So there I was: Trapped in a dark and abandoned facility. Missile tubes, ammo crates and disused armour littered the place. Signs pointed my way to the mess hall and the dropship bay as a small detachment of Colonial Marines stood guard. It wouldn’t have surprised me if they’d brought this facility back online just for today.
I even came across a hived up section, a couple of bodies stuck to the walls. Specimen jars containing dead face-huggers earned my caution. It was pretty obvious: Aliens had been here. And I just sat there. Simply sat there, observing the progress of a pair of Colonial Marines making their way through the depths of the Sulaco.
I was, of course, watching a developer presentation of Gearbox Software’s Aliens – Colonial Marines. Sega had taken over a disused metal workshop in London and decorated it to suit. Ammo boxes littered the place, Hadley’s Hope signs adorned the walls and the United Kingdom Colonial Marines, a costuming group from the homeland, showed up to keep us all safe.
Gearbox Software developers Brian Burleson (Senior Producer), Adam Fletcher (Publicity), Brian Thomas (Director of Central Cinematics) and Chris Neeley (Environment Artist) showed off a single player segment from the first level of the game. The presentation started with Winters and O’Neal make their way into the start of the hive aboard the Sulaco. Windows seal off what looked like a libratory, cameras pointing through the windows at cocooned Colonial Marines.
The tech doesn’t look like it belongs to the marines: This is Weyland-Yutani technology. Something strange is going off here. Cruz orders them to proceed as they need to clear the cargo bay so that dropship can get aboard. Winters and O’Neal make their way into the hive, moving higher up the Sulaco, through the “gravity well”, a massive spinning component (the artificial gravity generator?), all the while keeping the Aliens at bay.
Eventually the marines find themselves in the cargo bay. It’s infested. I mean, they’re coming outta the goddamn walls, man! There’s only one solution: the marines have got to purge the cargo bay. They double-time it to the control room and seal themselves in. Aliens attack the window but it’s no use…the marines open the outer doors and everything is sucked out, lost to the cold depths of space.
The demonstration came to an end as a dropship comes hurtling through the doors and the marines head off to rescue Belle from the Aliens.
Following this, I was given the opportunity to get hands-on with both the single player and multiplayer components of the game. Prior to this I’ve only been able to get my grubby mitts on the controller once, at the MCM Expo, for 2 quick team deathmatchs. I was not overly thrilled at MCM. I enjoyed the matches but I do not feel like I really got to experience the game.
First up was single player which appeared to be another early section of the game. The marines are stranded on the surface of LV-426. We’ve got to head towards what is left of the colony and get fortified.
I was pretty eager to get myself inside the remains of the colony, to see the current generation recreation of Hadley’s Hope. That said, as I explored the surface I found myself impressed with the little details. During the intervening time between Alien and Aliens we know that the Derelict ship was damaged by volcanic activity – so there I am, exploring the outside of the colony and I come across a plethora of cool things including an EEV from the Sulaco or the Sephora and huge gaping chasms to an active lava stream. It is not an in-your-face reference but the subtly made me smile.
We finally make it back to the colony and move our way inside. It was a fantastic recreation. Everything looked authentic and it always gives me a jolt of excitement seeing the locations from my favourite moves in video game form for me to explore.
My first task is to set-up a series of wall-mounted motion sensors. It is a simple enough objective that has me exploring the med-lab, operations and the barricaded and damaged corridors of the colony. The Aliens soon make an appearance and I am battling them off with my ever trusty Colonial Marine weaponry.
Pretty soon I am off collecting a sentry gun and running it back to the operations centre to help keep the swarm at bay. After securing operations I am given the smartgun and sent off into the depths of colony. I find myself in my first hive section of the level and being stalked by the Giger style Lurker Aliens. I am not careful and find myself being pinned to the floor as one of them pounces on me. Bashing X, I manage to kick it off me and unload into it with the pistol but it soon disappears back into its camouflaged environment.
But my motion tracker gives me a bead on them. I hunt them down instead. After clearing out the Lurkers, I move my way further into the colony where I find a new type of Xenomorph savaging another of my fellow marines. This looked to be the introduction of the Spitter and the end of my time with the single player campaign.
During the demonstration and my hands-on time I noticed two different types of collectables. The first were dogtags which were scattered around the levels. Some of these dogtags unlocked “legendary” weapons from the films such as “Gorman’s Pistol”. During the Q&A session I did ask about the dogtags and the Gearbox Software developers commented that you would be required to explore the levels and environments to find them all.
They also said that whilst exploring for these collectables the player would be able to get further into the backstory and the meat of the game by uncovering the further areas of the game. How they meant this, I was not sure. All of the dogtags also feature names of real people – the Gearbox Software development staff.
