I deeply love the Alien franchise, which is to say I deeply love the first three movies and a small selection of the videogames. I've talked about some of those games before, and if I keep VGJunk going long enough I'll probably write about all of them in time. To that end, here's a game that does have xenomorphs in it but which skews more towards the "interstellar big-game hunters with faces like a lizard eating a crab" end of the space-monster continuum: it's ASK and Activision's 1993 Game Boy title Alien vs. Predator: The Last of His Clan!
Or Alien (trademark) vs. Predator (trademark) if you're a legal type. The trademark only refers to those specific logos and not the words themselves, right? Otherwise my screenplay about an alien predator who preys on aliens is going to struggle to get off the ground.
I looked up Alpha Centauri. Turns out it's a mere 4.3 light-years away from Earth, and this lack of simple fact-checking from the developers does not fill me with confidence about the likelihood of this being an immaculately crafted, finely-honed videogame experience.
In the far future of 2593 A.D., Alpha Centauri 3 has been colonised by humans as a mining world. As we all know, in the shared Alien / Predator universe, humans are generally expendable, squishy meat-blobs that exist only to be (almost) totally wiped out by whatever beast from beyond the stars they happen across, but surely even the Predators wouldn't be interested in boring, backwater mining planet, would they?
Well, that's a bit of a dick move. I love the description of the alien horde as a "fine crop," though. Makes me think of farmer Predators, Predators in denim overalls who lean on fenceposts, chewing stalks of wheat and saying the Predator equivalent of "ahyup" every now and then. The predator equivalent of "ahyup" probably sounds like a dolphin gargling a bag of dominoes. All their other words do.
I think that's what you call getting hoisted by your own petard. I guess we know why he's the last of his clan now.
Alien Queen as the final boss: confirmed. Let's just hope all the other Predators managed to at least thin the alien hordes a little before they were overrun. I'm not anticipating the Predator's most famous battle strategies - turning invisible and hiding in trees - being especially useful against the aliens.
Here's the Predator, then. Thanks to the limitations of the Game Boy's graphics, he's looking less menacing than usual. Almost cuddly, even, with the pixel dithering giving him a quilted appearance. An alien facehugger is jumping towards him, but it can be easily dispatched by giving it a swift punch in the ovipositor. Punching is about all you can do at this point - you can punch, and you can jump, but not at the same time. Perhaps jumping attacks are considered dishonourable.
Also not honourable: protecting your face from unsolicited hugs and unwanted parenthood by wearing your Predator mask. It's little wonder all the other Predators were killed.
The equipment screen suggests that when I'm punching I'm actually attacking with the Predator's famous wrist blades, but as you can't see them on your sprite or anything I'll just have to take the developer's word for it.
The Predator's mission is simple: find the exit of each stage by traversing the maze-like layout, looking for keys and weaponry while punching aliens with your wrist blades that you're totally wearing, honestly, I mean it. You are helped in this mission by your map, displayed at the top of the screen, which fills in as you make progress but is powered by your continually-depleting energy source - when your energy runs out, the map disappears, promoting a more brisk speed of gameplay than you would maybe expect from a game about Predatos stalking aliens.
Speaking of aliens, here's a fully-grown xenomorph who kinda looks like he's wearing high heels. You'll notice that this stealthy, silent killing machine that attacks in swarms is standing upright and alone in the middle of a well-lit room, and thus we have uncovered AvP: The Last of His Clan's biggest flaw - the aliens possess all the threat and menace of an elderly aunt trying to give you a hug at a family reunion. No ambushes from above or coming out of the god damn walls for these aliens, oh no, they just walk towards you in plain sight. Punch them and they'll be knocked back, only to walk straight at you again. Mastering the correct rhythm for your punches takes a little practice, because the Predator attacks slowly, but it really is only a little practise you need and by the end of the first stage you'll be able to slap any alien you come across to death with no fear of repercussion.
The combat only gets easier once you collect a projectile weapon. Here you can just about see that the Predator is throwing his famous razor-sharp flying disk at this alien egg. The disk essentially gives you the ability to punch things from across the room, killing all enemies except from alien warriors in one hit. It takes up to three hits to kill an alien warrior, which would mean something if the disk didn't repeatedly knock the aliens back, doing three hits each time you throw it. You do have to catch the disk as it flies back to you, but because the Predator's sprite takes up so much of the screen it's unlikely that the disk will manage to sneak past you.
Then you pick up the shoulder cannon. It kills everything bar the final boss in one hit, and it homes in. Real honourable, that one.
The first stage is over, so what's my initial impression of Alien vs. Predator: The Last of His Clan? Well, it's a weird one. Exploring the stage and collecting items is fine, the controls work okay even if not being able to perform jumping attacks takes some getting used to and the map is nicely implemented... but it definitely does not feel like a game involving Aliens or Predators. If you replaced their sprites with anything else you''d have no idea this was even supposed to be an Alien vs. Predator game. The Predator is an unhurried, lumbering sort who solves all his problems with his fists and the aliens are dumber than a sack of rocks, far from their portrayals in the movies.
An example: the Predator is perfectly safe here, knowing full well that xenomorphs cannot possibly squeeze into narrow spaces like air ducts or access tunnels. This alien is going to die because a Predator punched it in the shins repeatedly, and as it is inexorably linked to the hivemind all the other aliens are going to know about it. How embarrassing.
There are another five full stages (and a boss fight against you-know-who) after the first, and the gameplay is essentially the same in each of them. Find your items, (including all your weapons, which you have to re-collect in each stage,) find the key, find the exit. The backgrounds change every couple of levels, but the enemies do not. The only changes you need to adapt to are figuring out the few quirks that you need to be familiar with in order to progress.
