AvP 2010: Plot

Here be spoilers.

Though honestly there's not a lot to spoil about the game. It's relatively light on plot in real terms, and there's not really any major twists or something of the sort.

AvP 2010 has essentially a single plot that happens to be told from three different perspectives, and so I'm going to be covering all three campaigns in this one post.

The plot is somewhat strange to talk about, in part because the game expects you to infer a fair amount and yet doesn't really put in the effort to make sure what you're seeing is consistent with the expected inference. Part of this has to do with gameplay choices whose potential story impact is ignored: for example, power nodes litter the Predator's maps, but only occasionally show up in the Marine's campaign (When the game expects you to power it up yourself) and same for the Alien's campaign. (When the game expects you to destroy a power node to open a door or the like) While there's occasionally overlap between the positions, in most cases a power node that can be found in one campaign is simply absent from the other two. This removes the game's ability to signal elements of timing with this mechanic: the Predator campaign has a portion of the power nodes mandatory to drain, and the game could have used this to signal in the Alien and Marine campaigns whether the Predator is supposed to have already passed through an area or not by making the mandatory drains be, in fact, drained if the Predator is supposed to have already been through the area.

Another part is that the game doesn't rely on any more explicit mechanics/framing devices to convey time and order. AvP 2, by contrast, will periodically have an informational bit appear on the left side of the screen that provides explicit times and is even kind enough to include a 'time since The Incident' framework so you don't have to manually pay attention to numbers to work out what happened when, relative to other things. If it's been three weeks from the start of The Incident in one sequence and four weeks in another sequence, the second sequence came second. AvP 2010 just expects you to work it out on your own with nearly no context.

To illustrate my point more bluntly: I spent a while under the impression all three campaigns were intended to be occurring roughly concurrently, partly due to how every campaign opens up with the same cinematic of Bishop Weyland (The android head/owner of the Weyland-Yutani corporation from Aliens canon) at a Predator temple that culminates in the temple shooting out a giant blue-white beam. Over the course of unrelated wiki trawling, I stumbled upon the AvP wiki laying out an interpretation of events whereby the Alien's campaign largely occurs well before the other two campaigns, and I find it quite likely this actually is the intent for two big reasons: first of all, the Predator's campaign has a notable sub-plot being chasing an 'abomination' (ie a Predalien), while the Alien's campaign ends on you weakening and Harvesting a Predator, which will of course result in a Predalien. Second of all, this gives the Alien queen time to actually establish her nest under the Refinery after her escape, which would be quite difficult to explain if the Alien's campaign were supposed to be simultaneous with the other campaigns.

This still has timeline wonkiness, in that the Predator you implant at the end of the Alien's campaign is supposed to have arrived at the same time as the Predator you play as, and yet the Predator campaign has you encountering the Predalien on the very first non-tutorial mission, and there's further individual moments that are questionable, such as how the player Predator clearly shows up in the Alien queen's room almost immediately after the Marine has left and also finds a fellow dead Elite right after the queen's room that the Marine didn't even hear fighting Aliens or anything. Even more egregious is the handling of the Jungle map with the Alien and the Predator: the Predator passes through, detonates a Youngblood's wrist computer who is inside a human building, and then at the end of the level you get a cinematic showing the Predalien. When the Alien passes through the Jungle, which is before the mission in which the Alien Harvests a Predator to produce the Predalien, they'll find the human building in question already has all the post-explosion damage, including that its doors have a constant stream of smoke pouring out through the bottom edge. That's just plain not possible to reconcile, and contributed to me not considering the possibility that the Predator you Harvest as the Alien is supposed to be the source of the Predalien you fight as the Predator prior to the wiki trawl.

The Predalien-to-be in the making.