The second type of collectables were the audio logs previously mentioned by the other previews. I am pretty sure the level I was playing was the same preview level the American press have played as the audio log I found was the one of Anne Jordan begging her mother for money to get a shuttle back to the Earth.
I played two different multiplayer game types. First up was Escape on the Hadley’s Hope level, the game mode that was first shown off at PAX Prime. Escape is a 4 v 4 objective based gametype. As the Colonial Marines you have to move through the level, accomplishing certain objectives to be able to progress to the next area.
For Hadley’s Hope you start off within the colony and have to fight your way out to the exterior to get to the APC. For the first round I was playing the Aliens and my objective was simple – tear shit up. The Colonial Marines only get one life per section and if the Alien players can kill all four marines then they win. If the marines get to their last objective then they win. As simple as that.
I’ve gotta admit that when I first picked up the controls I absolutely sucked as an Alien player. We were given a choice between three different types of Xenos: Warrior, Lurker and Spitter. I tried all of them but found myself severely lacking as an Alien player until I found myself pretty comfortable with the Lurker but I’ll talk about the Alien gameplay later. Upon completion of the map, we switched sides and I was in playing as a Colonial Marine.
As the marines you had to weld open doors, all the while covering your squad-mates. You had to wait for elevators, progress through the map. It was a pretty simple game-type that suited the Aliens property and I really enjoyed it – both as an Alien (once I got the hang of it) and as the Colonial Marines.
The second game-type we played was called Extermination. Like the Escape mode, you swap species after each round completion. For Extermination you can only score points as the marines. The way to score points being to arm as many bombs as you can before the time limit runs out. These bombs were described by the representatives as arming devices to destroy mini-hives. As Aliens, you’ve simply got to stop them.
To arm the bombs, there needs to be a Colonial Marine player around one of the objective points for a duration of around 30 seconds. If the Aliens can get in there and kill the marine players before that time is up, then they obviously do not get that point. Then rinse and repeat. There were numerous objective points scattered around the map and you basically go around on a loop until the time is up.
I did not particularly enjoy this mode. The objective points simply “regen” and you go to the same points again and again. To say we’re supposed to be arming bombs, there are no little explosions or variation in the location of the objective points to spice things up. It did get a bit dull.
For me, Aliens – Colonial Marines is about bringing Alien gamers into the current generation. It’s about updating the way we play Alien games. Rebellion’s Alien vs Predator (2010) was criticised because of its outdated gameplay style and Colonial Marines is doing everything opposite. We’ve got iron sights for the first time in an Aliens game, we’ve got a mass amount of unlocks and etc.
One of the things I am really looking forward to when we actually get our slimy claws on the final release are all the unlockables, the mass amount of customization on the weaponry and abilities. It really gives a game lasting power (if the gameplay can support it). I had chance to have a look in the loadout menus for Aliens – Colonial Marines while we were waiting for the multiplayer to start.
As it was only a preview event, I obviously didn’t get to see the whole breadth of all the unlocks but I had access to the pulse rifle and an assault rifle (completely new to the game) and all the standard fare, pistol and shotgun. Within each weapon was additional customization that would effect the overall performance which included things such as power, accuracy, etc…
You had different types of sights, different underslung attachments such as grenade launchers, shotguns and some type of explosive launcher. There were different types of ammunition, different fire-mode and even different paint jobs for the weapons. What I rather liked was the fact that the different weapons had different unlocks. It was not the same unlocks for all of the weapons.
Another cool modern feature that the game includes is the way the XP and loadout feature works. You get points for completing both single and multiplayer games and everything you unlock for your loadout will work on both the single player and multiplayer components of the game.
Whilst discussing this during the Q&A, Gearbox Software Software commented that they recognized that different gamers expect different things from games and they wanted to be sure that everyone, no matter whether they only brought a game for the campaign or people who only ever played multiplayer, would all be given the same goodies.
The Aliens also have their own separate unlocks. There are different types of primary and secondary attacks. There are also defensive abilities and offensive abilities. I didn’t have any upgrade points to use with the Aliens so I didn’t get to play around with them but I saw an ability that had the Alien go into a defensive curl that offered resistance against damage. I also saw an attack ability called “whirlwind”.
When Alien vs Predator (2010) was coming out, I remember the uproar at the lack of iron-sights. At the time, I really didn’t see the need. The action would mostly be up close and personal, you would not have the time to really use the sights. That said, in the multiplayer sections I sometimes found myself wishing I could zoom in slightly when I was taking shots at distance.
So I was a bit hesitant with their inclusion in Colonial Marines. That said, as I played the multiplayer it felt natural. I played it like I would Battlefield or any modern FPS. Go from the hip if they’re too close; go for the sights if they’re too far. It worked just fine.
