Despite the success of the original Aliens vs Predator game, its developer Rebellion was dumped in favour of Monolith, the company behind No One Lives Forever. Unfortunately for fans of the series, Monolith have made plenty of mistakes and, like so many of their previous releases, AvP2 is crying out for a patch. Monolith got one thing right though. AvP2 continues in the same vein as its predecessor, which sported three separate campaigns for budding Aliens and aspiring Predators, while for the rest of us there was the bladder-slackening Marine mission to contend with. It was three games in one with a brilliant co-operative multiplayer mode to boot. The sequel is nowhere near as frightening, but Monolith have done a surprisingly good job of building believable Alien and Predator single player scenarios which intersect with one another and the Marine campaign at times. The Marine campaign is perhaps the best of them, and compared to the vomit-inducing fish-eyed Alien campaign and every epileptic's worst nightmare, the Predator, the Marine outing is a better first person shooter. With a shoulder-mounted flashlight answering your every beck and call though, the only scares will come as you face the wrong way when a scripted sequence kicks off.
Slash and dash
Viewed as a whole, AvP2 is a pretty impressive blend of elements. Each single player undertaking is a good few hours long and requires a different playing style. As the Marine your biggest ally will be heavy weapons and hacking equipment, but as the Predator stealth and brutality will suffice. The Alien would be pretty similar, but it also introduces extreme mobility and a subtle frailty of character. Encouraging stealth early on as the player grows from a face hugger to a chest buster and finally a proper Alien, it also helps to be slightly psychotic. Slashing and decapitating is still the only way to survive. The biggest change for the series though comes from the technology behind it. The same engine that powered No One Lives Forever, Lithtech 2.5, is employed to handle the activities, but it's an odd choice. It isn't as visually stimulating as Quake III Arena - a game which is already well past its second birthday - but it's very endearing in its own way. Everything is much smoother and more elegant, right down to the assault rifle gripped tightly in every Marine's hands. The lighting (and there's a surprising amount of it for an Alien-esque game) is often less than foreboding, but it looks good. Character modelling is also up to NOLF's high standards, with animated faces being used to some extent. The variation in appearance and clothing is a step up from the first AvP, but it's still not quite realistic enough to give the likes of FFX a run for their money, and combined with some less than dramatic scenery (which is par for the course on Lithtech apparently) the developers have had to work hard to keep up the illusion of reality. Which is hard enough as it is, thanks to the countless bugs and insane system requirements. Generally speaking a PC based on a 1GHz Pentium III with a GeForce 2 Pro graphics card is a damn fine gaming system. Throw AvP2 at it though and it's quivering silently on the floor in five minutes flat, with numerous blips throughout. Fortunately my other PC is driven by one of those tasty Athlon XPs, plenty of memory and a GeForce 3 Ti500. AvP2 didn't argue with that, so I guess the sweet spot is somewhere in-between.
One more victim of Lithtech 2.5 is the game's multiplayer support. There are countless modes available, including all your favourite first person shooter clichés as well as the old Hunt mode, Survivor (last man standing) and the new Evac mode, where one team tries to reach an extraction point before the other team wipes them out. Unfortunately none of these modes is really playable once you move beyond the safety of a LAN. There are few enough servers out there running the game, and only 250 players were online at the time of writing. Thanks to the Lithtech engine's average network code, playing online is hard enough even if you can find the players, with pings varying wildly with no real pattern. One thing which doesn't let up though is the sound effects, with a proper orchestral score that changes according to your situation. The voice acting is typically American but it's not that bad, and you don't get it often in the Alien and Predator campaigns unless the person doing the speaking is about to meet his maker. This more than makes up for any annoyance.
Amongst the bugs and niggles afflicting the game are a few real show-stoppers. Sometimes a scripted sequence will just not happen, leaving you to ponder what's supposed to be happening for a few minutes and then reload an old save game. As a result there are times when in any normal first person shooter you would just assume that you had missed a clue, but in reality the game has forgotten to do the next cutscene. Sometimes smaller things go wrong. The AI has a habit of getting stuck on the scenery, or the Aliens make stupid noises and then come charging down the corridor, as if they weren't boring enough as it is. The other annoying thing about the AI-controlled Aliens is that they don't seem to bear any resemblance to those that you play alongside in the Alien campaign. When you are fighting against them the Aliens look awfully short and seem to have a tendency towards crouching down and scraping your shins. There's quite a lot to do in Aliens vs. Predator 2, but despite its technical tomfooleries and the criss-crossed storyline, it isn't as good a game as the original Alien vs. Predator. Some hopeful multiplayer options and the odd bit of excitement can't rescue AvP2 from its bugs and poor mimicry, and it's a pale shadow of Monolith's last big effort, No One Lives Forever. If you're crying out for a new shoot 'em up you would be better off getting Return to Castle Wolfenstein.