Aliens vs. Predator: Evolution, a new $1 action title by Fox Digital Entertainment, isn’t just weighed down by its controls. It provides a buggy, repetitive gameplay experience that makes every bleak level seem like a chore. Despite some decent graphics and some RPG trimming, AVP: Evolution manages to disappoint on nearly every level.
AVP: Evolution takes place in the same universe as the movies in the same way that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is in the same grand tradition as the first three Indiana Jones films. Sure, there are aliens, and predators, and something about a clan war and human cannon fodder, but the atmosphere and setting never really achieve anything more than a series of generic sci-fi rooms with poor lighting.
To the developers’ credit, the game’s first mission actually starts off rather boldly, where you play as a predator and need to survive a coliseum-like fight for survival. Here’s the catch though: You won’t survive. No matter how good of a player you are, you’ll fail this first mission, which then sets up the events of the game. Playing as an alien yields a similarly impossible result. There’s not much else positive to say about the plot— both characters invade a marine base in the hopes of freeing the queen and fighting for survival. But as far as openings go, AVP: Evolution actually pulls you in.
The developers hope to keep you playing with a combination of role-playing and action elements. As you progress, your character will level up and gain access to new equipment, abilities, and weapons. For the predator, this translates to new masks, guns, and armor; for the alien, this means different body parts that are more durable and deal more damage.
Unfortunately, the payoffs for playing the game’s boring main mechanics are minimal. While your combat prowess will improve through the hours you pour into the game, the actual combat mechanic is terrible. Each character starts with an attack and leap/block button, and you’ll be mashing these repeatedly against a slew of generic marines and androids. The novelty of initiating a finishing move quickly wears off when you realize that the game practically requires you to do this for every enemy you face. You get the most experience from killing an enemy with a finishing move, and some enemies can seemingly only be defeated using them.
The game is supposed to work like this: When you see an enemy with a skull over its head, tap that skull to initiate a quick-time event, and the game then tells you which way to swipe your finger. The problem is that the swipe controls are inconsistent at best, but walk-away-from-the-game-and-scream-in-a-dark-room infuriating at worst. If you don’t time your swipe properly—or if the game doesn’t register your swipe—the enemy throws you off, and you then have to hit them and then initiate the finishing move again. This is one of many bugs in the game; I also found numerous occasions when the directional guidance led me astray, or I was awarded double kills for seemingly no reason (there was only one enemy in the room, trust me).
AVP: Evolution leans on this terrible combat mechanic for the first few hours of the game at the expense of any kind of faithfulness to the franchise. Aliens are supposed to be stealthy, exceptionally quick killing machines, while predators are supposed to be claw wearing, laser-shooting hunters. But in this game, the two characters have minimal differences initially. Sure, the alien can climb up predetermined walls and can initiate a stealth kill at times, but that’s pretty much it for the first few hours, as the game is essentially an abysmal brawler. Even when you finally get the plasma cannon for the predator, the gun is extremely underpowered and has wonky controls—you might as well forget it.
I got the impression that the developers saw one of the recent cinematic Aliens Vs. Predator abominations instead of the original films—the separate Alien and Predator franchises from the 1970s and 80s—and even then was only was half awake when watching it. They got much of the source material right, but the execution is awful. As an example, the Alien movies used a lot of dark lighting to hide the aliens, and the threat that they could strike anywhere was paramount to the tension. So AVP: Evolution gives you plenty of missions in darkness, but there’s little chance that you can stalk and strike your prey from the shadows; in fact, the lighting is so poor that simply navigating the levels is a challenge. The monsters in AVP are both reduced to bumbling, clunky automatons; the only frightening aspect of the game is the prospect that I might have to review the inevitable sequel.