Published on December 30th, 2012 | by Adam Lee
Stop your grinnin’ and grab your linen! It’s a Colonial Marines Preview
There’s only one gadget in cinematic history that genuinely raises the hair on the back of my neck – the ping of Aliens’ motion tracker. It’s something so simple – a handheld radar emitting increasingly urgent tones – but never fails to fire my fight or flight reflexes. In an otherwise incredibly gung-ho affair, it adds a level of tension that pushes Aliens into my top 5 films of all time.
The most celebrated Aliens games, without doubt, belong to the Alien vs. Predator franchise, and while there was always a feeling of power stepping into the Predator’s boots or the wall climbing assassination of the Alien; it was really the suspense and terror of the fragile marine that defined the experience. So when I learned Gearbox were working on Colonial Marines, I snatched up my M41A Pulse Rifle and set off in search of more intel.
This time the Predator is left at home to look after the pets, while everyone else treats themselves to a break on the beach resort moon of Acheron. Unfortunately the brochure pictures didn’t really do it justice. The more astute amongst you will recognise LV-426 as the setting for Aliens; Gearbox have managed to secure the full juicy licence, allowing them to recreate the primordial nightmare in all its terrifying splendour. From the screech of the pulse rifle to deep thrum of the smartgun, all the original sound effects are beautifully recreated, and they’ve even laid their hands on the original set designs. In fact, Gearbox have said that about 20-30% of the areas designed for, but not used in the movie were provided by the studio. You couldn’t wish for more authenticity!
A brand new renderer spruces up the Unreal 3 engine nicely, with a focus on “fully dynamic prioritised lighting”. Regardless of techno-babble it looks fantastic, and really adds to the atmosphere. In the end though, it doesn’t matter how alluring they look if they’re no fun to play with.
By the time I laid my clammy excited hands on the mouse and keyboard at Eurogamer, I had already witnessed three teams being chomped up and spat out by the alien play-testers; that is to say the aliens were controlled by play-testers, not that they resembled creatures from another world. The demo featured two maps; a complex of vents, dark corridors and crossed girder roofs – and a more open outdoor setting with glassy obsidian outcrops providing the perfect cover for the murderous killing machines slithering across them. There’s the familiar selection of loadouts with “feats” improving running, reloading or the like. I opted for the shotgun, an explosive close ranged weapon sounded perfect against enemies that explode into showers of acidic blood when they die.. right?
Aliens being played from third person makes climbing and pouncing much easier to execute, and while they only take a few bullets to bring down, they were just as quick to slaughter a careless marine straying from his squad. Pounce attacks put you in a downed state similar to Left4Dead, allowing a teammate a brief window to rescue you before you’re executed in a particularly gory way. Having clearly identified a few balance issues I smirked knowingly at this point…
My jaw hit my chest as a Crusher – a giant alien with a reinforced cranial shell impervious to normal gunfire – charged over the ridge, smashing into our defensive formation and knocking us about like pinballs.
He’s a real game changer, forcing a group of entrenched marines to think on their feet or be stomped to a delicate pâté. The various breeds of alien ensure marines can’t rely on a single lazy strategy, although we’ve yet to see the fearsome M56 Smartgun in action.
Unlike the previous Aliens games, the motion detector isn’t attached to your gun, so you’ll have to decide between firepower and intel. Gearbox have recently stated they’ll make it ‘ping’ when stowed, but you’ll need to pull it out if you want to see the radar. Carrying it around means a hasty weapon switch, and sure does up the stress level.
Gameplay is blisteringly fast, reminiscent of the excellent Natural Selection 2 (high praise indeed). The weapons feel meaty with a satisfying impact when you deal damage. My involuntary squeaks every time I was pounced and mauled we’re not my proudest moment. As the goo settled my team emerged victorious, although I’m fairly certain my marine Friggs “Acid Burn” Boson will never see again.
The game shows lots of promise but I’m concerned Gearbox may have come down too hard on the action side, rather than embracing the paralysing tension of the classic films. With a lot of quality shooters about at the moment it’s going to be a tough to carve out a niche. Some of the more recent videos have shown us co-op survival mode, an intriguing looking escape mode complete with turrets, door welding and a host of other things, and as James recently posted, Lance Henriksen will be reprising his role as Bishop. Information is pretty scarce at the moment, but we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled as we near February’s release.