The overall result is that the flow of events is fairly difficult to follow, and it feels like potential was wasted. I like the idea of intertwining the three species' storylines. I like the idea of getting a more nuanced take on a situation by getting the disparate perspectives on it, and on a game design level it's a really good justification for largely recycling your maps, which lets you get more done with less. In the case of AvP, I don't even mind map recycling, because the three species are distinct enough (Even with my observation that the Alien mostly functioning as a partial Predator play experience) that navigating through the exact same environment feels very different with different species. Nonetheless, the story is not really designed so the different angles offer a more complete picture on what is happening. A blunt example of this is an aspect of the Alien's ending: the Alien you're playing as freaks out for no obvious reason, flashes to imagery of the queen burning alive, and in a nice nod to the H. R. Giger artwork that is the original basis for the Alien's design proceeds to curl into a circle-shape, apparently mourning the queen's death or in psychic pain or something of the sort.

It's not a hugely strong resemblance, but I'm pretty sure the intent is there, and it does a decent job of conveying that Six is suffering regardless.

This is all perfectly fine and I do like the nod, but I immediately was certain that this was the Marine's fault when I got to this sequence, having not touched the Marine's campaign at any point, and as such learned nothing when the Marine did, in fact, end up in a 'boss fight' with the queen.

Ultimately the only successful elements of campaign crossover-ness are that the Alien campaign is the only one that explains how the queen breaks out in the first place and, as covered earlier, it explains where the Predalien actually came from. Alas.

In broad terms, though, each plot works out thusly:


You are Subject Six. You catch the attention of Weyland because you're clever enough to escape what at first glance looks like an escape-proof setup for harvesting Chestbursters.

This is actually one of the better bits of the Alien campaign: what's going on is that the infected humans are strapped down, with a clear tube placed over their chest. The usual outcome is that the Chestburster comes out, finds itself in a glass tube, and flails about until people come in and close up the tube. Six promptly ducks back inside her host (And they don't cheat: there's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment of a monitor showing Six burrowing back inside) and escapes out through their mouth, which also leads to the mildly amusing image of a three-stacked mouth by virtue of Six sticking out her inner mouth while flailing out of the human's mouth:

The device. I'd expect it to be larger, honestly, but it's not a believability problem.

L'il baby Six producing the amusing mouth-out-of-mouth-out-of-mouth image.

Time passes, you reach adulthood, and when Weyland activates the Predator pyramid this produces an EMP effect, which somehow causes your restraints to fail, at which point you escape, free some other Aliens (Minor question: why didn't their restraints fail?), and from there go on to free the queen. (I'm a little more willing to buy that her restraints are different and more completely effective, though it still bothers me a little)

This is when the Alien's story gets fuzzy. I could give you a summary of the player's objectives and the context they're occurring in, but it doesn't really mean anything. You just wander around killing and destroying whatever you're directed to, with no obvious purpose or goal to the majority of these actions. Which isn't inherently bad, since it's easy to simply frame an Alien story into 'obeying biological imperatives' at which point an overplot is difficult to fit in, but it does leave the Alien's story feeling a bit aimless, and it's a missed opportunity. If the Alien's story is indeed meant to be the first by days or even weeks, it wouldn't have been too difficult to have the player set up the conditions seen in the Marine and Predator campaigns. Even if the result felt fairly aimless within the Alien's campaign, it would be cool having moments where you stopped and went 'hey, I caused that!' (Or, if playing in a different order, 'Wait a second, I think I know what I'm about to do')

The culmination of this vague wandering, sort of, is a boss rush where you fight two Predators at once, and then fight a third Predator and have to Harvest him when he's close to death. As previously-covered, this probably is meant to be the explanation for the Predalien in the Predator's campaign, but in the Alien's campaign it feels like a weird way to handle a climax, especially when contrasted with how the Marine and Predator have multiple boss fights spaced apart over the campaign, not a single boss rush at the end, and have their boss fights actually trying to be emotionally important to the protagonist: it's not like Six is enacting revenge on the Predators for prior fights, or something of the sort. She just sort of stumbles into them and fights them because they're there.

The actual narrative climax for the Alien occurs in a cinematic after these events: the aforementioned queen's death and Six's mourning leads into several Combat Androids finding Six, and before they can kill her Weyland tells them to capture her instead.

