You look down over your surroundings from your perch, monitoring the patrol routes of a few guards so you know exactly who's looking where. You’ve already visualised their demise. They're as helpless as goldfish in a bowl, loomed over by a cat, its swiping paw primed. You fire off a couple of bolts to dispatch two grunts, before dropping down onto the head of the guard beneath you and nestling your blade in their neck. The final guard sees you and starts shooting, but you’re already out of sight. They stop firing to reload, then you reappear right next to them, savouring their fearful final moments.
When you envision that snippet, you probably see an Arkane game. Dishonored, or perhaps Deathloop – coincidentally, have you read our Deathloop review? Maybe your mind goes back further, to the heyday of Aliens vs Predator.
You see what I'm getting at with that intentionally ambiguous introduction: there are few first-person games as dependent on stealth, melee combat, and inhumanly fluid movement as the AvP series, and no developer as good at implementing those things as Arkane Studios.
It’s amazing how cleanly some of Arkane’s mechanics would translate to AvP. Think about Blink – or Shift, for you Deathloopies out there – which lets you teleport yourself a decent distance in any direction. One of the biggest problems with playing the xenomorph in AvP is the chaotic movement and awkward leaping, and implementing Blink’s elegant little indicator that shows you exactly where you’ll leap to would make all the difference. Predator’s high-jumping antics would also benefit, and Arkane isn’t the kind of studio that would limit you to only jumping to specific ledges like Rebellion did with its 2010 Alien vs. Predator game.
Then there’s Dishonored’s Domino ability, which lets you eliminate several enemies simultaneously by marking them all for death then killing just one. Is that not just a supernatural mumbo jumbo twist on Predator’s Shoulder Cannon and Disc? Monolith’s Alien Versus Predator 2 lets you line up several enemies with these gadgets before pulling the trigger and killing them near-instantaneously.
Part of the AvP power fantasy is seeing the fear in the eyes of your victims. Rebellion deserves some credit for adding in-your-face melee kill animations to Alien vs. Predator before it was really the done thing in FPS games and immersive sims. Sadly, they were very clunky, locking you into a lengthy animation during which you could still get killed.
Just two years later, Dishonored delivered some of the finest melee kill animations in gaming. They’re swift and deadly, but there’s enough intimacy so you can savour that pre-death terror without interruption, like a python squeezing tight around its prey. Arkane pioneered first-person melee kills, and it’s hard to imagine Bethesda’s remakes of Doom and Wolfenstein without them.
We may associate Arkane’s level design mostly with the dense urban spaces of Dunwall and Karnaca, but in Deathloop we see more open spaces which still exhibit that masterful verticality the studio is known for. There are endless options to improvise new angles of attack, environmental hazards to exploit, and routes of escape for when things go wrong. Arkane games tend not to use minimaps either, which is ideal for an AvP game where it’s safe to assume the creatures are relying on instinct and learned knowledge rather than unfurling maps every two minutes.
Arkane wants you to learn the many shortcuts and secrets of a level yourself, so that you can traverse them swiftly and seamlessly. It’s a philosophy that would do wonders for AvP. Besides, both aliens and immersive sims love vents, with all the exploratory and ambush opportunities they offer. It would be wonderful to stalk and terrorise your prey as a xeno from within the walls, ceilings, and floors of an elaborate Weyland-Yutani base that’s been carefully crafted by Arkane.
Once you’re familiar with their toolsets, Arkane games make you feel like an unstoppable force of death. Just tune into the ever-watchable StealthGamerBR, whose channel I’m visiting every day in anticipation of their inevitable Deathloop footage.
The human portion of Arkane’s AvP campaign is a harder sell, given that the studio has spent years specialising in empowerment rather than disempowerment.
Instead of taking the action-shooter route that’s previously reduced both xenomorphs and Predators to disposable cannon fodder, Arkane could build upon the invasion gameplay of Deathloop: let one player jump in at any point to control a xenomorph or Predator, stalking and ambushing the human as they attempt to finish the level.
Playing as a Predator you can set traps around the level to thin the herd a little before you go in for the final kill. Meanwhile, xenomorph invasions involve getting your little alien hands dirty as you swoop in and pick off marines one by one using agility rather than stealth. Perhaps you could leave little pools of acidic saliva that drip through ceiling grates, so when a human passes beneath it they yelp as your slob sizzles their flesh, alerting you to their location.
The days of Arkane having to latch onto big IPs to survive are long gone, and Bethesda hasn’t much cared for licensed games since the awful Star Trek: Conquest back in 2006. So yes, this is pretty unlikely, but maybe by writing this piece I can manifest it into existence.
Even if Arkane doesn’t eventually helm an AvP game, it’s hard to imagine a future entry in the franchise that doesn’t refer to its style of first-person movement and level design. Ok, sure, the movie franchise has been dead in the water since 2007, but when the world is ready for another entry then I want Arkane to be the studio that finally realises its videogame potential.
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