That's right, Capcom created a scrolling beat-em-up based on two of science fiction's most famous movie monsters. In the red corner are the Aliens: nightmarish acid-blooded walking rape analogies who give out worse hugs than John Wayne Gacy. Their opponents are the Predators, fearsome intergalactic big-game hunters equipped with a wide array of weapons and a face like a terrible accident at a seafood buffet. Oh, and there are some humans. For possibly the only time in any Alien vs. Predator media, these humans are awesome. More on that later, though. First, a little story.
San Drad, California, a city built entirely around abandoned sets from Batman movies. A mysterious object falls from the sky, and the city is evacuated and quarantined. Everyone makes it out safely
and whatever threat has fallen from the heavens is quickly contained.
See? The vast hordes of aliens are safely contained within the city. Seeing the Xenomorphs in broad daylight is... kinda weird, like when you were a kid and you saw your teacher in Tesco or something.
Trapped inside the city are these two marines. We'll learn more about them soon, but for now all you need to know is that they're surrounded by the slavering waves of the alien threat, and all the tiger-print trousers and pectoral muscles in the world can't save them now. I think that guy might actually have all the pectoral muscles in the world.
The Predators can save them, though. That's what they do. That's why they're called Predators. No, wait, somethings not right there. Let's just say the Predators really like killing aliens, more so than killing humans, and so they team up with the marines to escape San Drad and destroy the alien menace. That's the plot, and it's as good a way as any to set up some inter-species fisticuffs. Now, let's meet the playable characters!
First there's the Predator Warrior, the very definition of the Predator way, an honourable hunter who fights with a pointy stick and a devastating shoulder-mounted plasma cannon. He likes to keep his options open, I guess. You can see by those stat bars what he's fairly well rounded, and in a game that is, after all, called Alien vs. Predator he might be your best choice if you're a beginner.
The "power character" slot is occupied by Major Dutch Schaefer. Yes, that is supposed to be Dutch, Arnold Schwarzenegger's character from the first Predator film. Well, maybe - they have the same name and muscle mass, but his bio says he's a cyborg so who really know? Believe whichever story you prefer, because the truly important facts about Dutch are that he's had one of his arms replaced by an enormous hunk of metal with a gun inside and that he really likes to kill aliens. I know, that Predator's looking less tempting now, isn't he?
Character number three is the Predator Hunter, a younger, more inexperienced breed of starfaring murder-beast. Like the Warrior, he fights with a stick, although the Hunter's stick has knives on the ends. Evolution, not revolution. Their moves are slightly different, but mostly the Warrior and the Hunter are very similar.
Finally there's Linn Kurosawa. She's AvP's speed character, although the "speed" bar on her stats is actually lower than both of the Predators. Don't let that fool you, though - she's acrobatic, if a little fragile. What she lacks in physical toughness she more than makes up for in sheer brass balls, taking on the alien hordes with a sword and various martial arts techniques. If ever her superior officer tells her that he wants the rifles slung, Linn will respond with a grin and perhaps a Bruce Lee-style knuckle crack. Yeah, she's my favourite, so let's select Linn and start the game!
AvP doesn't mess around, and right from the beginning you're dropped into a huge swarm of aliens. "Drop back!" says Linn.
Then Linn disobeys her own order and starts kicking the everloving shit out of a group of Xenomorphs so numerous they make Aliens look like a tea party. Trust me, Linn's in the middle of that brawl, booting an alien right in the toothy face. That alien on the right is trying to make a break for safety. He is a sensible alien.
Alien vs. Predator is a Capcom beat-em-up through-and-through, their earlier efforts such as Final Fight and The Punisher providing a familiar platform of enemy-clobbering action from which AvP can flourish. The biggest difference in the gameplay is that AvP has three action buttons instead of the usual two. Jump and attack are present and accounted for, and work as they usually do - tap attack to perform a basic combo, press jump to leap into the air, push them both at the same time to unleash a wide-ranging "desperation" attack that drains some of your health. The third button makes your character fire whatever their personal weapon is. In Linn's case she brought a pistol, which you can see above. You can also see that she fires it in an odd manner, starting by firing at the floor and gradually lifting it up. This makes it handy for hitting downed enemies, but don't get too attached to it because you can only fire it a certain amount of times before it overheats and you have to endure a cooldown period before you can shoot again. Unless, of course, you collect a Super Magazine power-up, which lets you fire to your heart's content for ten seconds. More often than not, however, the guns are used for a quick hit to interrupt aliens that are trying to get a sneaky attack in on you.
