After lurking like a xenomorph in the shadows for a number of years, the Aliens vs. Predator franchise is coming back in grand style. Developed by British studio Rebellion, which was responsible for the classic 1999 instalment, AVP will be heading to the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC early next year, and we got a tasty treat when Sega finally let us get our hands on the game at a multiplayer event in London.
True to its roots, AVP features separate single-player campaign modes for each of the three species: marines, aliens, and predators. Set 30 years after the events in the film Alien 3, the game is based on a jungle planet dubbed BG-386, which the marines have attempted to colonise. Things don't go according to plan, and we're told the marine's single-player campaign will have a survival horror flavour to it, with a reliance on raw firepower to survive the alien and predator onslaught. Unlike the other two species, marines can perform only basic melee attacks (in addition to a block move), but if they time it right, they can repel an enemy long enough to give you a second chance.
Predators have ranged weapons, melee weapons, and gadgets, including a shoulder-mounted plasma caster, mines, active camouflage, thermal vision, and wrist blades. While the aliens lack advanced weaponry, they're not short on speed and agility. They're able to attach to most surfaces, including walls and ceilings, and they constantly sprint, so you need to get up close to perform a kill. With the ability to slash, bite, and impale your victim with your tail for a stealth kill, playing as an alien feels grisly and immensely satisfying. Things can get a bit disorienting if you're on a ceiling, but you can reorientate your view to the current surface with a button press.
We spent most of our time playing Deathmatch mode, and as fans of the original game, we think it nails the sense of dread and panic with aplomb. Deathmatch supports up to 18 players, with the goal being to rack up the most kills. Playing as the marine, we had access to a powerful assault rifle, which was more than capable of taking down an alien or predator, as long as you can keep them in your sights. You also have the marine's motion sensor on hand to detect approaching targets. Unlike the aliens, marines can sprint for only short distances, and you need to rely on raw firepower and your weapon-attached torch if you hope to survive.
The predator is the most instantly rewarding character to play as and felt like a good compromise between the marine's heavy weapons and the alien's agility. A focus mode allows you to jump to nearby platforms, such as tree branches, and we were able to dish out damage from afar using the plasma caster. It's tempting to hunt marines by hiding in a tree, activating your cloak, and then using the plasma caster's lock-on aiming for an instant kill, but it's equally rewarding to rush in for a bloodthirsty stealth kill with your wrist blades. While you're invisible to marines when cloaked and motionless, you need to watch out for xenomorphs who can see you. While all of the predator's weapons were unlocked for us during the demo, you'll need to find and collect these on multiplayer maps. Unlike traditional ammo, the predator's energy-based weapons drain your suit of power and need to be topped up at recharge stations. You can also heal yourself with health packs that require energy, and like in the Predator movies, this results in a bloodcurdling scream, so you might want to find a quiet place to hide before doing so. Marines and aliens have three health bar slots, and three health packs that each recharge one slot. You can also collect additional health packs scattered around the map during matches.
We also got to try out Infestation mode, which pits a squad of marines against a single-player-controlled alien. As each marine is killed during a match, he will respawn as an alien until there's just one last man standing. Thankfully, the solo marine will receive a heavy weapon drop to try to hold the aliens at bay until the end of the round. The level we played featured the ruins of a predator pyramid, and while its summit offered good views of the battlefield, it also meant we had to use teamwork to cover our 360-degree exposure. Lastly, we had a brief look at Predator Hunt, where you get to play as a group of predators hunting a sole alien. You're given a short match time of three minutes in which to find and kill the xenomorph and rack up the most kills on your team.
Naturally, one of our biggest concerns is that all three factions will be balanced, but from what we've seen, we're cautiously optimistic that Rebellion will get it right. The predator was the most satisfying to play thanks to his range of badass weapons and gadgets and the ability to jump from platform to platform. Meanwhile, the alien's stealthiness, lightning-fast speed, and ability to cling to walls and ceilings certainly makes for a different experience. The marines felt a bit underpowered in contrast to the other species; however, we only used the assault rifle and shotgun, and it sounds like there will be plenty of powerful weapons at their disposal in the final version.
In addition to Deathmatch, Infestation, and Predator Hunt, AVP will include a four-player cooperative Survivor mode for marines, which sounds similar to Gears of War 2's Horde mode. We'll have to wait until we can play this for ourselves, but fighting wave after wave of aliens sounds like a frantic experience.
Aliens vs. Predator will be unleashed in early 2010, and we're looking forward to exploring the three species in greater depth at another point in the future. Until then, check out our previous coverage, and stay tuned for more information in the coming months.