E3 2011: Aliens Colonial Marines

By Xav de Matos, Jun 13, 2011 5:15pm PDT

QUICKTAKE: After the events of David Fincher's Alien 3, a group of USCM troops touch down on the mysterious planet known as LV-426, coming face-to-face with the menacing Xenomorphs. Dubbed as a true narrative sequel to James Cameron's Aliens, my short demo of the Gearbox-developed game Aliens: Colonial Marines did a lot to prove the team behind it has a deep admiration for the series. But, I'm left wondering how the game will tie in with the series canonically.

THE DEMO: After a few dramatic glimpses at flickering lights and falling debris, Aliens: Colonial Marines got right into the action. Beeps from a motion tracker tease the arrival of the franchise's iconic foe. While investigating the devastated wasteland of the Hadley's Hope complex, a pack of xeno drones attack the unsuspecting soldiers. Later, the soldiers meet a new type of alien attacker: a bull-like xenomorph dubbed the "Crusher." This enemy sports a wide, hard head and rushes into everything from obstacles to soldiers. According to Gearbox, the crushers are designed to act as the protectors of game's biggest threat: the Queen.

After showcasing the game's four-player, drop-in/drop-out feature, the demo proceeds to a landing dock where the USCM soliders are preparing for the next attack. Here a number of "Power Loader" exoskeleton suits retrofitted with weapons await attack. Soon the xenomorph Queen bursts into the area and a battle ensues. The Queen shrugs off attacks from all sides of the solider-filled room, before rushing the playable character to end the demo.

DETAILS: There's a lot of a fan service included in Aliens: Colonial Marines, with a number of bonuses Gearbox says will be scattered throughout the world (Bishop's legs, anyone?). The game will visit locales featured in the films, including Hadley's Hope on LV-426, the alien vessel from Alien, and the Sulaco. Fan service is definitely a draw, but the game's placement in the franchise timeline begs a slew of questions to be answered.

How is Hadley's Hope and the complex on LV-426 still standing when it was destroyed at the end of Aliens? According to Gearbox, the destruction at the end of the second film was not enough to turn the complex entirely to dust. Instead, players will be tasked with approaching and investigating the debris of that film's fallout. Another concern is that there is no accounting for the xenomorph's acidic blood. In one scene, the alien pounces onto the playable character, only to be subdued by a shotgun shell to the head. While its green blood spills everywhere, the playable character nor the environment appear to take any damage. According to Gearbox, the blood's metal-melting properties were only used "when needed" in the films. This leads me to believe that we will encounter situations where the blood does factor in, but it won't constantly be something players will have to deal with.

Another question: where are the aliens even coming from? Considering the fiery fate of the LV-426 colonists during Ripley's final stand on the planet, we're not sure how so many alien enemies are alive to stir up so much trouble on LV-426. Gearbox says they'll explain that throughout the game. As a fan of the Aliens franchise, I'm hoping the "explanations" won't feel like a shoehorned excuse for the game's existence.

Alien is iconic for its dramatic tone and how an unknown force could destroy an entire crew. Aliens further examined that dynamic and displayed the power of the xenos against an army. Where can the narrative of Colonial Marines go from there? What other story can they tell other than another group of marines being systematically decimated by an alien race, while forcing the events of Alien Resurrection?

There are a lot of narrative concerns for the game, but I'm not worried about the game's action. The demo for Aliens: Colonial Marines shows that Gearbox has captured the tone and look of the series (though some of the sounds seem off). All of the classic weaponry was included. (Although, Gearbox wouldn't confirm if "Harsh Language" was an unlockable munition.) Each battle captures the right atmosphere of fear: enemies don't rush or flank you from Point A to Point B--they attack from all sides. You'll end up battling aliens in the dark using nothing but muzzle-flashes, or dark red security lights, to light your path. It may be dressed up as a high-powered, good-looking first-persons shooter, but Aliens: Colonial Marines has its roots seeded in survival horror. This isn't going to be a game based on kill-count, but one based on your ability to survive.

Aliens: Colonial Marines launches on the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 in 2012.

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