Aliens vs Predator: Extinction (PS2)
Electronic Arts has been signing up a bunch of popular licenses for years. They have a keen eye for what’s cool and the muscle to be first in line. Their Harry Potter games could have been digital dregs but they ended up being pretty fun. So maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised when I found that Extinction is an ambitious game. Take three races, balance them, make them all cool and faithful to people’s expectations and throw them in an RTS arena to do battle. Sound familiar? Kinda like Starcraft eh? Well SC was clearly an influence on the game (as SC’s design was influenced by the Aliens movies). It’s always good to shoot high just to see if you can attain a nice chunk of your inspiration’s magic. AvP:E catches just enough to warrant some praise.
From the 1989 Dark Horse comic story that started the craze to the latest videogames (Aliens Vs. Predator 2 and, yours truly, AvP: Extinction) there’s just something about two badass alien races going mano a mano for title of baddest-ass. Of course, we humans always have to be there to participate in the carnage -- so our marines tend to waddle in with their little pea shooters and bravado.
AvP:E is a decent game and, in my experience, the best RTS you’ll find on the PS2. It has its problems, mostly in AI, control and replayability, but, overall, it’s yet another strong entry in the AvP arena, the latest in a string of critical successes for the 20th Century Fox licenses.
Extinction has a rough start. There are very useful tutorials (basic and advanced) which take you through controlling all three races. Unfortunately, I was overwhelmed pretty fast by all the unit-building trees and abilities so playing the first level (as a marine) was a total bust. The problem was I had all the races’ abilities swimming around my head but I really needed to be focusing on the humans. My advice? Do the basic tutorial and then the marine mission (or the Alien mission since the units are less valuable overall). Leave the Predators for last.The game breaks down like this. You don’t spend any time building bases in Extinction (beyond the building of defensive guns) but you will spend most of your time building and managing your army to prepare for battle. This is good for making a console RTS but it means there is little chance for a PC port of the game (who wants an RTS with no building??? Not me!) Each race gets their own supply and soldier cap, which varies from mission to mission. Predators usually have around 10 units at a time, Marines around 25, and Aliens (with their strength in numbers) can have 40. The psychological value of each unit also varies depending on resources. With the marines and Predators, you can always buy new units or upgrades as long as you have the resources to pay for them. The aliens work a little differently with a complex, time-consuming breeding process that balances out the fact that they don’t have to work with cash or “honor points” (the Predator currency).
Marines earn cash for upgrades by killing the bad guys. And you want a lot of cash because the marine staples are all present and accounted for. The grunt with his flamethrower, saddle gun and pulse rifles and the Synthetic (who plants guns and detects movement). Added to the mix are a Medic and Commtec (who is responsible for calling in the troops and repairing atmosphere generators).
Predators’ currency is honor. And in a cool twist you gather honor points by gathering, you guessed it, skulls. In the game’s best detail, you get to triumphantly autopsy your enemy, Predator-style. The roar you let out will scare your cat. Trust me, I know. The units themselves are cool, with cloaking, special vision-modes and armor-based self-healing. Overall, the Predators are the strongest units and when you play them you’ll have to get by with much fewer of them than any of the other races. Predators are NOT expendable.
The Aliens are a different story. In a nod to the odd breeding process laid out by the movies, the game requires you to jump through some hoops to grow your army. Though this process is a bit cumbersome at first, it eventually adds to the gameplay by adding some suspense and time constraints to your missions. You first need to “build” your Queen, which is a multi-step process. The Queen lays eggs, which give birth to facehuggers (very vulnerable to attack), which then attacks a host to give birth to a baby alien, which then needs to grow into an adult alien before the unit is at full fighting power. To mix things up there are different kinds of aliens depending on who the facehugger impregnates. Like I said, a lengthy process, but an essential one if the game is to be faithful to the films. The developer did a great job including the process in the balance of the game and, though it’s a tough learning curve, its worth it when you have dozens of aliens running around and more being born.
The levels are, for the most part done well, leaving you ample opportunity to try out a lot of fun toys. For example, the upgraded human sniper gets the Sledgehammer, a rail gun that works the same way the Aliens’ blood works--like acid! You can take advantage of terrain to hide behind a wall and blast an enemy on the other side with a barrage of cement-piercing bullets. Very fun. Another example of the game’s good weapon design is the Hydra, a Predator tool that turns one missile into many missiles (one for each target on screen). When you have a bunch of Aliens running around, the effect of all those missiles flying is pretty cool. Its touches like this that makes the game worth playing through.
