Reviewed: August 29, 2002
Released: August 16, 2002
August seems to be the month for expansion packs. After just wrapping up the review for Operation Flashpoint: Resistance along comes Aliens vs. Predator 2: Primal Hunt. The original Aliens vs. Predator 2 released last October and combined excellent gameplay, superior graphics, and stunning sounds, all the while redefining first-person survival horror. Now, almost a year later, Sierra/Fox brings us more terrorizing gameplay, but does it live up to the original?
Developed by Third Law (KISS: Psycho Circus), AvP2: Primal Hunt offers more of the same gameplay we experienced last year, only this time the dosage is so minimal you may think you are playing a demo for a bigger game. The thrills and chills have been traded in for a rapid-fire rampage with a body count to match, but what little fun remains is over all to quickly.
Primal Hunt doesn’t expand on the original but rather follows it’s own story and timeline. Once again you can play as a Corporate Mercenary, a Predator, or the new PredAlien – those big nasties you fought near the end of the Predator missions in the AvP2. And once again you can play these characters in any order you choose; however, if you play them in the order listed in the menu the story seems to be a bit more coherent.
The corporate missions have you playing Dunya, a hard-ass female mercenary with a cool Russian accent, called away from her relaxing shower (yes – there is a shower scene cleverly censored with strategically placed towel bars) and sent into some alien ruins to locate and recover an “artifact”. You get to team up with two AI-controlled soldiers who enjoy torching you more than aliens. A few levels later you recover the artifact and return to the Pods only to have the artifact promptly stolen by a cloaked Predator during a xenomorph attack on the base.
The Predator missions are a bit more interesting. We start with a flashback over 500 years ago with our high-tech hunter landing on LV1201 for a little safari. After hunting the local indigenous species for a while he stumbles on an ancient temple with an “artifact” that once activated seems to repel the xenomorphs. This all leads to a sequence of events where he is trapped in a stasis field (the same one used to keep those alien eggs from hatching) for 500 years. He wakes up when Dunya steals the artifact (see corporate mission) and must retrieve it.
The PredAlien mission follows the same storyline as you assume the roll of the wall-climbing, ceiling-sticking, razor-sharp tooth alien. Your goal is to stop Dunya and destroy the artifact so the Hive can live long and prosper, and Fox can make more sequels.
The story does a good job of mixing key moments and locations, so as you are playing each character you will see events unfold from different perspectives or visit locations you have already been to in another life. One such moment (and my personal favorite) is when two guards are patrolling under the Pods. One guard moves off to sneak a smoke and gets crushed by a hatchway door humorously labeled NO SMOKING. In the Predator mission you learn that you (as the Predator) was the one who ripped that hatch off and inadvertently killed the guard below.
As mentioned previously, the length of this game is painfully short. Clocking in at only 9 missions, you could easily finish the solo adventure in 8-10 hours. The designers have seen fit to artificially extend the life of this game by throwing hundreds of enemies at you, often at once. Well, not really – maybe 20 or 30 at once. They even fallback on dirty gameplay mechanics by having enemies spawn in behind you, so no matter how thoroughly you cleaned out that room behind you, chances are you will get sucker punched (or clawed/bit) from behind.
Ultimately, what this means for the gamer is that you must fall back on the old QuickSave – Die – QuickLoad method of gameplay. There’s no real strategy involved in playing Primal Hunt. It’s basically a twitch-fest reminiscent of games like Serious Sam. Sure, the Predator can zoom and snipe, but if you are close enough to shoot an alien they are already charging at you, usually in swarms.
The AI is a bit off, especially in the corporate missions. My two “associates” would light up the area with their flamethrowers and do more damage to me than any two aliens would do. You weren’t allowed to kill them, but once they died of “natural causes” (i.e. alien attacks) the game actually got easier.
I didn’t experience the “fear factor” I did in the original game. There were no sustained periods of silence where you are sweating, waiting for that motion tracker to start clicking. In fact, the music would generally clue you in to an imminent attack before you even heard the motion tracker. And enemies spawn so close to you that the motion tracker was useless unless the enemy was on the other side of a closed door.
