A Stand-Up Fight, Or Another Bughunt

Like every good geek, I have a favourite gaming moment. It’s in Aliens Versus Predator, a vintage but oft-forgotten first-person shooter that gets mentioned by my games-hack peers about as often as the Pope says “are you sure this hat makes God happy?”

In 1997, I was a callow youth whose only real experience of the internet was having a friend who claimed he’d seen a naked picture of Jennifer Aniston on it. Playing AvP online was an impossibility, but, having finished all three of the singleplayer campaigns, I wanted more. AvP was/is a rarity in that it had a dedicated feature for folks who wanted infinite replay value without involving other human beings. Skirmish mode was not simply multiplayer versus bots. It was singleplayer without end – like a Superman ongoing comic, it was purely a Second Act, the origin already known and the story never truly concluding. (You could ‘win’ Skirmish mode by scoring enough kills, but as the default victory condition was 10,000 kills, it’s clear developers Rebellion knew full well this was about bloody glory, not success).

You know why you’re there – you’re a Marine, and you need to kill Aliens. And really, wasn’t that why I bought AvP in the first place? The loss of any set narrative didn’t matter a jot – Marines always suffer a horrible death in the end, so it’s just a matter of how many damned Xenomorphs they take with ’em. That was all my tale needed to be.

Except for one thing. One little detail Rebellion added to the ‘Stranded’ map that gave it a purpose of sorts. The map’s a long, rocky tunnel with occasional open areas; though not visually interesting, it’s dark enough to be creepy, and the perfect setup for a bughunt. Your situation is established instantly by having you spawn next to a crashed APC, then there’s a small drop that can knock off half your health if you get it wrong, but hand you a grenade launcher if you leap off at the right point. It’s the boost-start from Mario Kart but with high-explosives.

Once you’re down on the ground, the Xenos spawn continuously – as in James Cameron’s Aliens, there’s never more than half a dozen on-screen at once, but a replacement brings up the rear almost as soon as the front guy goes down, creating the illusion of infinite numbers. Not terribly good at strafing and headshots and all that vicious jazz at the time, I rarely made it far into the map, and at any rate presumed it was either an endless tunnel or a loop. Then one day, I made it much further than ever before. The last tunnel opened up into the largest area yet, a outdoor valley with no exit other than the way I’d come in.

In the middle, the only source of light in the place, was a bunker.

Shelter and defence was not a concept I was familiar with after several hours of being clawed to death in the great outdoors. Of course I ran for it without even considering anything else. It was pure cinema – the howls of my foes on either side as they tried to bring me down before I reached the door, the desperate clicking as my Pulse Rifle finally ran out of ammo, and, without a pause for thought or breath, taking in the inside of the bunker with one glance. A button. Press it. The door closes – not too slowly to mean death, but not too fast to drain any of the heart-in-mouth tension I was drowning in. [SHUMMM]. Closed! Safe! In, of course, the nick of time.

I remember smiling. I remember shouting arrogant obscenities at the Aliens skulking outside my tiny fortress. I’d won. I’d beaten the game. That’s what the bunker meant, right?

Sudddenly there’s light above me. It’s because the roof is gone. The Alien eyeballs me, standing stock-still for a moment. Then it hisses, and lightly drops into the bunker through the hole it’s just ripped through the ceiling. The hole I can’t reach to escape through. I gun it down, straight in the head, the body sliding to a halt right at my feet, claws outstretched and just an inch from ripping my gut out. There are more behind it, of course. I grimly keep on firing, but I know what this means. This isn’t victory. This is suicide. I’ve made the kind of textbook mistake someone always makes in an Alien movie. I’ve shut myself in, believing myself safe, but what I’ve really done is lock myself in with the beast. Game over, man. Game over.

I was delirously happy. I couldn’t possibly think of a more Aliens moment – and, whether they’ll admit it or not, that’s a movie that means more to men of my generation than any other. As kids, we quoted it endlessly, we practiced Bishop’s knife trick with maths compasses on school desks, we gaffer-taped plastic guns together… Seriously, screw Star Wars.

I still went back to the bunker after that, but with a different purpose now my Classic Movie Moment had played itself out. I was playing it in Skirmish mode again, this time knowingly locking myself inside and using the flamethrower in there (the only place there was one in this map) to incinerate as many of the buggers as I could before they got in. It was never quite the same as the first time I hit that button, utterly, smugly convinced of my triumph, but it was still Aliens – the only thing since Aliens, in fact, to really feel like Aliens.

