Preview

Aliens vs. Predator

In space, no one can hear you blip

Blip, blip, blip, blip. That motion sensor in the corner of your screen is going to be important. Blip, blip, blip, blip. That slow electronic rat-a-tat getting quicker as it detects movement on your periphery. 41 metres. 31 metres. 21 metres. Christ. Its nearly here! There's something inevitable about it, but it gets me every time, adding wonderfully to the already knife-edge tension when your standing in the marine's brave-if-vulnerable shoes.

Atmosphere is at the heart of the singleplayer experience we recently spent a few hours with, and this for the most part hinges on the marine's vital motion sensor - which detects anything organic within a certain range. They are out there, but Rebellion know better than to throw them at you head on, en masse, rather dark claustrophobic corridors combine with expertly controlled pacing and audio to make the sense of fear palpable. Blip, blip, blip.

Aliens vs. Predator may ostensibly be a remake of the old FPS hit, but Rebellion seem very comfortable once again stepping up for development duties, and the advent of new hardware has clearly worked wonders. The character models are lavishly detailed, while the environments move seamlessly from tight space colony bases to dessert-like exterior landscapes. The diversity, even in the early levels experienced for this hands-on report, is impressive, while the attention to detail - even in the close-quarter confines that could have easily become repetitive - is obvious from the outset.

Playing as the human character class and stepping into the marine's hefty boots, we assume the role of a rookie - sent along for a (bumpy) ride following a surprise attack on a Weyland Industries spacecraft. Down on the surface, a human outpost has been overrun with 'bugs' (a somewhat disrespectful term for the vile and terrifying aliens) and it is up to our shook-up marines to investigate. Thrust into the darkness, we're left alone to carry out mission objects, exploring the derelict structure using flares and torchlight that never provides quite enough illumination.

Motion-sensing Mr. Blippy, then, is going to prove very important indeed, while the aliens themselves slip in and out of the shadows or move behind walls, occasionally picked-up by our sensor. That the atmosphere is so strong is quite appropriate, Rebellion having focussed on what made the earlier Alien and Aliens films so good - borrowing less than from the later Aliens vs. Predator flick despite its titular and narrative influence.

The human campaign, in which you'll play as a marine, is the main focus for the singleplayer experience - characterisation and plot playing a far more important role than when playing as an alien or a predator. The story may be heavily informed by the various films in the cannon, but everything seems to fit together well, the immersion rarely interrupted by poor dialogue or a story faux pas in the extracts I've played so far. A few faces familiar to fans of the films and comic books will pop up along the way; an intense if linear tale to be expected.

Classic weapons like the Pulse Rifle and Smart Gun are included, while the premise is once again all about setting up a 'haunted house' scenario, the marine facing-off against both alien and predator foes: feeling the horror of his inadequacy against these monstrous hunters. The human campaign, then, is seemingly all about survival, although first-person cut-scenes will offer plot elements and enrich the characterisation along the way.

Of course, while the alien and predator classes use alternative, super-human powers and technologies to wage war, they're strengths are based on stealth and brutality, a far cry from the traditional defensive weaponry of the marine, who must keep aliens at distance in order to avoid the lethal 'molecular' acid blood. The predator and the alien are more capable of dramatic bloody kills, which could further set Aliens vs. Predator apart from other, more 'gun-focussed' first-person shooter experiences. The predator does have guns, of course, but in a clever nod to the films Rebellion will encourage players to pull off trophy kills, decapitating enemies using the lethal razor-sharp discus within the predator's armoury.

The singleplayer experience, then, is built around a predominantly human-focussed story, which can be experienced in part through the eyes of non-human rivals (if the other campaigns are opted for at the outset). Conversations will be overheard, and the mission objectives will alter, but there will be (obviously) less characterisation and a somewhat diminished sense of a wider story-scope. The real joy of these alternative classes could come in the game's sizeable multiplayer modes, it seems, each class enjoying very unique attributes that should make for some fascinating tussles. The predator, for example, comes equipped with a shoulder cannon and a heat-sensing scope, while the alien can also detect movement, and must lurk in the shadows waiting for prey to dissect with tail, claws and hideous inner and outer jaws.

What comes through more than anything else, having played the game, is the sense of atmosphere and outright fear, the focus on setting and controlled action that should see fans of the series in raptures. What remains to be seen is how well the singleplayer as a whole will pan out, and how the gameplay itself can compare with the many excellent examples of the genre already available.

We'll be reviewing the completed Aliens vs. Predator as the mid-February launch on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 draws near.

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