One of the big calling cards of Aliens vs. Predator is that the single-player experience is split into three distinct campaigns. Rather than play as a colonial marine throughout the entire story who is dealing with the ominous threat of aliens crawling overhead or predators eager to separate your spine from your torso the whole time, you play as all three species over a trio of different stories. That buffet of options extends into the multiplayer side of the game as well. A number of modes pit all three races against one another at the same time, with each side using its wildly differing abilities to make sure the other side leaves this world in the nastiest way possible.
There's a certain rock-paper-scissors element to the three species. The alien is the quickest and has the ability to scurry on every surface you can think of, but its attacks are purely what-you-see-is-what-you-get. There are no power-ups or extra items lying around for the alien to use: It's all a matter of crawling around and clawing your enemies to death. The predator can cloak itself to perform a pounce-attack from a great distance, but it spawns with no weapons in-hand and has to seek out whatever gadgets he wants to use without dying. Then, there's the marine, who obviously suffers from being human and not a ferocious monster. But thanks to man's thirst for science (or more specifically using science to destroy things), the marine has an intimidating arsenal of assault rifles with grenade launchers, shotguns that can fire from both barrels at once, a smart gun that automatically targets enemies for you, and a flame thrower. In short: Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.
What surprised us the most from our hands-on time with the multiplayer was the fact that each species feels very different in its movements and abilities, but the control scheme linking them all together is surprisingly consistent. This was one of Rebellion's big goals in the game, considering you'll frequently switch between species as soon as a new match loads, and in some cases, within the same match. Rebellion has done this by mapping similar abilities to the same buttons. So you'll use the same buttons for basic things like ranged attacks, melee strikes, and healing, but even the more complicated moves like leaping from ledge to ledge or pounce-attacking from afar (as both the predator and alien can do) are achieved with the same two-button commands.
In terms of game modes, you'll find some that seek to balance each species, some that place the focus squarely on one of them, and others in between. The usual Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes let you play around with the aforementioned rock-paper-scissors aspects of each species in what's basically a killing sandbox. The Mixed Species Team Deathmatch mode, however, lets you team up with other species to trade in canonical authenticity for some opportunities that provide very interesting tactics. Playing as a predator with a marine for a teammate? Team up and use your thermal vision to spy out hidden enemies then have your buddy roast them with the flame thrower.
But the two that really stand out among the competitive multiplayer options are Infestation and Predator Hunt. Infestation starts with one alien and a whole bunch of marines then turns every one of those humans into aliens when they get killed. The endgame winds up being a tense last-man standing with one person surrounded by xenomorphs lurking in the dark. Then, there's Predator Hunt, where one player assumes control of the predator as it seeks to rack up points by killing off marines. The twist, though, is that there's a time limit to how long you can remain the predator, and if you die, you relinquish predator status to the one that just killed you.
Finally, there's another multiplayer mode called Survivor. It's a take on the familiar survival/horde mode wherein players must fend off wave after wave of AI-controlled enemies. That much we've seen before. What makes this version feel a bit different from others before it is the distinct Aliens atmosphere. A team of player-controlled marines must fend off aliens scurrying in on the ground, walls, and ceilings. Survivor maps often place the marines under a pool of faint light, with the aliens coming in from the dark corners in a flurry of teeth and claws. Knowing those aliens are hidden off in the black abyss can be a terrifying feeling, and the fact that you have to quickly dash out there for health packs and additional ammo certainly doesn't alleviate the feeling.
Aliens vs. Predator looks like it should offer up a well-rounded package with the three different campaigns, competitive multiplayer, and Survivor mode. We'll see how the whole thing comes together when the game is released on February 16.