Here’s a small confession, upon which you’re free to judge me harshly. I absolutely adore the Alien vs. Predator films. Admittedly I’ve only seen them once, back to back whilst half cut late one night that soon slipped into a hazy morning, but then surely that’s how they’re meant to be watched. Hokey in the extreme, invoking the patchy late night philosophy of Von Daniken and full of glorious gore – the first is a film bold enough to pitch the Predator as a love interest, while the sequel evokes 80s video nasties with its out-and-out grimness.
Rebellion’s own Alien vs Predator series predates the films, of course – the first came out way back in 1994 on Atari’s Jaguar, while the 2000 follow-up on PC remains for many a highlight – and on the whole these are much classier affairs than their cinematic counterparts. It’s the 2010 outing that really struck a chord with me, though, perhaps because it shares so many traits with a good b-movie – opportunistic, slightly shabby but full of heart, it’s therefore the ultimate double-A game.
Part of the reason I love it is the circumstances around it – stepping up to fill the void left by Gearbox’s at the time highly anticipated Aliens Colonial Marines, Aliens vs. Predator is Rebellion doing what it does best; delivering solid, no-frills entertainment with minimum fuss. There’d end up being a whole lot of fuss about Aliens Colonial Marines, I’m sure you’ll recall, but even after all the noise had died down it was abundantly clear that Rebellion had turned in the better game.
What is it that makes it work? Partly it’s because it knows exactly what you want from an Aliens vs. Predator game and doesn’t muck about when it comes to delivering it. The pulse rifle pulses as noisily as you’d hope, the predator’s got all the gadgets you’d expect waiting for you to toy around with and the alien… Okay, the alien campaign wasn’t great, but the xenomorphs were certainly fun to shoot at and provided their fair share of scares, which is all that’s really important.
There’s a bonus cameo from B-movie royalty Lance Henriksen to help cement Aliens vs. Predator’s credentials (at least they got him to lend his voice – the character model looks like the Horniman walrus, its skin puffed out over what’s supposed to be Henriksen’s famously craggy face). In the midst of a straightforward shooter, there’s even room for a memorable set-piece or two – I love how an ambush in a nightclub manages to mash together elements of Aliens with The Terminator’s own TechNoir scene – and all three campaigns have the decency to never outstay their welcome.
Alien Isolation would of course come along a few years later to elevate the art of licensed game, but it was an entirely different beast altogether. Aliens vs. Predator belonged to another lineage, one in keeping with the shabby-sleeved VHS tapes which those hokey crossover movies evoked. There are better Aliens games, and there are even better Rebellion-helmed Aliens vs. Predator games, but none are as well-suited as drunkenly putting on to play when you really should be heading to bed – and surely that’s the mark of the very best double-A games.