Thursday, January 24, 2008

Retro Review: Alien vs Predator (Arcade)

In an attempt to readdress the balance of retro and modern content on the blog, I am planning to devote an entire month to nothing but retro reviews. I'm not sure quite when this will happen - I was hoping for February but it's looking more likely that it will actually take place in March. This will be aided by the arrival of my GP2X in early February, a wonderful little handheld machine that can run a vast array of emulators and homebrew games.

In the meantime I am going to take a break from reviewing recent releases this week and instead concentrate on an arcade title by Capcom - Alien vs Predator. There have been several attempts at the licence over the years including the Atari Jaguar and PC game by Rebellion, and I have to say the games usually fair better than the rather dreadful films. Capcom were famous for their arcade scrolling beat 'em ups, in particular Final Fight, but they released many more after that, and AvP is one of the later ones. Let's take a closer look shall we?
Note: Criteria such as graphics and sound are judged against other games released at the time on comparable hardware, and not on today's next generation machines.

Format: Arcade (CPS2 board)
Manufacturer: Capcom
Genre: Scrolling Beat 'em up
Released: Worldwide
Year: 1994

Graphics: 8 out of 10
AvP does a good job of portraying the face huggers, chest bursters, alien warriors and predators that we're familiar with from the films, but also goes one step further by adding several new alien types which actually feel a whole lot more authentic than anything the film sequels have attempted to introduce. These include smashers with a larger forehead area to headbutt you with, defenders with armour plating on their heads, arachnids that scuttle around like spiders. and more. One of the four playable characters in the game is Major Dutch Schaefer, the character played by Arnie in the original Predator film, and it does indeed look like him, except he's now got a large robotic arm attachment to help him pummel his enemies.

The atmosphere of both the early Alien movies and Predator have also been captured in other ways throughout the game - you will see Weyland Yutani billboards in the background, and the Predator characters have their triangular targeting system, spears and discs. Animation is also of a very high quality, with large sprites movingly fluidly across the screen.

Sound: 8 out of 10
The authenticity of the graphics is also carried into the sound, with many sound samples coming directly from the films - for example the pulse rifle sounds exactly like it did in Aliens, and the roar of the Predator is spot on. The music is passable stuff but they don't use any of the movie score, it's all made up of original compositions.

Here you can see the Predator Hunter taking on a legion of angry Xenomorphs.

Game Mechanics: 7 out of 10
By this stage in the lifespan of the arcades, the scrolling beat 'em up genre was starting to feel a little tired, and unfortunately Alien vs Predator doesn't really come up with any clever new tricks to freshen it up. For example, both Dungeons and Dragons: Shadow over Mystara and Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder featured branching stages so you could choose a different path through the game the next time you played, which AvP unfortunately lacks. It also only supports two players, rather than the three or four player cabinets that Konami fighters like Teenage Mutant Nina Turtles and The Simpsons made popular.

You can choose from two human characters (the big, slow Dutch or the quick and nimble Linn Kurosawa) or two Predators (a Hunter or a Warrior) and the progress through stage after stage of button bashing mayhem against a variety of enemies. As well as aliens you will also be up against the army, humans who are incubating aliens (their cries of "Kill me!" is very disturbing), and the odd infected Predator or two. There is a large range of weaponry, but you can only use a weapon for a very short period of time before it breaks or runs out of ammo, and there's also a lot of breakable scenery in every stage that either contains said weaponry, health giving items or gems that give you points.

There's no doubt that this type of game is much more fun to play in multiplayer and AvP is no exception - playing on your own can start to feel rather repetitive towards the end of the game, but with a friend you can race to pick up the best weapons or team up against a particularly tough boss. All in all, AvP isn't the worst game in it's niche genre by any means, but it's some way short of the best as well. Fans of the movies that it's based on will probably love it, however

Here you can see Dutch facing off against a military general in the famous powerloader from Aliens.

Innovation and Cleverness: 5 out of 10
The various elements of the Alien and Predator films have been implemented in quite a clever way (certainly far better than the recent cinematic travesties), but by the time this game was released the scrolling beat 'em up template was definitely starting to show it's age.

Value and Replayabilty: 5 out of 10
Another average score here I'm afraid, because there is really only one path through the game, and you will probably start to tire of the constant alien smashing by the end of one playthrough any way. Being a fairly elderly arcade title does have an advantage however, as many of today's machines can run the game via the MAME emulator perfectly.

Overall: 6 out of 10
If you are a fan of the early, decent movies then you will definitely enjoy AvP, at least until repetition sets in and you start to nod off. Unfortunately there's only so far this genre can go, and this game doesn't even go that far. For a real prime example of the best that this genre can offer, check out Guardian Heroes on the Sega Saturn, which features branching levels, gaining levels and XP RPG style, tons of unlockable characters, a six player multiplayer mode and even more innovative touches.

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