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 Ł3, 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.