Odd aside: there's a man by the name of Groves we meet in the first mission, who the narrative seems like it's setting him up to be basically the Alien's antagonist, and yet you never find out what happened to him, and in fact he only shows up in Audio Logs and the first Alien mission. This is so weird that the first time I saw Six's ending I misunderstood and thought Groves was the one saying to capture Six, partly because the speaker was unseen and partly because it would've been way more narratively coherent than Groves just... vanishing from the plot.

Then we get a timeskip, and it's murkily implied that what happened is that Six was taken to another planet, escaped during arrival, killed everyone, and then wandered off, where she molts into a queen.

A shot of Six's brand to ensure we know the resulting queen is Six.

Six as a queen, getting used to her new weird body. Normal teen problems.

I was a bit put off by this the first time I played the Alien campaign, because it feels like what I usually call 'wish fulfillment': the protagonist becomes the biggest and the bestest for no particular reason. That wiki trawl I mentioned earlier led to me learning that there's evidence that Six was actually intended to progress in form over the course of the campaign, becoming a Praetorian partway through the game. If so, this would actually make this ending cinematic the obvious final payoff for an ongoing progression, and it would also mean that the Alien campaign would have been better at actual variety, since presumably the switch to a Praetorian would also switch the gameplay away from stealth gameplay to instead being an enormously durable killing machine that can spit acid but can't climb walls or hide well.

If this is true, it's fairly disappointing the Alien campaign didn't end up with this, as it would've dramatically improved the gameplay and the story aspects of their campaign.

Regardless, there's not a lot of plot there. In particular, there's nothing I could point to and call a plot thread. You're Six, you murder things, eventually you leave the planet and become a queen.


The Predator campaign, by contrast, has three plot threads.

1: Youngblood rescue mission.

2: The discovery of ancient Predator technology/archaeological history, and the need to deny humans access to these.

3: Kill The Abomination. (ie the Predalien)

The Youngblood rescue mission is what kicks off the story and brings you to this planet: a group of Youngbloods have gotten in trouble and sent up a distress signal, and you and your fellow Elites are here to bail them out. This plot thread peters out in failure, as all the Youngbloods die before any Elites can rescue them, leaving the Elites to set the Youngblood wrist computers to self-destruct because in this game Predators are explicitly trying to keep their technology out of human hands. Thread 3 kind of shows up at the end of the first mission, but it's not until partway through the second mission that the game explicitly spells out that you're pursuing The Abomination. That's a bit clunky, but it gets clunkier.

The Predalien in the distance, at the beginning of Mission 2. No dialogue about it from your brother Predators results.

The plot rather jarringly transitions from there to Thread 2. In a broad sense this is logical as a transition from Thread 1, giving the player Predator a new reason to stick around, one that's more culturally and emotionally significant than rescuing some Youngbloods, which presumably is not that uncommon an event. In a more specific sense, it just sort of happens; you finish the last level to touch on the Youngbloods and when you start the next level your fellow Predators are harassing you to go into the ruins (That you're standing in front of for... some reason) and claim your rightful Predator heritage. The story lacks the connective tissue to make this transition work properly, and it's made even weirder by Thread 3 having already been introduced and made into a reason to stick things out.

Still, Thread 2 carries you into the rest of the game, and provides the basis of making Weyland the antagonist of the story, since he's interested in Predator technology. I can appreciate the continuity nod at work here -this is fairly explicitly calling back to the first AvP movie, where Weyland-the-man meets Predators and Aliens- but it's fairly awkward in execution, and to a certain extent I have to wonder if the real motive is to make a subtle dig at AvP 2, the game made by a different company as a sequel to Rebellion's prior AvP game. Specifically, in AvP 2 the player Predator gets fairly trivially captured partway through the game by being locked into a small room and EMP grenades being dispensed to... somehow... KO them. AvP 2010 recreates this sequence, except it replaces the bizarre EMP grenade explanation with some kind of poison gas (Which is still odd, since the Predator helmet is supposed to be a re-breather unit, but I can buy the stuff works through the skin) and also the Predator pretty casually breaks free. So I have the impression Rebellion didn't like how easy AvP 2 had its Predator protagonist captured and set up this 'hostile human who wants to capture a live Predator' thing to basically go 'nu-uh, that's not how that would work', with the continuity nod to the movie being a bonus.