The first area is a short one, and soon you'll find yourself trapped in a room with the first boss - the Chrysalis Alien. He's the big boney chap down the bottom of the screen, and he gets his name because he starts off as, well, a chrysalis stuck to the wall. Once he actually gets involved with the fighting, he likes to roll around the place, which has been shown time and again in beat-em-ups to be a pretty excellent combat strategy. Maybe this Xenomorph hatched out of Tony from Crime City. That guy sure did love to roll.
Anyway, this isn't a hugely difficult fight. The boss hits quite hard and has a supply of alien drones to keep you busy, but that's not enough to counter Linn's wide range of attacks. And what a range it is, a whirling carousel of techniques that go some way to explaining why AvP is such a blast to play. As well as the usual belt-scrolling combos, the gameplay of AvP has been treated with a thin coat of the Street Fighter 2s, with each character having special moves activated by simplified fighting-game button commands. Linn, for instance, can hold the attack button for a moment and then release it to perform an energy-coated double punch, or moving the joystick, down, then up and pressing attack will make her execute a very Chun-Li-like dragon kick. She can even bounce on the heads of enemies, just like Chunners herself. That's Linn Kurosawa, folks: imagine if Chun Li was given robot parts and a sword and told to go hog wild on any Xenomorphs she encounters. It's little wonder Linn's my favourite.
Once the Chrysalis is dead, the stage is over and you're treated to a very nice-looking cutscene.
Thanks for the heads-up, Dutch. I'd forgotten about the alien starbeasts that want to drag me back to their lair and impregnate me with their young. Totally slipped my mind, but thanks to your timely reminder I shall remain vigilant.
It's okay, Dutch is a cyborg now. Cyborgs don't get sarcasm.
Stage two takes place in San Drad's sewer system, because even in the AvP universe there has to be a sewer level. Look, Linn found a grenade launcher! This being a Capcom beat-em-up, there are often weapons dotting the stages that you can pick up and put to good use. This will be especially notable later in the game, but for now a solitary grenade launcher is a nice toy to play with. I wonder what burning Xenomorph smells like.
Not that Linn really needs weapons, what with her martial arts training and all. I've played AvP many times over the years, and the thing that always strikes me about it is the fluidity of the combat. Almost every attack seems to link nicely into the next, be it gunfire instantly snapping into a charged punch or bouncing from enemy to enemy in an attempt to prove that katanas can totally work exactly like pogo sticks. Every battle takes place at breakneck speed and flows together with such style and panache that you might wonder how you ever enjoyed the genre's more restrained entries.
Halfway through the stage, Linn finds a lift. The lift is not working. Her solution? Punch it until it does work. I suspect this is how Linn gets a lot of things done. What's that? Do enemies drop onto the lift while it's moving, forcing you to fight them in a tight space? I'm not even going to dignify that with an answer.
There's a laboratory hidden in the sewers. It's littered with grotesquely mangled corpses, which is rarely a good sign in a laboratory environment. Or, um, anywhere, I guess. This is where the boss is lurking, and his name is Razor Claws because he has razor-sharp claws. Good to see my theory that beat-em-up enemies are named on the spot by the player character is holding up well.
Obviously all Xenomorphs have razor-sharp claws, but this guy is special because his claws are longer. And he'd be twelve feet tall if he stood up properly and stopped slouching, didn't your mother teach you anything about good posture? He uses his size to his advantage by poking at you with his long, spindly arms, and he's definitely a rougher customer than the Chrysalis (who, let's face it, was never going to be that menacing while named after a bag full of liquid butterfly) but once more Linn triumphs through judicious use of the "kick 'em in the face" strategy.
