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by Robert Jung
Atari Corp., for the Atari Jaguar
It was a routine daycycle at the Camp Golgotha Colonial Marine Training Base when the first ship arrived. After it failed to answer hails, Captain Hamton had a tug sent out to tow it in. With its arrival came a load of acid-blooded alien xenomorphs, who quickly invaded the station. As the Marines fight for their lives, they send out an emergency distress call, and a second ship arrives. It carries a team of the mysterious race of Predators, who see the situation as a rare opportunity for a glorious hunt...
And so begins ALIEN VS. PREDATOR, one of the most anticipated titles for the Atari Jaguar. You can play as a Marine, an Alien, or a Predator, romping through this besieged war zone in a first-person action-adventure. Each character has different strengths, abilities, and goals: the Alien uses its speed and natural powers to rescue the Queen, the Predator must prove himself in the hunt, and the Marine tries to destroy the station and escape with his life. Depending on the character, useful items can be found and computer databases are available for more information. The game ends when you take too much damage, though up to three games-in-progress can be saved.
If there is one word that can summarize ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (and it's hard to do so), that word is "suspenseful." This is not a rapid-fire gore festival with creatures waiting behind every corner for you. Instead, there is a lot of emphasis on caution and stealth. The Marine's game, especially, is more like an action-adventure: in order to win, he must thoroughly explore the station itself and its computer system. In balance, the other two characters provide less thought and more action, though of different flavors. The Predator's game requires finesse to acquire "honor points" for better weapons, while the Alien's game demands survival tactics and is arguably the hardest of the three.
The game is loaded with so many details that it's impossible to cover them all in a short review. The levels are immense, with a network of air vents running throughout, and new players will make extensive use of the auto-mapping feature. The Jaguar controller is used extensively for each character and responds well, though there's no way to configure the buttons. Assorted nuances punish mindless shooting -- one example is that Alien corpses continue to inflict damage, so care is needed to prevent killing them in high-traffic areas. One big plus is that enemy locations are randomized at the start of a game; this prevents winning with memorization and adds to the replay value.
A few flaws keep ALIEN VS. PREDATOR from being perfect. Worst is the lack of a "speed" button to make you move faster, which can be dangerous when you're attacked from behind. Science-fiction buffs playing as the Predator will find it incongruous to see Marines and Aliens working together against you. Difficulty settings would have been welcome, to make learning the game easier and increase its long-term appeal. Finally, only a minimum of game information is saved; opponents and supplies are randomly regenerated when a game is restored. None of these make the game unplayable, but they do detract slightly.
Like the game itself, the graphics on ALIEN VS. PREDATOR are just a bit short of perfection. The station is painted in gorgeous textures that offer a wide spectrum of color and details. A transparent heads-up display shows game status and the map, and its brightness can be turned up, down, or off as desired. Movement and scaling is smooth and well paced, but turning with the Marine looks a little choppy. Characters and items are also well drawn and easily identifiable, though a few frames of animation are missing in some places, which disappoints.
Sounds fare better. The only music in the game is an ominous tune during the title sequence, while the various background noises of the station play during the game. When an encounter occurs, screams, howls, weapon fire and explosions fill the air with frightening effect. Then there are miscellaneous sound effects, such as hissing airlocks, winching doors, and the Predator's vision filters. Voices and samples are clear, with most coming straight from the movies, and the overall effect adds to the game's haunting mood.
ALIEN VS. PREDATOR delivers everything that the title promises -- a nerve-racking quest that combines excitement, cunning and strategy. While it's not a nonstop killing spree that can be learned in three minutes, there's enough action and adventure here to appeal to a wide variety of players. With sound and graphics that make the movies come alive, this title is a great showcase of the Jaguar's abilities and offers many hours of hair-raising fun.
It's not an absolutely-wonderfully-perfect-sell-your-house-to-buy-this game...but it's darn close. Though whether this is better than TEMPEST 2000 is a toss-up in my book.
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