I went back and played it again this evening, half a decade from my last time with it, and did exactly the same, and still with utter geek joy in my heart. The sudden appearance of that glowing bunker, a metal and concrete stairway to heaven, at the end of a long, dark tunnel is not an offer that can be refused, even when you’ve learned to know better a hundred times over. I’d kill far more Aliens if I stayed outside the bunker and chased a points victory, but an Alamo death means far more than beating the clock. I don’t need to fight the Alien queen, to control a powerloader or take off and nuke the entire site from orbit – I just need to be the last Marine left alive, fighting to the inevitable end.


  1. LlamaFarmer says:

    Hehe, sounds like a classic gaming moment. This is why I love games!

  2. Schmidt says:

    Articles like this are why I dearly hope RPS continues and thrives beyond the “Let’s see how this goes” phase.

    • Snooglebum says:

      This is me, speaking from sunny 2009. Yes RPS continues. And it THRIVES.

    • Premium User Badge

      Bozzley says:

      And this is me, speaking from what’s left of 2011. Kieron left. Adam Smith took his place. All is well.

    • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      Greetings from the far-off year of 2012. Duke Nukem Forever wasn’t worth the wait, but have hope! There’s a new X-COM that will pleasantly surprise you!

      • pagad says:

        Greetings from 2013! “Aliens: Colonial Marines” has finally been released, and is rather rubbish by all accounts.

  3. Andrew says:

    Bloody excellent.

    AvP is one of those games I always wish I’d got at the time. I played the demo of AvP2 and was disgusted to find that it was far more of a simple FPS, killing xenomorphs without much fear of death, than the original was touted to be – and I did play the demos of the original and was scared shitless by them.

  4. Si says:

    You know, I’d totally forgotten about this. Not AvP (as if that’s even possible), but Stranded on Skirmish mode. Oh the wasted hours. Do I recall that it was playable in multiplayer too? I seem to remember a friend reaching the bunker before me, and locking me out.

  5. MPK says:

    Being a Big Fat Alien Fanboy, my copy of the game has long since dissolved in drool. But I’ll always have the memories of Stranded.

  6. nabeel says:

    i LOVED avp, it’s one of my favourite fpses. i too wasted countless hours in skirmish mode.

  7. Timbo says:

    Inspirational! *Applause* AvP’s one of the finest and most atmospheric shooters ever made, and I’m sure anyone who’s played it has memories of a similar strength. As a previous commenter said: this is what’s great about gaming. Stories. Not the game’s narrative, but the stories we tell each other once it’s over. I personally love reading recollections like this one, like Destructoid’s regular ‘Memory Card’ articles. Hope to see more of them here. :)

  8. quese says:

    i remember that bunker. i think it had weapons and some ammo in it tough, right? so you can actually recover some ammo and escape from it again.
    shit that game was difficult as a marine. i remember playing it with a friend, saturday night, 3 am, and screaming in terror when a face hugger appeared in , well ,our faces.
    it´s a good example in how a game with a flaw (no saving inside levels) that added to the thrill of the game.

  9. Tom Armitage says:

    Yeah, the bunker was full of smartguns and pulse rifles.

    I too recall exactly the experience you describe – lunch hour, two of us playing Stranded in co-op skirmish, yelling our heads off as we were just swarmed by Aliens. Fantastic.

    My big first online crush, so to speak, was QuakeWorld TeamFortress, and watching every single TF2 video right now is giving me a huge huge grin. I cannot wait. They’ve thrown out all the remakes they were trying to do and gone straight back to the source material: fast, fun, big gibs. And refined it some.

  10. John P says:

    Ahhhhhhh, classic game. Also fucking scary though, especially as I was like 13 when it came out. I enjoyed how the three campaigns crossed over, so you’d see the Predator as the Marine then come to that same place in the Predator campaign and see the marine, etc.

  11. Grill says:

    We’ve so gotta play that in co-op again – it was one of my favourite maps too. I never managed to get a go on the single Alien/Predator versus a mass of humans (no-one online) but that sounded intriguing – did anyone try it?

  12. Tom Armitage says:

    Yeah – it worked best with about 1 Predator, a few marines, and maybe 1/2 Aliens. 1/1/lots doesn’t work as balance – the Aliens are very, very fragile. But obscenely powerful.