I switched to the Predator Warrior for stage three, although he doesn't really get to show his stuff just yet because this stage is an action sequence where the player rides atop an APC, firing their sidearm at the relentless waves of aliens. Your gun doesn't overheat during this section, so it's just a matter of tapping the fire button and moving the joystick roughly towards the areas of the screen with the highest concentrations of enemies (here's a hint: that's pretty much everywhere). The Predators' gun is their shoulder-mounted plasma caster. It seems to get the job done.
There is a boss of sorts - the Arachnoid Alien, which is the one with the grey lump on the back of its head. A spider-based Xenomorph may sound terrifying, but he's not much more intelligent than his comrades and you'll usually end up destroying it by accident as you frantically waggle your firearm around the screen. There's not much room of skillful combat or precise gunplay when you're surfing a ten-ton slab of wheeled thunder into the heart of an alien hive.
Did I mention we're heading into the alien hive? Yeah, the heroes of AvP are real "go get 'em" types. No taking off and nuking the site from orbit for them.
Before I send the Warrior inside, let's take a moment to ponder the existence of that succulent chicken dinner that's sitting on the floor of the hive entrance. Go on, think about how it got there. Imagine who made it. Perhaps picture an alien drone, a chef's hat perched jauntily upon his phallic head, removing this sumptuous meal from an oven constructed from excreted resin and bone. I don't think I want to eat that chicken. There's a decent chance that chicken wants to eat me.
So then, the Predator Warrior. It's perhaps not much a surprise, but this guy is really good at beating things up, and if he was your choice to face the alien menace then you will not be disappointed. The Predators are the "balanced" characters, although balanced isn't a great way to describe them because they definitely skew more towards the speedy end of the scale. The Warrior's immediate advantage over Linn is that he can grab enemies and either pummel them, throw them or leap into the air and come crashing down on top of them like they were bouncy castles filled with acid. His stand-out move, however, is activated by moving the joystick right or left and pressing jump. This makes the Predator fly across almost the entire length of the screen, clobbering anything in his path as well as being excellent for avoiding incoming attacks. Oh, and don't forget his shoulder cannon. There's a reason they're called "Predators" and not "innocent bystanders."
The chestbursters still managed to give me trouble, although only until I figured out how to activate the Predator's sliding kick. Remember those bits in the Predator movies where the hunter slid around with one foot extended, a deadly Cossack dancer from beyond the stars who can somehow move laterally without propulsion? I have mastered this art. Lo, I am become a god.
Okay, let's try the other characters. Here's Dutch Schaefer and his cyborg arm. Dutch can't jump very well - pressing the jump button makes him dash forward with his arm out instead - but he's real good at grabbing aliens and subjecting them to the kind of moves you'll usually only see at Wrestlemania. He can punch hard, and he can jump into the air and fire his gun, but in the end I'm sad to say that Dutch is probably the least useful character. In a game filled with fast, aggressive enemies, the speed of Linn or the Predators is preferable to the brick-shithouseishness of Dutch.
I take it all back. The spirit of Mike Haggar lives on in Dutch as he uses a metal pipe to batter a Xenomorph to death. I'd like to think that as this is taking place, an elderly Haggar sits in a rocking chair on the porch of his Metro City home, a strange warmth echoing through his bones each time Dutch bashes something with the pipe.
The final character is the Predator Hunter, and if you're thinking that having two playable Predators with such similar stats is a bit redundant then you'd be correct. The Hunter and the Warrior are very similar, and the only major difference is that the Hunter's jumping special attack is a bona fide Ryu-style shoryuken. The Warrior may have slightly more power, but if the Hunter can defeat Sheng Long and stand a chance then I guess that makes him the better of the two.
It's hard to argue that the Predators aren't better than the human characters, but I suppose it depends on your definition of "better." Sure, the Predators are fast, vicious and deadly, but there's a rare pleasure that comes from seeing a man with half a tank where his arm should be lifiing up a Xenomorph and powerbombing it into the ground like the very reincarnation of Randy Savage, and that should not be overlooked. As previously mentioned, Linn is my favourite, but all the characters have their own charms.
It's been a long stage, but the end is in sight. Our hero stumble across the egg chamber, and take the only appropriate action under circumstances: blasting everything in sight into a charred pulp.