The levels were uninspired. Everything consisted of narrow passages with a few intermittent rooms. There were no real puzzles, nothing to interact with such as hacking computers, using a cutting torch, etc., and only the occasional piece of reading material to further the story along.
The Predator is always my favorite character, but even this time around it just wasn’t that thrilling. With unlimited energy absorption and healing capabilities I never felt “threatened”. I would only die if I forgot to heal and recharge before entering a new area. In fact, the entire Predator sequence got very repetitious falling into a rut of Charge - Heal – Charge – Fight and repeat with the occasional QuickSave tossed in. Your new pistol wipes out just about every enemy and once you get the Plasmacaster (the lock-on laser) the Predator game loses all challenge.
Even the Alien missions are lacking. I never felt that sense of urgency or fear as I skittered around as the face hugger looking for a fresh host. And once I was a full-grown alien I found no added benefits of being a Predator hybrid over a having a Human host.
It’s hard to imagine that a mission pack based on a game that got a perfect 10 for visuals could screw up. While the graphics quality itself remains just as good as before, the actual level design is what lowers this score. The new creatures found during the Predator hunting missions are pretty sad.
The rampaging buffalo-type creature became as annoying and as predictable as the bulls in Serious Sam, even their momentum-induced post-death tumble that you had to sidestep. The giant worms were simply annoying, and there were so many you soon stop fighting them and just run through them sucking up the damage.
The Pod levels used the same textures and designs from the first game, so those missions were simply a case of déjà vu. The temple ruins and surrounding cave complex was nothing more than narrow twisting passages ripe for ambush attempts. The outdoor levels were equally as unimpressive save one section with narrow intertwining land bridges and lots of hungry aliens.
Playing as the Predator, you will want to use your Electromagnetic vision mode (the red one) which turns aliens into bright white glowing targets and allows you to lock-on with the Plasmacaster. This has the annoying side effect of having you play the game for several hours seeing nothing but red. Any artistic work done by the level designers or artists is lost in this monochromatic experience.
The cutscenes are impressive, especially considering they are being generated with game engine graphics. Primal Hunt also features some of the best fire effects I have seen to date including a very stunning effect when Dunya catches on fire – an experience that happens all too often unfortunately.
The sound and music are probably what saves this game from utter failure, but in some ways it also ruins the suspense of the original. As any good horror movie buff will tell you, it’s what you can’t see and can’t hear that scares you. The original game did a great job of capturing this with long stretches of gameplay with no music and only the click…click…click of your motion tracker.
This device is rendered totally useless in Primal Hunt by music cues that increase the tempo and volume the moment an enemy becomes aware of your presence – whether you saw him or not. Imagine how easy life would be if tense music played just before something dangerous was about to happen.
Sound effects are still as awesome and terrifying as the original. All your favorite sounds are back including those high-tech hums during the Predator vision mode changes, and the famous lock-on sound of the shoulder-mounted Plasmacaster.
The voice acting is once again topnotch with great dialog delivered by a very convincing cast of voice actors. There is nothing sexier than a hard-nosed female merc with a Russian accent and Dunya delivers, as does her supporting cast.
Primal Hunt is short by anyone’s standards, even for a mission pack. You will blaze through the solo missions in less than 10 hours on Normal difficulty mode. You could set this higher, but it only makes the game take cheaper shots at you than it already does.
There are some new weapons, a few new multiplayer modes, maps and playable characters, but this offers only a minor incentive to keep playing the game. The multiplayer maps weren’t that challenging, and I found trouble finding anyone online who was even playing this expansion, even a couple weeks after the release.
Aliens vs. Predator 2: Primal Hunt tries to expand on the original and instead strays from the very formula that made it a success. What’s new isn’t that exciting and what’s back for more seems to be rehashed and uninspired. There were probably only three or four times in the entire game where I said “Wow” or “Cool”, unlike the original which kept me glued to the computer for nearly two straight weeks. And not once did I ever feel threatened or frightened other than being startled by enemies that had spawned in behind me – those don’t count.
Diehard fans will undoubtedly want to play this game and it should be hitting a budget price soon enough. I’m sure a Gold Edition or Game of the Year edition will also be forthcoming that will combine the original and this mission pack, so if you haven’t partaken of the goodness of the original, you may want to wait a month or so for a combo pack.