Bughunting: Part Two.
Following on from last week’s article, this time we’ll be looking at the Aliens games that weren’t based on the original quadrilogy. This, of course, brings in our friends the Predators, everyone’s favourite alien race of psychotic rastafarians.
The Predators have also had starring roles in their own games going right back to the 8-bit era. It’s not always been pretty (or good) but there have been some great moments for both species, especially when they go to war.
Don’t worry, readers. Me and my squad of ultimate badasses (well.. Mark) will protect you.
(THQ – Gameboy Colour – 2001)
Before we get onto the Predator titles, here’s all you need to know about Aliens: Thanatos Encounter. This came out on the Gameboy Colo(u)r and had the same Gauntlet-esque overhead viewpoint as Alien3 on the original Gameboy.
The plot involves a team of marines (who look about ten years old) mounting a rescue mission on the starship Thanatos.
As with Alien3, it’s unmitigated shit. The level design is uninspired, the combat is frustratingly difficult (the aliens jump around like epileptics on cheap crack) and the graphics are offensively poor. Standard Gameboy fare then.
(Capcom – Arcade – 1986)
Now we’re talking, an AvP game that has nothing to do with the current Paul W S Anderson franchise rather this king of the arcades takes took inspiration from the unproduced Peter Briggs film script and the numerous Dark Horse comic stories made during the 90’s. Playing as either Dutch â€œI was in Predatorâ€ Shafer, Lin â€œToken birdâ€ Kurosawa or two different Predators you fight your way through the game in eight different stages of scrolling beat ’em up action much like the other Capcom games of the day like Final Fight or The Punisher.
Despite being a beat ’em up this game is all about the weaponry from the Predator’s plasma casters and combat staffs to Dutch’s arm mounted smart gun and Lin’s katana and machine gun and all manor of knives, grenades, pulse rifles and even power loaders can be collected and used to destroy the many unique varieties of xenomorph invading Earth. The standard face huggers, queens and warriors appear along with new breeds like stalkers, razor claws, arachnoids and even the dreaded royal guard (who later reappeared in the PC AvP games) and even an insane Predator stand between you and victory its just a shame that it was never ported to home consoles other than the SNES or even got an arcade sequel as this is probably the most playable AvP game made so far.
(Activision – Gameboy – 1993)
Before Capcom’s iconic fighting game, Activision tried their hand with a Gameboy take on the AvP franchise.
Pitting you as the last remaining Predator on the planet Alpha Centauri 3 against the awesome combined force of an alien army backed by a very angry and maternal queen.
This translates as a drab platform/fighting game which plays out like the Alien3 games but with more fisticuffs. Unfortunately the Predator looks particularly porky (and with shit hair to boot) although he is able to punch out adult aliens in one go which is something.
The aliens barely have any frames of animation but are fairly well-defined. They do have a habit of jumping out at you quickly but your Predator can take a fair amount of damage before keeling over.
He also has access to all your favourite laser cannons and spinny things but this isn’t enough to raise this drab effort out of the swamp of terrible Gameboy action titles.
(Activision – NES – 1987)
For the first of two games focusing on the jungle hunt adventures of Maj. Dutch Schafer and his bright pink trousers you know just like the film. Starting of with a nice introduction telling the story of Dutch’s rescue squad being killed leaving him alone to face a mysterious creature. Looking very much like a poor mans Contra and playing like a destitute mans Contra you start off with bare fists and must collect other weapons like a machine gun hidden in a tree or grenades that are as aerodynamic as a breeze block.
Avoiding enemies is often the best course of action given the shoddy nature of your weaponry and they range from gun toting rebels, patrolling scorpions, rolling stones (no, not Mick and Keith) and giant bubbles in the swimming sections. The Predator makes an appearance as an end of level boss who shoots a quartet of Predator heads at Dutch, you know just like the film.
(Activision – C64 – 1987)
For this version of Predator you also control Dutch Schafer but here the gameplay involves shooting scores of rebels and recovering your fallen team-mates weapons rather than dodging animals or strange rolling boulders like the NES version. Hampered by a control scheme that only has one button moving, aiming and jumping is all controlled on your joystick meaning you often find yourself not performing your intended action and end up running into a rebel booby trap or headlong into a firing soldier. The fire button fires your weapon whilst the space bar throws a grenade and return picks up and drops weapons whilst also activating Dutch’s final trap to kill the Predator at the game end â€¦ unless you have the Euro version which is bugged and therefore impossible to complete.