The Queen is understandably pissed off by this, and she's spoiling for a fight. As a huge fan of the Alien and Predator franchises, seeing a Predator use his Street Fighter moves against an alien Queen is enough to put a smile on my usually sullen face. I would say it's a dream come true, but I don't think I've ever had a dream this awesome.
As you can imagine, this is a tough fight, mostly because of the Queen's sheer size - between her extending inner mouth and prehensile tail, there's almost nowhere to hide from her highly damaging attacks, and one of the drawback of the plan to drive right into the alien hive is that there are aliens bloody everywhere. No honourable one-on-one combat for the Predator here, but as long as you keep moving you'll eventually triumph.
With the Queen dead and the hive in the process of burning to the ground, it looks like the adventures of our ragtag group of mechanically enhanced super-soldiers and crab-jawed big-game hunters are at an end. Well, that's what you'd expect, but Capcom was clearly having too much fun with AvP for it to end here and so the plot unfolds further.
A dropship crashes nearby, and Linn and Dutch decide to check it out because wiping out a nest of aliens wasn't enough excitement for one day. The Predators tag along for undisclosed reasons - not two seconds ago they were saying that now the Queen is dead there are no aliens worthy of being hunted here, but suddenly they're all "okay, cool, we'll help out with some rescue and salvage work." I think they're just lonely.
Here is a picture of a Predator using an M41A Pulse Rifle. Happy birthday to me, indeed.
How did the Predator come to be using a Colonial Marine's standard issue firearm? Because in this stage, we'll be fighting Colonial Marines. Lots and lots of marines, all of them under the command of a rotund chap who is ordering them to "destroy all the escaped aliens from the crash site". And who is behind this dark intrigue?
Well, it wasn't going to be Hovis, on an insane quest to extract an ingredient from the alien's acid blood that'll make their bread irresistible, now was it? Of course it's Weyland-Yutani. No other company in this or any other galaxy - with the possible exception of the Umbrella Corporation - is so monumentally thick that they'd just keep on trying to use the aliens as bio-weapons despite this being the worst business model since I started selling jewellery made from old ring pulls and and the hair I found in my shower's plughole. Here's a tip for anyone planning to write an Aliens screenplay: put someone from The Company in it, and have them be a decent guy with no ulterior motive who helps the heroes and dies at the end in an act of noble sacrifice. No-one, literally no-one, will ever see that coming.
Right, back to the business at hand - killing soldiers. Fighting the marines is a rather different proposition to battling the alien hordes, because for all their sinister, implacable evil the aliens have yet to master the use of firearms and remote-controlled sentry turrets. Yes, the lead flies thick and fast here, so the focus of combat changes to closing the distance before the marines can start firing at you.
In a display of real game-design quality, Capcom managed to find an extremely fine balance here: this stage could easily have become a frustrating badminton match in which your character was endlessly batted about between walls of gunfire, but you move just fast enough and the enemies are spaced just right that you can get the drop on them most of the time or at least jump to safety for a moment or two. Dutch suffers here a little, what with his reduced mobility, but even he can do alright if you remember that he's the only character who can jump and fire at the same time.
The boss is a Power Loader. In any other franchise the opportunity to go mano-a-clawo with a piece of industrial loading equipment would be a little underwhelming, but this is the Aliens universe. If, like me, you first saw Aliens when you were much younger than you perhaps should have been, the Power Loader likely still strikes you as something really cool. What's even better about this videogame Power Loader appearance is that there's actually a reason for the Power Loader to be there - it's moving the wreckage from the crashed dropship / covering up the evidence of Weyland-Yutani's shadowy misdeeds. You need a Class-2 rating to perform this level of corporate wrongdoing, so this guy clearly knows how to handle his ride.
The Power Loader has undergone a few combat upgrades since the movie. The grabbing claws can extend a long, long way, and you know how in the film the Loader had a little welding torch attached? Yeah, that thing's a full-on flamethrower now. The most efficient route to victory is to wait for some marines to appear, murder them for their Pulse Rifles and shoot the boss from as far away as possible. Linn and Dutch seem remarkably comfortable with killing their fellow marines, you know. Those Predators are a bad influence.
