Is anything scarier than a xenomorph swarm coming at you in a dimly lit corridor? With only a crummy torch and a few flares to light your way, the sight of these man-sized nasties, leaping about from wall to wall and slamming into your horrified face is one reserved for the very worst nightmares. SEGA and Rebellion's Aliens Vs Predator always had this quite primal sense of fear going for it. It's you against the beasts. The problem is, we had this over ten years ago in the original PC game, and while marine vs alien is great fun, that's just a small part of the overall experience.
AvP is quite a feature packed release. On the single-player campaign front there are separate storylines to play through for the marines, xenomorphs and predators, each offering gameplay tailored around the three different species. There's a full suite of multiplayer features here too, with deathmatch, species vs species team games, predator hunting and even some survival maps in which you and three others try to stay alive while swarms of aliens descend on your position.
The good stuff first then. This first-person shooter from Rebellion is the best game the UK studio has made in quite some time and shows games like Shellshock 2 were blips rather than the peak of its abilities. The marine campaign, complete with iconic motion sensing bleep device, is really quite excellent. It loses its way slightly when the action moves away from the tight corridors and into more open terrain, but while it lasts (each campaign is shorter than the norm due to there being three) it's a nerve-racking, incredibly tense, swear-filled thrill ride.
Along the way you'll get hold of some familiar weapons, including the pulse rifle and flame thrower, as well as see some sentry turrets - you know, like the ones in classic movie Aliens. There's a generous auto-aim in the console versions of the game, which comes in handy when trying to target fast-moving enemies in the dark. About half way through the campaign you'll also get hold of a brilliant smart gun that tracks enemy movement and locks onto then as long as you're aiming in the general direction, and a one-shot-kill scoped rifle that can see enemies through walls.
When you're playing as a marine it's all about keeping your head, but it's easier said than done. Coming face to face with a cloaked predator is heart-stopping, but suddenly seeing a couple of long-tailed, double-jawed aliens fall from the ceiling in front of your face will test your bowel control to its limit. It's all too easy to panic and fire a shotgun at close range into the disgusting alien face that's trying to eat yours, but doing so will only make matters worse. Aliens have acid blood, so get involved in bloody close-quarters combat and you'll be losing health every time you're hit with spray.
Letting down the side is the story itself, which struggles to be anything more than a way to get you fighting the extraterrestrial terrors. NPC characters aren't exactly well developed (possibly because most don't remain alive for very long), so you're left with quite a lone-wolf experience, even though you'll be fighting alongside other marines quite frequently. This lack of sophistication isn't a problem that hurts the adrenaline fuelled gameplay, but just don't expect much in terms of depth.