    Predator versus Marines (no aliens) is lots of fun on its own, if I remember. Yonks since I played it.

  13. Alec Meer says:

    Gril: next time you’re in Baff, let’s leave the women to gossip about how itinerant we both are and play some AvP LAN.

  14. Iain says:

    Stranded was my favourite skirmish map as well. It was about thirty attempts before I even realised that you could survive that initial drop and many more before I managed to reach the bunker alive.

    I had a similar horror moment when I got there too, as the damned aliens can crawl through the windows and you’re panicking like hell in close quarters with nowhere to go. After a while I abandoned that strategy and just ran like hell for the bunker, picked up the Minigun, found the nearest corner of the map and then just perched there, mowing down aliens until I ran out of ammo. Good times.

  15. Carey says:

    We’d planned to do an AVP sesh before. I always prefered the ‘Masacre’ level inside a ship, all vents and dark corners. But then i alwayed played as an Alien when playing AVP online so i loved crawling around in the dark spaces, lurking over some other player’s quivvering head then hitting the Hiss taunt key to freak ’em out before biting thier head off. Magic. Sod Baff Alec, let’s hook up a virtual LAN over Hamatchi and play sooner!

  16. fluffy bunny says:

    Wow, I’ve never really played AvP, never seen that map or that bunker, but the way you described it made me feel I was right there with you, all the time. Great stuff.

  17. Homunculus says:

    Disconcerting timeliness with this article; I just picked up the Alien “Quadrology” (hnnngh) yesterday. Makes me wonder if Gearbox’s forthcoming Aliens FPS will be able to hold a candle to this, or even capture the atmosphere of either of the first two movies, as anything outside of AvP has failed to accomplish. Man, I’d love a Stalker-esque game where you’re part of a Colonial Marine squad exploring an abandoned facility to investigate what happened, free to move about within the place at will, gradually piecing everything together whilst co-ordinating with the rest of your team.

    Although I’m more looking forward to Obsidian’s crack at a role playing game set in the Aliens universe.

    • chinook says:

      Ah, in 2006-2007 future seemed so bright. Now Obsidian’s Aliens RPG is canceled and we’ve got AVP 2: Requiem movie and Aliens: Colonial Marines *shudder* Such a shame when a seminal franchise like this gets such a disgraceful treatment. It deserves more!

  18. Homunculus says:

    Additionally: if anyone wants to have a go at setting up a RPS AvP multiplayer lark, I’d love to join in.

  19. Alec Meer says:

    This strikes me as a good idea. I’ll start planning something next week – would be wonderful to make this dead game sing again for an hour or two.

  20. The Sombrero Kid says:

    That article nearly brought a tear to my eye, i remember doing those things quoting hudson and being asked to do bishops knife trick on hard as nails bastards in my class, shitting myself incase i nicked them with the compass. AvP was awesome and got Aliens perfect.

    TBH AvP2 wasn’t that bad it was brave not to put any enemies in the first 3 marine levels, an atmosphere building feat only beaten imo by the cradle (but by an extreamly long way) & to try and recreate the real jungle stalking experience of the predator even if it did fail miserably.

  21. ShaunCG says:

    Looks like I’ll need a new copy of this (sold mine while at uni, fule that I am).

  22. Cian says:

    AvP was fantastic, playing as a bug on Subway was always great fun.
    Crouched up atop the skyscraper with your xenomorph chums, casually watching the frightened scamperings of the humans far below, then leaping the 100ft or so to land amidst them.

    And sneaking up on a cloaked Predator to snap off his head was always satisfying.

  23. Pod says:

    a) Can I play! Can I play!!

    b) Did anyone actually complete the AvP Marie missions besides Alec? I was honestly too scared to continue playing, and, much liik Doom, I’ve played the first two missions far to many times for me to want to have /another/ go at them, only to whimp out by the third of fourth one along!

  24. Grill says:

    I completed the Marine missions and the Alien missions on the Director’s Cut difficulty level(!) – couldn’t do the Predator, perversely, because he was too much of an all-rounder and his cloaking was useless against aliens; as soon as the Aliens attacked in large numbers, he was fecked.

