Tuesday Feb 15, 2011
Some exciting news for you — Aliens vs. Predator is available now — right now! – on Microsoft’s Games on Demand service, and coming next week, the smash-hit award-winning Bayonetta will be joining it (Bayonetta releases on February 22nd)! If you haven’t had a chance to play these terrific games, or just want to add them to your digital library, now is the time. And, what a marvelous coincidence: I’ve been spending more time recently with both these games.
Aliens Versus Predator
I elaborated on my love for the Aliens mythology pretty extensively when the game was coming out. Both Aliens and Predator are kind of fantasy-horror benchmarks and there’s a reason various companies have thrown the two iconic beasts together for several decades now (with humans stuck in the middle, the squishy pink meat in the Aliens/Predator sci-fi horror sandwich).
AvP gets down to the very nitty-gritty first-person-shooter style that enhances the game’s science-fiction/horror aesthetic. The three campaigns are interwoven stories and the true coup of the game is in delivering three completely different styles of play — both for multiplayer matches and for single-player, the Marines, Aliens, and Predators have virtually nothing in common except the challenge of mastering their particular strengths and weaknesses.
The Marines are the most traditional — stuck in godforsaken environments with little more than a pulse rifle, a pistol, and the occasional flame thrower. Multiplayer modes such as Survivor require teamwork as a group of marines work to fend off Aliens, and Infestation mode pits a progressively shrinking band of marines against a progressively growing hive of aliens.
Predators are, well, predators. The game places a premium on using stealth to stalk your prey, and you can learn to use deception and misdirection to gain an advantage while waiting to execute a brutal finishing move to turn your prey into a grisly trophy. While the Predator gameplay is probably closest to my preferred style of play — sneak up in a cloaking field, rip someone’s spine out, disappear, repeat — the Aliens (as you could guess from my link above) are nearest and dearest to me. They also represent the most radical difference in approach of the three classes, where learning to navigate the walls and ceilings and dark corners of a space aren’t just a tactical advantage, they’re essential to survival.
I’ve always loved that playing as an Alien and playing as a Marine — especially through story mode — have such radically different feels. Being an Alien means being part of the “hive”, and learning to survive on the ceiling and, for once, being the hissing monster inside the ventilation system. As a Marine — well, this is one of the few games that has actually physically scared me. Wandering through a dark corridor and having the telltale sound of your motion tracker go off in the pitch dark is a shock to the senses, and a trick Aliens versus Predator pulls off beautifully.
Bayonetta will be hitting Games on Demand this February 22nd. Convenient timing: I played this game when it came out, naturally, but haven’t really blazed through it until just recently. This is a pretty incredible game and I feel just fine saying that, without hyperbole, regardless of the fact that I work for SEGA. Everything about Bayonetta is over-the-top and yet, somehow, it all coheres; Platinum Games made a truly spectacular action game here which somehow manages to be one of the sexiest, most difficult, and most fun games of 2010, and in quite a while, period.
Enough with that hyperbole though; by this point you’ve probably heard most of Bayonetta’s accolades. If you haven’t had a chance to try this game, designed by Hideki Kamiya (Devil May Cry), hopefully Games on Demand convinces you (and there’s still of course an Xbox Live demo available). The game features upgradable weapons, hosts of new combat moves to learn, and a high-fidelity gameworld that looks consistently imaginative and spectacular. For all the boasts about difficulty — and it is difficult, forcing you to actually unlock anything above “normal” — the game also welcomes newcomers or those just wanting to tear around and have fun, with the “easy” and “very easy” modes making it no problem to simply tear through enemies and have a grand time doing so.
I tried to explain the game’s over-the-top antics to a friend the other day: “You fight a boss that’s hundreds of times bigger than you, and the boss is a gigantic upside-down face, and the face has wings and dragon heads, and you have to fight the dragon heads while reversing time, and then your body-suit which is actually made of your hair turns into a giant demon and eats the boss.” I’d say “spoiler alert” but I don’t think even that description prepares you for the battle itself.
All that “over-the-top” action actually feels intuitive because Bayonetta’s combat system is so fluid and refined. You pick what kinds of moves you want to learn and how you want to deploy your weapons, and there’s few “wrong” ways to go about it. The game is punishingly difficult to perfect and at the same time will reward your gaming instincts for exploration and perfecting a method of fighting. I can’t speak highly enough of this game and I’m prouder than proud that it’s there in the SEGA stable, earning accolades and gunning down gigantic upside-down-face monsters.
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