Throughout the game the screen will flash into the Predator’s patented thermo-vision and sure enough the Predator’s tri-dot will start tracking you. If you stop running or move to slowly (easily done because of the stodgy controls) and the tri-dot locks on and well let’s just say I wouldn’t wish that on a broke dick dog.
(Konami – C64 – 1990)
The first of our duo of Predator 2 games is your standard early 90’s Operation Wolf clone with a Dynamite Duke style wireframe character (Harrigan) at the bottom of the screen who you must protect from incoming attacks like knives, grenades or the Predator’s deadly smart disc. The predator makes an appearance if that’s the word in the early levels as a shimmering outline that if shot will retaliate by throwing its smart disc at you, whilst fat women street vendors and other civilians will drain your morale meter represented by an LAPD badge the slowly fades to grey.
Starting of with a simple semi-automatic pistol Mike can also collect (by shooting them as was the style of the time) bigger rifles and even a screen clearing grenade launcher. After around ten minuets of scrolling you face the levels guardian and then proceed to the next stage and repeat to fade. The game roughly follows the films storyline with the action split across four levels of: LA streets, drug Barons penthouse, subway and the finale aboard the Predators ship. Along the way there’s a never-ending stream of bad guys running across the screen taking pot shots whist window snipers and knife wielding maniacs try their best to put Mike down. The action is very samey but its rapid pace and high enemy quota keeps things hectic and makes it worth checking out especially as the C64 version was unique in its day for loading in one go without any multi-loading woes unlike many games of the day.
(Perfect 10 – Sega Megadrive – 1992)
For Sega’s Predator 2 entry we have an unusual mix of scrolling shooter and collect ’em up. Playing as Mike Harrigan you move through the streets of LA from left to right shooting gang members and then collecting the bags of drugs they drop. Starting off with a simple pistol, bigger weapons can be collected off the streets like shotguns and assault rifles along with bigger bags of drugs and good old health pick ups shaped like a first aid box. If Mike lingers for too long the Predator’s tri-dot will start tracking him forcing the player to keep moving despite Mike moving and shooting like he’s got late stage Parkinson’s.
Frustration levels quickly rise when you notice that many of the gang members can happily shoot you from windows and not be hurt and then helicopters start doing the same and then there are the boss sections where you are stuck on a single screen with more bullets coming at you than a Japanese shmup. If you want a good Predator 2 game play the Mirrorsoft version but if you need a coffee coaster or door wedge use this.
(Atari – Jaguar – 1994)
Before Sony began trouncing all-comers in the format wars, Atari threw in their lot with the Jaguar, a 64bit console with controllers that looked like telephones and precious little in the way of good games.
However, a fool and his money are soon parted and when my mate offered me his Jaguar with a copy of Alien vs Predator I couldn’t say no.
Thankfully the game was amazing. Of course it looks like cack now, but in the early nineties anything 3D was an exciting prospect and when you threw in fully fleshed-out campaigns for the alien, predator and marine protagonists you couldn’t go wrong.
The marine story is, of course, the least interesting but the fear factor of going up against the other two species was quite extraordinary at the time. I genuinely remember being scared when facing my first alien. Of course, the idea of taking out anything using that joypad was enough to scare anyone.
The alien campaign saw you attempting to rescue your queen from the predator ship and gave you extra speed, deadly melee abilities and extra lives (if you died, you’d respawn from an egg).
The predator story saw you hunting the alien queen and gave you access to all his weapons, each mapped to the nine telephone buttons. Thankfully the game came with inserts that you slid into your controller and sat over the buttons with icons telling you what they did. A bit odd, but handy if you want to lob a spear at an alien rather than putting on your heat vision by mistake.
Sure, it’s balls now but in it’s day this was almost worth owning a Jaguar for and that’s swearing.
