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Aliens: Colonial Marines In-Depth GamesCom 2011 Preview

The Aliens: Colonial Marines demonstration at GamesCom was as much of a surprise as one of the series’ eponymous xenomorphs bursting from a nearby vent. A game that had never been seen for the best part of 5 years was difficult to inspire confidence, especially after a previous attempt at creating a similar game by EA was cancelled in 2001. However, after seeing the fruits of Gearbox’s labours last week we were blown away by the title.

Aliens Colonial Marines

While SEGA’s last entry into the Alien universe, Aliens vs. Predator, was an enjoyable but deeply flawed experience, Aliens: Colonial Marines feels like a very different experience. Even though it isn’t planned for release for another year it already oozes quality like an alien maw dripping saliva. It instantly brings to mind the idea that this is the game that the Marine Campaign in Aliens vs. Predator should have been.

It features a single-player campaign which explores LV-426 in search of the squad of Colonial Marines that went missing during the events of Aliens. It’s a story that has been designed to fit into the series’ canon and has the involvement of many of the original team, including famed concept artist Syd Mead. While the events of the game take place chronologically after those in Alien³, Gearbox views the title as a sequel to the events of Aliens: and it really shows. In the demonstration we saw that both the unique atmosphere and the gung-ho action of James Cameron’s 1986 classic has been perfectly recreated.

Aliens Colonial Marines

Even more exciting is the fact that the story supports drop-in, drop-out co-operative gameplay for up to 4 players. Given the pedigree and experience that Gearbox has earned from Borderlands and how smooth the co-op appeared in the demonstration, it already appears to be shaping up to deliver a fresh experience to the Aliens series. The developers also teased that there would also be some form of competitive multiplayer in the game, although they remained tight-lipped about what this would consist of. We are hoping for some Dead Space 2 or Left 4 Dead style “Aliens vs. Marines” action, but we will have to wait with our fingers crossed for more information at a later date.

The level we saw came from fairly early on in the campaign after a squad of the titular Colonial Marines are stranded on LV-426 following the discovery of the abandoned U.S.S. Sulaco orbiting the planet. Recovering from the crash, the main character was revived (cheekily acknowledging that he was fine with a middle-finger salute) and the small team began exploring the derelict facility which acted as a base for the original team of Marines in Aliens.

Aliens Colonial Marines

Wandering through the corridors of the building revealed locations familiar from the film but with an added layer of decay and damage. Much of this appeared to have been caused by xenomorph attacks during Ripley, Newt and Hicks’ escape. It was eerie to revisit such iconic locations and the degree of tension created was very much reminiscent of the best survival horror gameplay. Gearbox took the opportunity to emphasise how important it is to create the feeling of constant danger and uncertainty: they won’t continually throw hordes of aliens at you. This certainly seems to rectify the problems with the “Aliens vs. Predator approach” where tension was quickly eschewed in favour of unvarying action, a move which quickly got tiring.

Aliens: Colonial Marines also has a very minimal HUD scheme, with most information displayed on weapons or your gadgets. The iconic motion detector must also be equipped separately from weapons, a move which will undoubtedly be good for co-op where one person can act as a spotter and coordinator. As the team reached a control room they slowly began to realise that the doors of the facility had been welded shut from the inside. In response the motion detectors started to detect movement, the all-to-recognisable sound raising the hairs on the back of our necks. The silence, both in the game and the room of journalists, was pronounced and the atmosphere was certainly very striking.

Aliens Colonial Marines

As the movement suddenly stopped the team of marines began to edge around the room apprehensively. After a few unbearably tense moments one of the ceiling vents burst open and a xenomorph jumped out grabbing a nearby ally, dragging them screaming into the ducts. This acted as the catalyst for a huge attack, with aliens bursting out of the floor and ceiling: they were very much “comin’ outta the goddam walls!”

Switching from the pulse rifle to the shotgun, the protagonist set to work blasting the creatures as they swarmed into the building. The animation of the xenomorphs was particularly impressive and fluid as they leapt over obstacles and stalked towards the squad. The shotgun was also hugely satisfying, sending acid blood flying and exploding heads in the same manner as the classic “Eat this!” moment from Aliens. It wasn’t long before the marines were overwhelmed and an alien tackled the main character out of a window and onto the hostile surface of LV-426. In a quick-time event, he fought off the protruding, snapping jaw of the xenomorph and dispatched it with a shot to the head.

