Version tested: PlayStation 2
Historically speaking, consoles haven't done very well with real-time strategy games. This is probably because as a genre, RTS games thrive on high screen resolutions, mouse control and online multiplayer options. AVP: Extinction isn't about to rewrite history, but apparently it is happy to re-enact some of the genre's most frustrating crimes of the 1990s: sloppy AI and path finding, dodgy low-res visuals, and unbalanced units.
It's like C&C never happened
Actually, for "sloppy AI", please read "inexplicably cretinous AI". It's the game's biggest fault: units constantly bounce off tiny obstacles and then decide a better route involves all four corners of the map, units stop moving when they bang into one another and then wait to die, and units flagrantly disregard orders and stand around getting slaughtered. Game Over, man.
Which is a pity, because in many respects Extinction shows a lot of promise. The first few missions for each of the three races (Colonial Marines, Aliens and Predators - duh) demonstrate a reasonable balance, despite the diversity of forces on offer. Gung-ho Marines are good at a distance with a large range of units, but need to be firing on all cylinders with Medics, CommTechs and Synthetics undamaged to prevail; Predators are costly to reproduce, but highly adept individuals; and Aliens are strong in numbers and not unlike StarCraft's Zerg in many ways, but fall foul of their enemies if they aren't within slashing or hole-punching distance.
But when you get more than a few missions into proceedings, it becomes clear that the balance just isn't there. Aliens need huge numbers to win, yet their reproduction is hideously complex (Queen lays eggs, eggs become face huggers, drones collect humans so face huggers have something to infect and become chest bursters, chest bursters cocoon, cocoons deliver drones - with their vulnerability going up at every turn); Predators are just ridiculously powerful due to their countless weapons and technological upgrades, like being able to see units shrouded by the fog of war; and Marines are somewhere in the middle. No wonder there's no multiplayer mode.
Bases? We don't need no stinking bases
It doesn't help that the game's 21 missions themselves are almost uniformly boring, with only the Alien options really worth playing. Yes yes it's nice to see that actions in one campaign can affect another, but when all the Marines and Predators do is move between waypoints killing stuff, who cares? Aliens are fun because they're a bit different, but it can take ages to build an army of any size or diversity - and doing so is particularly frustrating because their protracted life cycles are regularly halted so drones can forage for hosts. Which can take several minutes at a time. You could just send the face huggers out by themselves, except they shrivel up and die if they disappear beyond the boundaries of the hive for too long.
What's more, there's no base building (unless you count gun turrets) - just 'base units' like the Alien Queen - and battles are limited by an unfathomable unit cap, so what you're left with is effectively a top-down AVP with none of the atmosphere or aesthetic style.
Didn't we mention that the graphics are rubbish? Oh. We should have. We often joke that things might look better on a PSone, but, honestly, a PSone could render these textures, and we're sure it could handle the three or four colours that Extinction trots out from mission to mission. The models aren't too horrible, with character designs lifted from movies and comics, but they move like drunken robots. It's quite telling that nothing in the science fiction upon which AVP is based moves as rigidly or artificially as the units herein. Presumably this is because the PS2 can't handle 50 decent-looking units at once. The Xbox could, but then EA needs to develop stuff for PS2 and then port it to Xbox, right? How else will they maximise profits?
Obviously the control system is another flaw, however well it has managed to implement it "for a console". Units are selected by X, but there's no drag-select. Instead, a circle of control expands as you hold down X, allowing you to collect units together. You can assign groups to the four directional buttons, map waypoints (which is a must given how stupid everybody is), instruct Aliens to automatically gather hosts or Predators to collect skulls, and you can move the cursor to base units with square and firefights with triangle. It takes some getting used to, but it's pretty unintuitive, and feels like a rather pointless reinvention of the wheel.
Is there anything we'd like to applaud? The interface is nice, the framerate is pretty smooth, there's Pro Logic surround with music and sound effects lifted from the movies (so what if they regularly overlap one another and sound tinny?) and surely it's quite refreshing to see an RTS instead of another unimaginative shooter that revolves around making you jump?
Actually, it isn't. People shouldn't make RTS games for consoles for the same reasons that people shouldn't put square pegs in round holes: they don't fit. And people definitely shouldn't make substandard RTS games for consoles. Whether you want an AVP game or just a strategy game, your best option is to buy a PC and play AVP2 or WarCraft III. Can't afford a top-end PC? Buy a crap one and play AVP1 or StarCraft then. They are both better games than Extinction, and they probably run on pocket calculators by now. The idea that the gorgeous-looking AVP: Colonial Marines was canned for this is heartbreaking.
Extinct? We certainly hope so.
4 / 10