Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Classic Arcade Game of the Week (7/6/09) - Aliens Vs. Predator

This week's classic is none other than Capcom's "Alien Vs. Predator," the 1994 coin-op that represented a pinnacle in the two-dimensional fighting game genre. By 1994, Capcom had become a specialist in this style of game, as its other titles such as Final Fight, Captain Commando and Knights of the Round were popular predecessors that used the same formula.

What then, made AVP stand out from the pack? Great, anime-stylized graphics and character design, that's what! Add a deep fighting system and a slavish attention to detail to both the Alien and Predator film franchises, and you've got the makings of an unforgettable action title. I've always maintained that this game is the best AVP game of all time, despite other gaming studios making lackluster 3D first-person shooters out of the property.

The plot of the game is nothing to write home about - just your typical, flimsy setup for some chaotic, butt-kicking action. The fictional Californian city of San Drad (LOL!) finds itself under assault by legions of vicious aliens. Lt. Dutch Schaefer, Arnold Schwarzenegger's character from the first Predator film, has teamed up with partner Lynn Kurosawa in an effort to destroy them all. However, they soon find themselves outnumbered. Just as all hope is lost, predators arrive on Earth to hunt the aliens down. A temporary, uneasy alliance is formed between predators and humans, and an assault on the alien nest begins.

The game offers players the choice to play as one of four different characters, two of which are predators. Dutch is the most powerful character, but is slow as molasses. Lynn is the weakest, but is the fastest when it comes to reloading her pistol. Players will find the firearms in this game to be vital tools that keep hordes of aliens at bay. The predators themselves both have great power, but have average speed and even slower firearm recharge times. Capcom really gave the characters extra personality by giving each of them unique weapons. Lynn uses a Japanese katana to deliver finishing blows, while the predator warrior uses a sharp spear. Dutch wields a huge, cybernetic arm equipped with a machine gun, and the giant predator hunter uses a giant, dual-bladed pole arm.

In the course of a game, players can pick up multiple weapons and healing items to aid them in their adventure. Pulse rifles, assault rifles and grenades seen in the Alien films appear, as do the razor-sharp predator "frisbee" discs which can be thrown a nearly unlimited number of times - players just have to make sure to catch them on the rebound! The flamethrowers used aboard the Nostromo also show up, as do generic survival knives. Often, so many pickups are scattered on the floor, it becomes difficult to grab the exact one you want, leading to some frantic, frenzied battles. Vital health restoration items take the form of sumptuous meals like lobster platters, hoagies and pizzas. An all-powerful medical kit restores all of a character's health meter, making it one of the best finds in the game.

As mentioned earlier, the title offers a deep fighting system. When properly utilized, it allows players to advance deeply into the game. The arcade controls consisted of an 8-way joystick and three buttons. One button was for jumping, another was for firing the player's secondary weapon, while the last was for hand-to-hand combat. In the course of unleashing hand-to-hand combos, quick joystick thrusts to the left or right would allow for powerful "lunge" blows. If timed correctly, players could grab enemies, choosing to pound them repeatedly or to sweep the joystick 90 degrees to nail them with a powerful, jumping uppercut. If timed just right, players could grab an opponent while in the air for an over-the-shoulder toss. Downed enemies that were groaning on the ground in pain could be finished off with bursts from a player's secondary firearm, making bullet conservation key.

Fans of the Alien and Predator film franchises will find a lot to love about this game. The aliens and predators are detailed and accurate. Even the various species of alien xenomorph created specifically for the game look and feel as if they could truly be from the alien canon. The alien queen, eggs, facehuggers and chestbusters all appear in the title, giving fans something to cheer about. Another nice touch is forcing players to fight infected humanoids, who lumber around like zombies.

Weyland-Utani, the villanous corporation from the Alien films is revealed to be the culprit behind the mayhem, and its logo appears everywhere throughout the game's second half. Even the backgrounds have nice references to the movies. In the screen shot below, the Weyland-Utani atmosphere processing tower from Aliens can be seen.

The weapons are film accurate, right down to the sound effects made when they fire. It's clear that Capcom's designers studied each film in thorough detail to give the game a level of fan service players could get excited about. Even the continue screens are an homage to the films -faced with "Game Over," players who chose to be predators are shown a screen showing them about to activate a nuclear self-destruct wristband!

The gameplay is standard beat-em-up fare, taking players through alien hives and creepy passageways in a hunt for the almighty queen. At the halfway point of the game, players are confronted by Weyland-Utani soldiers, who seek to use the aliens for their own evil ends. Killing human soldiers adds some welcome variety to the goings-on, as they tend to drop lots of laser rifles and grenades. An occasional bonus game or bonus level breaks up the fighting stages, keeping the proceedings from getting too stale. One memorable mini-game forces players to destroy an elevator control panel gone haywire, before they are smashed into the ceiling at high speed.

The bosses in the game are challenging and memorable. There are giant aliens that serve as members of the queen's royal guard that can be ferocious and intimidating. Ripley's power loader makes for a tough fight, only this time its being manned by a Weyland-Utani goon. The alien queen is an awesome final battle. She impales players on her barbed tail to inflict significant amounts of damage. It must be noted that the player who lands the death blow on any particular boss gets a sizable point bonus. This made for some fun smack-talk in arcades where two player co-op was commonplace.

I remember having a blast with this game back in college, when it first came out. I'd often play with a second player, and wouldn't stop feeding the machine until reaching the conclusion. I suggest playing the game all the way through, especially after watching some Alien and Predator films to brush up. It makes the experience all that much more enjoyable. Until next week's game, check out and enjoy AVP! You'll be glad you did.


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