Michael Eckenfels, 23 May 2019
On #TBT, we bring you the occasional classic article – an older review or analysis piece we wanted to rescue
Once More Into the Breach
Aliens vs. Predator 2: Primal Hunt continues the grand tradition of first-person-shooting one’s way through dark, nightmarish corridors populated by ghastly creatures. Insofar as the movie genre is concerned, Aliens vs. Predator 2 is a knockout of a game; as a first-person shooter it is adequate
The location: LV-1201, a planet not much different from LV-426 (the location from the first two movies). The sun never shines, and terrain inspired by a Lovecraftian nightmare mixed with a Dr. Seuss bender adds an impossibly brilliant aspect to the game. The terrain is as deadly serious as the game itself, with three species vying for survival and ultimate possession of a unique and powerful object merely known as “The Artifact.”
The usual cast of characters is available: Corporate (a Marine, in essence), a Predator, and an Alien – with a twist. Apparently, our buddies over at the Weyland-Yutani Corporation have (still) been messing with Mother Nature. Mother Nature doesn’t like that, as is evident by one of her most ardent and deadly creations, the Alien. In their experiments, scientists managed to mix the genes of an Alien with a Predator, creating the twist – a Predalien. Great news for us Humans. Regardless, all characters operate from a first-person view and move about in a 3D environment alive with hostiles, blood, acid, and that white soupy stuff that Predators use for bodily fluids flying everywhere. Violent? Oh, my, yes.
Add to this an underlying plot centering on the mysterious, ancient “Artifact” once used by the Pilots (also referred to as “Giants” in some graphic novels, these are the large creatures that inhabited the derelict in the first movie on LV-426) and a big free-for-all starts to loom on the horizon. This lovely little thing keeps Aliens at bay. Who wants it? One guess. Everybody!
As a Corporate military person (a Russian lady named Dunya), it falls to the gamer to secure said artifact. Securing this artifact is, of course, no joyride; it involves entering a hive in near total darkness. Promiscuous use of heavy weaponry against Aliens that leap out of the shadows is highly recommended. Things love to jump out at the player, and the music sure doesn’t help lighten the mood any. Get ready to freak out…again.
Another Alien Sequel…But It Doesn’t Stink
The game is organized into a string of missions, one per species. Essentially, the player gets three games in one. Primal Hunt continues the experience found in Aliens vs. Predator 2, with scenarios differing depending on the species a gamer plays. The Corporate is concerned with securing the Artifact; the Predator (whose storyline is set 500 years before the Corporate’s) discovers it first and tries to secure it for his race; and the Alien wants to—obviously–destroy it.
These scenarios seem to last about the same amount of time, but some are more daunting than others. For example, the Facehugger scenario (the first in the Alien’s storyline) is the same as in Aliens vs. Predator 2, except the player looks for a solitaire Predator to impregnate instead of a Human. It’s difficult to move around without being discovered, and the mission becomes largely a trial-and-error search to locate a solitary Predator. Facehugging one in view of another will result the target getting offed by his own brethren, nullifying any implantation.
The Predator scenarios are, in my opinion, the easiest; they have unique and powerful hand-to-hand weaponry, can cloak (only good against Humans, but still a nice edge), and can see in the dark much easier than Humans. They also have more flexible vision options than an Alien. The Human merely has a weak shoulder lamp (which adds to the suspense of walking through dark halls and tunnels) and night vision; however, both have a finite battery supply, and the night vision mode will drain it quickly. Turning them off will recharge the battery, but then the player gets the inimitable feeling of standing in the dark, waiting for something to grab them. The Alien’s vision spectrum is a bit broader, allowing normal views (like a Human’s), and a hunt view, which is like night vision. The Predator gets the best views, with normal, Thermal (sees Humans very well), Electromagnetic (sees Aliens very well), and PredTech (sees Predators and in the dark well) modes. The tradeoff with these varying modes is that while viewing in one, you’re not going to see others very well; hunting a Human in Thermal mode will make them stand out like a flare on an IR scope, but the approaching Alien will be all but invisible.
