Hands-on: Aliens vs. Predator 2

We played the scary sequel to 1999's atmospheric shooter and lived to tell the tale. Details inside.

Developed by Monolith Productions, Aliens vs. Predator 2 will be a first-person shooter that lets you play as either of the famous alien pop-culture icons. For good measure, you can also become a human space marine. The original PC game was published in 1999, and developed by U.K.-based Rebellion. While the sequel isn't being handled by the same company, fans of the original Aliens vs. Predator will find that the new installment stays very true to the original's distinct feel. We finally had a chance to play a version of Aliens vs. Predator 2 from the show floor, and have experienced both its single-player and multiplayer modes. Here's what we've learned.

Like its predecessor, Aliens vs. Predator 2 will feature three distinctly different campaigns, starring each of the respective characters described above. However, unlike in the original, the campaigns in Aliens vs. Predator 2 promise to have more context in them--some felt the single-player levels in the original seemed too disjointed. Furthermore, many also felt the original game was too hard, mostly because it didn't let you save during missions. The developers eventually produced a patch to address this, while the sequel will readily let you save progress at any time. The E3 demo of Aliens vs. Predator 2 offered just the human campaign, which begins with your having to infiltrate an infested colony. You need to locate various control stations to clear the path for your allies in an armored personnel carrier--the vehicle is too big to get into the installation until you unlock the front gates. Of course, soon enough you discover aliens lurking around. You'll square off against conventional alien warriors, but also "runner" aliens, which scamper along the ground like dogs.

Aliens vs. Predator 2 features mostly the same exact arsenal as the original game; we didn't get to see any new special powers or abilities for any of the characters. As before, the alien's primary attack is its claws, and it can also fight with its bladelike tail. In addition, if you get an enemy's head right in the middle of your view, you can slay him instantly with the alien's powerful jaw attack--which has the added effect of restoring the alien's health. You can use the jaw attack even on the prone bodies of slain foes, which is essential, since the alien can't gain health back any other way. The alien has a couple of alternate modes of vision, enabling it to see in the dark and to detect its foes more easily. This makes it best suited for lurking in shadows, lying in ambush for unsuspecting victims. Of course, the alien is also extremely fast--and it can climb over any surface.

The predator is slower than the alien, but much more heavily armed. His close-range blade attack is deadly, but his true power lies in his shoulder cannon, which can lock onto his targets for an unavoidable energy strike. The predator also wields a powerful spear gun. His alternate modes of vision let him respectively target alien and human foes more easily (the latter of which produces the rainbow color spectrum effect as seen in the movie), and the predator can also use a zoom feature for sniping.

The human marine has the infamous motion sensor as seen in the movie Aliens, and can also toggle a night vision view. His combat knife won't be of much use except as a last resort, but his standard-issue pulse rifle can rip aliens apart in no time, and can also seriously hurt a predator. The marine may also gain access to the extremely powerful smart gun--a huge weapon that automatically trains on its targets; even fast-moving ones, such as aliens.

Aliens vs. Predator 2's multiplayer mode felt very familiar--the dynamics of the action seemed extremely similar to those in the original. Actually, this made the E3 demo of Aliens vs. Predator 2 somewhat underwhelming, as the game didn't really demonstrate any features that weren't found in the first game. The graphics in the sequel are improved, but even these currently suffer from inconsistent frame rates. Hopefully the campaigns in Aliens vs. Predator 2 will be worthwhile and the graphics will improve before the game's release later this year.

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