Regardless of why Weyland is presented as a Bad Guy from the Predator perspective, it ends up falling a bit flat since the Predator has no real reason to care about this particular human. (Well, android) The Predators are significant to Weyland, but Weyland is not significant to the Predators.

Thread 3 is probably the oddest one of the bunch. The player Predator apparently spots the Predalien at the end of the first mission, maybe (It's not clear if the cinema is just showing the player the Predalien or if the player Predator is supposed to have spotted it, too), and catches a glimpse of the Predalien heading into a cavern network at the beginning of the second mission, and I'm pretty sure the intended implication is that you spotted the Predalien and immediately tried to run it down and kill it but no confrontation happened yet because... well, because the Predalien is really here to be the final boss of the game, and so obviously you can't fight it yet. The fact that the game doesn't explicitly clarify that you're after the Predalien until you're close to the end of the second mission is an especially odd bit of unnecessary confusion, leaving the player unclear if this is what they're actually here for or not.

It's arguably overly generous to even call it a plot thread, since nothing actually happens until it ambushes you at the end of the game. The ambush is itself fairly contrived, with the Predalien jumping you conveniently after you've already set the Predator temple to explode and wipe away all the evidence, primarily to provide a Dramatic Backdrop for the battle. It's certainly of emotional and cultural importance to the Predators that the Predalien is killed, and given Predator culture as established in the movies I can absolutely buy that leaving it to be exploded by the temple is unacceptable because wouldn't be an in-your-face battle and so wouldn't be worth anything honor-wise, but it still feels fairly tacked-on in practice.

The first two plot threads are able to carry the game well enough if you just want a framework for your video game to operate in, even if they could use more connective tissue, and the third is by a similar token fine enough if you're just treating it as a justification for a boss fight that's different from the others. It's a bit lackluster as a story in its own right, but that's not a fatal flaw in a video game, and it certainly holds up better than Six's story.

The one caveat to this is that I'd really like to have known what could prompt Predators to call for help. This is a species whose culture has strong elements of demanding its members handle things themselves, with the expectation being that if you do die on a far-away planet you retain your honor by committing suicide. It seems like an important question to answer, and the frustrating thing is it could've been used to better connect the 1 and 2 together: the Youngbloods didn't call you in because they got in over their heads, they called you in because they know that keeping Predator technology/cultural history out of human hands is too important for Youngbloods to try to handle it on their own without even informing anyone of the issue. Something like that would've neatly tied a bow on these two flaws.

Oh well.


The Marine's campaign has basically two plot threads, and they're both fairly weak.

1: Survive/get off the planet alive/try to not lose too many buddies.

2: 'Tragic' romance sub-plot with Tequila.

I originally found myself writing up the events roughly in order and picking at problems with individual scenes, in part because honestly some of these scene problems are quite jarring, such as when you're sent to support a squad of fellow Marines that have set up in a nearby club... and when you get there the place is already halfway covered in Alien hive goo, leaving one to wonder how on Earth this squad was so stupid as to have looked at this infested club and gone 'yeah, this looks like a safe place to hole up'. The Marines in AvP 2010 already know what Aliens are like, and even if they didn't what kind of person would look at the black goo overtaking the club and not feel any trepidation?

Eventually I realized the reason I was doing this was there wasn't anything of real substance to the Marine's story. Picking at details of scenes was what I was left with because there wasn't really anything to talk about, much like with Six's story, just cloaked behind more of the trappings of storytelling. That some of these details are especially egregious doesn't help, but it wasn't really why I was talking about them.

So. Plot thread 1. Technically there's a plot thread 0 of being here to kill Aliens and maybe rescue civilians, but the idea that you're here to answer a distress beacon is so thoroughly ignored by the plot I spent a while unsure what was supposed to have prompted you and your fellow Marines to come here. What actually happens is your character gets concussed on the way down, and when they've recovered your fellow Marines are... getting killed by Aliens and needing your help? It's not really clear what the current goal is, and you basically end up doing a lot of wandering on Tequila's say-so. As things go on the story drifts in the direction of 'we should get off this planet', but Tequila doesn't give you enough context to understand how a given piece of what you're doing might fit into such an overall goal. You're just... doing whatever she tells you to do, unsure why you're doing it.