Aliens Colonial Marines

Awww, isn't he pret.... ARGH!

His problems were far from over and an enormous, shield-headed alien appeared which looked like a combination of a Queen and a Warrior. Moving through the wreckage strewn about the surface he managed to make it back to the main squad, sliding under a closing steel door just as the xenomorph smashed into the metal behind him. It was at this stage of the demonstration that another developer jumped in as a second player. Swapping shotguns for Pulse Rifles, the team were then tasked with setting up a sentry gun and defending the perimeter. Carrying the turret they activated it in a corridor with a long field of fire to maximise its effectiveness in the coming battle.

Soon the aliens began to attack en masse and the tunnel began to fill with bodies as the sentry did its work. Yet, all was not quite as simple as a xenomorph ripped through a metal sheet in the side of the tunnel and took out a marine, leading to the others retreating upstairs. It was at this stage that the lights cut-out and switching to flashlights, the two main marines worked their way to another perimeter line. Here the new “deferred renderer” was showcased, which creates very rich and detailed shadows as the fire from the Pulse Rifles lit up the corridors The visuals in general were detailed, but the strength of the lighting was the most striking element of the graphics.

Aliens Colonial Marines

Both marines did their best to repel the hordes of xenomorphs, using the Pulse Rifles’ attached grenade launchers, but it was a losing battle. They were forced to retreat, past marines fighting hand-to-hand with the creatures into a larger hanger. Here they had a brief moment to catch their breath and restock on ammunition and supplies, but it was only a few seconds before the aliens found a way in. Thankfully an additional marine was piloting a power loader, equipped with a flamethrower that helped to keep the xenomorphs back. Just when it looked like the squad might stand a chance of surviving, the enormous shield-headed alien tore through a door and moved in for the kill, bringing the demonstration to a close.

However, Gearbox also showcased some exclusive GamesCom footage from other missions in the game. These brief snippets included marines working their way through the vent systems seen at the close of Aliens, quick-time events where you have to fight off Facehuggers and a tantalising glimpse of a boss battle with a Queen alien inside a huge nest of eggs. Throughout all of these areas, the feeling remained authentic, exciting and above-all true to the feeling of the classic films.

Aliens Colonial Marines

That’s the overriding feeling that came across during the demonstration: that Gearbox wants to make a tense, action-packed experience that alternates smoothly between the two. The alien AI is a great example of this. During attacks, if the aliens are outnumbered or are getting killed too quickly, they can retreat back into vents and bide their time. Here they can wait to gain the element of surprise again, leading to fresh moments of tension. This means that once the aliens emerge in a level, it won’t be constant action from that point. The pace of the game can change dynamically, in a manner that brings to mind the AI director from Left 4 Dead.

Aliens: Colonial Marines was easily one of the most exciting games of the show. It’s got an amazing developer creating it, great support from a publisher and best of all: it stays faithful to the source material. It can’t have been easy to create something that is both familiar but also fresh and Gearbox really seems to have nailed the scary tension and desperate action seen in Aliens. With a release date of early 2012 currently seeming likely, it’s sad to think how far away this game still is. This is undoubtedly the shot in the arm that the Aliens games need and we can certainly wait for what is currently shaping up to be something very special indeed.

evilgiraffeman | 22nd August, 2011
Wedgeh's picture
From the sounds of it, this is the game to watch out for. If it really does drip with atmosFEAR (lulz pun) and the action is intense then im sold.

AvP kinda let me down, while the SP campaigns were nice and MP had some good idea's it still felt rushed, and having to buy map packs pissed me off.

Please Gearbox appease your fanbase again with your magic .
Rasher's picture
The fact the game is based on LV-426 and as the preview says "iconic" feel to it,
It looks like the first attack takes place in the control room which they used in Aliens, but this time it was all open to the outside environment.

Again, i have a lot of faith in Gearbox, Borderlands showed us they know what they are doing.

Already added this to my buy list

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