Preview

Aliens vs. Predator

"Remember: short, controlled bursts"

With Gearbox Games' tactical shooter Aliens: Colonial Marines still baking away in a development oven no-one's allowed to peer into, impatient fans of the long-running Aliens franchise are probably feeling as though Aliens vs. Predator (AvP) will arrive as something of a sloppy second. That said, after spending a portion of quality alone time with SEGA and Rebellion's all-action title at this week's GamesCom trade fair, were prepared to say AvP is shaping up as a promising franchise addition in its own right.

Expected to hit Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC (inc. Steam) in February of 2010, Aliens vs. Predator is attempting to carve an FPS niche of its own thanks to the inclusion of three narrative character campaigns (Alien, Predator and Colonial Marine) that overlap a la Pulp Fiction across the course of the game as a whole, culminating in a tie-up finale after around 12 hours of combined play time.

Having already teased expectant gamers in recent months with clips from the Marine and Predator campaigns, SEGA and Rebellion used their presence at GamesCom to debut footage taken specifically from the narrative's Alien portion.

All three campaigns nod generously in the direction of their respective 20th Century Fox movie franchises, and while the Marine campaign exudes a distinctly cloying run-and-gun Aliens feel (yes, the Pulse Rifle is there) and the Predator campaigns jungle exteriors are certainly befitting, the new Alien campaign footage is clearly taking its design and gameplay cues from David Finchers tragically underrated Alien 3.

As an Alien drone charged with harvesting host vessels for the singular sake of continued procreation, the player receives telepathic mission direction from the nearby Queen and must utilise a blend of agility and stealth in order to provide a steady stream of easy prey for the ever-creepy Facehuggers - which, while unseen, are never too far from the action.

Boasting a fisheye lens view that blooms and blurs at its outer edges, the Alien is quick moving and is capable of tackling any surface, be it floor, wall or ceiling. Helpfully, the onscreen aiming cursor is T-shaped and always points down towards the floor to help players gain a better grip on orientation when moving at speed. Powerful coiled spring that it is, the Alien is also capable of quickly hurling itself across distance and can home in on air-vent openings and cramped passages before leaping savagely to (and often through) its targeted position.

Helping encourage the use of effective stealth, Rebellion has also gifted the player with the advantages of a unique feral vision, which enables the Alien to perceive and track the glowing body auras of its prey through solid objects and obstacles. The creatures obvious power and savagery is expanded upon whenever it successfully applies environmental stealth to outwit patrolling Marines and is able to work its way close enough to perform a selection of extremely graphic close-quarter kills or Facehugger opportunities.

Moreover, the Alien can destroy manmade lights and power terminals interspersed throughout the closely confined, tunnel-heavy environment it hunts within, rendering areas dark enough to operate both silently and unseen. Of course, the Alien doesn't have it all its own way, and A.I. Marines equipped with the mobile illumination and deadly heat of flamethrowers can be equally as deadly; quickly gaining the upper hand in battle thanks to ranged targeting and blankets of fire.

The promise of layered gameplay and an original twist on conventional storytelling is made further appealing thanks to Rebellion's proprietary Azure engine, which has thus far created three wholly separate but believable campaign worlds that exude plenty of chilling atmosphere and ambience. With February 2010 still quite some way off, unrealistic blood spatter is forgivable, as are somewhat blocky character models during close-up kills and the Alien's slightly floaty hands when scurrying on all fours.

As things stand, Aliens vs. Predator looks surprisingly good given it's not really been embraced as 'one to watch' by the gaming community in general or many of the industry's media representatives (this writer included). With several months left before it arrives at retail, we're certainly earmarking Rebellion's triple campaign approach as a particularly dark horse when it comes to those games that pop up and surprise everyone. Throw in online support for up to 18 players, a full four-player co-op mode, a Marines vs. Aliens endless spawn mode, three team modes, and a versus mixture mode, and Alien vs. Predator might just be a bona fide chestburster come the early part of next year.

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