The wet clicking sound, like a throttle in the throat. The driving of taut bongo-drums. The heavy fug of jungle air. And the sweaty squad of mercenaries, trigger fingers twitching. Finally, the distorted shimmer, as the jungle warps and bends around the beast. I’ve watched the trailer for Predator: Hunting Grounds about five times – this morning. It’s perfect. For one thing, it demonstrates the power of a true teaser: a minute of tense spectacle, and a glorious reveal. For another, it made me interested in the prospect of an asymmetrical multiplayer shooter, which, for someone of my skill level, is all multiplayer shooters.
Predator is one of those odd properties that makes you wonder why it hasn’t been done justice. It’s a unique idea, a brilliant monster design, and it seems as though it would be more difficult to squander than to pull off. The same could be said of Spider-Man, Batman, and Star Wars, and it’s only in relatively recent years that these have been done justice. Let’s take a look back over the years at some of the better Predator games, assess what’s good and bad, and work out what the perfect Predator game would be.
Aliens vs. Predator (PC, 2010)
The trouble with Aliens vs. Predator – a fine video game by any definition – is contained in its title. The Alien came first. The ideal Predator game needs to be just that, and ever since Danny Glover, in Predator 2, glimpsed that xenomorph skull, the Predator has never been allowed enough breathing room. However, that being said, there is an excellent sense of being the Predator – heightened through use of first-person perspective, along with the signature thermal vision. The Predator campaign (one of three, including the marines) was slight, and it left the jungle too soon.
Predator 2 (Mega Drive, 1991)
What an intriguing curio. For a start the music is utterly insane; listening to it, you would think yourself in for a merry platformer or jaunty adventure. What you are, in fact, in for is a run-and-gun action game seen from a crane-like isometric viewpoint. You play as Danny Glover’s character from the film, Detective Harrigan, and you blast your way through gangsters in an effort to scrub the streets clean of drugs. But then, you would see the game bathed in blue light – the infrared vision of the Predator – and you realised that the aerial viewpoint was from behind the Predator’s eyes. And it took it’s time revealing the creature, just like the first film did. Delicious.
Aliens Versus Predator: Extinction (PS2, 2003)
I remember Extinction being the last of a particular kind of game. It was the last game I remember buying, as a child, as a result of simply walking into a shop, looking at the front cover and the title, and putting my money down on the counter. That’s how it used to work (it’s also how I ended up with a copy of Fur Fighters: Viggo’s Revenge). Unfortunately, this meant that I didn’t realise I had bought an RTS. Woe was me. It seemed a perfectly miserable way to squeeze the excitement and mystique from a thrilling idea – having you plan everything out inch by inch. It may well have been perfectly good, but if you’re going to nail a Predator game, you need the right genre. RTS it ain’t.
Predator (NES, 1988)
The thing of the NES version of Predator was that it wasn’t actually bad; it just wasn’t a great Predator game. In it, you play as Dutch – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character from the first film – and that’s the first thing it gets wrong. It’s got that strange and starkly charming look that NES games had – all minimal bleached-looking colours. It played a little like Castlevania, but it lacked that game’s frantic thrills. It was also set in dark and dank environments, which were nothing like the dizzying greens of the film. When the Predator did show up, Dutch has to scramble around dodging the invisible threat and shooting willy-nilly.
Alien vs. Predator (Arcade, 1994)
I almost admire the inappropriate insanity of Alien vs. Predator, the arcade game. Here are all of the many bizarre things wrong with it: (a) it’s a side-scrolling beat ‘em up, (b) you pair up in teams of two, from a roster including two humans and two Predators, and (c) you thump xenomorphs with your bare hands, Streets of Rage style. It’s mad, obviously, but it’s also throwaway fun. What it does do, unfortunately, is take away any sense of fear or tension, opting to go for broke and deliver a thrill ride. This one is comprised entirely of things you shouldn’t do when trying to make a good Predator game; the only thing you could maybe take from it is its nifty use of Predator weapons – the double-ended spear is a delight.
Predator: Concrete Jungle (PS2, 2005)
Now this is more like it. Concrete Jungle opens in New Way City, in 1930, and casts you as the Predator – quite right – and arms you to the hilt with advanced weaponry (including the power to fizz into the air with your cloaking device). Your job is to hunt mobsters, pulling off fantastically violent execution moves: ripping people in half, gouging hearts from chests, and crushing skulls between your hands. To my mind, Concrete Jungle gets enough right to make it the best Predator game; it’s flawed and clunky, but it seemed to understand the power fantasy and the joy of the hunting. Perhaps if Hunting Grounds delivers enough of these thrills then it will take its place at the top of the pile.