The game is linear; advancing to the next mission is allowed only after successfully completing the present one. Failure means repeating until done, and this can be frustrating with some of the more difficult missions; however, the inclusion of a in-game save feature is most rewarding – a gamer will just have to remember to use it. Between missions the rare cut scene mini-movie will appear, though they really only make long appearances before the start of each species’ campaign. It’s easier to get background info in the Human’s campaign, since players can speak their language. Predators and Aliens haven’t quite mastered the English tongue yet, so players watch and interpret instead. Not that this is difficult, but I feel that some history and story background is missing that would have made for a more immersive experience.
Installation and Technical Issues
Primal Hunt requires 600MB of hard drive space, similar to Aliens vs. Predator 2’s 750MB requirement. I never had any problems running the game; in fact, I started it when I had a Voodoo3 16MB card, and it worked fine. The addition of a GeForce4 4200 helped system response and display options tremendously, but the fact that it worked on a lower-end graphics card should be encouraging to those still employing such hardware.
This game really speaks for itself, but the manual is rather dry and bland. Everything necessary to play is included, including overviews of new equipment and weaponry; however, an introduction is surprisingly lacking. A page or two giving an overview of the game (a more in-depth one than what is on the box or the back of the CD case) would have been nice. Still, the manual is clear and concise, and a good overall mechanics resource.
Shadows and Screams
There’s nothing like walking through a deserted human outpost, a dark hallway stretching into infinity like a hollow throat to Hades, with a shoulder lamp bouncing and illuminating only a small portion of view. An Alien screech, and immediately a tense moment is made almost impossible to bear. Such are the graphics included in this product. Like Aliens vs. Predator 2’s, they are done very well and perfect for the mood of the game.
A gamer will have to look past the blocky characters and their stiff walking in the cut scenes; for some reason I thought they moved much smoother in the game itself, while in the pre-campaign movie they moved like robots for the most part.
The music is, as with the graphics, perfectly complimentary to the mood of the game. I could have done without some of it, as it adds to the fear factor tremendously. I must also point out that it does save the player’s life sometimes. The music will change subtly as an enemy approaches; this especially helped as a Predator walking along in PredTech vision mode; if Aliens approached, the change in music prompted a quick view change to Electromagnetic to do battle.
The voice acting is done well, but not heard much except in the cut scenes. While the jibber-jabbering puppet motions of the characters isn’t easy on the eyes, the actors at least have a good handle on inflection and tone. They get their lines out and help the storyline, unlike the often poor voice-overs that can ruin a good experience.
Each species has a HUD (Heads Up Display) that the gamer views on the screen; the Predator’s is by far the most busy and difficult to get accustomed to, as the player views what looks like chicken-scratch marks instead of numbers. However, it is possible to get used to it after a brief time. Once I knew what measurement did what, I didn’t have any problems.
The Human’s HUD is easier to comprehend, but there’s still a lot to look at. It has an armor/health display in the upper left corner, a battery counter beneath that, a motion tracker in the lower left corner (which, incidentally, views a full 360 degrees instead of the Marine’s 180 degrees), and weapon info in the lower right. A flare counter is located in the upper right corner, rounding out the view.
Using the mouse, the player can look in all directions, including up and down. This is very useful, since Aliens like to climb walls and ceilings. A gamer can go into the Options menu and set the controls, movement or otherwise, to any combination they think comfortable. This is especially useful in the heat of battle; some of the default commands aren’t very logical (such as ‘E’ for Use, instead of ‘U’).
In the single-player campaign game, there’s no communicating with any of the other characters; the AI controls them and moves them to shadow the player’s moves. Sometimes, such as in the Corporate’s first mission, the player’s two escorts will stop at the entry of the tunnel and fight Aliens until they die…they don’t follow. This is an effective way to make sure Dunya the Corporate mercenary continues the storyline alone, but it doesn’t make much sense for these guys to plant themselves in one place and die.
