What Went Wrong: Aliens vs Predator (2010)
Aliens vs. Predator (AvP) bore the weight of heavy expectations, despite following two very poor attempts at AvP movies. News of the upcoming movie, Predators, had anticipation building, and then AvP had been banned in Australia for being far too violent. Ever the morbid kind, gamers everywhere took this as good news. If the game was violent enough to get banned, developer Rebellion must have pulled out all the stops to make up for the travesties of the teen-friendly movies.
Let's not forget the merits of Rebellion. Granted, one has to wonder how the developer continued to get work after creating Rogue Warrior, Rebellion has made a few genuine hits, including Medal of Honor: Underground. More significantly though, Rebellion was the developer behind Aliens Versus Predator (1999) for PC, and Aliens vs Predator (1994) for Atari Jaguar; often considered the only reason to own a Jaguar. While not the best at naming their games, Rebellion should have had the experience to pull off a third attempt.
Creatively speaking, there is an impressive pedigree behind AvP. Alien and its sequel, Aliens, are respectively held among the top horror and action films. Predator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, is generally regarded as a very good action film, though the Predator itself has achieved far more fame, becoming just as recognizable as the iconic Alien. Even the Aliens vs. Predator comics, first published by Dark Horse Comics in 1991, set the bar for quality crossovers. A modern mashup that lets players take control of Aliens, Predators, and Colonel Marines should have become sci-fi dream come true, but it all went horribly awry.
The Marine campaign is probably the most consistent of the three, but it is by far the most generic. The controls define cookie-cutter: the only distinguishing feature is that it's probably the first FPS in a while to not make use of the iron sight feature, which makes the game feel dated. The early portions of the campaign are incredibly tense, as you find yourself alone and stranded in a terraforming colony. Rebellion make good use of darkness, the blip of your motion sensor, and long periods of inactivity. As the action ramps up, though, the campaign loses its main strength; your vulnerability and subsequent fear.
The Predator campaign adds some new features; the wrist blades for combat, the stealth cloak, the shoulder cannon, and long range jumping. Overall, though, the campaign is much the same, except you can sneak up on people. As much fun as the new toys were, clumsy controls ruined the experience at every turn. I doubt a real Predator would try to shoulder cannon someone's head off, but accidentally drop a mine and detonate it.
Finally, the Alien campaign is probably the least successful of the three. Rather than sneaking up on someone, stealthily dropping down behind them and taking them out quietly like I planned, I frequently ended up just in front of them, stuck to the ceiling and frantically running in small circles trying to drop down and attack. Terrifying. While it's kind of cool the first few times, as both Alien and Predator, to eviscerate the poor humans, it gets old quickly and is just violence for the sake of it. The original movies, especially in the Alien series, were shocking, and this aided the terror. AvP just wants to be shocking.
The graphical representation of the creatures and the world is definitely one of the high points of the game. While the Alien sometimes looks a little off (a side effect of being completely black, I think), the Predator looks incredible. The model and texture detail, as well as quality lighting, truly bring it to life. The human characters, on the other hand, animate with all the enthusiasm of a Thunderbirds puppet. The models and textures are great, but their faces are lifeless, and that's before you tear out their spines. The much anticipated DirectX 11 features were a letdown. Tessellation means that the odd shape of the Alien's head looks smoother, and advanced shadows look more natural, but the enhancements go largely unnoticed during play, making them pointlessly taxing on your system.
Multiplayer was what everyone craved most. Despite a decent range of game-types and maps, the multiplayer suite wasn't isn't compelling enough to keep many people playing. Infestation was among the best; one player begins as an Alien, and as it kills Marines, players respawn as Aliens. If that's not intense enough, the last Marine standing must survive for 30 seconds to win the game.
Not much else had changed in the past 15 years, and there was no spark that made multiplayer distinctive. It often felt like a generic shooter reskinned with iconic characters, and with very little regard for balance; a predator with a shoulder cannon can sometimes seem unstoppable. Games like Unreal Tournament still have players over ten years after their release. AvP has barely any players only a year after it's release. Figure it out.