No, I'm not talking about the excesses of modern surveillance equipment or an oral surgeon's handy extra-eye for those hard-to-scope nooks and crannies. What I'm here to note is a feature of the subtly outstanding '99 FPS Aliens vs. Predator.

As suggested by the game's name, it concerned itself largely with fights between Aliens (according to H.R. Giger's design specifications) and Predators. Well, and between Colonial Marines and Aliens. Uh, and between Predators and Colonial Marines, all of which you could play. And then there were some Cybaliens. And, uh, the infamous Predalien. Then there were those portions of the game you spent primarily trying to determine what it was that had just killed you, and wondering how you could avoid it the next umpteen times around - getting chewed up by sentry guns, sliced to cold cuts by fans, sawed in half by head-mounted lasers...

In short, then, a very messy game. Got turned off by Quake's infamous gibs? Then this wouldn't be for you. Found limited appeal in Blood? Well, uh, nothing unusual there. Moving right along... It's undeniable that Giger's ingenius mouth-in-mouth concept for the Alien's maw was a stroke of brilliance, but far from the role of occasional horror/sci-fi money shot its use provided in the films, in the game it resulted in perhaps a core role-assuming trigger, making a sympathetic protagonist out of what is essentially a mindless anthropophagous insect of lethal proportions.

In this game, the Marine and Predator types were bristling with flamethrowers, spearguns and assorted and sundry projectile weapons a-plenty, while the Alien could only inflict damage at a close range - generally with its cruel claws and unforgiving tail-stinger. Perhaps to even out this power disparity, the game designers provided a challenging little quirk to the Alien player, one which permitted the player to recoup health lost in prior conflicts. Unlike the merely human Marine, with his outmoded respect for the dead, and the trophy-hunting Predator, Aliens could get back health by feeding upon the bodies of their fallen opponents.

In a pinch (say, during a firefight) this was no better than grasping at straws, but when provided with a relatively threat-free environment the player could, with a little effort, fix the centre of the screen upon the head of a body, at which point at the top and bottom of the screen would appear the silhouettes of little nibbling jaws(-in-jaws). Attacking while so aligned would provide a superior health boost (easily an order of magnitude more recuperative than flustered and furtive scratches and dismemberments) and the player would follow the mouth's-eye-perspective (or mouth-cam, as I so dubbed it) INTO the brain of the victim, the screen momentarily fogged with a totality of crimson. Mortal Kombat had nothing on this action, baby.

Even more beneficial to the Alien was chomping down so upon a human who was still living, headless body tumbling to the ground like a sack of potatoes. The occasional doctor, technician or out-of-ammo Marine could be found wandering the halls and corridors of the splendidly-designed levels. Upon seeing your terrifying xenomorphic guise, they would instantly turn and flee, screaming... generally the player would then direct their Alien into the nearest air duct, to emerge in the room where their prey had just run into.

To avoid triggering another panic attack, an effective tactic was to creep along the walls and pop the room's lights one by one (a tactic picked up from the similarly-innovative FPS Thief: the Dark Project), dropping to the floor and blocking the door. Consider the perspective of the human NPC at this point, trapped in a room with something that had just subtly yet systematically plunged the room into darkness, a gloom that the human's eyes couldn't penetrate. But the Alien's life aura-detecting apparatus could.

The human behavior model now changed, from flight into terrorized incapacitation - praying and blubbering to themselves, the humans would alternately burst out into short, aimless runs and huddle in a corner, rocking themselves and crying - doubtlessly having soiled their fine texture-maps. These game designers did good work - I know that in such a situation that's what I'd be doing. Your instinct is to reach out and touch them, reassure them that it's just a game, that they're just polygons and they'll be back at the next reload. But at this moment you're playing the part of the Alien, and comforting your next meal is not on the agenda.

At the same time, consider that the consumption of the fresh, steaming brains of innocents is not an essential part of the game - it merely gives you a health boost, makes it easier to reach the next level. The player doesn't have to instruct his Alien to engage the mouth-cam and feed... but between the visuals, the sound effects and the perversity of the mere concept, it's a difficult detour to resist turning down. It would probably be a little less cute if in the simulator you were playing instead of an Alien the part of Jeffrey Dahmer.

Sometimes I wonder if the assumption of distasteful roles in these games can be applied in studies like the penile plethysmograph or the Obedience to Authority experiment to determine which among us are the potential psychopaths. Then I remember it's just a game.

The experience engenders a distinct and bizarre disconnection, as though I could claim to any bystander to to have no relationship to the gruesome events unfolding on the screen. I'm just watching it. (No, that wasn't my index finger tapping the mouse button just then, you must have been imagining things.) I wonder if the deployers of smart bombs on to civilian targets feel the same way.

Fortunately, my computer is too antiquated to run this newfangled gaming software - it's probably for the better anyhow that I don't spend too much time looking through the compelling fisheyed lens incarnadine of the mouth-cam.

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