Here in New York City, Sony has set up shop in a downtown art gallery to show off some upcoming first- and third-party PlayStation titles. Among the more impressive third-party games on hand was the PS3 version of Aliens vs. Predator. Developed by Rebellion and published by Sega, this first-person action title is heavy on tense atmosphere and even heavier on gore. What sets it apart from other games in the genre is how the campaigns are organized: you can play through three separate storylines as the Predator, the Xenomorph Aliens, or the Colonial Marines.
We were able to have a look at the very beginning of the Alien and Predator campaigns. Each has its own unique tutorial, shedding some light on just how differently each of these playable species will feel from one another. We'll start with the Alien campaign. This one begins with a delightfully morbid intro cinematic depicting a number of humans in a deep-space research lab. They're all strapped into chairs and pinned down by large tubes mounted over their chests. It's unclear at first what these are for, but then it happens: baby Aliens burst from the stomachs of these poor saps and safely into the tubes. (Well, mostly. Let's just say the guys who walked in to do cleanup duty weren't hoping to see an Alien burst from one of the corpse's mouths rather than inside the chest tubes.)
Flash-forward a bit, and you're playing as one of these Aliens at a slightly more advanced age. The scientists have you locked up in a viewing chamber, but something goes awry and you're introduced to your first taste of combat. As an Alien, darkness is your best friend. During the tutorial you're taught how to use your massive tail to knock out the overhead lights, luring a guard into the darkness and mauling him with your claws. You can also scurry around on walls and ceilings. To minimize this ability's disorienting effects, the reticle in the middle of your screen always points toward the ground.
If you effectively keep yourself cloaked under the cover of darkness, you can sneak around enemies and go in for a trophy kill. These are stylized kills that take longer to perform and leave you open to enemy attacks, but they offer a more vicious and rewarding viewing experience. Our favorite was the trophy that pulls the camera back behind your Alien teeth, giving you an in-the-mouth view of chomping the head off a poor human guard. Overall, the Alien combat style is entirely focused on short-range melee attacks, and you'll need to use your speed and wall-hugging abilities to their full effect if you want to combat enemies equipped with guns.
After the Alien intro sequence, we took some time to check out how the beginning of the game plays out for the Predator. This tutorial has you playing as a Predator youngblood, someone just learning the powers at his disposal. You're dropped into a giant pit, and your brethren toss in Xenomorph after Xenomorph to teach you basic combat. The Predator can attack with his wrist-mounted blades or use his shoulder cannon and specialty grenades. And rather than using the regenerating health of the Alien, the Predator has to take health packs that you twist apart and jam into your chest.
If you survive this youngblood trial by fire, you're dropped into your first real mission, which is to recover all the Predator technology from the Marines and destroy any of your fallen comrades you encounter along the way. You begin in a lush jungle, and you can leap effortlessly up to branches and platforms tens of feet above you. From this vantage point, you can create a distraction by mimicking a human voice, calling one soldier away from the other, and then use your invisibility cloak to sneak up behind either of these lone Marines. Why sneak up behind them? For the awesome trophy kills, of course. The Predator trophy kills run the gamut from ripping out the spine of a human enemy, to lifting him up by your wrist blade and listening to him gasp for air with giant puncture wounds in his chest. It's chilling stuff, but it's pretty entertaining if you can stomach it.
Down the road, the Predator has to storm his way into a Marine base housing some technology that has to be recovered. There are certain security measures in place restricting you from the really well-protected stuff, but there are workarounds. At one point, you have to go through a series of retinal scanners to proceed past a number of checkpoints. The solution? Find someone with clearance authorization, rip his head off, and carry it around with you for the rest of the level as you occasionally produce it from offscreen to trigger the scanner. Yes, this game is very much a hard M rating on the ESRB scale.
Altogether, Aliens vs. Predator looks horrifying and twisted in all the right ways. Since this was a hands-off demo, it remains to be seen how well these different species control, but we do know that they're entertaining to watch--and that's something. Expect to see the game released on February 16.