LV-1201…Your One Stop Shop of Horrors
Primal Hunt is an absolutely frantic, sweaty-palm action game that requires only a small amount of puzzle-solving during play; most plot knots that need untangling are of the trial-and-error variety. More than once, however, a gamer will try one thing, die gloriously, try another, die again, and just keep trying until they get through. The mood of the game is enough to keep players charging on Doom-style throughout–death for the gamer’s on-screen persona can lie just around any corner.
At the start of the game the player can choose difficulty levels of ‘Easy’, ‘Normal’, ‘Hard’, and ‘Hardcore’ – the last of which does notallow saving games. If a gamer is into punishment, they’ll receive more than they want in this mode.
The AI in this game is decent, though with some glitches like with the aforementioned escorts stopping and staying in place ‘till death do they part. Aliens will swarm the player if given a chance, and will attack from different directions instead of lining up in a neat fraggable row. This will virtually guarantee a shortage of health for a gamer’s character, Human or Predator. Carefully moving from area to area and backpedaling when necessary are two strategies that must be adhered to–those, and listening for a change in music…or the screeches of an inhuman foe coming from the darkness.
When playing against a computer-controlled Predator, the player faces a problem; it seems the computer always has just the right vision mode on, so even a measly little Facehugger trying to make a living by implanting the invaders isn’t helped by hiding high up on a ceiling. If a facehugger is to live long enough to do its duty, it must stay out of sight.
Attacking one enemy when a group is nearby is a sure way to raise an alarm, especially if gunfire is exchanged. The AI controls the bad guys brilliantly, moving them in when a lot of noise is made but keeping them clueless when if the player pulls off a quiet move. Humans are especially easy to avoid as a Facehugger, and make for good hunting as a Predator.
Editors, Expansions, and Replay Value
After the scenarios are done, that’s about it. Primal Hunt does add a few new moves, such as Facehuggers and Chestbursters being able to destroy vent covers, and the PredAlien’s headbite for health. The multiplayer is enhanced a little by the addition of a Multiplayer Weapon Filter (which lists all weapons possible and can limit them accordingly), and a Multiplayer Class Filter (as with weapons, limiting character types to only certain races).
Once finished, though, the game is detailed enough and deep enough that re-doing it may provide more challenge; some of the routes a gamer can take are so convoluted (admittedly, with few dead-ends to mislead) that a gamer will probably forget how to move about. Some of the scenarios are so good that a gamer will likely go back just to replay them. But once completed, there’s really nothing new…although a fan of this genre will probably always come back to this game after a time.
The multiplayer version of this game was not tested, probably due to a snafu on my part. The game requires a CD key be entered, and says the key is on the back of the CD case…but it isn’t. Long alphanumeric strings like that are tough to hide, so after looking through the CD, CD inserts, CD’s themselves, and the documentation, I gave up trying to find it. This may be due to the fact that I received a review copy, but I doubt it; it was a regular off-the-shelf version, which makes this more mystifying.
Usually, I don’t partake in multiplayer gaming since I have only a 56K dial-up modem (this is how you know it’s an older review – who the hell has a modem anymore?!); most games run incredibly slow and take forever to upload anyway. I have played the Aliens vs. Predator 2 multiplayer on a friend’s computer, and the difference in this game from other such everyone-for-themselves games is in the setting and the fact that, when playing a Marine, the Alien you’re facing down has a human mind driving it – that’s scarier than playing against the AI.
Primal Hunt is a worthy add-on for all the Aliens vs. Predator 2 fans that couldn’t get enough dark, foreboding landscapes and evil dark-skinned monsters. The plot is good, the storylines mesh with each other, and offering three different campaigns, as the series has always done, is a big plus. No movie has evergiven me the creeps as much as the Aliengenre has; I laugh at most so-called ‘horror’ flicks, but these have always given me nightmares, even at my advanced age. That’s one reason why I could never put this game down – since most horror can’t make a dent in me, I’m enthralled that this one can, and want to see what’s going to jump up and take on the business end of my M-41A pulse rifle, Predator wristblades, or Alien razor-sharp teeth.