When three mediocre games are jammed into a single package, the result is still mediocre. That's unfortunate, because Aliens vs. Predator is a game you want to love. It comes from the developer of the beloved first game in the AVP series, and like that game, it features three distinct campaigns with three somewhat differing styles of play. And of course there is the undeniable fact that predators and aliens are awesome, and the idea of controlling them in a game is just as awesome. But concept and nostalgia aren't enough to make Aliens vs. Predator worth playing, though certain moments will make you squirm in delight in spite of the game's noteworthy flaws. Sadly, the sight of the predator as he rips the spine out of his human victims is a short-lived joy because of the general clumsiness that invades almost every aspect of developer Rebellion's newest addition to the franchise. The recycled levels are poorly designed, control issues make playing as the alien a chore rather than a pleasure, and numerous minor defects weigh the whole experience down. Most importantly, Aliens vs. Predator's campaigns just aren't much fun, and while the multiplayer is somewhat better, it's unlikely to be your go-to online shooter.
Aside from its storied history, Aliens vs. Predator's main appeal is its three disparate campaigns, in which you respectively take control of a marine, an alien, and a predator. Each campaign has its strengths and starts well enough. The first two levels of the marine story, which plays as a fairly typical first-person shooter, are dark and creepy, making good use of atmospheric lighting to enhance the tension. Your first encounter with a creepy-crawly xenomorph is properly nerve-racking and will have you searching about in the dark, using your handy motion tracker to try to figure out exactly where it is (while trying to bear with the tracker's incessant beeping). Playing as the alien, your escape from the confines of a laboratory features some good old-fashioned bloody head-chomping, and there is some short-lived fun in crawling all over the walls and ceilings. And the predator offers his own delights. It can be fun to leap from surface to surface while you gaze down at hapless marines as they stroll underneath and you prepare for a gloriously disgusting kill.
But in each campaign, the thrill wears off quickly when you discover that Aliens vs. Predator botches a lot of the basics, and what seems thrilling at first becomes downright tedious as you struggle with poorly designed levels and gawky gameplay. For example, the dark thrills of the first marine levels give way to tedium once you leave the dark behind and enter jungles and temples, which are far less interesting and make shooting the grotesque xenomorphs no different from shooting up raptors in Turok--except that the levels are much more confined and straightforward. Eventually, you'll learn that the same trick in combat dispatches aliens almost every time: block their attack, smash them with a melee attack, and shoot them when they're down. This doesn't work when there are a lot of them, but it gets the job done more often than not. That doesn't mean the marine campaign is a cakewalk; some levels feature annoying choke points or give you too little room to maneuver, which makes certain sections feel more cheap than challenging.
The alien campaign is interesting at first, thanks to a number of cool abilities that are initially fun but ultimately can't compensate for some major mechanical malfunctions. For instance, it seems fun at first to crawl around on walls and ceilings, until the awkward controls suck all the pleasure out of it. You are supposed to hold the right trigger to scamper onto a wall, but in actuality, there's no consistency to wall- and ceiling-climbing. You'll crawl onto some walls and outcroppings willy-nilly whether or not it's what you intended to do. You'll try to activate one of the game's super-picky button prompts and jump onto a wall instead, or wrestle with the controls and camera trying to do something as simple as slither into a vent. You'll eventually learn to wield some control over the alien's fickle movement, but even then, moving around isn't all that enjoyable. You never feel in control of an actual creature; instead, it's as if you are floating just above the ground.
Sadly, the troublesome movement gets in the way of your sneaky attacks. It can be mild fun to get in position above an unsuspecting marine and pounce, but the unwieldy movement and haphazard level design make it much more enjoyable just to stay on the ground. For example, you might try to pounce from a wall onto a passing victim, only for a beam to get in the way and cause you to drop right in front of your enemy without doing a bit of damage. Yet as clunky as it gets, you'll have fun when everything comes together in just the right way. Playing as the alien is all about hit-and-run tactics, speeding close to your prey or ambushing him, and either taking him out with a swipe of your powerful tail or speeding away if the action heats up. Executing a well-planned attack can be fulfilling, though the game doesn't create many such moments, leaving you to make them of your own accord.
