- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2010

Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at Aliens vs. Predator (from Sega, reviewed for Xbox 360, rated M for mature, $59.99).

Three species hunt each other and fight for survival in this first-person shooter starring a pair of sci-fi horror icons.

Based on Dark Horse Comics’ nightmare scenario and 20th Century Fox’s film franchises, the game tests a player’s stomach, skill and nerves as he battles as a human soldier, Xenomorph or interplanetary hunter in solo and multiplayer campaigns.

What’s the story? A humid, temperate planet located in system WY-BG-3 has become home of the Freya’s Prospect colony, owned and operated by Weyland-Yutani Corp.

It is here that a Predator searches for its brethren while trying to stop the advances of the human race, which threatens to reveal its ancient culture. So, what’s that hissing sound?

Play the role: Just as in the famed 1999 Rebellion Developments game, built by the same company, a player assumes the role of a well-armed Colonial Marine, an acid-spitting Alien (Xenomorph) named Number Six and a high-tech armed Predator as he conquers 14 missions divided among the three warriors.

The player roams through ancient Predator combat-arena ruins, the depths of the Weyland-Yutani research facility, a military installation and marshy jungle terrain that mixes haunted-house-style surprises and cinematic memories from the movies.

Get to the action: Three species translates into three different styles of attack, all with the bloodiest of kills.

First, Colonial Marines use an unlimited supply of signal flares and a motion tracker to locate enemies and then unload sheer firepower from such powerhouses as a ZX-76 shotgun, pulse rifle and even a flamethrower to stop them.

Aliens revel in hiding in the dark, hissing to lure victims toward them and quickly climbing structures at incredible speeds to hide and regenerate health. They kill victims with melee attacks that include clawing, tail strikes and a using handy pair of retractable teeth, leading to some gory, memorable moments for the player.

Our Predator - the most fun to play, in my opinion - uses wrist blades to attack. It eventually wields a combi stick as a spear; proximity mines; and the razor-sharp, circular boomerang called a chakram. A cloaking device and jumping ability round out its powers, making it a stealthy butcher.

Memorable moments (in no particular order): As an Alien, the first time I decided to harvest a human and held him down while a facehugger attached to his face.

As a Marine, destroying a massive Queen Alien by roasting her egg sacks and then using a grenade launcher to help rain down fire upon her.

As a Predator, pulling out a recently killed researcher’s head to use with a retinal scanner to open a door. Also, a final battle within a collapsing, lava-filled arena against an evolved brute seen in the second AVP film, “Requiem.”

Violent encounters: Delivering what the movies could never quite accomplish, the game celebrates the slaughter by unforgiving Predators and Aliens with some incredibly violent and bloody kills.

Each death is punctuated with sprays and splats of green, red and yellow blood, with occasional white spurts from Weyland-Yutani-developed android minions.

No death is more shocking than when a Predator grabs a Marine, skewering his head with its wrist blade, ripping the noggin from the body with part of the spine still attached to serve as a trophy.

Or how about a Xenomorph that can puncture holes in heads with its razor-sharp sets of mandibles, impale using its tail and slice off hapless Marines’ heads with its razor-sharp claws.

As is becoming common these days, this first-person shooter is an “adults only” affair as it beautifully celebrates the horror and gratuitous gore of the movies.

Read all about it: Dark Horse Comics published the original comic-book Aliens versus Predator story back in 1990 and is still offering new series about the conflict. The company’s latest is the six-part miniseries Aliens vs. Predator: Three World War ($3.50 each), written by Randy Stradley, the guy who helped craft their first encounter.

Pixel-popping scale: 7.5 out of 10. A faithful reproduction of both the glorious character models developed by the late Stan Winston (Predator) and artist H.R. Giger (Alien) will more than satisfy the fan. Nuances such as encounters with facehuggers, the nerve-wracking exploration of Alien hives, and subterranean levels that use wonderful lighting effects and shadows will elicit a smile.

Also, the sound effects are dead-on. The aural pleasures include the Predator growling in pain as he restores his health by plunging a shard into his midsection, and the screams of Aliens on the attack.

The music, however, is a bit odd and never quite fits the action. It almost distracts as crescendos peak at the wrong times and passages sound as lame as the first “Terminator” movie.

Star power:Actor Lance Henriksen (star of the first AVP film and “Aliens”) vocally reprises his role as Karl Bishop Weyland, the guy who helped introduce humans to the Xenomorph.

Multiplayer:Because the solo campaigns - with their choking brevity - subscribe to the theory “Always leave the audience wanting more,” up to 18 players can go online for a very satisfying fight as their favorite species.

Of the modes available, two were especially exciting and felt as if I were jumping into one of the movies.

First, Predator Hunt finds one player as the skilled killer while the others act as Marines trying to stop him. Any Marine that kills the Predator becomes the creature and is now the hunted, or rather, the hunter.

Second, Infestation turns one player into a Xenomorph. His goal is to kill the other Marine players to turn them into Aliens.

What’s it worth? Average players who are fans of the films and comics will love where Sega has taken the franchise and will relish the multiplayer possibilities.

The serious gamer familiar with the first-person shooter will find much better titles - such as BioShock 2 and the soon-to-be released Battlefield: Modern Combat 2 - more worthy of his hard-earned funds.

* Visit Zadzooks at the blog section of The Washington Times’ Community pages (http://communities.washingtontimes.com).

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