  25. Grill says:

    Oh, and there’s nothing in gaming more satisfying than punching an Alien’s head open with the Predator. :D

    Alec, yes, we have to do that. I’ll have to try and find my copy somewhere…

  26. Cigol says:

    I frikkin love AvP. It’s just got the atmosphere down to a tee. So intense, so scary – it’s one of the few games ever that succeeded in making me fearful (and I don’t use that term lightly).

    The sequel was a fine first person shooter, but it wasn’t ‘aliens’. The switch to a conventional engine with conventional enemies (with hallmark behaviours) was certainly a detriment. Such a shame that shooters these days have to follow conventions in such a formulaic manner. AvP bucked the trend and was a real treat.

    Anyway it’s funny you should mention this as I wasn’t so long ago trying to re-live the AvP experience only to be greeted with graphic errors on my Nvidia card. Anyone else with the same nostaligic desires should be wary as there is no fix for this bug that I could find (and trust me I searched far and wide). Such a shame :(

  27. Chris Petersen says:

    Submitted for your perusal:

    link to blackcatgames.com
    link to en.wikipedia.org

    -and the soon to be sequel-

    link to blackcatgames.com

  28. Joe says:

    It really was an amazing game, wasn’t it?
    For me, it was all about our multiplayer LAN sessions at work. One person as the Alien, everyone else as Marines. Sitting on the roof of a corridor, not moving, watching your colleagues sweep the area with a motion sensor before moving slowly down the corridor, cautious, trying to make out what *that shape* is. It was always a great trick to hide in a corridor that had a bright opening at one end. The marines would always relax as they reached the end, thinking they were safe, and just before they reach it, suddenly it’s “MAN DOWN”, as you’ve managed to get into the ‘one click kill’ position above the head of the straggler. The exhilaration as you flee, dodging flames and bullets before resuming the hunt in another area.

  29. Winterborn says:

    As kids, we quoted it endlessly, we practiced Bishop’s knife trick with maths compasses on school desks, we gaffer-taped plastic guns together… Seriously, screw Star Wars.

    Oh hell yeah. I recall working out a complicated kinda live roleplay version of Aliens that we would play around the yards of mine and a neighbours house. Also watching all the Alien and Predator films(back when there was five) in marathons at friends places when I was probably far too young to be doing so.

  30. Bob Arctor says:

    Wow you must have sucked to not have made the bunker for ages heh.

    I completed the whole thing on Directors Cut. I could survive ages on Stranded, you can run round the arena backpedalling furiously with the flamer for quite a while as you ran so fast.

    For a while I got super reflexes as an alien and could zip around on all the walls like a mad thing, I was into that game.

    Unfortunately I never played MP, it was originally Wireplay, but by the time I got round to having a net connection on the gaming PC Wireplay was dead. Gamespy was the replacement, but on 56k that hunk of arse was like shitting a glacier.

  31. Rock, Paper, Shotgun - the PC gaming site says:

    […] games list isn’t limited to the games available on Steam. So should you wish to arrange an AvP engagement, just go to your My Games page, click Games at the top, and then “Add a non-Steam […]

  32. LlamaFarmer says:

    This article and the comments have made me really want to try out the game. I’d like a version that I could possibly play MP with some of you guys, if I get AvP Gold will I be able to do that? Or are the normal and gold versions not compatible multiplayer?

  33. Martin says:

    AvP rocked so much it’s not even funny. I’m going to dig up my copy right away!

  34. Rock, Paper, Shotgun - the PC gaming site says:

    […] of the situation. As an added benefit, it reminds me of the similarly impractical minigun in my all-time favourite FPS, Aliens Versus […]

  35. YogSo says:

    Cigol said:
    “Anyway it’s funny you should mention this as I wasn’t so long ago trying to re-live the AvP experience only to be greeted with graphic errors on my Nvidia card. Anyone else with the same nostalgic desires should be wary as there is no fix for this bug that I could find (and trust me I searched far and wide). Such a shame :( ”

    It took nVidia almost ten years to fix the bug, but with the beta drivers that were released just before Bioshock (sorry, I don’t remember the exact version number, but I’m sure you can google it as “nvidia bioshock drivers” or something) AvP is playable again with a modern nVidia card (series 6 onward).

    Now, if they just fixed somehow the bugs with the dark engine games (Thief 1/Gold/2 & SS2) as well… :(

    Back on topic… I’ve played a bit the Stranded mission and found the bunker, but I was too busy running for my life to notice there was a button in there to close the door! Amazing, I’ve got to try this!