I like the way Dutch's giant arm seems to be almost a character of its own here. Pictured from left to right: Linn Kurosawa, Predator Hunter, Predator Warrior, Fisty the Mechanical Fist, Dutch Schaefer.
It's up to us to put an end to Weyland-Yutani's scheme, and we're going to do this by attacking their laboratory head-on. Personally, I would have just let the Company get on with it for a while. It won't be long before their bumbling incompetence gets them all killed without Linn and company having to lift a finger.
This is stage six, Nightmare in the Lab, and by now we've encountered most things that the game can throw at us so we can just enjoy the wild ride that is AvP's gameplay. In case it wasn't clear before, I'd like to reiterate that this game is Very Good. Yes, with capital letters and everything. All of Capcom's beat-em-up experience has come together and created a game packed with lightning-fast action that sidesteps many of the flaws of its contemporaries. Enemy patterns are challenging without being unfair, the variety of your moveset keeps the combat interesting and the enemies have just the right amount of health so that you never feel like you're being bogged down in a swamp of foes who aren't difficult to fight but have a health bar the length of a Boeing 747.
The first half of the stage is all about fighting marines, some of whom have forgotten to bring guns and are trying to stab Linn with a knife, despite there being plenty of guns lying around. This rather neatly sums up Weyland-Yutani's whole corporate ethos.
Also, check out that background art. That's some damn fine background art.
Naturally, those aliens aren't going to stay cooped up for long and in the second half of the stage they break free of their containment. I'll give Weyland-Yutani some credit - they did a pretty good job of collecting Xenomorphs, numbers-wise. Sticking them all inside glass tubes in the same room might have been an oversight, though.
I do love the way the aliens look in this game, a mixture of the smooth-headed, stiff-armed creatures from the original movie with some of the Aliens aspects mixed in, all given a liberal coating of Capcom's arcade design sensibilities. This is true of a lot of the game - many of the backgrounds, for instance, are clearly based on locations from the movies but taken in their own unique direction by the developers, rendering the whole game at once familiar and original.
The stage's boss is a Mad Predator, and just like in Knights of the Round I'm forced to wonder whether he's mad as in angry or if he has a severe mental illness. In either case he'll fight anyone who comes near him and he's not afraid to use his shoulder cannon to great effect, as demonstrated in the above screenshot. My Predator is in that fireball, somewhere.
A challenging fight that's very reminiscent of the battle against Final Fight's grenade-throwing weirdo Rolento, you'll need to be on your toes to avoid taking big damage from the Mad Predator's varied attacks. The best part is when the Mad Predator tries to turn invisible. I know it's one of the Predator's most iconic features and Capcom probably felt they had to include it somewhere, but if you're fighting in a six-by-six-foot enclosed area then being mostly transparent isn't a particularly useful skill.
Being infected with an alien embryo causes Predators to go bananas. Got it. The two Predators are pretty pissed off about the Company's godless Predator-tampering, but hopefully they won't hold it against our species as a whole. The Mad Predator was hard, I don't want to be fighting a whole species' worth.
The final stage beckons, and it's a gauntlet of all the many things we've punched to death in the past - a romping, acid-drenched cavalcade of every alien we've seen thus far, enough Colonial Marines to conquer the entire Solar System, fields of corpses pulsating with newly-born chestburster, sentry guns and even a return appearance by the Power Loader. How do you feel about the Power Loader, Mr. Predator?
Agreed, they can't even fire their fists off like missile or contain the souls of the pilot's dead mother.
Eventually you'll catch up to the ringleader of the operation. It's the fat guy at the top of the screen, not the grenade-wielding identical quadruplets. He's determined to make his last stand here on the bridge of his transport craft, and he probably felt pretty secure behind his vast legions of marines, but he didn't count on our heroes' complete disregard for human life and after a long battle the commander is the only enemy left alive.
He doesn't stay alive for long, though. If only I had been playing as Dutch when this happened, I could have quoted The Running Man and said "he had to split" in my best Schwarzenegger voice as the Queen ripped the unfortunate man in two.
