Published on June 14th, 2011 | by Cameron Woolsey
E3 2011: Aliens: Colonial Marines is the “Official Sequel to Aliens.”
Developer: Gearbox Software, TimeGate Studios
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Release: Spring 2012
As I sat in the darkened room with a large screen in front of me displaying the Aliens: Colonial Marines logo, I listened as a Gearbox representative talked about what it was like to make a game based on the historic Alien franchise. He gushed about how great the movies were and the honor of being a part of the developing a game based on them. Which was all fine and good but one thing he said caught my attention. He told us that the game was taking place just after the events of the second movie and with Twentieth Century Fox backing the project, the game can be considered the “official sequel to Aliens.” That is a lot to say and I know what kind of implications could occur if a developer mucked up a game that was being developed as official canon to this beloved franchise.
But Gearbox made certain to tell us that they were not in the business of talking for the sake of simple assurance for fans. The representative said that during the development of ACR, Gearbox had taken special steps to insure the game would capture the true Aliens theme unlike any game before it. The team went so far as to bring in Ridley Scott who brought with him something that could be referred to as the “Alien Bible” which included all original notes and sketches. The game was built using some of his original work taken from this sacred tome. One could say the ACR team went into the development it seems as much as fans as game designers. But after five years, which included a delay that threatened to put it into development hell, can this game based on one of the greatest sci-fi thrillers of all time earn the title of being the official sequel? That was truly the question as the logo faded and we entered the world of Aliens.
As the demo began we found ourselves looking through the perspective of one marine in a patrol with two others. Their goal was to explore the section of LV-426–the colony overrun by Xenomorphs in Aliens–which the Colonial Marines of the movie used as their base of operations. However, this time the small room was deathly quiet. Ripley and Hicks weren’t there discussing escape plans, Hudson’s whining was forever gone. What was apparent, however, was that the explosion which rocked the colony at the end of the movie could have wiped this little room off the map completely. One side of the room was gone and stretched out beyond was a crater filled with debris. If the explosion was 100 more feet in diameter this room which was, for me, the first solid connection between the movie and the game, would have no longer existed.
One marine, curious about the disheveled landscape, created by an explosion that matched that of a thermonuclear bomb, inched close to the edge. A marine commented on how nothing in the room worked. The marine near the edge then commented that even his motion tracker wasn’t working right. At this the hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention and I held my breath-I’ve been a fan of the Alien franchise long enough to know what’s coming next. And just as predicted, a Xenomorph drone burst through the vent above our understandably surprised marine and pulled him out of sight-the sounds of screaming became muffled. Our marine quickly eyes his motion tracker to find around six red dots surrounding him and closing in fast, the sound of the familiar tracker beep blaring. Through ceiling vents and walls Xenomorphs charged the room, screeching in pain as our marine cut down as many as he could. It wasn’t good enough, and the two remaining marines leapt out of the room through the missing wall and onto the ground below.
The marines didn’t get very far before the Gearbox announcer introduced a new alien breed exclusive to the game. This one was twice the size of the regular drones and its head was larger and wider. Its purpose was to charge anything in front of it and smash its victims into the wall-which was precisely what happened to one helpless marine that couldn’t run fast enough. Climbing through a tangled mess of metal, our marine ran toward a doorway with two marines on either side calling him to hurry up. As we passed through the door, the thick shutters began to close. We saw the alien charging toward us, every step a thud against the ground. Moments before it was too late, the door closed and as the alien met it head on a huge dent formed with a deafening thud. It screeched in disappointment on the other side. It lost for now, but I have a feeling it won’t be the last we see of it.
Entering a large room, we meet a large platoon of marines standing among several tables covered with fresh guns and munitions, surrounding a nearby officer ready for orders. It was here our Gearbox representative showed us the new lighting system that the team had more recently implemented into the game. It did look really impressive. The spinning lights in the room created an atmosphere that made even this place filled with gun-toting marines to feel eerie and not completely safe.
Next he motioned toward a player directly to the left. After making the introductions, one of the marines standing around suddenly leapt forward. He moved around the bay with the exaggerated movement one would expect any co-op player to display once joining the game. He told us that the game has complete drop-in/drop-out online co-op through the entire campaign-a huge plus from me being a huge co-op fan. I was surprised when I realized that the other player loaded into the game instantly with no noticeable drop in frame rate and no loading screen. It was completely uninterrupted and seamless which is great for players who don’t want a break in immersion just to let a buddy in.
After we stocked up with ammo, we moved forward with the rest of the marines. The Xenomorphs were moving toward the location and it was time to vacate pronto. We moved through a few areas lit with familiar red light. As we made it through a door, we turned back to see a marine welding the seams shut, which must be standard procedure when dealing with unknown hostiles. Sadly, I’ve seen this movie before and I know how it ends. We fought through the passageways and finally made it to our destination, the docking bay where we were greeted by a familiar sight. Two marines had commandeered a couple of Power Loaders, the same kind used by Ripley at the end of Aliens to send the Queen Alien bitch into the cold darkness of space.
We didn’t have time to stare and chortle with our fond memories because before anyone could say “we’re screwed, man” Xenomorphs suddenly burst into the bay from all sides. The Power Loaders fought hard and our brave marine was taking out as many as he could, but I could tell this was a losing battle. The Power Loader did some damage but it quickly got overrun by the smaller Drones which brought it to the floor. I lost track of the other one. Suddenly, a huge alien, one which only Ripley herself could stare at without dying of fright, made a thunderous crash through a nearby wall. As the Alien Queen entered, she let out a bellow toward us that not even the mightiest of roughnecks would help but to quake with fear. She ran toward us, smacking away other marines like pesky insects. She grabbed our poor marine hero and lifted him high. Her head now took up nearly the entire screen as she roared. In less than a second, her head lunged toward the camera with jaws wide and the screen turned to black. The demo ended and I finally breathed out.
What was good:
Though the game is five years old Gearbox has done an admirable job keeping the graphics up to par. The lighting effects were very impressive and the textures looked like high quality images lifted directly from the movie. The game also sounded just like Aliens. The marine banter and familiar blaring of the standard issue rifle completed the Aliens atmosphere. Oh, did I mention the unwelcome beep of the motion tracker? Yes, it’s there too and it will be the theme track to your nightmares.
What needs work:
Though the game looked pretty good, I could help but to notice some aging. This game will be nearly six years old when it launches next year. Some of the animations behind the marine’s movements were jerky which made them look like they were stuck on a track as they walked around. Some of the lip syncing was also poor, which to me, because I’m so damn jaded, brought me out of the experience a little.
The game does indeed look its age, however that doesn’t mean it won’t turn out pretty good. Gearbox has proven that they have gone the extra mile and are hard at work to make sure this game won’t disappoint any Alien fans. After all, they’re fans themselves. The wait has been a while, but I’m willing to give Gearbox as much time as needed in order to deliver the best Alien experience in modern gaming. All I know is that I’m already pumped to strap on an M56 Smart Gun and tear through Alien scum once again.