  36. Al says:

    Heh. Stranded was a lot about the multiplayer too. Did you know that an alien player could destroy that switch and make the bunker unclosable?

    Incidentally, I seem to remember that the switch had a timer on it, so that after a while it could be opened again if you wanted to. It’s been a long time since we worked on it though ;-)

    And to prove I know what I’m on about – anyone ever discover the ‘off switch’ for the Xenoborg? It had a little blinking LED which we spent ages putting in. One bullet on that LED will shut the ‘borg down for good. As soon as you hear the ‘borg starting up, run right at it, fire a single shot at the LED and it’ll go down.

    As far as I know, no-one ever found that out ;-). Goes to show devs can be too-clever-by-half.

  37. Cibbuano says:

    Sweet… I remember this game in ’97… we used to play multiplayer at a netcafe, and it was oh-so-good to be the Alien and crawl along the ceiling, dropping down on unsuspecting Marines…

  38. Cigol says:

    Shweeet! I can confirm (as previously mentioned) that Alien vs Predator is now back to working with the latest nvidia drivers. Let the good times roll :) Oh and am I to understand one of the sadistic map makers has graced the comments screen? Well played AL, kudos to you!

  39. Rock, Paper, Shotgun: Alt-Tab To Hide Our Shame » Blog Archive » Aliens: Colonial Marines Has Quick-Time Events says:

    […] My undying love for the first AvP game means I’m reallyvery excited about Colonial Marines. That’s why I was so upset to spot this horror lurking within Games Radar’s brief summation of a playable build: “It has quick-time events. But, fortunately, instead of huge button-icons appearing on screen and destroying the brooding atmosphere, subtle colour-coded tinges to the edges of your view will alert you to a required button press.” […]

  40. Rock, Paper, Shotgun: Alt-Tab To Hide Our Shame » Blog Archive » Semi-Retrospective: Aliens vs Predator 2 says:

    […] 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 […]

  41. Sickeningly Rich Men | Rock, Paper, Shotgun says:

    […] in my confused, backwards head, Rebellion were still the plucky PC-centric Brit studio who made my beloved Aliens Versus Predator, and then fucked themselves right up with that abominable Judge Dredd game. […]

  42. Peter says:

    Oh! A truly gripping tale! Thank You for sharing this, it brought back memories of playing AvP years and years ago. I think Stranded was the only Skirmish map I truly liked. I also remember being scared shitless the first time I’ve played the game at night.

  43. Fumarole says:

    One of my fondest memories is playing AvP over a LAN. Last Man Standing is by far the best game type for LANs. One person is the alien or predator (we preferred alien), everyone else are marines. Each marine killed by an alien respawns as an alien – until every last marine is dead. Being the last marine left is quite harrowing and usually only last a few scant seconds. Being a masochistic group, we played levels favorable to the aliens – Hadley’s Hope & Subway mostly.

    Great article, it makes me want to fire AvP up again and relive some of those fantastic memories.

  44. Shellshock 2: Shellshockier | Rock, Paper, Shotgun says:

    […] was bought up by Sony. So this new one, Blood Trails, is being handled by Rebellion, they of Aliens vs Predator (woo!), Dredd vs Death (noo!) and Rogue Trooper (smaller woo!). Who, coincidentally, today were […]

  45. Aliens vs Predator Resurrection | Rock, Paper, Shotgun says:

    […] I am very, very excited. AvP – especially it’s increditastic skirmish mode – has long been one my favourite FPSes. The idea of it getting a modern do-ever has me all […]

  46. dOjo_Snake says:

    I am a no one to everyone here, but in my day, back on mplayer I was t.h.e best alien ever. Period. Finito.

    Thanks RPS for a little article that reminded me of my most uncouth youth.

  47. They’ll Regret That: AvP Multiplayer Frothing | Rock, Paper, Shotgun says:

    […] of judgement – and most especially I want to try out the new game’s interpretation of Skirmish mode, which sadly wasn’t in the build I played. A game I shall continue to follow keenly, […]

  48. ThisGlobeAfrica.com — Blog — Aliens vs Prequel says:

    […] A Stand-Up Fight, Or Another Bughunt […]

  49. Delayed Hat-Tipping: AvP Classic 2000 | Rock, Paper, Shotgun says:

    […] in proto-RPS days, I wrote about Skirmish’s curiously fulfilling futility – a rustily tense-hopping piece I suffer a […]