Aliens: Colonial Marines Preview — Just Another Bughunt?
And then the first Alien pops out of a grate, and it’s all for naught. The action that ensues is mindless slaughter, reducing H.R. Giger’s iconic xenomorph to just another thing leaping in front of the barrel of your gun. I must have killed 50 aliens in two minutes, especially once I got my hands on the franchise’s iconic (and admittedly, super-fun) “smart gun,” which adds generous auto-aim and a night-vision filter, making the slaughter just that much faster. No one’s saying that the game has to ape the original Alien, which proved that one creature hidden in the walls can be just as scary as one hundred. Still, I wish Colonial Marines hadn’t diluted the threat of their titular beasts quite so completely, by making them into cannon fodder. Even the acid blood — of which I spilled gallons — was not a concern.
Things were better in multiplayer, which cribs liberally from other games to deliver an exciting, asymmetrical experience. Though traditional fare like Team Deathmatch is well represented, the game really shines in “Escape” and “Survivor” modes, which require Marines to band together, complete objectives, and move from place to place as the opposing team of “Xenos” attempts to thwart them. Developers Gearbox aren’t exactly reinventing the Left 4 Dead wheel, but the gameplay is perfectly suited to the subject matter.
Aliens come in three subspecies: warrior, lurker, and spitter. The former is straightforward, the second comes with a pounce move, and the last is the closest the aliens get to a ranged attack. All three seem inordinately vulnerable to gunfire, and you’ll need practice to approach marines unobserved, though doing so is made easier by the game’s well-designed system for climbing on the walls and ceilings. The ability to see Marines through those walls is also helpful, though this is represented by a persistent kind of “alien vision” in the form of a urine-yellow filter applied to the visuals. It’s not easy on the eyes, and it obscures the game’s already-murky graphics. Throughout the preview, I noticed grainy outlines, blocky textures, and awkward animations (the pounce, in particular, constantly gets stuck on level geometry). Though we were playing on PC’s, it looked like a console build, and not a particularly cutting-edge one at that. Hopefully it was just early code.
Rounding off the multiplayer was a system of Call of Duty-style unlocks, which seemed particularly silly when it came to the aliens — spending XP to unlock different claw attacks. Still, I was heartened to see playable females: one Gearbox rep present had an avatar designed in her spitting image.
Aliens: Colonial Marines certainly knows how to borrow from the best, whether it’s Mead and Henriksen or Valve and Infinity Ward. What remains to be seen is whether the game’s original offerings are worth both the wait and the price. If it reins in the mindless firefights and stolid mythologizing, then things might turn out alright. If not, it’s “Adios, muchachos.”