Aliens: Colonial Marines single player preview: building a canon

With Aliens: Colonial Marines, Randy Pitchford and his team will get to create a canonical expansion of the revered Alien franchise. The Gearbox Software CEO's entire face lit up at a press event last week when he started talking about the films and quipped about "stealing" from the films since the beginning of his career. Clearly a fan of the franchise, Colonial Marines has become a "labor of love" for the studio, having worked on it since late 2006. We got to see a live play-through of two different parts of the single player campaign. In the first, the Colonial Marines (part of a battalion sized force of about 400) crash lands onto the surface near Hadley's Hope on the infamous moon Ancheron LV-426. Your rescue team arrives 17 weeks after the atmospheric processor exploded at the end of the second movie. Even before you reach the colony, there are quite a few references to the films in your dark, rocky surroundings, such as the APC vehicle Ridley drove, and a new android Bishop (voiced by Lance Henriksen) accompanying your party. The pace of this part of the game was more reminiscent of Alien than Aliens: quiet and full of tension, with only the stereotypical movie male banter between members of the USMC interrupting the silence. The team has done an excellent job capturing that dark you-never-know-what's-around-corner Aliens look and atmosphere, thanks to the game's excellent lighting. At first, the exploration of the ruins of Hadley's Hope yields little other than the remnants of the struggle left by Ellen Ripley and her crew. You begin setting up motion sensors and, of course, one of them is knocked out by some Xenomorph aliens. The play-through ended as the aliens appeared from all directions and began their assault on your team.

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Skipping forward, the second part of the demo takes place during a segment "where some serious business is going down," according to Pitchfork. You are now aboard the USS Sulaco that appeared in Aliens, sister ship to your own Sephora. Fans will remember the last time we saw the Sulaco in Alien 3, it was still orbiting LV-426 minus its original passengers. You start out at the bridge of the Sulaco, which was not featured in the films. A hull breach is imminent, and in one scene, the player had to dislodge a bullet that held a door open. If untreated, it threatened to jettison everyone. During your escape, you encounter a new type of enemy: employees of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, hell bent on capturing the Xenos alive for research and eventually weaponizing them. Of course, the Xenos on the ship are more than happy to rip apart all humans indiscriminately, pitting you in the middle of man vs. man vs. alien battles. (Speaking of Weyland-Yutani, Lance Henriksen himself let slip that he will also be voicing Weyland, guaranteeing the villainous chairman's appearance in some form.) From what I saw of the single player campaign, Aliens: Colonial Marines is shaping up to be a worthy extension of the franchise canon. The Gearbox team seems to know the lore and the world of Alien well, and their attention to detail was extremely evident in the short play-through. Aliens: Colonial Marines will be released on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on February 12th, 2013.