Version tested: Xbox 360
I'm trying very hard to suppress a Pavlovian instinct over 20 years in the making. As a teenaged boy in the eighties, Aliens and Predator pretty much defined the word "awesome", an ingrained response that has endured ever since.
Even in adulthood, both Cameron and McTiernan's movies stand the test of time. Each is assembled from unforgettably taut set-pieces, incredibly quotable dialogue and pacing that leaves breathing room for both character and mayhem to grow and evolve.
For nearly 20 five years we've absorbed every nuance of these iconic creature designs, every sound effect and music sting, every subtle environmental cue that tells us we're back in a place where acid-bleeding bugs and dreadlocked hunters are waiting to demolish our fragile fleshy bodies.
Rebellion understands this connection, and has laced this remake-cum-reboot of its 1999 hit with a seductive amount of note-perfect fan service. The lonely high-pitched ping of a motion tracker. The falsetto sputter of a pulse rifle. The guttural clicks and growls of a Predator. The swoosh that accompanies the shift to thermal vision. The malevolent hiss of an Alien, the elephantine scream as it dies in a hail of bullets. It's all here and, like Pavlov's pooches, we start to drool.
However, as with all games that dazzle us with beloved characters, it's a good idea to wipe your chin and take a closer look. While the surface details go out of their way to pleasure the fanbase, the game underneath is trudging along, content to let a quarter century of accumulated passion do the hard work.
As with the 1999 game, play is divided between three species-specific solo campaigns and a chunk of multiplayer modes. All are hobbled in some way by hurried design choices, with the single-player coming off worst.
Playing as the Marine is an uninspiring introduction. It's not Rebellion's fault that Aliens was such a heavy influence on the FPS genre, but the eagerness with which it embraces outdated clichés doesn't do much to differentiate this from everything that came before. There are some nice scripted scares along the way, and a couple of reasonably intense battles against swarms of Aliens, but it's not enough to disguise the lifeless padding in between.
Creeping down gloomy corridors, finding terminals to open doors, there's not a single memorable moment. There's no iron-sight aiming, no duck or cover capability, and no reason to venture from the linear path other than - oh, surprise - collectible audio logs. Alien encounters quickly exhaust their initial thrills and the game resorts to using combat androids to offer more varied foes. Take away the movie topping and you've got a drab, anonymous shooter with low ambition.
The Predator fares better in the innovation stakes, simply because it comes with a suite of powers that shake up shooter stereotypes. You play through the same locations, albeit occasionally taking the roof rather than the ground route, but the shift away from straight blasting doesn't do the creaky FPS engine any favours.
Battling Aliens is an often bewildering swirl of close-up grappling based around a stiff block-and-counter mechanism, while taking down Marines relies on the game's woolly sense of stealth. You can turn invisible (although doing literally anything else inexplicably drops your cloak) and use your extra-terrestrial ventriloquism skills to distract unwary enemies.