The story also sort of pretends, eventually, that you're trying to fight back against Weyland's evils, with Weyland talking at you via internal monitors and speaker systems once you're in the Weyland-Yutani lab, but in actuality this stuff is just an extension of the first two plot threads. Just as Weyland cares about the Predators but the Predators have no reason to care about him, Weyland doesn't like that you're getting in his way and tries to give you a 'join me and we can rule the galaxy as father and son' sort of speech, but you're honestly not here to stop the awful things he's doing.

So let's back up to plot thread 2 for a second: romancing Tequila, and it being 'tragic'

Say hello to Tequila.

Say hello to Tequila in better lighting, while the idiots in The Club talk about how great their Xeno-infested hole is.

Tequila is your designated love interest. She's mothering you at the start of the game for no real reason, and she's quick to praise you for not immediately dying while being a rookie, making it out like she's impressed by you. It's sufficiently off that I spent a bit wondering whether Tequila was intended to be sarcastic and condescending, with the voice actress playing it completely straight for whatever reason, but... I'm pretty sure it's not, because in the end Tequila gets captured by Aliens, Facehuggered, and has a Chestburster growing improbably-quickly-even-by-Alien-standards inside her, you try to rescue her by getting her to someone who says they can do surgery to get it out of her safely, at which point Weyland cuts the power to the area (For some reason the would-be surgeon was stealing power from Weyland's site for the surgery, which makes little sense), and the would-be surgeon insists Tequila needs to go into stasis since we can't do surgery. (Wait, why would surgery be more power-intensive than stasis tubes?) This culminates in a cringe-worthy scene where the player character tenderly touches Tequila's head, making it clear that yes we're supposed to think they've got a romantic thing going on and it's very tragic that Tequila is being taken from the player character and may possibly die outright.

It'll be alright Tequila. My manpain will solve everything.

I very definitely care about you, even though our interactions have mostly revolved around you being bossy and annoying and constantly sending me to fight hordes of Aliens alone while you hung out nice and safe in a control room.

This bothers me for a few different reasons.

First of all, Tequila honestly isn't terribly appealing as a romance target. She's a soldier inexplicably filling generic male-wish-fulfillment tropes, but there's no emotional connection between her and your character. She's also been acting as your boss the entire game prior to the stasis scene, giving some skeevy undertones to the interaction that are especially inappropriate in a military context (Superior officers do not fraternize with their underlings: this gets treated as essentially rape due to the level of power imbalance involved), and in the process of acting as your boss she's honestly been frustratingly obnoxious. Even though the game itself wants you to explore and find Audio Logs hidden in weird corners of the map, anytime you're even slightly too slow to get to your next sub-objective Tequila is on your case, telling you to hurry up and getting increasingly obnoxious the longer you delay. From a realism standpoint, Tequila is completely justified in doing so -Rookie is a ridiculous jerk and/or idiot for doing stuff like ducking off into a side corridor while being actively chased by Aliens because he saw something shiny over there, and yes that's a real scenario in the game- but from a player-experience standpoint it just makes Tequila one of the most irritating Navi-esque characters I've ever had the displeasure of dealing with, which is not exactly a good way to endear her to me.

Which comes nicely into the other reason I don't like it: the player character is clearly intended to be a player stand-in. Your character does not talk, or have a real history, or have anything resembling even an implied personality. (That is, nothing like how the Doom Marine's body language and actions make it clear that he is a very angry man) Even setting the player Marine as 'the rookie' is a part of the player stand-in mechanic, since obviously no player is an experienced Colonial Marine used to fighting Aliens.

