In my mind, until now, the only truly great Aliens game was the full conversion mod for Doom made before many current gamers were out of diapers. Part of the issue is the fact that the current recognizable games were based off the wrong movies/premise. Instead of focusing on the atmospheric sense of the Alien movies, developers decided to go the Aliens vs Predators route which resulted in twitch shooters instead of deep experiences. Having experienced Aliens: Colonial Marines I am hopeful this trend will come to an end and we will have the Aliens experience we always wanted.
Invited to a presentation at PAX East of both the single player (guided hands off demonstration) and the multiplayer (hands on) I have to say that so far it looks like Aliens: Colonial Marines has a lot going for it. The single player snippet we saw had a marine heading onto the Sulaco (the ship from Aliens) that was found drifting in space. The perception is that there has been a pitched battle and you are heading in to retrieve some data.
The scenario is fairly typical to a Doom 3/Quake 4 style FPS experience, ie. space marine heading into a crazy situation, but the Aliens make all the difference. As you make your way through the demo, you routinely bring up the iconic motion sensor to track xenomorphs. Before long you are on the ship and it is evident by the dead and wounded bodies that the battle has been going on for a while. Passing by the remains of Bishop from Aliens (his lower half was left on the deck remember,) you head deeper into the Sulaco where nests have been built.
What follows is a tensely scripted but very well done series of skirmishes with Xenomorphs that has you outnumbered and trying to escape. Nice touches like a facehugger popping out of a marine’s chest and Xenos dropping from vents keep the action tight and very compelling. I have been waiting for an atmospheric experience like this with an actual story and as this is being endorsed by FOX as Alien canon I am very excited.
The other portion of the demo, in some ways, is even more intriguing. The multiplayer we saw and sampled was a blast to play and brought a truly co-operative experience that evokes a larger scale Left 4 Dead experience. The mode had Xenomorphs (played by the developers) versus a squad of marines. When we first entered, we got to watch the developers play and then moved on to battle them ourselves. These guys know the game and the Xenomorphs and as it was a single map on display they typically owned the marines in combat.
The Xenomorphs can either start as nimble or stronger versions and during the game you can upgrade their abilities with a leveling system. In the match there was also a modifier that let a single Xeno evolve to a crusher type that is slow but incredibly tough. The Xenos are played in third person, can wall and ceiling climb, and while not as tough health-wise as marines pack a mean series of attacks. If a marine is attacked just right, the Xenomorph can decapitate or feed on them to gory and amazing results. Xenomorphs also have a sensory skill that lets them see where all the marines are to better stalk them.
This may seem like the marines are dead meat, but I discovered once I had my chance to play that teamwork and judicious use of the motion scanner more then evens the odds. I quickly found myself pulling up the scanner constantly and shouting to my team where they were coming from. Our round started with us losing badly but by sticking together and keeping an eye out we were able to hold our own. In fact by the end of the round we tied the developers at 50 points each — to a round of applause from them. They told us that rarely happens and I have to say I felt quite proud.
The controls are quite standard with a series of weapons on display. I chose the shotgun, but there was also a pulse rifle and machine gun available in the demo. There will be a levelling and upgrade system for your marine and their weapons with modifiers available to change the experience. The gameplay was fast, furious and above all very fun.
Aliens: Colonial Marines has been in development for a while and at times seemed like it was hanging on a precipice of never being released. Thankfully Gearbox is hard at work and the game is slated for a Fall 2012 release date and I for one cannot wait to dive back onto the Saluco and LV-426 to kick so Alien butt!