For instance, there are these brick walls that must be blown up with bombs. Be very careful with these bombs - not because they pose any threat to you, but because they're in limited supply and you can't collect any more of them. In the final full stage, you're given the exact number of bombs you need to progress and not one more, so if you're like me and you made the simple mistake of forgetting to switch back to another weapon between demolition jobs you might accidentally waste a bomb, making the level impossible to complete. I had to go find an alien and then stand still while it killed me, a process which took much longer than necessary thanks to the Predator's generous amount of hit points and the aliens' previously-mentioned lack of mental acuity.
Not that I think the predators are any more cerebral. I fully subscribe to the backstory that casts Predators as meat-headed space oafs who only have access to space travel and high-tech weaponry because they stole it from another species. Honestly, can you imagine a Predator sitting down to invent the fusion reactor or cloaking technology? They're a whole race of amped-up high-school jocks, travelling the galaxy on the look-out for races to subject to the intergalactic equivalent of a swirlie. If they do exist, life must be tough for Predator scientists. "Mur'khat the Poindexter has discovered a cure for Space Measles, but where is the honour in this? I say if you're a baby who cannot fight off a Space Measles infection then you do not deserve to live. Medicine is without honour! Also sanitation, farming, transport and your mother, these things are all without honour."
I was going to complain that these secret walls - walls that look identical to ordinary walls, but you can walk right through them - are definitely without honour, but then I realised that you can tell there isn't really a wall there by looking at your map. It's a good job too, because traversing these secret walls is required to complete the game. I'd have to say their inclusion is a success, because it makes the map much more useful than it otherwise would be, forcing you to play the game at speed so you can find an energy pick-up before your map disappears.
A gameplay mechanic that didn't pan out so well is the bomb-jumping. Some ledges are just too high for a Predator to reach through leg power alone, so you have to place a bomb at your feet and jump just before it explodes. The extra push gives you a little more height, as well as providing more evidence in favour of my "Predators are thick" theory, as though accidentally spawning too many aliens and getting themselves killed wasn't enough. Apparently this technique is mentioned in the instruction manual, and it had better be, because nothing in the game suggests that bomb-assisted jumps are even possible. The explosions don't push you sideways or anything, so why would they push you up?
Once you know about these techniques, AvP:TLoHC is revealed to be a surprisingly easy videogame. While you might not feel much like you're controlling a Predator, you're definitely controlling something tough, with a substantial amount of health and powerful weapons. The shoulder cannon is limited to twenty shots, but what does that matter when you don't encounter twenty enemies in any given stage? Your foes are, and I'm sorry to keep harping on about this, monumentally thick, and they're really only likely to harm you in one very specific situation.
That situation is when they hang around at the bottom of ladders and you haven't collected the shoulder cannon yet. They'll just stand at the bottom of the ladder, forcing you to take a hit or two because there's no other way past them. You can see them on the map and everything, so it's not as though they've laid a sneaky ambush, they just won't shift from the one path you need to take and the Predator's inability to attack while jumping is never more aggravating than at these moments.
I also took damage from dripping liquids a few times. Normally I'd be annoyed about this, but as it's is a game featuring xenomorphs I'll let the developers off because it's probably some kind of acid.
After six stages of key-gathering and brick-bombing, the Predator reaches the Alien Queen, and because there were no weapons to collect in the short preceding area I shall be punching her to death. At the start of the fight the Queen's only move is to disinterestedly flail one of her arms at you. It doesn't sound like much, but don't forget it was enough to kill all the rest of your clan. Getting close is the problem, and trading hits with the Queen is not recommended. Fortunately, the Predator has one last trick up his scaly sleeve.
He can turn invisible! Yes, the Predator's most famous hunting tool - the light-bending cloaking system that renders him almost invisible - can be activated at any time, because becoming invisible is the most honourable thing you can do. In the game, however, activating your cloak actually makes you invincible for a while, (until your energy is drained, in fact,) allowing you to stand right in front of the Queen and punch her arm off without any repercussions.
With one arm missing, the Queen changes tack and starts spitting balls of acid at you. I'm not sure if the Queen in the movie Aliens was particularly energetic or if this Queen is extremely lazy, but she won't attempt to move or anything; she just sits there, gobbing corrosive goo at you and creating an easily-exploitable pattern. Punch her twice, move back, jump over the acid, repeat. It's a very easy strategy to master, so it's a shame the game makes you go through it about fifty times before the Queen decides she's had enough and keels over.
Man, imagine how many Predator Honour Points you get for stabbing an Alien Queen to death with nothing but your wrist blades. He's going to be dining out on this for the rest of his life. "Would you mind doing the dishes, Predator?" "I will not, because I killed an Alien Queen with nothing but my wrist blades. Did I ever tell you about the time I killed an Alien Queen with nothing but my wrist blades? Why are you sighing? The Alien Queen sighed when I killed her with nothing but my wrist blades, you know." He's going to be insufferable. The rest of his clan are lucky they were killed so they don't have to put up with him.
Having great honour does not get you a fancy ending sequence, it seems, because this is it. This is the whole ending. I'm definitely glad I bothered.
Am I really glad I bothered playing through Alien vs. Predator: The Last of His Clan? I'm not entirely sure. It all works okay, I'll give it that, but the simplicity of the game and the lack of any real Alien vs. Predator ambience means that it's just not that interesting. With more varied locations, better implementation of the Predator's hunting skills and deeper gameplay it could have been a an enjoyable little adventure, but as it stands this is something of a non-entity of a game. I would recommend playing it if you're terrified of xenomorphs, mind you. AvP: The Last of His Clan sucks the terror right out of them, the waddling idiots.