Yet. The player character is very explicitly a he. He has a specific appearance you have no control over. (Credit where it's due: I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that I was playing a black man, and not the stock shooter Blonde Or Brown-Haired White Dude, particularly since the game didn't make a big deal out of it) He is forced into a romantic relationship with a girl. Her fate is almost certainly intended to be very stereotypical Manpain, where a male character avenges harm done to Their Girl. (In this case: an attempt to make the boss fight against Weyland feel emotionally significant) There's even another girl with some heavy undertones of a romance subplot who basically takes over Tequila's role of guide once Tequila's role in the story is largely over, even though she's an android who is being played as lacking emotions.

This kind of inconsistency bothers me in and of itself, but there's a meta-layer to this particular case. A notable aspect of the Aliens series is that there's strong undertones of female empowerment to them, and not just the really blatant stuff like having a badass female lead in the first three movies. The default in any Aliens franchise game should be to keep this female-oriented aspect in mind, and in the case of an AvP game in particular the Predator end of things serves to handle more stereotypically masculine appeal: the Predator franchise has always been about Manly Men who get by primarily on their wits and superior physical ability fighting Also Manly Men Yautja who also get by primarily on their wits and superior physical ability.

Perhaps I'm just underestimating the feminine appeal of playing a monstrosity that brutally kills or brutally impregnates everyone it encounters, but I'd think the Marine would be the default vehicle in an AvP game for ensuring there's something aimed more toward women.

And honestly, I'd be a lot more interested in a tender Yautjapain romance subplot, since it would incidentally touch on Predator culture in ways I've never seen a Predator story touch on. It would even be culturally believable for Predators to have Manpain as basically a stock trope of their culture, and any issues with the story potentially glorifying this kind of trope would be blunted a bit by the fact that Predators have never been set up as any kind of ideal to strive for.

Anyway, returning to the point of 'the player character doesn't really care about Weyland': the real reason you're going after Weyland is you need a way off the planet, and conveniently Weyland has a datapad that can be used to call his personal dropship. So you go and fight Weyland not because he's the villain, but because he's conveniently in the way to accomplishing your dual objectives of 'get off of planet' and 'save girlfriend'. Navi and Replacement Navi both talk like you're here to make Weyland pay, but you could cut out their dialogue to that effect and it wouldn't change anything.

The actual mechanics of this are also a bit questionable, honestly, but the plot partially salvages this. I would think it obvious that Weyland's personal dropship crew wouldn't be thrilled to be called in only to find Weyland isn't present at all, so the characters thinking this is a viable plan seems off, but the fact that it does work is addressed by implying the crew was told ahead of time that Weyland's datapad was more important to get off-planet than Weyland himself. Which makes sense, since Weyland is an android, and the Marine's ending shows another Weyland android just picks up where his predecessor left off.

Overall, even though the Marine's campaign has more of a narrative to it than the Alien's campaign, I think it probably has worse narrative decisions, even before taking into account the evidence that the Alien campaign was planned on the premise of it doing things that actually would've helped it a lot if they'd been implemented. If you're some dude who doesn't think about gender politics et al, I imagine you did or will find the plot fine enough (Even though it's honestly riddled with weird issues beyond the ones I've pointed out, such as the sheer nonsense of killing the Alien queen in a manner that we know from Aliens would result in her breaking free and chasing you down to kill you), but taking those points into account... no plot or a barely-there plot is generally superior to a plot I actively dislike.

But wait, I'm not quite done with the Marine, because...

Audio Logs and atmosphere

... the Marine campaign's narrative, more than the other two, is not just its core story.

Each species has a series of collectibles. For the Predator and Alien, these collectibles are just hidden goodies you should hunt down if you want to 100% the game, but for the Marine they're Audio Logs that try to give some additional context and atmosphere to the story. You hear people being horrified, you hear people turning crazy, you hear some of the lab's more narratively significant characters expressing their fascination with Aliens or Predators or whatever, and when it gets down to it the Audio Logs were basically a waste of developer resources.

