Originally announced back in 2006 before going MIA, E3’s worst kept secret was finally re-announced: Aliens: Colonial Marines. I sat down among fellow journalists and excitable fans to take a first look at gameplay in the hands-off demo for the eagerly anticipated Aliens spin-off.
The crowd was given a lengthy introduction from producer Brian Burleson, whose enthusiasm for the franchise was certainly infectious. The team at Gearbox has worked closely with Ridley Scott and Syd Meid (designer on the Alien series) to keep true to the movies’ lore (we asked about James Cameron’s involvement but were told they were not ready to announce anything yet). And by all accounts it has the tone of Cameron’s sequel mastered.
Although it is a direct continuation of the second movie, that actual chronology of the game lands somewhere just after the events of Alien 3. A team of marines on the ship SS Sulaco are searching for Ripley, Hicks and the other members of the team dispatched to LV-426. Apparently that nuclear bomb at the end of Aliens wasn’t that powerful – only wiping out everything within 30km.
There’s a huge element of tension in the opening of the demo as the marine protagonist searches the environment. Using the trusty radar scanner, the nerve-wrangling blips gradually increase as the Xenomorphs close in. They begin crawling out of the ceiling, picking off marines one-by-one and the action kicks off.
What happens throughout the demo is a sort of beat-by-beat reinterpretation of the third act of Aliens. You’ve got turret guns, power loaders and claustrophobic corridors in various sequences that the action blasts through. It’s all slickly presented but it’s missing that spark of camaraderie that Aliens is known for.
Colonial Marines features drop-in cooperative multiplayer for up to four players. We watched two players work together in co-op during the demo but with only a singular viewpoint there wasn’t much perspective as to the depth of the experience. There’s also quite a diverse range of aliens featured in the game to add some variation. One in particular was a bull-like mini-Queen who charged around the outside of the planet. With a head impervious to bullets, it proved to be a mini-boss of sorts and closed the action with it clasping its jaws around our hero’s face.
Walking away, Aliens: Colonial Marines certainly impressed. The action was diverse, the locations pleasingly lacked linearity and there was room for some genuine scares (Dead Space is cited as a major influence for Gearbox). What it lacks is some polish; the game looked a few years old – much like Aliens vs. Predator – with some bland texturing and an all-round murkiness to the environment. I only got a small glimpse as to what to expect and with the game heading out in early 2012, there’s still plenty of time to refine the smaller details.
Aliens: Colonial Marines will be released in Spring 2012 on PS3, Xbox 360 and the newly-announced Wii U.