AvP Retro: A Stand-Up Fight Or Another Bughunt

Every Sunday, we reach deep into Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s 141-year history to pull out one of the best moments from the archive. This week, Alec’s 2007 celebration of the real meaning of Aliens, in (the original) Aliens versus Predator.

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 nets 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.

18 Comments

  1. DrGonzo says:

    I’ll be that guy and point out this isn’t the original AvP :)

    • airmikee says:

      It’s the original PC version, but you’re right, there was a SNES, Gameboy, Arcade, and Jaguar64 version before the PC game.

      • Tuhalu says:

        The Arcade AvP game was great. Played the heck out of it. It probably didn’t hurt that I was a teenager when it came out and coins were precious and severely limited. There were three of us that played together and tried to beat the whole thing on one coin each.

  2. melnificent says:

    This was my first proper online experience along with Quake. I still wish for a game to give me the movement and weapon set of the aliens. I don’t want guns, I want to be able to dash out of a vent and stab a marine through the head with my tail and run off up the wall into darkness while his buddies are panicing about what just happened.

    I want to be vulnerable to other players by having no distance weapons, but make up for it with terrifying speed and the ability to appear from literally anywhere.

    The later AvP (and aliens) games tried to push story and marines/predators to the foreground. Aliens were left to just be the enemy. Eventually being removed as a playable option altogether. Really it’s all about the kill, why is not important.

    • airmikee says:

      The only AvP game I’ve ever played was the Jaguar64 version, which included play as the aliens. They were the hardest to master, but the most deadly of the three.

    • Zetetick says:

      Hey, sounds like you might get a kick out of ‘Natural Selection 2’
      Lotsa Monster Goodness |:P

    • drinniol says:

      Er, you could do that in the AvP game talked about in the article. And in AvP 2. And in AvP Remake.

      • melnificent says:

        I was talking about the AvP mentioned in the articles, but AvP2 and the remake didn’t capture the aliens properly from the first game.

  3. Phantasma says:

    I’m still waiting for a worthy successor for this one.
    After Alien: Isolation there might even be a glimmer of hope again.
    Sega, do something.

  4. bill says:

    I installed this last month after getting it free in the GOG Galaxy test. They wanted us to test the online component for them, and I’d never played it online originally, so I thought I’d better try a quick bit of Skirmish (on Stranded) just to remember the keys.

    2 hours later I realised I was still playing stranded, hadn’t done the washing up and hadn’t gone online. You know what, it was actually really fun and I enjoyed it a lot more than a lot of other games I played this year.

    I tried out the online component to say thanks to GOG (worked easily, was actually pretty fun, I died every 5 seconds though).
    I also started a single player playthough and was enjoying it quite a bit. The graphics don’t matter once you start down a dark corridor, with the ping of the motion sensor, throwing flares into the darkness, and with the aliens moving so fast anyway.

    But god, I don’t remember the player (marine) movement being so fast! I kept missing turns and found myself focusing more on skidding around corners than shooting.
    Plus, I don’t remember the video acting being that bad.

    Great game though.

    • AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

      Man, I couldn’t get it to connect, and I still don’t know if it’s something I did wrong or if it was on GOG’s side. I just couldn’t find any servers…

      • bill says:

        There were only 5-6 servers, but they just showed up in the in-game server browser and connecting was just a case of picking one. (for me).
        I haven’t tried again recently, so I don’t know if they are still around.

        You had to launch it with the gog launcher option and I think you needed to sign into your account.
        Was fun. Was crazy fast. I was terrible, but luckily everyone else was terrible too.

    • KenTWOu says:

      But god, I don’t remember the player (marine) movement being so fast!

      The game is fast. That’s why John Woo cheat was/is so glorious.

    • FuriKuri says:

      Plus, I don’t remember the video acting being that bad.

      Seems that the re-released digital versions actually are different to the original release in this regard – and unspeakably terrible to boot. So rest assured it’s not just your memory misleading you.

  5. Mezmorki says:

    Whow
    .
    .
    Yeah. In my younge days I had a LAN party with some of the boys out in a barn in the dead of summer with all the doors open. There were 8 of us I think. We played AvP for some unspeakable amount of time straight. Days it seemed. It was glorious.

    I remember playing a lot of that co-op mission, but even more more with 4 or 5 marines vs. 2 aliens vs 1 predator. amazing.

    • cpt_freakout says:

      When I also was a young ‘un this and AvP2 were some of the most fun I had with my friends. I used to play an Alien, I just loved the sheer speed and making those playing marines suffer by moving into a dark room and hiding somewhere nice. They got super nervous and whenever they took the time to yell something at me I rushed them and ate their damn heads, haha. It was, like you say, glorious indeed.

      The last remake of AvP, the one that also came out in consoles, was not half bad when it actually worked. One of my friends with which I had played the original in PC got it for his 360 and insisted I do the same, so I did. We were really excited about the whole thing, and while it wasn’t as incredibly fun as the first time around, we really had a good time and had to develop several tactics to counter each species. What ruined it completely was the matchmaking and all the connection problems the servers had – we would take like half an hour to find and get into a game, play for 15 minutes and have lots of fun, and then back to the stupid, broken matchmaking for another half hour to forty minutes to find another game. After a couple weeks, we gave up, but I do think that while they didn’t get the multiplayer completely right, they were on the right track.

  6. Emohawk says:

    I loved this map. Me and a friend would play weekly. We almost found a rhythm that would keep us alive too.
    It was initially a rush to the bunker. Stay alive and keep running through the rocky tunnels until we could get to the bunker, and then grab as much ammo and weapons as we could carry. You can’t survive in the bunker though, so we’d have to head towards the back of the valley to a small cave which could be defended indefinitely. The only issue: the cave has no ammo!
    When one of us was running low on ammo, the other would provide cover for a daring run to the bunker to grab supplies. This was always difficult as the bunker by this point would be open to the elements and aliens would stream towards it. At this point I was relying on my team mate to keep the critters off me long enough to grab clips and haul ass back to the cave.
    Eventually one of us would get picked off on a supply run. It was all about how long we could survive. One of the best multi-player experiences I’ve ever had. Great game!