As always, I am opening this review by asking you to cast your minds back to the 1990s. This time, we’re specifically winding the clock back to 1994, a time when Xenomorphs had been off cinema screens since Alien3 (Fincher, 1992) and we hadn’t seen a Predator onscreen since Predator 2 (Hopkins, 1990). Both franchises were in a state of flux not entirely unlike where they are now; these latter sequels had resulted in divisive audience reactions, to say the least, and 20th Century Fox had made the genius decision to allow Dark Horse Comics to mash their two science-fiction/action/horror franchise together into a series of comic books, action figures, novels, and other media. Basically every type of media that wasn’t onscreen. This was also a time when the arcade was still going strong; sidescrolling 2D beat-‘em-ups were staples in arcades everywhere thanks to titles like Final Fight (Capcom, 1989), The Punisher (Capcom, 1993), The Simpsons (Konami, 1991), and X-Men (ibid, 1992) and violent videogames were suddenly massively popular thanks to the controversy surrounding Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992). This was also around the time when adult films like Aliens (Cameron, 1986) and RoboCop (Verhoeven, 1987) were being turned into comic books, action figures, cartoons, and videogames. Mash all of these factors together and you get the topic of today’s discussion: Alien vs. Predator (Capcom, 1994).
Far from the disappointingly neutered down mess we got in AVP: Alien vs. Predator (Anderson, 2004), the arcade game of the same (well…similar) name is a straight-up combination of the balls-to-the-wall action embodied by the Colonial Marines and the Xenomorphs in Aliens and the brutal efficiency of the Predators. Rather than lumbering the story in the present day, Alien vs. Predator takes place in a far more futuristic setting more befitting the Alien (Various, 1979 to present) franchise, immediately making it look and feel like an actual entry in the franchise rather than a toned down cash grab. It is in this setting that the game shows a whole horde of Xenomorphs descending onto Earth and ravage the city of San Drad; although the cybernetic soldiers Major Dutch Schaefer (fittingly with the likeness of Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Lieutenant Linn Kurosawa try to fight them off, they are quickly overwhelmed but, surprisingly, saved by a group of Predators. The Predators, seeking to curb the infestation of their prey, ally themselves with the humans and the four set out to eradicate the Xenomorph swarm. If you think the idea of the Predators conversing (in English) with the humans is madness, it might also blow your mind to know that this plot was, apparently, based on an early draft for a potential Alien vs. Predator movie…let that settle in for a second.
If you’ve played any sidescrolling 2D beat-‘em-up, you’ve played Alien vs. Predator; you select a character and battle from the left of the screen to the right, bashing enemies with simple combos, grapples, and a variety of weapons until you defeat a massive boss and clear the game’s seven stages. Up to four players can play simultaneously and each character has certain strengths and weaknesses over the others; the Predator Warrior is quite well-balanced, for example, while Dutch is a slow powerhouse. As you traverse each stage, you can pick up a variety of items and power ups; some, like gems and jewels, exist only to add to your high score while others, like pizza, soda, and chicken, replenish your health. You can grab pipes to bash in Xenomorph heads, grenades to blast them apart, and even the iconic Smart and Pulse Guns from Aliens to mow their numbers down.
Each character also has their own weaponry and special attacks; the two Predators start with unique alien bladed weapons to increase their range while the two humans boast better range through their firepower. You can even use the Predator’s plasma cannon; while it is prone to overheating through repeated use, the “Super” power-up allows repeated use to decimate entire screens of enemies. At the cost of some health, you can also perform powerful special attacks, as is the norm for sidescrolling 2D beat-‘em-ups. Each stage is swarming with enemies, to the point where it’s genuinely tough to find your character much less plough through your opponents. Luckily, if you’re playing this on Mame or other arcade emulators, you can continue with as many lives and chances as you like until you clear each stage. To break up the monotony of the button-mashing and fighting, you’ll mount an M577 vehicle and blast away endless hordes of Xenomorphs and be tasked with destroying various objects under a time limit.
Taking its cue from Aliens, most of the enemies you’ll encounter are various Xenomorph types, most of which were made famous as action figures and never seen in the movies. You’ll be blasting away at recognisable Xenomorphs such as Warriors (who resemble the Xenomorphs from Aliens), Stalkers (who are more like the Xenomorph seen in Alien), and Chestbursters but also encounter Alien Arachnoids, Smashers, and the Queen’s Royal Guard. Oddly, you’ll also come across zombie-like humans and cut your way through the Weyland-Yutani Corporation’s personal army as they seek to use the Xenomorphs as biological weapons.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a 2D sidescroller without some big boss battles; you’ll battle the hulking Alien Chrysalis, the deadly Raor Claws, a couple of infected Predators, some Power Loaders, and, of course, the gigantic Xenomorph Queen…twice. Most of these bosses will also spawn a bunch of lesser enemies to distract you can whittle you down, meaning that it’s best to partner up with at least one other player to take on these big guys. While the gameplay and premise of Alien vs. Predator is nothing new or exciting, what sets it apart is its aesthetic fidelity to the look and feel of both franchise but, in particular, Aliens; the sprites and backgrounds are big, colourful, and full of energy, making you feel as though the iconic Predator has been dropped right into the middle of Cameron’s action/horror sci-fi classic, which is exactly what Alien vs. Predator should be.
It is extremely satisfying to punch and skewer your way through the seemingly-endless swarms of Xenomorphs and seeing a Predator wield the classic Aliens weaponry, as well as their own iconic weapons, never gets old. It’s repetitive at times, of course (it is a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up, after all) but it’s a fantastic way to waste an hour or so with a friend (or alone). While a similar title was also released for the SNES a year before, this classic arcade title has been lost to the mists of time and complicated rights and legal issues. Thankfully, thanks to the release of the Capcom Home Arcade, you can relive this timeless classic in the (relative) comfort of your own home (as long as you have the cash). Of you can just emulate the game on a Raspberry Pi or similar console and get to slaughtering those Xenomorph scum right away, and I highly recommend that you do.
Did you ever play Alien vs. Predator in an arcade? If so, what did you think? If not, why not go give a play? Either way, leave your memories and impressions below and let me know what you think.