AvP Cross-Comparison: Alien

I'm always interested in comparing closely-related games, in part because it's often informative and interesting to see what happens when you change details. Often it can help illuminate that some choice you wouldn't think anything of on its own is actually essential to some other element in its own right.

Let's start with the...


The Alien is simplest to describe the differences between the games. In the 1999 game, the Alien is meant to be a stealthy, highly mobile melee attacker who relies on getting up behind enemies and killing them before they can react. You can't win in a straight fight and should endeavor to not take damage: you can recover health to an extent through headbites and, on difficulties below Director's Cut, flailing at corpses, but there's no amount of health that's high enough to really open up options. In practice the only values that really matter are 'full' (Don't waste time trying to get more health), 'nearly dead' (Be super cautious and try to get more health) and 'everything in between'. (Get more health just because you might as well, but that's it)

The 1999 game breaks down a bit in implementation because of how shockingly fast the Alien is and how easily the majority of your enemies die -a single claw swipe will usually instantly kill AI Marines, which make up 99% of your enemies. Frequently, you can skip past a lot of the stealth and simply run headlong at a Marine in a winding pattern and suffer little or no damage, with the target not necessarily even taking a shot before they're dead. Still, the clear intention is that this is a stealth game, with Sentry Guns being the ultimate expression of this: they react basically instantly, have nearly perfect accuracy, and do so much damage so quickly that it's just plain not realistic to try to charge a Sentry Gun. You'll die. You can get away with briefly passing through their firing zone, and indeed the campaign repeatedly demands you do this if you want to complete the game, but fundamentally you have to get behind a Sentry Gun if you want to actually take them out.

AvP 2 inherits the mechanics of the 1999 game with nearly no changes. There's some quality-of-life changes, such as providing feedback on your current orientation so you can constantly tell whether you're crawling on a ceiling or floor or wall, but the core mechanics of the Alien are almost entirely the same... nonetheless, the campaign is a completely different experience.

Outside of the initial Facehugger/Chestburster portion of the campaign, AvP 2's Alien campaign is not a stealth campaign. You are a borderline-invincible killing machine that moves shockingly slowly and is given almost no opportunities to perform stealth. Crawling inside vents is a thing, but it's used exclusively for scenarios like 'a door locks in front of you: get to the other side through the vents' rather than as a means to get behind enemies. By a similar token the game only occasionally remembers to give you opportunities to use your wall-crawling. A fairly large portion of the game involves you wandering through tiny corridors and being forced to open doors that have armed soldiers directly on the other side, where your only recourse is to charge in and kill them before they kill you. Your ability to generate health from enemies is tuned so that you can largely just tank damage and briefly tear into corpses/perform headbites and keep going at full health.

More subtly, darkness was your ally in the 1999 game, with enemies often failing to see you if you hid in dark corners, where in AvP 2 darkness largely doesn't even exist in your campaign. One of the few notable mechanical changes -that the powerfully lethal tail strike has been switched to being a weak attack that paralyzes the target- actually serves to enable the rampage, making it far easier to get live headbites without having to bother with that pesky stealth thing. Just zip up, hit them with your tail, and then do a headbite. Since live headbites are worth a lot of healing, this makes it trivial to repeatedly accept being shot while never actually dying.

It's so jarring I don't really get why AvP 2 didn't make you a Praetorian to both justify it and more clearly signal that AvP 2 is shooting for a radically different Alien experience.

AvP 2010 returns to stealth, and is both more explicit and more successful than the 1999 game. You've got explicit feedback on your lighting levels. You have explicit mechanics regarding vents, rather than vents just being a way of describing the portions of the map intended to be exclusive to the Alien through the fact that the other species' natural abilities shouldn't allow them to reach them. 'Stealth Kills' are a thing, and are key to why AvP 2010 manages to be genuinely a stealth experience, because AvP 2010 has made enemy Marines able to tank multiple regular melee hits and so needs a mechanic that lets you one-shot enemies if you're actually being stealthy.

Put another way, AvP 2 is the inheritor of the mechanics of the 1999 game, but the 2010 game is the inheritor of the 'will' of the 1999 game. This is the kind of thing I find most interesting about performing these kinds of cross-comparisons.

A particularly good example is health mechanics: in AvP 2010 you don't enter a map at less than full health and rely on eating your enemies to keep your health up. Instead, you arrive at full health and will passively regenerate damage at a somewhat slow rate. This is an overt mechanical change that very obviously provides different behavioral incentives, but it's one that brings the Alien's campaign more in line with the original intentions. The 'feed on people' mechanic is actually pretty clearly intended to encourage stealth gameplay if you look at it from the perspective of the highest difficulty, where headbites are the only way to get more health and live headbites are completely unrealistic to perform on an armed target if it already knows you're there and is trying to kill you, but below Director's Cut it actually directly undermines the stealth gameplay. Having the player regenerate over time superficially appears to encourage tanking some damage and thus seems like it might encourage non-stealth approaches, but what it actually encourages is fleeing when spotted: part of the problem with the 1999 game's approach to health is that you're better off running up and killing your attacker now rather than escaping and trying to sneak up on them later.

This isn't even the most striking example: as we'll be seeing next post, the Predator is in many ways far starker a contrast.


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