So I've got myself in something of a situation. I find that I'm spending an increasing amount of time in the company of another who is not a gamer. In a world where everyone's something of a gamer, even if it's just a game of Farmville at lunchtime, or some Bejeweled on the mobile phone, this new friend plays none at all. We do not have this in common.
This means a front room that houses no tangle of game controllers protruding from the television. There's no room in the whole house possessing a heaving black box of hard drives and whirring fans. This person does not own a USB mouse. This is unfamiliar territory. I am scared.
But I can nonchalantly carry in a netbook. I'm writing this on it right now. It's an innocent-looking Trojan laptop, a small work machine. It's no use for gaming. It's sneered at by the likes of Steve Jobs for its inability to have its screen touched. It is, in fairness, a glorified typewriter. But just maybe...
Aliens vs. Predator first appeared in 1999. But that's not as cool a number as 2000, when the Gold version came out, which is presumably why the recently re-released version appearing on Steam clumsily calls itself, "Aliens Versus Predator Classic 2000". It's a splendid update, not only ensuring that it works on modern operating systems, but also boosting the resolutions to fit your gangly widescreen monitor. And as of last week, it's been updated to support multiplayer too.
I was slightly disappointed when the Aliens and Predator franchises made their joint appearance together on film. Not only because it was a terrible film, but because there was something great about the two separate stories having their crossover confined to the realms of videogames.
In 1994 developers Rebellion had released Alien vs. Predator for the Atari Jaguar. Remember that? I remember selling the things when working at Silica, in Debenhams, on Saturdays. "Look, you can play Doom on it!" Five years later they did the same, once more offering three campaigns, seen from the perspective of either an Alien, a Marine, or a Predator. It was essentially three games in one. And then with multiplayer to let them collide in the middle.
So when you're bringing in the innocent-looking netbook, it's probably quite important to remember a mouse.
AVP falls in the cusp between some of the older games that have been gracing these Sunday pages, such as Dark Forces, and more modern shooters with which we're all so intimately familiar. It's as smooth and refined as anything you might pick up today, the mouse completely understood by the end of that decade, and the HUD nice and clear. Which means once it's scaled up to a new-fangled resolution, with widescreen support, even the option to use a 360 controller, all its powers are once again in force.
And it has some powers. Most especially the sound. I'm tempted to argue that it is exactly that the music is not context-sensitive that makes this quite such a ludicrously frightening experience. There are more jumps than a kangaroo convention on trampolines, but it's the sinister swells of the score, at completely inappropriate moments, that ensure my heart is always on the verge of giving out entirely.
Which is a good look when crouched over a netbook in your girlfriend's front room as she attempts to work on biological research statistical analysis. Your fingers desperately sweeping at the mouse pad, back hunched at the small screen, squinting at the darkness, the crescendo somehow timed to switch to diminuendo about three seconds before an alien leaps from nowhere directly in front of me forcing a less than manly squeal.
As has been a recurring theme when revisiting the best of the nineties first-person shootery, AVP is an astonishingly difficult game. It does not care for your weak-willed ways, your desire to be held by the hand through a level. While the Steam update has included an option to switch on infinite saves, the stigma surrounding such a cowardly action is too much to bear. It's generally considered a failing in a game today if the player is able to get lost, not know where they should be heading next. In AVP it's a feature. And never more so than when playing as an Alien.
Walking up the walls and onto the ceiling in first-person is a special joy. Holding down Ctrl the Alien runs along any surface, meaning you must completely rethink your approach to a level. And indeed it introduces about five more planes for you to get lost on. My sense of direction is so terrible I get lost walking up a flight of stairs, meaning AVP's complex series of corridors and tunnels is about the most difficult labyrinth you could ever set me loose in. However, on the occasions when I do stumble in the right direction, what a ludicrous thrill it is to sneak your way around.
This is mostly about running away. When you need to escape, being able to pick the nearest wall, slither your way onto the ceiling, and into a nearby tunnel, is a great pleasure. You're weak to attacks, but you're powerful at evasion. With the fish-eyed perspective, and the crazy freedom to escape, there's nothing like this in gaming since (if you ignore AVP2, of course).
Meanwhile as the Predator you are equipped to the eyeballs. And equipped with the eyeballs. Four view modes, the ability to zoom in, sniping with the spear gun, the shoulder canon, a cloak, self-healing, and of course the disc. It's a crazed juggle managing them all, but you find your favourite techniques, and they can really work.
The Marine offers a more traditional shooter. There's a selection of weapons, none of which really stand the test of time sadly. The guns lack punch - oddly most things feel like firing a laser beam, but one made out of individual bullets. The flamethrower is obviously fun, if a surefire (ha) way to set yourself aflame. However, I think there's only one thing that needs special comment about being a Marine. It's this:
Sil-BE-BEEP BE-BEEP BE-BEEP!
Scream, slice, splurge, dead.
That bleep. That sonar Alien detector. It's masterful. They may be above or below you, they may be right in front in the endless darkness. Switch to your night vision and you may just see them coming, but you'll no longer hear the beeping. This balance, this choice between seeing or hearing. That's AVP at its finest.
The new version is coming any day now. Will it be as great? Does it even matter when you can pick this up for £3, play all three campaigns with all the Gold pack bonuses and extra levels released since, as well as the skirmish mode, and now even multiplayer using Steam's system? Three pounds!
And it works on a netbook. Which is something of a revelation to me. It means you can play a comfortably modern first-person shooter on the train. Or at a non-gamer's house without it even looking that weird. Although it sounds weird. The frightened squealing. That's never not weird.