Amongst the treasure trove of incomplete and unreleased Atari Lynx titles, one game in particular captured the imagination of many in the Lynx's hey-day. A handheld FPS (first person shooter), 'Alien vs Predator' looked like it could have wowed the handheld market on release. A movie-game adaptation from two of the biggest sci-fi films at the time, it would have been a visual show-stopper for the Lynx, and maybe even see the selling of several thousand more Lynx units on emergence. Sadly, it did not see the light of day, in the handheld console wars of the 1990's. But as we all know, these games have a funny way of eventually making their way to the surface. And though unfinished, 'Alien vs Predator' creates a fascinating picture of "what could have been".
Most of us have heard of the big-budget movies referenced in this game, and are aware of the fairly nasty 'Alien vs Predator' creatures that are involved in savaging poor humans as they explore abandoned ships or jungles (you'd think we'd learned something by now about these grisly environments). So I won't bore you with the details, other than to say that 'Alien vs Predator' on the Lynx gives you an almost never before seen choice. You can be the alien (predator), or a human soldier (there was also a leaked version where you could play as the Predator). Each of these characters have their own unique weaponry, and are tasked with a particular goal. Everything takes place in a maze-like, mechanized environment; and man, does it look creepy! And though the game is incomplete, you do get a strong sense of what the finished product would have looked like on release. Truthfully; pretty good!
Visually, 'Alien vs Predator' excels at creating the dim, dangerous environment of the movies; in particular, the 'Alien' movies. There are lots of dark and ominous tones on display, and though there are no floor textures, the walls are heavily detailed and impressive for the Lynx capabilities. Because the game is an FPS, you'll be watching those walls sail by as you explore the levels on-foot. One unfortunate aspect is that the game does not have the same engine as, say, the Atari Lynx 'Wolfenstein 3D' engine ('Luchtenstein') or 'Cybervirus'. It is more like 'Eye of the Beholder' or 'Xybots', meaning that turning left or right does not scroll smoothly, and no diagonals are allowed. However, the view of your weapon creates a more FPS-like experience than 'Cybervirus', and walking forward has a very smooth scrolling effect.
Another standout quality in 'Alien vs Predator' is the sound. The music is as eerie and forboding as 'Dracula: The Undead', and the sound effects are absolutely spot on. Though you will hear some familiar sound effects from other Lynx titles, there are some unique effects here that make the experience just that little bit more scarier. In particular the weapon sound effects are really strong, with different guns for the human soldier having their own unique blast. There's even a flamethrower here - bbwwwwwoooaaaahhhh! In terms of the music generally, I can't see myself ever getting tired of the in-game level theme, as it is really good and creates a claustrophobic, sci-fi feel that is quite the achievement.
Controls, too, are mostly good. Weapon firing is easy, and it's a simple d-pad control system to move your character (or creature) around. I did find some aspects that were less easy to navigate. There is an option to press a button to view several options, such as weapon changing, the map and so on. The problem is, it feels unwieldy to go through several d-pad clicks just to reach the map to open it. Weapon switching, too, could have been made as easy as pressing (say) Option 1 or 2. It is these kind of factors that made 'On Duty' and even 'Power Factor' much easier to play, because at least these were "one touch" options for those titles. Though in-game options for your character feel more laborious than they should, there is nevertheless the feeling that the outcome ("Hey, a cool level map showing my progress!") outweighs the negative feelings of scrolling through different choices.
Unfortunately, the main playability issue with this game is that it is essentially unfinished. There are different prototypes and iterations of 'Alien vs Predator' floating around, but none of them are complete, and most of them leave you wondering why a game that showed so much promise could have been cancelled. Undoubtedly, some talented person could probably complete this game (as someone did for 'Eye of the Beholder' on the Lynx) but that day has yet to arrive. As a result, what we have is a series of nice mazes, but very little else going on, and no real progression through the game possible. I didn't encounter any foes, though there are a few items laying around (as well as some sinister doorways which never had any aliens behind them). Maybe others have found some things that I haven't, but regardless, this is not a finished title, and so it's only really possible to have a good old explore.
In conclusion, I can't really say "you must play this game" to 'Alien vs Predator'; but I would definitely recommend checking it out, just to see how cool it is as an unfinished product. There was really something here, absolutely, and the rating this game receives is more reflective of the unfinished nature of the game, rather than deficits in quality. The mood, graphics, sound, and the feeling of needing to check behind you… it's all there! Sadly, at least at this stage, we won't be able to run quickly from the Alien Queen or detonate explosives in the corridors of this Atari Lynx prototype. Will the game be finished or see release? It's hard to tell, but one thing is for sure; there is great raw material here that would create an excellent sci-fi FPS/RPG for the Atari Lynx. But until that point, FPS fans should check out 'Cybervirus' and other similar Lynx titles to get their blasting fix.Score Card
This review was submitted by Jon Mc from JMac Productions