Like the alien, the predator relies on stealth to be most effective, and to that end, you can go invisible-ish and lead enemies to a designated spot by distracting them. You need to suspend your disbelief when distracting marines; they respond to your vile grunts with a cheerful quip like "I'm on my way," as if they heard a friendly call for help rather than the disgusting growls of a stalking menace. But the distractions are helpful, letting you position yourself just right to pull off one of Aliens vs. Predator's beautifully brutal trophy kills. You yank your foe's head and spine right out of his body, stare into his terrified eyes, and stroke the dangling bit of anatomy. It's gross in all the right ways and is the most satisfying aspect of the game's single-player experience. You commit similar atrocities as the alien, the best of which provide a terrific view of your victim's horrific end--from inside your own mouth.
Unfortunately, irritating mechanical and level design limits yank all the fun out of scurrying around (in the case of the alien) and leaping from one destination to the next (in the case of the predator). Some levels require you to move about only in ways the developer intended. You might want to scamper up and over an obstacle, only to run into an invisible wall or ceiling; and as the predator, you can leap to certain surfaces but not to others for reasons that don't always make sense. Why can you leap 20 feet to one spot, while you can't hop over a six-inch barbed-wire fence? There just don't seem to be any consistent rules in place, which makes the act of simply moving from place to place feel sloppy and unsatisfying. The inconsistencies apply to the AI as well. Enemy humanoids will do incredibly stupid things like take cover on the wrong side of a wall, exposing their backs to you. Sometimes, their ability to notice you even when you're camouflaged borders on the magical; other times, they're all but oblivious to your presence from two inches away. Civilians even run into the corner and cower with their backs to you in the alien campaign, clearly waiting to be harvested rather than making an authentic attempt to escape. Intelligence just isn't Aliens vs. Predator's strong suit.
The marine campaign avoids some of these pratfalls, instead falling victim only to its own lack of ambition. After the first excellent levels, the lights get turned on and rarely go off, and everything becomes tepid and ordinary. It turns out to be just another everyday shooter checking off the old cliches; like in so many other shooters, you're a rookie learning the ropes, guided by the voice of an unseen comrade, a device the game loves so much, it uses it twice. You would think that boss fights would increase the energy levels, and a battle that ends in a boss engulfed in flames hits exactly the right notes. Unfortunately, none of the other boss battles, from the easily exploited final boss of the marine campaign to the final battle of the predator portion, feel fierce or intense. That's too bad, because the story, while not exactly groundbreaking, does its best to establish some tension, and much of the voice acting is grand and dramatic. The alien and predator campaigns are less interested in narrative, but the viciousness of your actions and a few delicious cutscenes tell a tale nonetheless.
The game's online features are much more promising, for while they still suffer from some of the campaign's mechanical weaknesses, there's some pure fun to be had when you mix marines, predators, and aliens together. Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch give you a chance to mess with each species' strengths and weaknesses, and they successfully incorporate aspects of the single-player game, such as the energy nodes that predators use to keep their plasma casters charged. The game's sense of clumsiness hovers over matches, but it's still satisfying to play as a marine and successfully fend off a scurrying xenomorph as he moves in for the kill, even when the super-sticky targeting removes some of the edge from your victory. In Infestation, one player starts as the alien and converts his marine foes into fellow xenomorphs, while Predator Hunt is an advanced version of tag in which one player begins as the predator and seeks to make another player "it." These modes are the most fun, partially because they embrace the differences between species, rather than trying to incorporate them into something more traditional. The game even includes its own take on the ever-popular "kill off waves of enemies" co-op mode, here called Survivor. Survivor is not as exciting as what you'd find in similar modes in Gears of War 2 and Halo 3: ODST, but the two maps you play on capture some of the creepiness that characterizes the first two chapters of the marine campaign.
It's the little things that really drag the game down. Aliens vs. Predator seems to be a well-meaning attempt at reinvigorating a languishing series, but grotesque kills and some entertaining multiplayer moments don't cut it--not when so many slick and exciting shooters are on store shelves, vying for your time. The attention to detail, the well-considered level design, and the sense of momentum that characterize the finest shooters are missing here. Aliens vs. Predator is sometimes enjoyable but never escapes an overwhelming sense of carelessness, so while it may remind you of the good old days, it fails to recapture them.