At a glance it may seem easy to dismiss Aliens vs. Predator 2. Sandwiched between the classic 1999 game and the 2004 film that finally brought this battle to the big screen, this 2001 shooter is often lost in the shuffle when looking at the crossover series’ impressive history. But make no mistakes – even almost 20 years after its initial release, Aliens vs. Predator 2 is rich with creativity and innovation, and is arguably the crossover series’ defining chapter.
After losing contact with a scientific outpost on the distant world of LV 1201, a squad of Marines is sent to investigate. They arrive to find the facility in shambles, the survivors untrustworthy, and two alien species vying for supremacy. The story may look pretty standard, but looking under the surface, there’s something more to AvP2.
As per series’ tradition, Aliens vs. Predator 2 gave players control over three characters, each bringing their own unique perspectives and game-play. Naturally there’s a Marine; Corporal Andrew Harrison, who arrives on the planet in the midst of the conflict. Harrison, or ‘Frosty’ to his fellow soldiers, soon uncovers sinister motives by the human survivors, and embarks on a journey to warn his squad and escape the planet. The Predator’s story follows a young hunter seeking honor and glory who instead finds humiliation. After being bested by a human general, the Predator, nicknamed Prince, attempts to track down his rival and reclaim his sense of self worth. Finally, the last story follows an intelligent and aggressive Alien known as Warrior, who leads a revolt against the human encroachment. While initially successful, Warrior is soon tested when a greedy corporate scientist threatens their queen.
As far as living up to its title, Aliens vs. Predator 2 delivers like no other. This game strives to keep the odds even. After-all, where’s the fun in Alien vs. Predator if there’s no contest? When it comes to range, the Predator has a clear advantage, but once that gap is closed, the edge belongs to the Alien. From a combat standpoint, the game is perhaps the most balanced in the entire series, and that’s just the first of the game’s many virtues.
Aliens vs. Predator 2 is far more story focused than its predecessors. In the previous games, each character’s story existed independently. AvP2 followed a complex, intertwined narrative. The three heroes repeatedly cross paths and even influence the events of each other’s stories. At times, they inadvertently help each other. Doing so creates a strange sense of camaraderie not present in other games in the series. Though they may not know it, these three are in it together.
Aliens vs. Predator 2 does a remarkable job putting the player in the minds of their avatars. Case and point is the Alien campaign. Unlike every other game in the series, the full-grown beast isn’t playable until level 3. What does the player do for the first two levels? They get to experience the Alien’s life-cycle firsthand, growing from Facehugger to Chestburster. In one of the game’s most impressive sequences, the player controls the Chestburster as they bite free of their host.
The game even experiments with the formula of the shooter. Marine campaign in the 1999 game was a frenzy of constant action. Aliens vs. Predator 2 by contrast shows remarkable restraint. Frosty doesn’t even see an enemy until the 3rd level of the game, with the first two levels focused entirely on building atmosphere and dread. Some of this campaign’s most memorable levels are mood setters. Frosty spends an entire level stalked by a devious Predator, who doesn’t directly confront him until the very end. Such restraint wasn’t common at the time, and proved very influential when the game was released. It may have even paved the way for modern classics like Alien: Isolation. It makes for a unique and unsettling experience, and that’s just the human story. The Alien and Predator stories are where the game really shines.
A far more complicated beast than its predecessor, Aliens vs. Predator 2 explores the core themes of each series through its title characters. While the 1999 game simply gave the player control of these creatures, the 2001 sequel tried to fully immerse the player in their world.
The Predator series often portrays the hunter as an unstoppable powerhouse, but Aliens vs. Predator 2 goes to great lengths to humiliate Prince. The bullheaded Prince clumsily stumbles into an ambush, and then suffers the indignity of being held captive for several weeks. Prince isn’t even able to escape without the help of other characters, and needs the Alien and Marine to set him free. This is perhaps an even greater humiliation than any Predator suffered in the films, and is precisely what makes the character work.
By mid-game, Prince has hit rock-bottom, stripped of weapons, mask, and pride. It’s the start of a journey to reclaim his self worth. Forced to work without weapons to evade capture, this makes his stealthy escape from the labs all the more impressive. He has to fight to reclaim his weapons, so every weapon feels earned. By the time Prince reaches the Hive to battle his foe, he’s earned the status of a giant. More than an exercise in fan service, Prince fails, suffers, and through it all, perseveres.
Aliens vs. Predator 2 even brings surprising depth to the Alien story. A central theme of the film series is corporate exploitation. Weyland Yutani is arguably a bigger parasite than the Alien. They seek to exploit to creature, and exploit all the people beneath them to attain it. The films show this struggle from the perspective of the the human characters, while Aliens vs. Predator 2 offers a glimpse of that struggle from the Alien’s point of view. The Alien was a monster in the films. Here, they are rebels fighting for their freedom.
If Weyland Yutani is the dragon, then Warrior is the the knight who challenges it. Perhaps the moment that best shows this is when the besieged Queen orders her children to fall back during an attack on the Hive. In a surprising turn of events, her order goes unheeded. Warrior undermines the Queen’s wishes, vying to fight before surrender. Warrior ultimately succeeds in their efforts, and is rewarded by the Queen for their ingenuity and bravery. The game expands greatly in the Alien’s capabilities, portraying them not as mindless drones, but intelligent, fiercely loyal, and anything but animals.
Two humans, General Rykov and Dr. Eisenberg, act as foils to the Predator and Alien respectively. Rykov and the Predator have wounded each other’s pride, leading to a bitter rivalry that’s only settled through combat. Dr. Eisenberg wants to unlock the Alien’s mysteries, but does so to exploit rather than learn. Both characters are so wrapped in their grudges, they willingly put Frosty’s team in danger to settle them. It’s Rykov and Eisenberg that pose the greatest risk not only to the Alien and Predator, but also their fellow humans. Though they don’t know it, Frosty, Prince and Warrior share common enemies.
With the pieces set, the game sets them loose on a vast chessboard. Aliens vs. Predator 2 takes players to a vast world of massive alien nests, abandoned outposts, and Pilot ships the size of cities. Even when combat is scarce, Aliens vs. Predator 2′s world is ripe for exploration. Each level is practically overflowing with fascinating data logs that paint a vivid picture of the world’s history, and are almost as much fun to read as the game is to play.
Aliens vs. Predator 2 has somewhat faded from public consciousness. Copyright issues have prevented it from making its debut on such platforms as Steam and Good Old Games, which has significantly hurt its ability to find new players. That’s a real shame because the game made a real splash during its initial release. Not only did it further popularize the idea of Aliens vs. Predator, but it was a pioneering title when it came to experimentation with shooters. It was so influential that much of this game’s talent was tapped for Halo: Combat Evolved the following year. Most remember David Scully’s turn as Sgt. Avery Johnson in Halo, but it was his role as Smartgunner Jones in AvP2 that helped make that possible. It also had a noteworthy impact on the Alien and Predator fan bases, leading to the founding of the AvP Galaxy forum.
One of the struggles with crossover titles is satisfying both fan-bases. This is perhaps Aliens vs. Predator 2′s greatest success. While the subsequent film series had clear biases (I’m looking at you, AvPR) Aliens vs. Predator 2 was done by people who loved both. In its strive to create balance, the game creates a clash of titans that would make writers of Greek myth green with envy. When it comes to the crossover series, you’d be hard pressed to find something better than Aliens vs. Predator 2.
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