Alien versus Predator was one of the best beat ’em ups to come out from Capcom’s arcade fun factory. It arrived in 1994 and bolstered their power hand of arcade hits with two of sci-fi’s biggest stars — Aliens and Predators.
While Konami hit up popular cartoon licenses like TMNT and The Simpsons, Capcom’s beat ’em up lineup often focused on original properties or only the occasional license like The Punisher…a tie-in with Marvel that would later become an even bigger deal when Capcom pitted the X-Men against the stable of Street Fighters in its cabinets.
But Capcom knew a good thing when it saw it in those heady days of arcade glory and the crossover between these two alphas must have seemed like a no-brainer. Comics from Dark Horse and books kept fans of the legendary match-up looking forward to more, but the arcade game itself was also a showcase of what Capcom continued to bring to the beat ’em up scene.
It ran on their vaunted CPS2 hardware which was their standard platform for multiple arcade games. It simplified things by making it so that an arcade owner could swap out the cartridge ROM in the cabinet with a new one turning it into a completely new game (along with tooling up the cabinet on the outside). Many arcade games still required you to buy the entire cab if you wanted a new game because the hardware changed all the time. Capcom, on the other hand, wanted to standardize things to make it more cost effective for themselves and for the arcade owners they courted.
One thing that the CPS2 was known for was the “suicide battery” meant to curb piracy by turning the memory that the encryption keys, which were used to decrypt the games, sat in volatile. If the memory containing the keys ever lost its charge, that was it — the hardware was about as useful as a paperweight until the chip was replaced, usually by sending it back to Capcom. Of course, batteries don’t last forever, either, turning it into something of a guaranteed service call somewhere down the line for the owner which was a bit controversial.
The CPS2 was a beefy piece of kit arranged around the Motorola 68000 16-bit CPU and paired with the Zilog Z80 which coordinated the sound provided by the newly implemented Q Sound system. You can check out a picture of the hardware over at System 16 which also has a list of the games released for it.
In Alien vs. Predator, the cab could be set up to allow three-way or two-player simultaneous play. Four characters were available, each with their own distinct fighting style, to take across seven stages filled with plenty of danger.
The story goes something like this — the city of San Drad on Earth is suddenly hit with a xenomorph outbreak. Predators also arrive to take part in the hunt and, in a twist, team-up with two humans fighting the Aliens. Together, they’re thrown into a fast-paced action adventure filled with plenty of cannon fodder and conspiracies.
The two Predator characters, the experienced Warrior and the tough Hunter, do fight similarly to each other. Their desperation attacks whip those laser discs around them from Predator 2 as long as you have health to burn in using it. But they also start with handheld weapons — the Warrior’s bladed staff and the Hunter’s retractable staff (again from Predator 2) along with the usual melee strikes and jumps.
Lt. Lynn Kurosawa is fast, has a katana that she uses in her desperation attack, and beats on enemies with martial arts making for some amusing action where she beats Aliens down with her bare fists. Her counterpart, Major D. Shaeffer, is a hulking, Schwarzenegger-sized warrior with a giant cyber-arm equipped with a cannon. He punches, fires all around him when he does his desperation move, and can grab and pile drop enemies after jumping through the air. He’s a brute, but he’s also as fun to play as the others.
One thing that all of them have in common are weapons — they’re going into this armed and can pick up even more firepower on the way through the game. This might be the most weapon-heavy beat ’em up Capcom’s released.
Both Predators have plasma cannons mounted on their shoulders to blast enemies with. Schaeffer has a gun mounted on his arm and Kurosawa has a pistol. These weapons never go away, but they do run out of ammo or overheat meaning that you’ve got to wait until they’re cooled off or reloaded. In Kurosawa’s case, though, she can’t move when she reloads her heavy pistol which is something of a liability.
In addition to that and the eight-way movement, there’s a ton of destructibles (like barrels and video phones) and extras in each of the futuristic stages covering city streets, industrial hubs, and military bases. Familiar pieces from the films are also thrown into the chaos. The marine assault rifle from Aliens? It’s in there as one of the limited ammo weapons along with the smartgun and flamethrower.
They’ve even worked in some of the sound effects, too, making it a great homage to the original materials. All of the characters can use these, though if they pick up a handheld weapon meant for someone else, they’ll throw it instead except for Schaefer. The guy’s a walking weapons platform.
Continuing the game generously keeps your score along with popping you right back into the action at the point of death, something of a regular feature with many beat ’em ups from Capcom and Konami., and there’s a lot of stuff the game throws at you.
It also floods each area with a lot of targets which varies from warrior Aliens to Stalkers, to bosses like the Queen and a guy in the power loader suit from Aliens, and later, humans under the command of a nefarious military madman giving players an excuse to use the very generous amount of firepower it gives them. It can be lots of fun blasting all of these baddies, especially if you get the power up for temporarily making your ammo infinite, but after six or seven stages of the stuff, it starts treading in repetitive territory of where it’s too much of a good thing.
On the plus side, the game looks fantastic. The teaser intro, titles, voice samples, background graphics, low-res text used at certain points hearkening back to old school monitors, and the story told through its dialogue cuts keeps the action moving right into the climactic ending. The music matches the action but the special effects might want you to load up Aliens or either Predator for movie night.
As action packed and as big a game as this was, it never made it over to home consoles in any form. An Alien vs. Predator did come out for the SNES in ’93, but it had nothing to do with the arcade version. In that one, you played a Predator in a side-scrolling action game set within its own storyline but it was no beat ’em up.
It’s really too bad as the game stands out as one of Capcom’s best with an interesting twist to their own formula in as arming each character with a ranged signature weapon and adapting the source material so well into a side-scrolling beat ’em up formula.
It also has many of the staples that define their earlier efforts — a custom countdown screen for continues, distinct characters, barrels that drop giant beef rolls on breaking open, and plenty of baddies to lay into. Perhaps one day Capcom will work out the licensing twists or collect together all of their beat ’em ups into a special volume as a surprise for fans with this as a part of it because it can easily get away as a Capcom classic.