Monday, 8 February 2010

It isn’t easy being a marine. The hours are awful. You get shouted at a lot. Your haircut choices are very short or extremely short. Clothing comes in green, khaki or brown. Your job requires you go to some very badly lit places and die. Repeatedly. In messy ways.

Just another day in the Corps.

My first experience with the new AvP multiplayer demo was as the Marine. The Loneliest Marine on the planet.

It is was dark and that darkness held the echoes of gurgling , thrashing, screaming sounds signaling my impeding death. Clutching an oversized pulse rifle like a comfort blanket, I creep forward, poking a weak beam of light into the most sinister and dangerous looking puddles of gloom. The blip blip blip of the motion tracker trips irregularly and I swing wildly round, a moment of trigger incontinence spraying against the nearby wall. Phew. It’s another marine.

Who shreds me with a blast from his shotgun and steps confidently over my twitching corpse.

My feelings of betrayal are somewhat soothed by the sight of his sudden evisceration two steps later as I faded to the CCTV cameras and await respawn. All is fair in love and deathmatch it seems.

I respawn and decide to take a different tack, holing up in one of the rooms in a sort of crossroads. Ooo a shotgun. I’m feeling braver now so I click off my light and back into the darkest corner, this being my cunning plan. Invisible Death Marine! Muhahaha! Seconds pass and I hear some scuttling coming closer. My mouse finger tightens as the screen goes wobbly in anticipation. Here it comes, Baby!

Except when I try to move I suddenly can’t. I look down and there are large blades sticking out from my chest. Oh bugger. watching the CCTV again.

After a few more hideous deaths I’m on a razors edge, firing into shadows wildly and running from room to room whimpering like a dog with the squits. It is while doing this I score my first kill, reflexively firing as I burst round a corner onto a Xenomorph still gloating over the corpse of another marine. It dies in the first burst but I’m so keyed up I unload a whole clip on it, hooting wilding. I’m not dead! Take that and PARTY you BASTARD! I die shortly afterwards, French-kissed into oblivion by a vengeful Stabby-head, but it doesn't seem to matter so much. I held my own. I can do this.

That is the crux of the game as a Marine. The AvP demo keeps you in a state of constant paranoia. You can’t see very much, everything is faster, stronger and uglier than you (that is some bad ugly) and you are very definitely on the menu. Your weak torch serves more as a call to lunch than a useful tool and while the weapons are meaty and remarkably well stocked with ammunition you spend most of that blasting shadows and phantoms. You feel small and weak and utterly alone. The terror wiped the usual concepts of deathmatch from my mind and later I reflected that I was rather impressed with that. Ok. a fair bit later.

Deciding that my love of flamethrowers and guns with LED displays has blinded my good judgement I opt for a Xenomorph for the second game. This surely will be easier. Anything has to be easier...

Except it isn't. I start out scrambling across a ceiling in pursuit of a hapless marine who gets away from me long before I work out how to get unstuck from the flaming ceiling and actually eat his head off. Totally disoriented I eventually get picked off the wall by a predator who casually lobs a spear through my head. More savvy to the deathmatch dynamic this time when I spot an alien tail flicking past in my peripheral vision, I immediately spin round , claws at the ready. And again! The Bastard is circling ME!

Except it is my tail.

Even after the embarrassment had worn off I found it hard to enjoy playing as the Alien. I found the transition mechanic from wall to floor to ceiling where you press the middle mouse button to attach yourself to the new surface to be a bit hit and miss. Sometimes you just climb up the walls and sometimes you have to press the button. I always seemed to stick to the walls like glue when in hot pursuit of someone and end up suddenly the other way up and traveling away from them at speed, while later be confronted by a small step up and have to press the transition key. The spirit-levelesque T indicator in the middle of the screen did make it easier to orientate myself most of the time but I never truly felt wholly in control. Overall it gave me a creeping feeling of frustration so I moved on.

Predators start out with the obligatory cutlery strapped to each arm, can cloak (from humans) and see either normally, in the rather spanky infra-red we all know and love, or the green on green (with green) “Alien vision”. There are other weapons scattered about, such as the spear, the discus and the shoulder-cannon which are apparently rather groovy. Certainly I died to them a lot. In fact every time I chose to be a Predator there seemed to be at least two others turning me into a Shis-Kebab. The Predator is, on paper, the strongest of the three however divorced from his big hitting weapons and limited to up close and personal tools of death it isn’t the easy option. I’d say still that the balance still favoured Old Uglychops when tooled up and able to hold the high ground. The targeting laser does make them very visible but when you can’t get close it isn’t much of a consolation to your cooling corpse.

It is only a demo and these are just first impressions from three days play, but I would say it has plenty of atmosphere for a one-level deathmatch-only map. I felt vulnerable in all three modes and I’m sure there are some who will scoff at my Nooblishmishness* , which is fair enough given I spent a few minutes scared of my own tail, but I think that the game balance shows promise given that there was no obviously easier choice (at least for me).

It does have one strong element in its favour in that it feels fresh, with three very distinct ways to play. Whether Rebellion have capitalised on this in the full game remains to be seen but the early indicators seem good here. The option for a cinematic one button kill (Alien and Predator only it seems) was a nice touch the first few times but it does leave you very vulnerable while you are caught in the animation.
Personally I’d like to see the Alien wall crawling thing be less awkward as that did cause some mouse-champing moments.

Lastly although I appreciate it is a demo, and a limited one at that, the lack of any real guide to the abilities and keys for each race contributed greatly to my early bewilderment. The Marines are pretty standard drop-in-and-shoot types but I still have no clear idea what focus does for Aliens, so I just use it arbitrarily. Using weapons for Predators seems overly complicated too.

But that don’t matter. I’m back as a lean, mean, green, fighting machine. Gimmie a HOORAH people!


*this is my word. There are many like it but this one is mine.

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