In throwing myself into Aliens vs Predator skirmish and single player, the online AvP fix I craved still eluded me .. until now.
At the moment I am building up a rather respectable phone bill with British Telecom, and this can be blamed on the techies at Static, who have bestowed on me the ability to play my favourite game over the internet - regularly, painlessly, and without having to enter a single chat room!
Static's AvP Game Tracker takes advantage of the 'grown-up' internet code that some kind bod put into the Gold Edition of the game to ease our frustration. It basically bolts on to AvP Gold, and introduces server-to-client and dedicated server facilities to this previously ailing game.
I haven't submitted my details to Static's database in order to start my own server yet, preferring rather to ponce off of other gamers, but this is one of its many features. Much like FragFinder, the difference being that once you are in the beautifully designed interface of Static you can see the server's ping, plus how many players are there at the time and, best of all, you can simply double click on the available servers to launch the session in true GameSpy style.
There's even an IRC type chat room welded on to give you the best of both worlds. I don't mind the odd bit of chit-chat to swap tips and so on, but if I have to wait for the chat to die down before the game kicks off (think MPlayer) then my patience bone gets terribly itchy.
Let's WinNuke The Entire Site From Orbit
Now that this beta version of Static is here, joining a game has never been easier (apart from the occasional bizzare crash), and you can even see the other players' pings, connection types, and chosen species in-game, with an icon-driven interface to die for. It's just a shame that the rest of AvP's navigational design can't be this tidy!
Dedicated servers are currently being tested at the moment, so that can only improve the stability of the net code when they arrive. As far as pings go, AvP is a laggy beast at the moment, but high pings in AvP have a different effect on gameplay than in a Quake game for example.
In Quake, if it's really laggy then movement becomes lurching and laboured, whereas in AvP the movement is beautifully smooth at all times, no matter what the ping is. The bad bit comes when you are killed by an enemy you can't see, simply because the information just isn't getting through to your computer.
Classic examples include suddenly catching fire when a marine napalms you, but he doesn't register on radar and doesn't seem to be in the room. Or being constantly hacked at by an Alien you can't even hear, let alone see.
I Ain't Got Time To Bleed
Luckily this situation is getting better, with Static version 1.0b released to address this issue among others, and even on BT Free the wonderful game of Aliens versus Predator is a joy to play.
Finally I can see that all the species (if your connection is sound, of course) are well balanced against each other. The alien appears to dominate when the pings get high for the marine and predator, because of its funny habit of teleporting from one spot to another - probably because it moves so damn fast. Where predators are concerned, a marine needs to spot the predator the moment it uncloaks, and use his superior arsenal instantly if he is to survive.
AvP seems to have some of the most intense close quarters one-on-one experiences seen in a first person shooter, largely due to the speed and manoeuverabilty of its characters, but mainly because the alien moves in total 3D around its victims, equally happy clambering over walls and ceilings.
AvP's unique cinematic atmosphere is helped by it having the most amazingly organic lighting of any first person shooter, plus its splendid use of EAX effects for its sound.
This has to rank as the most immersive fragathon at the moment. It has all the thrill and ambience of a good story-driven single player game, largely due to the diversity of its character classes, even when you are competing against real people on the net.
Game Over, Man
I look forward to when the PREditor supplies us with a myriad of beautifully designed maps to play on, and I hope that AvP can make up some of the ground that it has lost in the popularity stakes due to its lamentable multiplayer debut.
If you haven't tried it yet, then get the Gold Edition, download the ever-improving Static software (currently about 3.5Mb total), and hopefully I may meet you one night in the Hive with my pistols.