When I sat down for the behind-closed-doors demo of Aliens: Colonial Marines, I was a bit skeptical. The game had been announced years ago, but shortly after the announcement, Gearbox went nearly silent about the title. After being somewhat disappointed the also-published-by-Sega Aliens vs. Predator, and the extended silence, I expected this title to be as dead as the victim of a chestburster. I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong.
The Gearbox representative positioned the game as a canonical sequel to Aliens, joking that while he meant no disrespect to Alien 3, part of the appeal of Aliens was the blend of action and horror that grew out of having trained marines fighting the alien Xenomorphs. Colonial Marines embraces that, pitting a new set of marines (sent to investigate the disappearance of the team from Aliens) taking on the Xenomorph threat on LV-426.
To ensure the accuracy of this "true sequel," Gearbox is working closely with 20th Century Fox and Ridley Scott. Their ultimate goal is to be as honest to Aliens as possible, and with access to official art and development documents from the classic films, they seem to be on the right track.
The demo opened with the spaceship USS Sephora crash-landing onto the remnants of Hadley’s Hope, the human space colony on LV-426. The player character was awoken by his fellow marines, and they started wandering through the remnants of the colony, seeing telltale signs that something was amiss. Four-inch-thick steel doors torn open, facehuggers preserved in observation tubes, and a wide swath of post-apocalyptic landscape left in the wake of Ripley’s escape from the planet in Aliens all putting the marines on edge.
As the marines discuss the destruction around them, one notes that his motion tracker isn’t working correctly. The player character lowers his gun to raise his motion tracker to eye level (a nice nod to the film, that gave its characters large, hand-carried motion trackers) only to discover a number of units approaching his group of three from inside the ruins they just explored. In an instant a Xenomorph reaches down from the vent above the marine taking point and pulls him up into it. After losing the first one in the vents, a number of other aliens begin crawling along the walls and ceilings towards the player and his partner. It’s almost overwhelming to try to keep track of them all, as they appear from little holes in the ruins, crawling all over the place and rushing the marines from every angle. It’s a sight to behold, appropriately conveying the creatures’ overwhelming presence and promising to make the gunplay exciting.
Before the player can get his bearings, a Xenomorph knocks him onto his back, leaping on him and extending its second pair of jaws. He knocks it away with the butt of his gun, killing it with his shotgun as it staggers back before aiding his one remaining teammate.
The two marines then run out into the wasteland, where they are promptly greeted by a group of regular Xenomorphs alongside on giant, almost triceratops-like "Charger." This creature is one of the new Xenomorphs designed for the game, and although I’m not sure what it was spawned from (Xenomorphs are spawned from various hosts) it looked just right next to the standard Xenos. After discovering how useless their weapons are against the creature, the marines start running and (luckily) regroup with a larger group of marines in a bunker, closing the door as the charger smashes into it, bending the door inward.
This peace doesn’t last for long. After swapping his shotgun for the more iconic plasma rifle (accurate to the film’s design right down to the LED ammo count on the side) and picking up an automated turret (from the director’s cut of Aliens, the representative pointed out), the player goes down into the tunnels under the floor only to find more Xenomorphs streaming in. He sets up the turret, which starts taking out the aliens as soon as they become visible. As the turret depletes, he runs back upstairs.
The lights cut out.
In the darkness, everything is chaos. Aliens are coming out of the walls, leaping on top of unsuspecting marines, and slashing people apart as the player runs through the chaos. As the backup generator kicks in, a marine gets into a power loader and attempts to exterminate a few Xenomorphs with its flamethrower, only to be outfoxed and killed, the protective roll bar becoming a prison for the driver as the creatures swarmed him.
As the power loader falls, an Alien Queen comes in through a hole in the wall, picks up an unfortunate victim, and snaps his head off. She then turns her sights on the player, lifts him into the air, and opens her mouth, revealing her secondary jaws. They snap out toward the player’s head and…
Everything goes black.
Aliens: Colonial Marines will be released in Spring 2012
Food for thought:
Colonial Marines is (according to Gearbox) already up and running on the Wii U. It will be using the Wii U’s secondary screen as its motion tracker, which sounds fun to me. I like the idea of a tangible tracker (as opposed to one accessed with a button press) that diverts your attention from what’s directly in front of you (like in the movies).