Aliens: Colonial Marines – E3 Impressions

We’ve been waiting for it. You’ve been waiting for it. Sure, we’ll admit that the movies were spectacular, but we kept asking ourselves when will a true Aliens game come to light that will actually live up to the saga. With Gearbox Software at the helm of this particular ship, is this the Aliens title that we’ve been looking for? With Aliens: Colonial Marines, I’d say you had better pack your pouch with enough ammo for the ride – you’re going to need it.

Before the Aliens: Colonial Marines live demo started, Gearbox CEO, Randy Pitchford, gave an opening speech about how much of an honor it was for them to be given such a task to bring about the first true Aliens game IP. Never have I heard him more enthusiastic than any of his previous projects than this. Pitchford explained that their Aliens game story had strong backing from 20th Century Fox and Aliens film director, Ridley Scott. With that type of muscle to drive the campaign, we can expect deep story elements that keep the Aliens lore alive. The game will also take place during the aftermath of the processor explosion on LV-426. Hadley’s Hope surprisingly has survived the catastrophe, but is severely damaged, and a detachment of marines have been sent to investigate the ship and search for survivors. And that’s where our story (and demo) begins.

In the demo, the colonial marines hopped right into high-gear: weapons loaded and motion scanners at the ready. Pitchford pointed out that the game engine had been completely built from scratch to make sure that light effects captured the survival-horror essence. Lights flickered, marines’ shadows danced along the steely hull of the Hope, all the while the ship’s twisted metal groaned under duress – yeah, this was definitely a good start.

From our player’s point of view, our marine armed himself with a shotgun, which had to be lowered to bring up the motion scanner. I also noticed that Gearbox went with a minimized HUD, with no display to indicate player health or direction. Your ammo count shows up on your weapon’s display. Whether this was intentional or just an unfinished version of the game, the minimalist look definitely helps keep your vision unobstructed from anything that might twitch in the dark.

While rummaging through Hadley’s Hope, you can hear chatter between the marines as they aren’t exactly sure what to make of the situation. Eventually, we come upon what looks like a damaged control room with the walls torn out, exposing the ship’s inside to the planet landscape. Probably good to check that motion detector again. It’s incredible to note how easily the fear can set in when that scanner starts to fill up with red dots… lots of red dots.

Switching back to the shotgun, a nervous marine now scans the dark and empty room with his other squad mates who are about to become lunch. It’s uncannily quiet, but sure enough, the floors and ceilings suddenly burst with life as dark scaly shapes rush from the shadows to find their next meal. The room is no longer dark anymore, as gun muzzles paint the wall with sporadic light. But the xenomorphs are relentless and force the marines to retreat out the gouged wall of the room to the planet’s surface. However, the nightmare continues to haunt the marines as more aliens continue to pour over the moon-lit hills of the LV-426.

As the doomed soldiers make their escape, a new species of aliens make a wretched entrance. Also known as the “Crusher,” this particular alien has thicker plated scales and can flex a mean xenomorph six-pack. It will also charge like a bull into obstacles and your squad mates. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to tell how difficult it would be to take down the beast, since our demo guy made a run for it – probably better to follow the leader for now.

Eventually, the worn out platoon escapes to a make-shift hanger with weapons, ammo and deployable turrets. After setting up a fortified camp, the marines take positions for, yet, another showdown, but this time with a bit more confidence. After the first wave of attacking aliens, we got to see another effect of the new light rendering that Randy Pitchford had mentioned to us earlier. The power goes out and our vision goes black (a few moments of panic), but then the red emergency lights kick in, casting its eerie atmospheric glow. More aliens continue to assault our position. After pouring a few more clips into a smokey ventilation shaft, it was clear that our position was going to be overwhelmed again.

After sprinting to a new section of the hangar and torch-wielding the door behind us, a head count showed that our numbers where thinner now. In the background, a soldier mounts himself into an APC power loader. We’re not sure if it can be equipped in the game since nothing was mentioned about it at the time of the demo. However, our siesta in this room is apparently cheap, and the xenomorphs quickly enforced that policy as they have found new ways to reach our “sealed off” room. The APC shoots a stream of flame at the on-coming horde, but it is easily over-turned by the charging mass of aliens. The remaining marines helplessly fire off their remaining rounds into the sea of alien hunters, failing to staunch their growing numbers. It was clear we weren’t going to be buying anyone rounds after this. To top off our defeat, a giant xenomorph Queen makes a grand entrance through one of the walls and effortlessly picks up our character to start with the hors d’oeuvres. Our brain seems to be the pâté of choice.

Aliens: Colonial Marines will have a drop-in Co-Op mode to allow up to four players to dynamically enter a game in progress without having to restart the mission. So if you’re the type who doesn’t like to die alone, then you might as well bring along a friend or three for the journey that you can out run. Unfortunately, there will be no local co-op. However, Gearbox’s Aliens appears to be delivering their promise of an excellent Aliens experience with a strong story to support it. After seeing that edge-of-your-seat demo, we are definitely hoping that the final product can maintain the same frantic energy when the infestation begins sometime in 2012.