Platform: Atari Jaguar
Release Date: 20/10/94
Alien vs Predator (Atari Jaguar) – Retro Review
Are you an Aliens fan still feeling stung by Colonial Marines? The only comfort I can offer is that not every game with an Aliens tag has been awful – and here’s one of the better ones!
Alien vs Predator was developed by Rebellion Software for the already-struggling Atari Jaguar and released in 1994. Atari, at that point, were searching desperately for any kind of system seller, and the higher-ups happened to discover that Rebellion were already working on Alien vs Predator for the equally ill-fated Atari Lynx. The decision was made early on to can the hand-held iteration and focus on a more full-featured console version. Clearly, if Tempest 2000 and Trevor McFur weren’t going to get people flocking to the Jaguar, then a showdown between two of film’s greatest warriors would… right?
The finished product, much like the cancelled Lynx version, is a first-person shooter very much in line with design trends of the time. Labyrinthine levels consisted of 90-degree angles, frantic searching for key-cards, and, in a rather Wolfenstein 3D touch, not a single staircase to be seen. A threadbare plot involved a derelict ship full of xenomorphs overrunning a Marine base with a ship full of Predators who just happened to be in the neighbourhood. The biggest hook came from the three playable characters and the differences therein.
The Colonial Marine’s campaign is the one I tried first and is the most conventional-by-1994-standards. You play as Colonial Marine Private Lance Lewis; a man evidently based upon a Rebellion employee who had built his own replicas of the weapons and armour from Aliens (so don’t let anyone get you down for doing cosplay, kids!). Lance is the slowest of the three playable characters, but the only one that can use both the air vents and the elevators, giving him the best ability to travel through the base. Furthermore, he gets the widest array of weaponry, including the iconic Pulse Rifle and Smart Gun, and can access the various Marathon/System Shock-esque terminals scattered around. These will come in handy, as they give you the only possible idea where you’re meant to be going and what you need to be doing. This campaign comes off as the most desperate and ‘survival horror’ of the three – supplies are scarce, you’re clearly outmatched by your opponents, and your sole concern is to activate the base’s self-destruct and get the hell off that moon (or wherever you are). It’s enjoyable enough, but you get the impression this really isn’t the focal point of the game.
Playing as either the Alien or the Predator really shows you how this game stands out against its contemporaries. The Alien campaign is a frantic chase through air vents and hallways, cocooning as many Marines as possible to keep yourself alive. You can’t heal in any way as an Alien – the only hope you have of resurrection is to cocoon a nearby foe and wait for your eggs to gestate. Upon your death, you then take control of a new-born Alien, ripping forth through the last victim you cocooned. It’s not unlike the Vita-Chambers from Bioshock and provides a unique tempo and flow to the campaign. Instead of hoarding medi-kits and ammunition, the Alien faces a frantic scramble for survival and wants nothing more than the safety of the Queen. Noble, in a horrific way.
My favourite though was the Predator campaign, and his adventure is the one that provides the most interesting gameplay mechanics. Many of the Predator’s abilities from the movies are present, from his varying arsenal, to the ability to turn invisible, even including the various vision modes (which will save your butt in a room full of fast and tiny xenomorphs). It’s these skills and tools that make the Predator campaign the most entertaining. Thanks to your cloaking power, encounters as a Predator almost take on the same rhythm of Batman: Arkham Asylum (or I might have that backwards). You drop into a room full of foes, uncloak, tear up some suckers with your Combi-Stick, and re-cloak in the confusion.
The Predator also uses an ‘honour system’ based upon points, which serves a similar role to experience points. Killing uncloaked will grant you honour points, varying on the weapons used and what you killed. Higher point totals unlock better weapons, and since you just start off with a wrist blade, you’re going to want to remain as honourable as possible. If you kill anything while invisible, you lose points, and potentially access to better equipment if they dwindle too far. The unique approach to combat, and the need to gain honour quickly and often, gives the Predator’s mission an outstanding overall feel, and is the most engaging aspect of Alien vs Predator.
Sadly, not all aspects of the title have held up as well. Strip away the enjoyable differences between the species, and Alien vs Predator is another shooter that adheres to Wolfenstein 3D’s “first-person maze game” philosophy; a long slog through similar-looking hallways, taking down similar-looking bad guys (seriously, there’s only one model for the Marines and Predators, and the Alien only gets three because of the Queen and facehuggers), looking for key-cards and hoping for a nearby medi-kit. You’ll frequently find yourself turned around, unsure as to whether or not you’re in a new area or accomplishing anything. Blame the Jaguar itself if you like, but the best shooters of the era (Doom, Duke, Rise of the Triad) were able to make distinct-looking levels despite inherent technical limitations. Combat tends to be a little uneven, too. The Marine’s assault weapons feature a decent amount of auto-aim, but any of the Alien and Predator’s melee attacks will often fall wide of their target. The majority of your deaths will not come from overwhelming enemy forces; instead, you’ll find yourself helplessly swinging away at some flamethrower-equipped Marine not four feet away from you, as you’re slowly incinerated. Not an ending befitting a proud warrior race!
Don’t start thinking the game isn’t still fun, though. It succeeds in the two most important areas: differences between the species and overall atmosphere. Alien vs Predator, particularly when you’re a Marine, captures the tone of the two different franchises in a way games so rarely do. No matter whom you play as, the base you’re trapped in is an uninviting wasteland full of enemy forces. The sound design adds greatly to the tension, as there’s no music to speak of other than the title screen. It’s just the click of your motion tracker, the drools of some xenomorphs, and the whispering of a far-off Predator doing an impersonation of a human (seriously, that bothered the hell out of me the first few times it happened). Ammo is scarce, your goals are ill defined and nihilistic, and you’re less concerned with your overall score than with surviving the next few encounters. You never feel like you’ve got a chance, and that’s what any game with Alien or Predators needs. It’s a mood that the greatest of survival horror games captured and it’s one that precious few games this generation have even attempted.
You never feel like you’ve got a chance, and that’s what any game with Alien or Predators needs.
Alien vs Predator is a must-own for both die-hard Alien/Predator fans, and for anyone who needs to justify their purchase of a Jaguar (like myself). I’m not saying it will take the place of other, more recent Aliens disappointments (both movies and video games), but it’s a damn good time and well-worth taking a look at, some 19 years later. Also, you may notice I managed to mostly go this entire article without quoting dialogue from any of the movies…mostly.
- Captures the atmosphere of the movies.
- Occasionally iffy combat/controls.
- One of four, maybe five Jaguar games truly worth owning.