However, when it came to single player it almost seemed like they had slowed down the Aliens for the benefit of sighting. In both the demonstration and my hands-on, I noticed that the Aliens would almost seem to wait for you to sight in on them. They would just linger around you, giving you plenty of time to get a shot in. It took a lot of the threat away. Whether this was down to the difficulty level (I am not sure what I was playing, must have been easy or normal), I am not 100% certain.
But that only seemed to be once you had noticed the Aliens. I found myself being side-swiped by the Aliens a lot during my playthrough. I found it pretty important to be aware of my surroundings, a complete 360º of them. While I never actually bite the dust, I kept coming awfully close during the assault on the operations centre due to focusing too much on one direction and being attacked from my blind side.
Over all, though, I didn’t find the level I played (or the demonstration) to be particularly scary. For all its flaws, I thought Rebellion’s AvP was good at scaring me. Colonial Marines seems to be filled with plenty of bright blue tones. Tonally, Aliens was very blue and Colonial Marines seems to be carrying that onwards in its desire to be the “true” sequel to Jim Cameron’s film.
Now this is going to depend on what you want from an Aliens game. I always liked to have mine to be scary, I liked to be fearful of rounding that next corner. However, Aliens isn’t as much about horror as its predecessor so I can understand Gearbox Software not trying to focus on that aspect.
Then it was time for me to try my hands as an Alien. The multiplayer games we played gave us the choice of the three aforementioned variants of Aliens and I tried my hand at all three of them. The only one I felt particularly comfortable with was the Lurker.
It became really obvious to me early on that you would need to play the role of the Aliens to get anywhere with the game. I tend to prefer the lone wolf approach and that just didn’t work for the Warrior or the Spitter. I would go running out, try and jump onto the ceilings and stalk my way over to the Colonial Marine players and I just couldn’t make it fast enough. I’d be blown to pieces before I even got close.
Then I discovered the Lurkers offensive ability: a brilliant pounce that would cover a distance and if I aimed at a marine, it would pin him down and let me pummel him with my claws. I soon found myself flanking while the rest of my hive attacked from the front. I was picking off the stragglers or those that tried to make a break for it.
There are also finishing moves. I only managed to successfully execute one of these and that was from behind. I cannot be a 100% certain but I think these are the “lethal” moves that you activate with B (these are also changeable). I had to get up behind the marine player and activate it. That said, I have seen frontal engaged “lethal” kills. These are the short animated, trophy-style kills that we have seen.
A staple of Xenomorph gameplay is the ability to walk on walls. I found it a little awkward to do so with my time at the controller. In theory, the 3rd person perspective should help make the transitions smoother but when the actual game makes this difficult it doesn’t quite work.
It wouldn’t always allow me to transition between surfaces with an ease. I’d find myself sort of moving about until I could move onto the new surface and in a game where one of your allies is your speed this can really hinder your enjoyment of the experience.
As with the Aliens, the Colonial Marines need to play the role properly. You need to stick together, you need to have someone on the tracker, you need to have someone going for the objectives and other people covering.
This is somewhat of a problem at events like this (and MCM Expo) where you’re playing with a bunch of people you do not know and you’re not co-ordinating. I can see it being intensely fun when you get together with your friends and you’re working together properly as a team and that’s really essential.
I didn’t notice it much during the demonstration (I was too focused on the action) but during the loading screens for the multiplayer games, we were treated to a small piece of Kevin Riepl’s score for the game. It sounded very militaristic, with similar movements to James Horner’s but without being derivative of his work. It felt like it fit.
An issue I did have was with the animation of the Aliens, in particular their attacks. The animation didn’t look very fluid, the attacks took too long to animate and the resulting animation looked particularly, well, funny. It didn’t look threatening. It seemed to start as if they were going for a nice big friendly hug. I really hope that is something that is fixed.
This is something that leads me to be concerned regarding how some of the unlockable Alien abilities will look. The abilities I mentioned earlier could look absolutely awful if they are not animated correctly (whirlwind, for instance) and I think it is really important that the game does not become a joke.
Another bother I had was with how the Xenomorphs exploded. It was overly comical, over the top and immensely green. It looked very out of place and made me cringe somewhat. The intensity of the green that is being used for Alien blood could do with being toned down slightly.
However, a brilliant thing regarding the Alien deaths is that Gearbox Software created a highly detailed Alien model which includes internal organs.
The developers talked proudly of the work they had done to create a completely model of the Aliens which included a whole anatomical system so that when you are blasting away Aliens, you will be able to see what the insides look like (when they do not explode in a ridiculous manner, that is).
At the end of it all, I really enjoyed my time with the game. It was not without some issues as I’ve mentioned but having the time to really get to play with it, I came away from the event with a much more positive and informed impression of the game. I am eagerly awaiting the final product.