says:

    I really enjoyed AVP2, but then I never played the first one so I didn’t have any preconceptions of the game.

  41. Alex says:

    I loved the second game. I felt that the atmosphere was pretty decent , if not as nightmarish and hopeless as the first game.

    The single player was fun enough to bring me to complete all three storylines, which is more than I can say for AVP1 , where i recall stumbling around in the dark, throwing flares at walls, and then quitting to go do something else.

    That said, the MP of AVP2 was probably the better part, I loved how you could be a young queen alien and just rush around stomping folks. Comedy gold.

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