AvP: The Facehugger
Before I go into the side-by-side comparisons of each campaign, I want to talk about one specific feature in the human and predator campaigns: the facehuggers.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Xenomorph lore, a facehugger is basically an alien larva that looks like a spider. It latches onto the face of its victim (typically a human or predator), wraps its tail around the victim’s neck to knock it unconscious, and then dumps a Xenomorph embryo into his or her chest.
That sounds like solid material for a horror movie, but here’s how it works in AvP1.
There’s this tiny creature that’s hard to spot if you’re not expecting it. It quickly scurries around on the ground, and if you’re close enough for it to pounce on you (it has a pretty long jump distance) then it instantly covers the screen and kills you. There is nothing you can do about it if you didn’t manage to spot and shoot the tiny little target beforehand. Just POOF! Dead.
That’s less fair than quick-time-events. That’s less fair than the creepers from Minecraft. That is the fucking epitome of unfair. The only saving grace is that its crawling sound is fairly loud, but that doesn’t help you if it’s waiting behind a wall or if you’re too busy being attacked by an army of aliens to notice (and you usually are).
And yet I could see people defending this design choice by saying that that’s how it works in the movies.
I’ve seen this tendency a lot among gamers; defending horrible gameplay by explaining the justification in the context of the story or setting. One acquaintance of mine tried to justify FEAR’s complete lack of genuine scariness by saying, “Well, it makes sense that you’re a super-powerful badass, since you’re Alma’s daughter.” When Yahtzee pointed out how much more fun Fallout 3 and New Vegas would be if they had a fast-travel system that didn’t break immersion and force you to skip content, such as a car or motorcycle, people objected against that idea because the Fallout world apparently doesn’t have working cars.
Probably the most notable example of this, from my perspective anyway, was something I said in that Fallout post I wrote forever ago (take a shot). I asked why Vault 15 needed to exist in the first place, and many people responded by explaining the setting to me. The thing is, I already knew that, and I felt that those people had sort of missed my point, though that may have been my fault for not specifying in my post.
Story perspective: The denizens of Vault 13 don’t know about Shady Sands because they don’t actually know that civilization exists outside of the vaults. For all they know, the entire world is now a howling wasteland devoid of human life. Therefore, the only advice they can give is that Vault 15 might have what you’re looking for.
Okay, I can buy that.
Gameplay perspective: Go to Vault 15. Oh, you didn’t stop at that one town along the way? Well, too bad! You need a rope to get in! Go backtrack. Oh, you got the rope? Good, because this vault has nothing of use for you! Ha-ha! You idiot! You went on a fetch quest and wasted some of your precious 150 days just to run into a dead end! We’re all laughing at you! Black Isle is smarter than you!
I take solace in the fact that Black Isle no longer exists.
See, this is the problem I have. I like it when the gameplay and story are in harmony, but in so many of these cases we get games where the story causes problems for the gameplay.
I’m not saying story doesn’t matter, but when the story is causing problems in the gameplay department, something needs to be done about the story. In the case of Fallout 1, here’s a few alterations to the story that would have made the gameplay less time-wasting and stupid.
Instead of having Shady Sands and Vault 15 be two different settlements, make Shady Sands into a village that was built around the ruins of Vault 15. Say that they decided to build the settlement there because of easy distance to the leftover supplies from the Vault. Or maybe you could remove Shady Sands and instead make Vault 15 a town itself. Say that the original Vault 15 denizens decided to open the gate and learn to farm just outside. Vault 15 goes from being an enclosed vault to being a peaceful little town. Like Shady Sands, but underground.
What was I talking about? Oh yeah! Aliens vs. Predator.
Thankfully AvP2 fixed the facehugger issue. If a facehugger grabs you when your health is low, then it’ll insta-kill you, but if your health is modestly high, it’ll deal a bit of damage and then you grab it and throw it off of your face. They’re still threatening this way, but the penalty for failing to spot and shoot the tiny target is far more reasonable.