Yes, the Queen survived her earlier defeat and snuck about the ship in search of revenge. Well, what kind of Aliens game would it be if the final boss wasn't a Queen? Whoever it was who just said "a more interesting one," you hush up. Don't take this away from the Predator - he even has a bit of pre-fight text where he sounds kinda happy to get the chance to fight the ultimate prey.
And fight you shall, and just like the last time you tangled your chances of success are based on how well you can avoid her wide-range attacks. She's got a new trick up her chitinous sleeve, where she leaps onto the ceiling and skewers you with her tail, so watch out for that, but otherwise it's just a straight-up brawl for survival.
That's the Predators for you, all business all the time.
Congratulations! Alien vs. Predator is over, Weyland-Yutani's plans have been foiled and the Earth is safe once more. That's not enough for Linn, however, and as the other characters leave she tells them she'll catch up in a minute and starts fiddling with the control panels. What's she up to?
Why, she's reprogramming the ship's navigation computer so that it'll plummet through the atmosphere and crash straight into Weyland-Yutani's base. That is stone-cold. Linn Kurosawa makes Ellen Ripley look like a swooning medieval maiden, and if anyone from Capcom should happen to read this then all I can say is please, please put her in Marvel vs. Capcom 4. She can replace Vergil, Vergil's a tool.
The Predators are impressed with the fighting skills of these mere (cyborg) humans, and they give them some gauntlet-blades as mementos. Those things will be going straight on eBay, you mark my words. Dutch still has a question, though...
Yeah, why did you help us? It's not like we had a common enemy or anything. The Predators respond by shining their famous three-dot laser targeting things onto Linn and Dutch's chests and saying "you will know."
So, um, yeah, the game ends with the implication that the Predators will be back soon to hunt humans for game, only joining them in their mission to destroy the aliens because they want a shot at mankind. Wow. And on that rather sombre note, Alien vs. Predator is finally at an end. Hooray?
What a fantastic videogame. I may be biased - I love Capcom's arcade output, I love side-scrolling beat-em-ups and I love the universes represented here - but even besides all that, this is a game of real craft and charm, a masterclass in taking the simple Final Fight formula of walking from left to right and punching things and refining, developing and polishing it into a true classic of the arcade age. It's fast, it's beautiful, it sounds great and it's a real joy to play. If you're a fan of brawlers... well, if you are a fan of brawlers there's very little chance you haven't played this already, but you should play it again, and even if this isn't normally your cup of tea you should still definitely check it out. I've written all this and there are still tons of things I could talk about, especially the little touches - things like Linn's "Hi there!" voice clip when she drops into combat, or the fact that the Predators' continue screen shows them activating the self-destruct mechanism on their gauntlets - but I have to stop somewhere, otherwise I'll still be writing this when VGJunk's 4th birthday rolls around.
No game is perfect, and AvP does have, if not flaws, then patches that are slightly less stellar than the rest. The music is good but not at the same high standard as everything else, the two Predator characters could have done with being a little more different from each other and the final marine-filled areas can get a bit daft due to the sheer amount of guns that end up littering the ground, but these are all extremely minor niggles and I have no reservations in proclaiming Alien vs. Predator the best Aliens game ever, the best Predator game ever and quite possibly the best belt-scrolling brawler of all time. Time to Hunt? It's always Time to Hunt.
Well, that's it for the VGJunk Third Birthday Special, and special it most certainly was. Now I'm off to celebrate my actual birthday with beer, cake and probably some Dark Souls, because nothing says "happy birthday" like a huge man dressed as a metal onion smashing skeletons with a +5 Divine Large Club. Deep thanks as always to everyone who has read, commented, followed, watched a video or visited the VGJunk tumblr over the last year. I very much appreciate it, mostly because it makes me feel slightly less like a weirdo who spends all his time sitting in a darkened room writing nonsense about videogames mostly best forgotten. If you want to send VGJunk a birthday gift, you can always use the donation page, but a better option would probably be to tell other internet people to come and read this stuff. So, thanks again, and I'll be back soon to begin VGJunk's fourth year of operation!