Aliens: Colonial Marines Will Make You Jump At Every Freakin' Shadow

The challenge Gearbox faces in making Aliens: Colonial Marines is twofold. First, since this is an authorised product, they need to make a game that seamlessly slides into Aliens continuity. Given the way that dev studio CEO Randy Pitchford can quote chapter and verse from the movie franchise timeline, this problem seems to be well in hand.

The second part of the challenge is what seems trickier. They need to make a first-person shooter that stands out in a very oversaturated category. One could argue that James Cameron's sci-fi masterpiece may have wound up informing every piece of human-soldiers-vs-extraterrestrials fiction since it came out. But, series like Halo, Resistance or Killzone have set the gameplay expectations for this kind of experience. Do the intergalactic jarheads of Gearbox's upcoming game stand a chance?

This was all in the back of my mind when I sat down for hands-on time with Colonial Marines last week.

I started in a mission about ¼ through the game that takes place after the Sulaco crash-lands. My character was part of a squad of marines ordered to investigate. Surprisingly, the Xenomorphs feel even scarier than they do in the movies. I wasn't expecting that. Here's where the game stakes out some territory of its own. In the movies, you only ever get quick glimpses of the Xenos as they pounce and kill.

In the game, I watched their creepy movements as they worked their way straight at me or crawled along the ceiling or walls. Xenos come in different classes, too. Lurkers are sneakier and will flank you. As you work your way into hive environments, they'll blend into the scenery before attacking. The more aggressive Soldier Xenos are what viewers saw in Aliens. They attack in numbers and soak up ammo to soften Marines up for the kill.

Colonial Marines does a great job of mimicking the chilly atmospherics of the movies. The sound design was mostly quiet in downtime but the screeches of the Xenos and the bursts of the Pulse Rifles sounded "right." Environments are appropriately dark and become oozy and throbbing as you enter the Xenos' nests. I fought through one such area and but was pretty clear that I was on the bad guys' home turf. I died a lot in this section, with Xenos surrounding me often. You'll get acid spit in the face or burning blood splatter if you let Xenos get too close to you, meaning that you'll need to shove enemies away before you start shooting. They're a lot faster than the player so this isn't as easy as it sounds.

Vitality gets replenished via health packs but there were moments where they were few and far in between. armour and weapons will have scalable attributes to improve their functionality. I got to wield the familiar Pulse Rifle in the game but the gun that felt the best was the M65 smartgun, which tracked targets after locking on. It's the kind of weapon that makes you sad once it runs out of ammo. You'll also be able to deploy automatic turrets in certain parts of the game. The one time I did this was when making a stand in a makeshift command centre while Xenos swarmed in from all angles. This made me feel a little safer but only for a little while.

Lead producer Brian Burleson was my guide into the Campaign portion of the game and, like Pitchford, he too was frequently dropping Alien factoids. For example, he pointed out how the motion trackers -- so familiar to people who've watched the films -- can be unreliable. The tracker's alert chime sounded while I stalked through a silent corridor and I flipped it open to see what set it off. Turning a corner nervously and expecting an attack, it turned out that the culprit was a rag caught in a ceiling fan. And, yeah, my NPC partner gave me shit about being so twitchy. The first part of the mission walked me through the Hadley's Hope colony, placing motion detectors throughout. Familiar scenery and details abound in Colonial Marines. You'll also find audiologs that bring new insight to the residents of Hadley's Hope and will stumble into rooms that hint at the experiments evil corporation Weyland Yutani might have done in trying to harvest the Xenomorphs.

My hour with the game made it feel like a competent shooter with strong horror elements. The work put into infusing the game with Aliens lore comes across well. And the animations of the Xenos had an eerie hypnotic quality that made me shudder and panic even while shooting them. If anything will make Aliens: Colonial Marines stand apart from other FPSes, it's how well Gearbox blends the mix of first-contact terror, military bravado and human emotion that the Aliens movies do so well.


    Why do I get the feeling that this is going to be like Aliens Versus Predator: Requiem? Where everything in the game will be nothing but what happened in the movies with nothing new or exciting happening. Completely relying on the movies to sell the game.

    Also, they seem to be missing the fact that they're supposed to be exploring a crater.

      Pitchford has addressed this somewhat on twitter. The atmosphere processor is what blew and it was 3km away from Hadley's Hope and mostly underground (and 1000km from the derelict). The explosion was a 40 megaton blast and they supposedly researched what that would really do and went from there. I'm willing to handwave that away anyway, my bs meter is more set off by the Sulaco supposedly going all the way to Fury 161, shooting out the escape pod and coming all the way back. Why would W-Y even bother turning the ship around... unless these marines didn't ship out on their own version of the Sulaco for some reason and needed the equipment, in any case it's a stretch just to allow them to use the Sulaco in the game.

    All right, sweethearts, what are you waiting for? Breakfast in bed? Another glorious day in the Corps! A day in the Marine Corps is like a day on the farm. Every meal's a banquet! Every paycheck a fortune! Every formation a parade! I LOVE the Corps

      Secure that shit hudson!

        Hey Sarge, those things'l give you lung cancer.

          It doesn't matter when it's Arcturian, baby!

      H: Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?
      V: No. Have you?

    I want to know how the gameplay is going to be structured, i've heard a lot about the 4 player co-op and multiplayer but nothing about the actual story? I hope it's not going to be like Brink that HAS to be played as a multiplayer.

    I remember reading that you could weld doors shut to keep xeno morphs out, but is that just going to be a one-off scripted event? or can you place turrets in a corridor and then seal off other doors to funnel xenos to their doom? THAT would be awesome, but it would have to be somewhat open world for it to work, and not just a 'tower defence' style mission.

    Knock it off, Hudson!

    Can't wait for this one. Hope it's as creepy as Deadspace

    Last edited 12/12/12 12:06 pm

    who's master piece?? I think your mean Ridley Scott. James Cameron did the sequal

      This is obviously based on ALIENS.

    The talk of the terror and fear and motion sensor and false positives all reminds me of playing ZombiU. It's gonna have its work cut out topping that.

    I loved AvP2 multiplayer with a dozen or so friends. The sounds of the motion sensor blipping almost made you poop yourself in fear. One of my fondest gaming memories.

    I had the chance to play the multiplayer of this game at the EB expo. From what I played, it was how I imagine being in the aliens movie would be. I.e. Super tense, no superhuman powers, limited ammo, darkness everywhere, terrifying ambience...
    I wasn't too sure about purchasing this game until I played the multiplayer. Now its a must buy.
    That all being said, the single player needs to keep me engaged, unlike the terrible excuse for a game Aliens vs Predators (2010 game) was.

    Seriously, why does everyone who makes an Aliens-based game feel the need to throw in a bunch of lame new aliens?

    There were no magic acid-shooting aliens in Aliens. There were no massive bulldozer aliens. We had the nice little ecosystem of eggs->facehuggers->aliens-->queen. We don't need a bunch of gimmicky additions.

    There are other ways to make games fun and interesting. But that might be hard and involve, y'know, good gameplay, good level design, and a good plot.

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