People seem to be pretty disappointed with the recent Aliens: Colonial Marines game. That reminds me, I’ve been pretty disappointed with every Aliens vs. Predator game that’s come out. In my opinion they aren’t really AvP games at all and a true AvP game does not exist… yet!
Here’s my problem with the current FPSes that are titled Aliens vs. Predator: the different races/characters you play just don’t feel right, except for the marine. The marine feels good, he feels right, but the predator and the xenomorph just aren’t cutting it. First, the predator plays like a marine with more hitpoints; not terribly unique or predator-like and certainly not the cunning hunter he is meant to be.
Second, the xenomorph can be confusing due to its speed and wall climbing, its gameplay doesn’t have much variety, and it’s not terribly fun to fight when it’s controlled by another human.
What it amounts to is that the AvP games don’t really play like they should and they don’t strike the right chord, except for the marine who is doing groovy.
Here’s my rough outline on how a true AvP multiplayer game should be.
As I mentioned, Marine plays fine. He’s got a nice medium speed FPS thing going. If the marine game needed any improvements it would be to emulate the physics and function of Quake 2, Unreal, or Halo: CE which in my opinion have some of the best callibrated movement, aiming, and gun physics of any FPS.
Other than that, good work, marine.
So, the predator in AvP games usually just plays like a different class of marine; mostly the same gameplay but slightly different accessories and perks. And, when you fight aliens as the predator you’re even more like a marine because your cloaking isn’t effective. However, the fiction of the predator does not cast him as a warrior jumping into the heart of battle (maybe the novels and other bullshit do, but that’s not part of this equation). The predator is a hunter; he is patient, quiet, and stealthy. He prefers to take out individual targets one by one and when no one else is watching. He prefers taking out a target in a single strike. The gameplay of a predator should reflect all this.
What is ridiculous about the absence of gameplay that reflects this fiction is that there are plenty of other games that have mechanics that fit the play style of a predator perfectly. They could be easily be used in an AvP game. Such as…
ESPECIALLY the Arkham games. I mean, you’re already pretty much playing as the predator in these games. Considering the avoidance of direct combat, the preference for stealth, the preference for high elevation, the strong melee combat skills, the detective mode vision, and the variety of high tech gadgets all you have to do is replace the Joker with Danny Glover and you’ve pretty much got a video game adaptation of Predator 2.
So, that’s what I would do if I made an AvP game. I would base the predator’s game design on the gameplay of third person stealth games, especially Arkham City. Instead of Batman’s grappling hook I would have the predator have a climbing mechanic similar to Assassin’s Creed or to Catman’s gameplay in Arkham City. I would make melee combat less fluid than Batman’s, but powerful. I would keep the predator’s ammunition low to encourage players to conserve ammo by playing as hunters waiting patiently for the right moment to strike. The predator’s cloaking would be less effective when moving quickly, and moving quickly might even make him more conspicuous to other players, thus encouraging a more ponderous and predatory gameplay style (similar to how fast and greedy gameplay is punished in Assassin’s Creed multiplayer by making you more conspicuous). Healing could be made into a slower, lengthier process that needs to be done in solitude, further encouraging players to avoid run and gun gameplay.
And importantly, the predator would be played in third person, inlcuding cover mechanics, while the marine would be played in first person. I don’t think any multiplayer games have done this but I think it’s pretty ridiculous that they haven’t since it can provide a greater variety to the game. Yes, it would require a lot more balancing and testing but it’s not impossible.
[EDIT: Patrick in the comments pointed out that the multiplayer in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory has two factions where the spies are in third person mode and the mercenaries are in first person. I was actually thinking about Splinter Cell while writing this article but I didn't make much mention of it because I didn't play it much. Patrick is right though, it's multiplayer is an excellent template for the balance between predator and marine especially with its asymmetrical camera perspectives.]
Ultimately, all this would create a predator that would be more interesting to play and more evocative of a Predator than the current AvP games which, again, have the predator posing as a beefier version of the marine.
So, the xenomorph would be the most difficult to work with in my opinion. But I have several ideas that could make for a better character to play than what the current AvP games have provided.
While the predator would be played in third person I would keep the xenomorph in first person. I would slow down its speed to make it more manageable to control and to fight. The most difficult part of controlling this critter is his ability to climb walls and ceilings because the camera swings and spins around in a disorienting fashion. Or at least it does in the current AvP games.
My solution would be simple: the camera doesn’t rotate. Whether the player is on a wall or a ceiling the camera maintains its standard rotation. The player can rotate the camera manually just like a normal FPS (or like in Descent), but the camera only moves when the player wants it to.
I would also put the xenomorph in a perpetual “wall cling” mode. The player doesn’t have to waste time holding a button to climb walls, the xenomorph just runs up any bit of geometry that it can.
Still, the xeno is kind of simplistic in it’s gameplay. It doesn’t have different weapons so there aren’t many different play styles to try out. My idea to make it more interesting would be to have the xeno go through it’s entire life cycle in a single player “life”. Every time a player dies he respawns as a facehugger. He then has to find some prey to facehug and lay an egg inside of. After a cool down timer the chestburster hatches and the player plays as a chestburster during which time he has to forage for food such as corpses in order to grow into a full sized alien. Then he can start hunting and killing as a full grown alien. That’s much more interesting than the existent super speedy multiplayer melee machine we have with the current AvP games.
Again, this would take a lot of balancing, especially when the marine and predator would have such different play styles, but the point of this article wasn’t to describe something that was easy to do. My point here is to show what a AvP multiplayer game would be like if its gameplay accurately reflected the subject matter.
P.S. let’s get crazier with the xenomorph:
An even more extreme idea, and one that would require even more rigorous testing and balancing, would be to have xenomorph players control an entire hive of aliens in the form of a real time strategy game.
Imagine then a multiplayer game in which some players are playing Halo: CE, some are playing Arkham City/Splinter Cell), and one player is playing the Zerg in Starcraft. Why hasn’t anyone does this yet? This would be so cool. Why doesn’t this game exist?
Even leaving the setting of AvP I say it would be great to play a game in which some players are individual FPS characters while one player controls the creeps and mobs that they have to fight. I could write an entire article about that idea alone, but nah.