Many of them are one or maybe two lines of dialogue. Three whole lines of dialogue is a minor miracle, and more than that is astonishing. This gives the Audio Logs very little room to do anything with, and they don't get creative to get maximum use out of this limited space. Bizarrely, even though Audio Logs demand more work than the Alien's Royal Jelly canisters or the Predator's Trophy Belts, there's more Audio Logs than Royal Jelly canisters or Trophy Belts. (67 Audio Logs, 50 Royal Jelly canisters, and 45 Trophy Belts) And of course Audio Logs demand an extra option be coded into the Marine's menu and the main menu for you to access and play these Audio Logs.

There's just a lot more work being put into them than the other collectibles, and the payoff isn't really there. Instead of building up the plot or contributing to the horror atmosphere, they're just sort of there. The only one that actually stuck with me was a guy who was convinced humans were being secretly replaced by androids, and notes that he 'knows' his wife is one of them because when he told her about his theory she called him crazy. That was moderately clever, even if it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the events of the actual game.

The handling of friendly Marines is another atmosphere issue. They basically all die, and it's pretty clear this is meant to be a part of the Horror Experience, but there's a lot of reasons why this doesn't work. For one thing, it's pretty obvious from early in the game that most of your Marine buddies exist to die, exacerbated by the limited range of models and voices for Marines. (A fact that is more obvious in the Predator and Alien campaigns, but still intrudes on the Marine campaign) For another, the game gives you no time to get familiar with these people before it starts killing them: Tequila is the Marine you get the most interactions with, and you still don't really know anything about her other than 'is a Marine' and 'is a girl', and she survives. For a third, the game is really fond of scripted deaths the player has nothing to fear from; your fellow Marines can find themselves abruptly dragged into a vent and brutally murdered, but for the player the only danger a vent presents is that an Alien might spawn out of it when you're not paying attention. Since Aliens are actually fairly vulnerable when they're coming out of vents (They can't attack and their movement is 100% predictable until they're done exiting), this isn't very threatening.

A particularly egregious case that sticks out to me is a sequence where there's a fellow Marine who is constantly taking shots at and yelling at an unseen acid-spitting Alien. When you approach him from behind, he startles, jerking around to point his gun at you, and then realizes you're a fellow Marine, calms down, and then the Alien hops up behind him and instantly kills him in one shot with its acid spit.

Hiya buddy! Sorry to surprise you like that but-

Uh-oh maybe I shouldn't have snuck up on you like that.

This sequence is clearly meant to come across as tragic, maybe darkly humorous if you're inclined to notice that his paranoia got him killed instead of protecting him. In actuality, though, it really makes the player character seem like a tremendously awful person: if this were a real scenario, where the player character were a real person, the reasonable thing to do would be to call up on the radio and let the guy know you're coming up behind him and so he shouldn't freak out. If he doesn't respond, hail him from a distance, what with your human voice making it obvious you're not an Alien sneaking up on him. Instead, you deliberately and purposefully sneak up on someone engaged in a life or death battle and spook him. The only reason this comes across as at all acceptable is because of the conceit that you're a silent protagonist, but while the player character never talks that doesn't mean we're meant to take them as a mute.

In a just and/or realistic world, the player Marine would've been shot dead then and there, and it would've been entirely deserved.

Oh, and when you get hit with acid spit dead-on, even on Nightmare difficulty it removes less than half a unit of health, so it feels viscerally wrong on a consistency level to boot. Why was this guy one-shot, anyway?

While none of the other Marine deaths have this element of the player character actively causing their death for no reason, there's still a certain callousness embedded into the narrative more broadly. This can be seen as far back as the opening cinema: the Predator ship appears, blows up the human capship, and even though it fairly cleanly broke into two pieces and your team is on a dropship that still could fit some people in there's no discussion of rescuing anyone, nor even a suggestion the option isn't brought up because the people around you believe trying would just get them shot by the Predator ship. Instead you fly on down to investigate this distress signal after a fairly brief attempt to talk with the capship.

Think about that for a second. The entire reason the Marines are here is to rescue people, but when their own people need a rescue, they abandon them without any justification whatsoever. I couldn't really find it in me to care about these people's horrible deaths because all the Marines seem to be idiots and/or incapable of even pretending to be marginally moral people. This dramatically undermined the horror atmosphere: my general response to a given Marine's death ranged from 'meh' to 'I'm glad that guy is dead'. The only exception is the Marine I just laid out how it's my character's fault they died, and making me angry with the character I'm playing is a whole other level of wonkiness if that's not a story's explicit intent.

