Updated: Aug 25
NB - Not Safe For Children
Welcome back, everyone. In the last article, we saw how developers can create fear by limiting the player's senses. In this, we will investigate what happens when this is combined with other fear-inducing gameplay mechanics.
Familiarity Breeds Terror
One simple way of making a game truly terrifying is to base it on a terrifying existing Intellectual Property. The player will be ‘primed’ to feel afraid right from the start, due to their prior experience with the source material.
Few games do this as well as the Aliens vs Predator trilogy, which combines two of the most terrifying creations in modern science fiction.
Stan Winston’s Predator subverts our quaint beliefs regarding civilisation, by portraying an intelligent opponent that is technologically superior to humanity, whilst behaviourally remaining a ‘savage’.
Anyone familiar with either the Aliens or Predator franchises will know that to be a human in their presence, even a heavily armed one, rarely ends well. And this is the situation you will find yourself in when playing as a human in any of the three main Aliens Vs Predator games.
All three games feature three separate campaigns, each campaign is unique to each species. Therefore, each has a campaign where you try to survive as a Marine, hunt as a Predator and propagate as an Alien Xenomorph. This creates three very different gameplay experiences, with three equally different levels of fear.
Of the three titles in the series, Aliens vs Predator Classic 2000, Aliens vs Predator 2 and Aliens vs Predator (2010), the first is often regarded as the scariest and will be the focus of this article.
The three campaigns are made different due to the very different abilities of the three species. All other gameplay mechanics remain the same. It is how each species interacts with these mechanics that makes all the difference. We will go through each in turn.
Aliens vs Predator Classic 2000 Marine Episode 1 Derelict
Playing as a Marine is absolutely terrifying. Of the three species, we humans are the most dependent upon technology to hold our own, as we are the least physically able.
The Marine is the slowest of the three, so running away is never an option. He is also the most tied to the built environment as his jumping and climbing abilities are poor, to say the least. Therefore, he is dependent on ladders, stairwells and lifts/elevators to travel vertically.
Fall damage is also a major concern when playing as a Marine, so you will have to watch your step.
As you would expect, he is also the weakest, with no melee combat to speak of. He also possesses the worst vision of the three, being dependent upon visible light.
To aid this he can throw flares, however, doing so will give away your position. Worse yet, the area they illuminate is very small and they burn out quickly.
He is also equipped with passive Night Vision Goggles. These are less than ideal, as the image is grainy, monochrome and sudden bright light sources, such as the flares, muzzle flashes and explosions, will ‘white out' the screen making it even more difficult to see. The NVGs also prevent the use of the Motion Tracker and disable the tracking of the Smart Gun, which is arguably the marine’s best weapon.
As such, you will rarely see an opponent before it has seen you, and your awareness of your surroundings is often compromised.
Flat, open and well-lit environments become your best friend.
The Motion Tracker does give you an edge by allowing you to detect moving objects beyond your line of sight. However, it detects all moving objects, and so throws off ‘false positives’ which only serves to increase the fear factor. Secondly, it cannot detect stationary enemies lying in wait. Until you realise this, it may provide a false sense of security, making the ambush even more shocking.
As a Marine, you will be mostly fighting Xenomorph Aliens, which as in Minerva and System Shock 2, are randomly spawning and randomly roaming. Put simply you will never have the initiative, and you will never feel safe.
Aliens vs Predator Classic 2000 Predator Episode 1 Waterfall
Aliens vs Predator Classic 2000 Predator Episode 3 Vaults
Playing as the Predator is an interesting middle ground between the Marine and the Alien. Physically you are superior to humans but mostly inferior to Xenomorphs.
You are faster than humans and can jump higher, allowing you to escape from combat when needed, and to hold the high ground from which you can ambush them. You can survive falls from a much greater height than the Marine, so jumping down from the high ground to attack is a good option, however, falling too far is still fatal.
However, you are slower than Aliens and are more tied to the physical environment than they are, so running from then is usually not an option.
You are stronger than humans and can easily defeat them in melee combat, but you will struggle against Aliens. This is especially true if you encounter more than one at a time, or if you encounter one of the stronger casts, such as a Praetorian or Predalien.
