Aliens: Colonial Marines Preview (PS3)

The excitement on going to see a demonstration of my most wanted shooter of 2012, Aliens: Colonial Marines, was unfortunately dampened by the recent news that it wasn’t actually coming out in 2012. Still, it didn’t matter. Aliens is one of my favourite films, but in gaming terms it’s never been quite got right. Oh sure, a couple of great Aliens Vs Predator titles, but the Marine section in each one was always the best part – so why hadn’t anyone just done a full game on that? Well, this is it. Initiate simulated drop in three… two… one… mark.

The demo Gearbox showed us was fairly short but gave a really good indication of gameplay, at least of the single-player variety. Obviously this demo’s been built and polished specially to showcase the game’s features since the full thing’s not even in Alpha yet, which led to the rather odd scenario of having it be played on a PC with a 360 pad and having PS3 buttons in the pop-up hints. All it needed was some Wii U tablet waggling and we’d have the full set.

Not pictured: wet pants

It started with probably the ugliest Marine I’ve ever seen, a Shrek of a man called Cruz, giving player character Corporal Winner the situation. The Sulaco (the main ship from Aliens), presumed missing after passing Fury 161 in Alien3, has reappeared in orbit over LV-426 and you’re part of a team of Marines who are sent in to investigate the vessel. You’re not the first marine to make it over however, as you discover when one of your squadmates is launched through the side of the ship while you’re crossing over to the Sulaco.

A brief bout of explosive decompression later and Winner was safely on-board the Sulaco. Although “safely” is probably the wrong word to choose since things have gone very very wrong. Meeting up with the squad we found their ranks severely decimated, with only a few Marines walking around with all their correct limbs still attached. Medics attempt to heal the wounded. “Welcome aboard” sneers your commanding officer.

Now’s a good time to tell you my favourite thing about Aliens: Colonial Marines, and one of the reasons it’s taking so long: the attention to detail is incredible. Each and every scene has a dozen things going on at once, it’s not just a static room with one or even two people moving. Lights buzzing, electricity flickering out in the corner, Marines trying to keep order… oh, and is that Bishop’s legs I see on the floor? Heh. All this detail is vital for building a convincing world (not to mention the tension), and Colonial Marines is doing so with a care I’ve not seen since Half-Life 2.

Now then, time to break out the Pulse Rifle. We’ve been sent to find the ship’s flight recorder, but generally to investigate a ship as well and find out what happened to the missing Marines. There’s notable things of interest, like half an android (“which half?” “well he’s not talking…”), the ejected stasis tubes, the rippling organic walls… whoa, that looks familiar, and has never been scarier. The lighting and shadows here are particularly fantastic, a definite step up in creepiness from “here’s the stuff from Aliens, that’s all” in Rebellion’s recent Aliens Vs Predator game. The music similarly atmospheric, definitely evocative of both James Horner and Jerry Goldsmith (the composers for the first two films). It’s both familiar and nerve-wracking.

This could be going better

The tools you have play into that of course, which play a lot bigger roles than they have in any previous game. The famous Motion Tracker is utterly perfect, and can only be used Doom 3-flashlight style with your gun holstered – just like Hicks does in the film. The blowtorch can be used to seal and unseal doors, flipping to a third-person viewpoint while Winner does so (the only time this happened during the demo). But the main thing you need is your wits.

Getting back to Creepy Ripply Wallville, following the corridor lead to a lot of decidedly dead Marines with their ribcages blown out. Not a good sign. We kept on pulling out the Motion Tracker – nothing. We found one Marine still alive, and began to cut him down. Now, I’ve seen the trailer. I knew there was an Alien hiding somewhere ready to spring down while we were cutting. In short, I was looking closely and I still didn’t see the bastard hiding less than a metre over the captive Marine’s shoulder. I jumped out of my seat, and I wasn’t even playing!

This Alien then did something even more unexpected: it ran. These Aliens have intelligence and hunting skills, and will no longer run at you point-blank if the odds are in your favour. It circled around, drew us deep into a maze of corridors… then was on us, snapping at our face and pinning us to the ground. A struggle and a few lucky shots finished the too-clever xenomorph and we went back to finish freeing our friend.

The Aliens didn’t like that one bit. They attacked, this time in force. We fled for our lives, and our new friend insisted in grabbing the flight recorder on the way as our sergeant yelled at us down our communicators. We sealed the door of the control room and extracted the recorder, but the Aliens burst in through the window instead. Beating a full retreat, we narrowly made it to the hangar room where a full-scale battle was going on. We grabbed the Smart Rifle, which hasn’t really changed much since the original Aliens Vs Predator game in 1999 – barring a cool visor that allows you to track enemies with more ease. We needed it, as Aliens were swarming from all sides. We mowed them down using the gun’s auto-aiming, although not before they took down most of our colleagues (although strangely they left the guy we saved alone).

The Smart Rifle still tracks n’ kills xenomorphs like the good ol’ days

Out of ammo on the Smart Rifle, it was time to beat another hasty retreat to the other ship. Us and our suspiciously surviving companion made our way to the umbilical connecting the ships… at which point he keeled over in pain. Oh dear, I know what happens next... and so did he apparently, since he pulled out a grenade. As the l’il xenomorph burst through his chest the grenade exploded, taking the creature and the whole umbilical with him. As air, equipment and the odd soldier got sucked past us into empty space we desperately crawled back the way we came. Finally our character grasped the hand of a fellow Marine as the airlock snapped shut. Once again we were safely aboard the Sulaco… and once again I use “safely” in its loosest, most inaccurate sense.

The road to Colonial Marines has been a long one already, and we still have to wait eight months to find out what happens next. All I know is, the wait will be worth it. I mean, when have Gearbox ever disappointed with an FPS that’s spent an overlong time in development? Oh. Nevermind, this one will be mostly perfect. Mostly.

Most Anticipated Feature/Element: Facing Aliens with actual survival and hunting instincts… I mean, when’s the last time you faced a monster with a sense of self-preservation?

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By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on May 30, 2012
Oh yeah baby, let's get it on!