Related to the atmosphere issue is the length of the Marine's missions relative to the gameplay content in them. While it's not anywhere near as egregious as AvP 2's Marine campaign, AvP 2010's Marine campaign still has you spending extremely long periods with no chance to fight anything. If a mission lasts 40 minutes, you probably spent at least 25 of those minutes wandering around in absolutely no danger.

Part of the problem is that the game's approach to inducing horror or dread is too 'explicit'. When I first played through the first part of the first mission, I thought maybe the game was going to manage to properly produce dread in me, because of how one of the first Alien encounters of the game is handled: you go up to a closed door, you hear combat on the other side, and with zero warning an Alien climbs out of a vent you shouldn't be looking at and makes its way toward you in more-or-less complete silence. Your first hint that you're in danger may well be you taking damage!

Unfortunately, this is an anomaly.

The vast majority of the time an Alien spawns in to attack you, it appears directly in front of you, often having to take a couple of seconds to break through the floor or ceiling and thus giving you plenty of time to react. There's almost always additional audio cues as well, if for some reason you're facing in the wrong direction. In open environments where there's nothing for them to tear their way through, instead Aliens will frequently strike a pose and make a very distinctive and loud cry before actually coming after you. In conjunction with the game's usual reluctance to place threats down side passages (Not to mention its reluctance to have side passages), it's easy to work out before you've even finished the first level when you're probably safe vs when the game is about to throw Aliens at you. The only real exception to this is that a first-time player is likely to be fooled by the game's fondness for having the Motion Tracker indicate threats that in actual mechanical terms don't exist. (Most of these 'ghost' signatures appear to be intended to be Predators stalking about, incidentally)

Thus, instead of wandering around in the dark, paranoia pushing you to check each dark corner, then recheck it, then spin about because oh god maybe one is coming from behind you, you just... are bored, waiting for the game to give you something to shoot again.

I assume there's people who didn't pick up on the pattern and thus experienced the game as tense and fearful anyway, but for me this is a striking contrast with the 1999 game. The 1999 game's Marine campaign has one sequence where an experienced player knows for a fact that they're completely safe, and it's at the beginning of the game and doesn't last very long. For the rest of the game, you need to be on watch for incoming Aliens almost constantly, and while the Aliens periodically make noises they're fast enough that if you rely solely on listening for them and checking the (painfully short-range) Motion Tracker you're going to end up taking hits that proper paranoia would've avoided.

Nearly twenty years later, the 1999 Marine campaign is a tense and scary experience. The 1999 Motion Tracker getting a signal viscerally sets me on edge, no matter how much I try to not let it get to me. Less than an hour into the 2010 game, and the only tension I experienced was the awareness my character could die on a moment's notice. I can enjoy that kind of tension, but it's not horror game tension. It's the tension of playing a Mario level that demands more or less perfect play, not the tension of being stalked by alien horrors, never feeling entirely safe.

I'm able to enjoy the Marine campaign well enough, but it's extremely obvious the game wants you to be scared and its efforts in that regard are.... mostly pretty eh. There's a handful of brilliant exceptions I don't want to spoil even here, but on balance the game's attempts to produce a scary atmosphere need a lot of work. The combat is enjoyable enough, but combat makes up a lot less of the game's focus than you might expect.

So yeah. I genuinely like the game, but its storytelling and atmosphere are pretty flawed.

That said, it's worth pointing out that most of these issues aren't intrusive. If you're not paying attention, the plot is sort of forgettable, but not aggressively bad. It doesn't hold up to examination, but the only capacity in which it asks you to examine it is that how the three campaigns intersect/connect is left to inference, which itself is treated as a bonus: each plot is essentially comprehensible on its own.

Next time, I'm going to start on the cross-comparison of AvP 1999, AvP 2, and AvP 2010, starting with how the Alien is handled.


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