By David Mayne
Alien Vs. Predator
Console: Atari Jaguar
Lets clear the air here. I bought the Atari Jaguar for Alien Vs. Predator. Period. I’m not alone either: over 90% of Jaguar owners did the same thing, and while not the only decent game on the would-be doomed system, it was the first and (really) only game to showcase the Jag’s power in a pre-N64 era.
Being that 1993’s Super Nintendo AvP game was ass, and the arcade version was great but expensive (50 cents per play), the Atari Jaguar incantation was a much-anticipated title when it arrived in 1994. I still remember seeing commercials for Alien Vs. Predator and getting pumped up. Up till ’94, most gamers had already experienced first person shooters like Doom, Wolfenstein, and a Blake Stone, but it wasn’t until the Jaguar came along that console gamers (or those that actually owned a Jag) got the chance to play a decent quality FPS without a computer. Sure the old mouse and keyboard, frame rate, and general game play was superior on a PC, but for being the first 64-bit console to deliver a knock-out first person shooter, not to mention one based on a kick-ass franchise, was a dream come true. Alien Vs. Predator’s only downfall was that it didn’t help to save the drowning Jaguar, and while it’s still a very playable and enjoyable game, the Jag’s fall into obscurity has pretty much sealed AvP’s fate along with it, perhaps forever robbing would-be gamers of its small but indelible mark on Atari console history.
Alien Vs. Predator for the Atari Jaguar was the first in the series to introduce 3 separate “campaigns” that would become the staple of the franchise to come. Being able to play as either a Colonial Marine, a Xenomorph, or a Predator was nothing short of epic, and gave players the opportunity to experience the game from 3 different points of view. This served to extend replayability and ensure gamers felt like they were getting their money’s worth, something that most Jaguar games fell awfully short of accomplishing. Each character had unique missions, weapons, and abilities. For instance, the Predator is equipped with his signature vision mode, wrist-blades, and cloaking device while the Marine has only a motion tracker but more firepower, in the form of guns.
As the Colonial Marine, you play the part of “Private Lewis”, your mission being to escape the military base which is currently overrun by Aliens and Predators. The Marine missions are efiin’ tough, Amigos, often leaving you low on ammo and health, while constantly being gang-banged by wave after wave of Xenomorphs. During play, you must find a series of security clearance cards which will allow you to access different areas and levels of the base, ultimately allowing you to get the hell out of the place for good. At your disposal to fend off the enemy hoards are the pulse rifle, shotgun, flame thrower, and smart gun. Stick with the flamethrower, it’s powerful and deadly, with a decent ammo draw. The pulse rifle is good, but you’ll go through ammo like a son of a bitch. The smart gun is cool but again depletes ammo fast, and the shotgun is wonky and slow. Overall, the Marine campaign is the most difficult of the 3. Let’s face it, you’re playing as a barely armored human, fighting acid dripping Aliens and technologically superior Predators.
Things get interesting as the Predator, the obvious alpha-dog out of the 3 characters. Armed with deadly wrist-blades, the ability to be pretty-much invisible, and advanced vision to see enemies before they see you makes the Predator a somewhat easy play. You’re just here to wreck-up the place, kill the Alien Queen, and its glorious fun! Playing as the Predator is not all wine and roses however, as Xenomorphs are still insanely fast bastards that can cut you down if you’re not paying attention; and Marines, if given the chance, will smoke you with either the pulse rifle or an up-close and personal shotgun blast if you let your guard down. The Predator pretty much has all the advantages of the human (use of med kits, elevators) with very few of their weaknesses. The main drawback to playing as the Predator is that if you make any kills while the invisibility cloak is activated, you’ll lose what are called “honor points”. Predators are well-known as both formidable combatants and honorable warriors, possessing a stringent moral code while in combat. Killing while cloaked is universally seen as dishonorable amongst Predators, and in the game, repeated killing while cloaked will result in lost honor points as well as actual weaponry being taken away. I thought this was a cool angle to the Predator campaign, and balanced out the Predator’s superiority by forcing you to “play by the rules”.
Playing as the Xenomorph is a mixed bag, in my opinion. Then again, I’ve never really liked playing as the Aliens in these games. While powerful and fast, the lack of being able to crawl on walls and ceilings (something that is included on newer AvP games) killed the Alien experience for me in the Jaguar version. As the Alien, you have three basic attacks: a powerful tail whip, claws, and the famous mouth-bite attack. All are deadly, and incredibly accurate. Your priority, as the Alien, is to rescue the Alien Queen, who is being held captive by Predators aboard their mothership. You’ll fight both Marines and Predators on your way to rescuing the Queen, and while humans don’t pose too much of a challenge, Predators will cut you to sushi if you give them the chance. The coolest thing about playing as the Alien is that you can put Marines in cocoons, so if you die in battle, you will “resurrect” from that location, instead of having to start over. The main drawbacks, however, are the Alien’s inability to heal itself as well as not being able to use elevators. This problem is easily solved though by using air ducts to traverse the levels.
Graphically, Alien Vs. Predator for the Atari Jaguar really shows off what the system can do. While nowhere close to PC quality, it’s definitely better than both the SNES and Genesis attempts at first person shooters (as it should be, it is 64-bit after all). The real comparison comes when you see true 64-bit games like Turok and Goldeneye for the N64 do circles around games like AvP, although the Jag was doing it years earlier, so the shortcomings are somewhat forgivable. While the frame rate of Alien Vs. Predator is a tad wonky, you’ll quickly get use to it. The controls are decent, although a bit rough around the edges, but again, a few minutes of play will acclimate you to them well enough. The sound is, as most Jaguar games go, bare bones. While you do get some atmospheric sounds and creepy vibes, there is a nagging lack of suspense, mostly due to no music. I’m not sure what was going on with Atari and lack of music in-game during the Jaguar years, but it’s freaking annoying. The 8-bit Nintendo always had music in its games, as did other consoles of the 8 and 16-bit generation. Perhaps in those pioneering days of 64-bit adolescence, it was too much to juggle music and graphics at the same time? Don’t get me wrong, some Jag games had pretty decent music, but it’s glaringly noticeable when they didn’t.
Alien Vs. Predator is basically Doom with a different skin. It’s just as fun, somewhat creepy, and for being on the Atari Jaguar, a golden moment for an otherwise failed platform. Considered by most to be the crowning title on the Jaguar means that if you own this console, seek out Alien Vs. Predator. It’s a decent game, and a must have for any Jag collector.
Fun Factor: 9 – Great first person shooter in the same vein as Doom and Wolfenstein. FUN!
Graphics: 9 – Shows what the Jag could do in 1994. Not at all breathtaking by today’s standards, but cool back then!
Sound: 4 – I want to score this higher, but without a suspenseful soundtrack, much is lacking. Sound effects are OK, but this really holds the game back from greatness.
Control: 9 – Worked well for the early FPS genre. Nice use of the Jaguar’s “telephone” pad. 😉
Lasting Appeal: 9 – It’ll take a good afternoon of gaming to run through all 3 campaigns. Go back for a decent shoot-em up.