As you would expect, playing as a Predator grants you the multiple vision modes and cloaking ability as seen in the movies. However, this too is a mixed bag, as the three vision modes are species-specific.
They make the target species stand out against the background, but the other species will be less visible than normal. What’s more, the tracking abilities of your weapons only work if you are in the correct vision mode for the target. Therefore, using a vision mode makes you more effective against one species, but more vulnerable to the others.
Overcoming this involves switching between modes to maintain situational awareness, and hoping you can switch between them quickly enough when you are ambushed.
The cloaking device gives you a clear edge against humans, but it is useless against the Aliens, who hunt via smell.
As such, flat and well-lit environments are largely irrelevant when playing as a Predator facing humans, but are still an advantage when facing xenomorphs.
Against humans you will usually feel like the hunter, however against the Aliens you will still feel like the hunted.
Aliens vs Predator Classic 2000 Alien Episode 1 Temple
Playing as an Alien is a very different prospect. You are the least technologically advanced, in that you have no technology at all, but you are physically superior to both humans and Predators.
The Xenomorph is by far the fastest species, so running away will always be an option. More importantly, the Alien can cling to walls and ceilings, allowing it to reach areas the others cannot. Ventilation ducts allow you to traverse the maps safe from observation and attack, allowing you to set up ambushes at the time and place of your choosing.
The Alien can fall from an extreme height without suffering any fall damage at all, allowing you to use your mobility without fear of injury should you make a mistake.
Your mastery of the environment makes a complex environment your ally. Flat open expanses that do not allow for stealth are your enemy, however.
The Alien arguably possesses the best ‘vision’ of the three protagonists – despite lacking eyes. The Xenos ‘see’ pheromones – i.e. smells – of their prey, which surrounds biological targets in an aura, which is also colour coded for each species.
Even cloaked enemies cannot hide, as you will still see their aura. Androids, or 'artificial people’, as some prefer to be called, do not emit pheromones and thus are not highlighted. This may catch you unawares if you do not look out for them, however, androids are not much tougher than regular humans and can be dismembered with ease.
If it becomes too dark to ‘see’ in pheromone vision you can swap to night vision mode, which makes everything look like a photographic negative (remember those?) Night vision mode does not show pheromones, thus making detecting enemies more difficult, but it is still possible.
When stalking humans, brightly lit areas become your enemy. However, you can break most light sources, allowing you to hide in the shadows.
The Alien gains health by eating bodies, making you a truly predatory organism. The randomly spawning and randomly roaming humans simply become a mobile food source. Unarmed humans will succumb to fear and panic, which increases your feelings of empowerment even further.
The one thing that will scare you is the Automated Sentry Guns first seen in Aliens Special Edition. As they are machines, your pheromone sense will not highlight them. Unlike androids, these are a serious threat and will shred you in seconds. You will hear them before you see them. However, much like the Marine detecting an enemy via the Motion Tracker, getting an advanced warning of their presence actually makes them scarier.
When you hear that noise, you will stop in your tracks and plan your movements with great care to avoid them. You will no doubt feel a sense of vengeful glee when you find a way to get behind them – where they cannot harm you – and exact your revenge by wrecking them.
So, to sum up, AvP Classic 2000's genius lies in its three very different protagonists. Mastering all three will require mastering three very different playstyles. This, in turn, creates three very different experiences, with three very different levels of fear.
But that is just my opinion. What's yours? Have you played AvP Classic 2000? What were your experiences? Have you also played the other AvP games? If so, how do they compare? Feel free to share your experiences in the comment section below.
NB - In this mini-series, we have investigated several gameplay mechanics which can generate fear. Some of the games used as exemplars utilise several in conjunction to ramp up the fear factor further. But what would happen if a game conspired to use all of them at the same time? That is something I have investigated with the fine folks over at Coin-Drop.com in a five-part mini-series into the radioactive world of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and its infamous MISERY mod. Part one can be read here.
Iain is a 40+ author and gamer from England, who started his gaming journey on the Atari 2600 36 years ago. His specialities include obscure cult classics, retro games, mods and fan remakes. He hates all sports games and is allergic to on-line multi-player. Since he is British, his body is about 60% tea. He can be reached via Twitter at https://twitter.com/IainBaker17, and contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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