First announced in 2008, a game like Aliens: Colonial Marines needs no introduction, but our demoer from Gearbox set up what we were about to see nicely nonetheless. We're told that Colonial Marines is set chronologically as a direct sequel to the Aliens movie, and that Gearbox wants the Unreal engine-based game to focus on action above all else.
The hands-off demo we saw started on LV-426 with a small squad of still-green marines sent in to investigate. Cameron’s Aliens is the reason cliché military squad dialogue has spread throughout pop-culture and permeated our games over the years, and it’s no exception here. Given that this is a continuation of that story arc, though, it’s somehow appropriate, and when your silent protagonist comes to, the first thing he does is flip off his squadmate.
Colonial Marines centers mostly on action, but for the first couple of minutes of gameplay is spent building suspense, allowing you to soak in just how pretty the game is, with moody lighting and a thick layer of atmosphere that lends Colonial Marines the air of authenticity.
It doesn’t take long wandering the wreckage of Hadley’s Hope before you take out your motion tracker (which apparently is used in exchange for your weapon, which could heighten the scare factor). The pings get closer and suddenly, unsurprisingly, the room is teeming with xenos. This is expected. The squad makes short work of them before heading outside, though not everyone survives.
Outside the interior complex, another xenomorph waits – a massive, hulking alien that looks a bit like the Queen with a plated head. The character design and modeling is impressive, with the aliens rendered in horrifying detail. Of course there’s no way to down such a massive foe with the squad's somewhat limited firepower, so they book it out of there.
Gearbox’s trademark tight shooting mechanics work well with the pulse rifle, a shotgun and the sentry from the Aliens director’s cut, among other things. As the marines move through the demo level, the gameplay alternates from tracking the aliens by motion tracker to fighting them off through increasingly alarming encounters. The game also supports four-player drop-in drop-out co-op and split screen, so you don’t have to necessarily play alone.
Fan service and quality aside, easily the most impressive aspect of Colonial Marines is how Gearbox expertly builds the scripted gameplay. Throughout the brief demo sequence, xenos pop in and out, swarming the marines in a series of harrowing battles. This is expected; however, each new encounter is worse than the last. The initial only has a few xenos. Then the numbers grow. Suddenly they’re popping out of the ceilings and ventilation systems on the sides, coming in from all sides. The squad eventually finds themselves in an abandoned warehouse; xenos are everywhere, crawling all over the walls and getting up close and personal with the marines. By the time the power loader comes into play, it’s an all out choreographed symphony of chaos. With the music swelling and an intense storm of violence moving in from all directions, we actually started feeling a little bit of physical anxiety come on. Then the Queen bursts in.
From what we've seen so far, we're eager to get a chance to actually play Aliens: Colonial Marines for ourselves before it releases next spring. As soon as we do, we'll be sure to tell you about it.
Jun 15, 2011