If you’re a typical game player, you already know the story and concept behind Aliens versus Predator. You’ve seen the movies, read the comic books, played with the toys, and maybe even helped Jesse Ventura become governor of Minnesota. In 1994, Rebellion software created what is generally considered to be one of the ill-fated Atari Jaguar’s best games and the definitive use of the license to date, Alien versus Predator. Five years later, the company has remade the game for the PC, bringing half a decade of technology and gameplay advancements to bear on its previous effort, and the result is excellent.
On the surface, Aliens versus Predator is a 3D action shooter of the old (pre-Half Life) school: Armed with a variety of weapons you doggedly, repeatedly move from point A to point B, killing anything in your way, riding on elevators, and flipping lots of switches. Where the game deviates from the norm, and succeeds beyond expectations, is in its rendering of three distinct viewpoints and its effective re-creation of the film series’ unrelieved sense of dread.
Each of the game’s three characters – the titular Predator and Alien, and the hapless human Marine – has his own plot, composed of six levels (five in the case of the Alien). The story portion of these campaigns, though, is virtually missing; the levels have little continuity between them, except for a vague sense that you are traveling from one connected place to another, and equipment acquired on one level does not carry over to the next. Luckily, a lack of coherent plot is not as much of a liability for Aliens versus Predator as it would be for almost any other game, because the history and motivation of each main character are understood implicitly, as they are simply part of the pop-culture landscape. The entire game is essentially a series of set pieces designed to evoke a mood of anxiety and lurking terror. And this Aliens versus Predator does very, very well. Emerging from a cramped hallway into total darkness, scattering a few flares around to discover that you’ve entered a five-story hangar containing a huge alien ship, then hearing your motion detector scream to life as something starts to move in the pitch blackness is an experience in horror unrivaled in gaming.
The engine that brings this all to life is not exactly state of the art, but is close enough to more than adequately render the game’s environments. The developers have wisely chosen to focus their attention on effective lighting: Fluorescents crackle to life in response to your entering a room, flashing red lights accompany warning klaxons, and hissing flares bathe dark areas in an eerie white glow. The corona effects made popular by Unreal are here in abundance, and if strobing, colored lights are sometimes overused, they remain true to the Alien films, which share a similar fascination with mood-heightening, seizure-inducing lighting schemes. The levels take place, for the most part, in assorted military installations, with occasional forays into alien hives and the familiar tall canyons that pass for outdoor scenery in most shooters. More often than not, though, the locations are interesting and filled with enough architectural surprises, bric-a-brac from the various films, and cool extras (like glimpsing spaceships rumbling past windows), to ensure that the environments remain exciting. The game is especially successful when rendering derelict Alien spacecraft. The recreation of H.R. Giger’s sleek design is almost flawless, from the enormous, curved hulls to the overtly erotic entryways.