In development since 2006, Colonial Marines took a back seat as Gearbox focused on Borderlands and Duke Nukem Forever. But with Duke in stores tomorrow, Gearbox’s presence at E3 this year is exclusive to their canonical extension of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror series.
Our presentation began with Gearbox pointing out how much the 20th Century Fox property has influenced videogames – everything from Duke Nukem to Halo has cribbed from Ridley Scott’s playbook.
Colonial Marines is set shortly after the events of the third movie. A Colonial Marines Search and Rescue squad has been sent to investigate the crash site of the USS Sulaco and search for Ellen Ripley.
As the Aliens license is largely responsible for the creating the archetypal Vietnam War-like space marine squad, to call your platoon a clichéd ensemble isn’t quite fair. Say instead that they’re true to the vision of a galactic military in the Aliens universe. That means they quip and banter, swear at one another and keep moving even when they’re thrown into the remains of the Sulaco and have a punctured lung.
Much of the success of the movies is based around the suspense and teased threat of the aliens. Suspense has much to do with lighting and Gearbox has employed a proprietary engine that throws up sharp contrast between what can be seen and what can’t. It’s capable of a large number of light sources, and these all react to the environment and the player dynamically.
That said, our demonstration of Aliens: Colonial Marines seemed to play its hand too soon. After the brief drumming dread of creeping through the pitch remains of the Sulaco – and through a laboratory in which a jarred sucker specimen makes a futile bid for the player’s face – at the signature sound of a scanner beeping with increasing alarm, we know we’re to be thrown into a hot fire fight with many dozens of xenomorphs.
The aliens themselves can navigate all surfaces and attack the marines from all angles and come through the walls. If they die all too quickly, there’s always more to replace them. It’s passing disappointing that their blood isn’t corrosive as it was in the movies and while it’s a small detail, we ought to hope that other more significant corners haven’t been cut.
Gearbox has also introduced several “new” types of aliens. One such variety is called the Crusher, and bull-like alien with a large plated head with which it can breach reinforced security doors. Less agile than the more anthropomorphic xenomorphs, the Crusher is nonetheless lightning fast.
Colonial Marines features many scripted deaths for the hapless soldiers. In the midst of an assault we saw our fellow troops dragged screaming up into air ducts, lifted and impaled on the tails of their adversaries and torn in half by larger breeds. In the total chaos of any engagement it appears that the game triggers these scripted kills in the seconds that the player is distracted. When a kill isn’t scripted, the aliens claw somewhat more wimpishly at their targets in melee range.
The finale of our presentation was a tower defence sequence. Along with perhaps 20 marines, we were able to place gun turrets and stock up on ammo. Another marine jumped into a mech suit much like the one Ripley used in the James Cameron sequel. Inevitably, we were shredded apart. The mech put up a valiant fight but was wholly overwhelmed by a final, gargantuan alien standing at more than 30 feet tall. This beast then stalked towards us, swooped us up and swallowed us whole. Curtain.
We’ve been waiting many years to get close to Aliens: Colonial Marines. In spite of the passion the public and the industry has for the license, recent games based on Ridley Scott’s sci-fi blockbusters have been underwhelming. Colonial Marines shows potential and could be the best Aliens game we’ve seen since the original Aliens vs. Predator.
Still, our presentation lacked much of what makes the movies successful. We don’t have time to become emotionally attached to any of the characters before they’re slaughtered, and the opportunity to draw out tension and fear to the last, near-insufferable extremity is not something Colonial Marines seems particularly interested in doing.
Pull back the lore and we’re left a competent shooter.