(Sierra – PC – 1999)
Rebellion are no strangers to AvP games having made the Jaguar version five years before and the unreleased Lynx version a year before that but this time they went to town and made the most compete AvP game ever easily living up to its name. Taking control of all three protagonists in a FPS setting with the style and ascetics lifted directly from the movies you can play through three separate storylines (one for each species) making a total of eighteen playable missions although the Gold edition included five bonus mission per species and more MP maps to play.
The traditional colonial marines packing pulse rifles and motions trackers are present along with some useful additions like the auto tracking smart rifle and simple flares to light your way but this was nothing new for the real change came with being able to play as an xenomorph or a Yuatja (Predator) with all their abilities. Playing as a xenomorph you can move at high speed, climb walls and ceilings then pounce on any nearby humans or Predators to deliver their trademark skull puncture. The xenomorphs perspective is slightly more disorientating to begin with given the fish eye effect given to the screen and their ability to move across any surface regardless of its relative position but it’s oh so sweet to stalk a frightened human colonist using your echo or pheromone vision mode then drop from the ceiling and give ’em the old puncture.
Controlling a Predator is a far more complex affair than the other species with three different vision modes: thermal, electromagnetic and standard along with a range of exotic weaponry from the traditional plasma casters, cloaking fields and smart discs to the all new spear gun with sniper scope for long range implements all of which are powered by a personal battery that you have to recharge if you use to many of your gadgets. For these reasons and more that I don’t have time room to go into make this best solo AvP experience available with only Capcom’s AvP arcade beating it for multiplayer larks and sheer balls to the walls action.
(Sierra – PC – 2001)
After the stunning original PC game, this highly anticipated sequel was a very slight disappointment. With none of the wow factor of the original, this had to rely on being smarter, better looking and more creative but somewhere along the line the magic was lost.
The marine levels were far too formulaic and relied on reduced ammo and lots of darkened rooms. Also, they were a fair bit easier than the original which made for less tension and more boredom.
The predator mission suffered as well from the same problem. Also, the early levels saw you leaping around areas with no real idea of where you were meant to go. The game picks up later on though but is problem the least enjoyable of the three modes.
By far and away the best third of the game belongs to the Alien. Apart from the fairly awful Predator battles at the end, the alien levels were just as excellent as before. You still stalked your prey from the walls and ceilings which made you feel like a total xenomorphic menace to society but the real bonus was in the first few levels which put you in the roles of the facehugger and baby alien before eventually becoming a fully-fledged eight foot bastard. One for the fanboys, I was wanking myself to death for weeks over that.
An expansion pack, Primal Hunt, was released a year later. It was ridiculously short and furiously gash.
(EA – PS2 – 2003)
After the two successful attempts at bringing the AvP universe to the PC it was the turn of the PS2 and Xbox to cash in. Unfortunately, EA chose the clumsy genre of the console RTS and, like most console RTS games, it just didn’t work.
Again you get to place as the three usual factions and each species generates new units in different ways. The humans ear credits by performing engineering work and then purchase reinforcements, the aliens impregnate enemies and the predators earn ‘honour points’ which allow the to call in other predators.
Whilst the units all function in a nice fan-pleasing way, the combat is to unwieldy and the missions far too short. There is also no multiplayer or skermish modes which kills the game’s replay value completely.
A disappointing title but an interesting curio for the avid fan.
(Sierra – PSP – 2007)
You can read the full review here but to save you the trouble this is a sub-PS1 quality roaming beat em up based on the worst film of last year. The controls are a struggle, the visuals are wholly average and the game’s only redeeming feature is that it’s mercifully short.
It is, however, much more fun than watching the film even if you happen to be on fire when playing it.
(Sierra – PS2 – 2005)
This third-person action title puts you in the shoes of a disgraced Predator who has royally messed up by leaving some Predator technology in the hands of a mafia crime family after botching a hit on their boss.
The game is set a hundred years after the initial incident in world where Predators can now get their asses handed to them using their own technology. This makes for some fairly difficult gameplay especially as the controls are some of the most complicated in videogame history.
Still, stalking around the city and taking out your prey with all those toys makes the struggle almost worthwhile. The main draw of the game is in the plot, and the accompanying cutscenes, which tells a fairly decent story and gives you a little insight into the social structure of the Predators.