Aliens: Colonial Marines Preview: Channeling the Aliens Films

Gearbox has been working on Aliens: Colonial Marines for what seems like forever. Lately, little bits of information have been slipping out, and today at PAX East, I finally got a chance to see a little bit of the single player campaign. I also got my hands on the multiplayer, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

The A:CM single player evokes a lot of memories if you’re a fan of the films. The Sulaco has returned in spite of being reported as destroyed, and it’s up to you, in the guise of Cpl. Winter, to investigate what’s going on aboard. You’ll find plenty of references to the movies, from the lower half of Bishop’s body to the lockers sporting names like Hudson and Vasquez.

Watching the demo we were presented with at PAX, I couldn’t help but think back to all the movies I’d seen before. The cryostasis pods that were ejected at the beginning of Alien 3 popped up early in the demo, and the Xenomorphs were just as elusive and almost teasing as I would expect. As you progress through the Sulaco, the same feeling of jumpiness that characterized the first Aliens vs. Predator game is very evident. The beeping of the motion detector, the sound of the pulse rifle, and the anxiety you feel are all almost tangible sensations. I don’t want to give too much away, but I can tell you that you will be glad to get the hell off the Sulaco.

Once we finished watching a single player demo, we headed next door to take on the Gearbox devs in a multiplayer Team Deathmatch game. We took on the role of the Colonial Marines, and the Gearbox devs became the Xenomorphs. We quickly learned that lone Marines are easy fodder for the alien forces, so it was imperative that we stay together. Different Marine classes spawn with different gear combos, making the choices you make prior to spawn quite important in the grand scheme of things.

The same goes for the Xenomorph side. There are a number of different classes to spawn as, and each one offers distinct abilities, advantages, and disadvantages. Some can leap onto (and stick to) the ceiling, while others are much larger and tougher to bring down. No matter which side you’re playing as, you’ll need to work together with your teammates to come out on top.

The two sides share some common abilities. For example, the Xenomorphs can instinctively see their opponents and friendlies through walls, while the Marines can activate their motion sensors. Of course, while you’re using the detector, you’re vulnerable to being jumped from all directions. Still, I think that a well-coordinated team of Marines could play this to their advantage, assuming they can stick together and cover the one poor bastard stuck using the motion detector. The Xenomorphs are quite fast and agile, and it’s almost assured that you’ll get the crap scared out of you when one drops right on your head. Thanks to their ability to walk on walls and ceilings, you’ll need to adjust your expectations as to where the enemy can aproach you from.

The multiplayer is a great example of how two radically different sides can be balanced against one another. It’s still not certain how the balance will shake out, but as of the demo we played today, the multiplayer felt pretty good. Unfortunately, the demo we did get our hands on was console only, so we still don’t really have a handle on what the PC version will look like. We’re hoping to get more info on that soon.

We didn’t get a chance to play the singleplayer campaign ourselves, but what we did see of it looks very promising. Gearbox has a pretty darn good track record of making quality titles, and it looks like Aliens: Colonial Marines will keep that legacy intact. We weren’t able to talk the Gearbox folks out of any release date information, but they did reassure us that it will be launching this year. So while you will have to wait for the launch, perhaps it will reassure you to know that you will find yourself eying a cargo loader early on in the game. You know you want in that.

Game Front is on-site at PAX East all weekend (April 6-8), bringing you daily news, hands-on previews, interviews and pictures. Stay tuned for more PC gaming-focused coverage!

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