Unfortunately, the graphics, overall, are pretty dull. The terrain is almost monochromatic with 21 levels of desert-y landscape and some indoor action. The characters are pretty lackluster as well, with very little animation to make them special. The exceptions to this rule are the weapon effects which can be really inspired at times and almost makes the rest of Extinction’s blah visuals acceptable.
But the sound. Oh, glory be, the sound! The Aliens and Predator properties are blessed with the same gift the Star Wars series enjoys—great music and cool sound effects. These are used wonderfully in Extinction, from the creepy tunes of the Queen to the screech of the marine’s bullets. High kudos for the sound design. It’s one thing to have access to great material; it’s another thing to use it well. The one aural downside is the sound effects would sometimes drown out other sounds making for a weird cacophony of noise. I thought at first that this was a setting of my stereo (I have no middle speaker but was playing in Dolby). But some tweaking of my system showed that the problem is indeed in the game.
Turns out I can’t chew gum, rub my tummy and select a marine at the same time…
It’s a tough task to make an RTS work with a PS2 controller (which might be why there aren’t many on the market). The RTS, by its nature, calls out for a mouse and keyboard. It’s tough to use the controller to select a specific character and, without a keyboard, assigning a shortcut to a team stops just short of requiring you to use your elbow to hit the R2 button. The task of controlling troops is made easier by automation. You can assign an attitude to a group of soldiers (offensive or defensive) and make such tasks as dragging a corpse to the Queen for the Alien race automatic. This would be a more ideal shortcut if the AI were better…
The Bargain Bin factors
Which brings us to a few weaknesses in Extinction.
A strong trait of PC RTS games is the essential patch. After the release of an RTS, the developer listens to the community to see where their balance might have been off. Well, this game don’t patch none--so some of the imbalances that I found during gameplay will never be addressed. An example? The marines are too damn slow, man. They might be good at ranged combat but it doesn’t do much good when the Aliens are as fast as horses. Try as I might to prepare for them and keep them at bay from a distance, my tactics didn’t work to my satisfaction. Another downside is that the AI isn’t perfect. No AI is but, again, through patches, most RTS games can refine the AI over time to balance the playing field where needed.
There are path-finding issues with the Predators and Humans as you’ll find them getting lost for no reason in the middle of a level. The developer got over unit movement issues with the Aliens, by making most of the outdoor maps entirely accessible. Another example of bad AI, is when a marine chooses his closest opponent he might not be choosing the opponent that’s actually killing him slowly. That means you need to micromanage, which is tough to do with a PS2 controller, try as I might.
The final, and some might say deadly, drawback of Extinction, is the lack of multiplayer gameplay. Nope, no going up against little brother in Extinction. Strictly one-person fare. This seems odd considering the attention to balance that was given the game. Lack of multi-player, is the biggest factor keeping Extinction from being in the 80th percentile.
Which race do I prefer? Let’s just say, I’m such a Queen!
The storyline is standard Aliens and Predator fare, with the developer doing a great job of weaving the basic stories through all the campaigns. When I put the controller down I felt like Extinction was a satisfying package, that could have been complete with some more dev time. Strategic gameplay with decent balance and iffy AI, okay graphics and exceptional sound, controls that don’t hurt too much and cool unit upgrades with the all-important “Oooo and Aaaaah” factor. Could it have been better? Hell yeah. But for fans of Aliens and Predators, Extinction is a safe bet.
If you like Aliens and Predators then you should check this game out. It does a good job of continuing the good run of AvP games. A basic and sometimes fun RTS for fans of the genre who want to see it done for their console. Weak AI, so-so graphics, no multi-player and a mildly steep learning curve for the controls keep it from being a great game.
Rating: 7.9 Above Average
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Ben Zackheim was born Ben Zackheim sometime before 1980 and after 1960 which characterizes him not at all. He's a writer of reviews, comics and screenplays, but aren't we all? Luxuries like food and shoes mean nothing to him. He's married to the most beautiful woman in the world, Robin, who reads all his reviews before he sends them in and says "Are you really going to write that for the public to read?" But I assure her no one reads my reviews anyway, only Charlie's, so it's kind of like a tree in the forest (without the cute little fuzzy things who smell their own poop - wait, then again there is Charlie...) She's a cross between Gillian Anderson and Hillary Clinton, which is a monster I'd love to play in Monster Rancher Advance 2. Photos are available upon request for a small fee. I'm currently writing this bio but have no plans beyond that. View Profile