As a fan of the Alien vs. Predator series (of games, not the movies — they were abhorrent), my initial reaction to hearing about Aliens: Colonial Marines was one of concern. Predator was my favourite choice for multiplayer, and arguably the best of the single player campaigns. Fortunately, my fears were quelled by my hands-on multiplayer demo with Gearbox’s foray into Ridley Scott’s universe. Aliens are rad, and mowing them down with pulse rifles is — yes, you guessed it. Even more rad.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is set seventeen weeks after the events of Aliens, and places the player among the rescue team sent to find the crew of the Sulaco, albeit fourteen and a half weeks overdue. In an impromptu show-floor interview with Gearbox Community Manager Chris Faylor, I learned that Colonial Marines is intended to be a 100% canonical entry in the Aliens universe, thanks to a tight relationship with 20th Century Fox. This means that everything, including the new xenotypes produced by Gearbox, are canonical and may well be used in future movies or television series.
Colonial Marines feels like an old-school shooter. From the way that the marines move, all the way down to the the angular level design, A:CM delivers an experience that feels familiar, but includes features and a presentation generally associated with modern titles. The framerate was a rock-solid sixty frames per second, though it appeared that antialiasing had been disabled. It is impossible to know what kind of hardware was running in the demo PCs, so it is plausible that this impression may have been skewed by over-specced machines.
As often happens with multiplayer floor demos, I was just beginning to hit my stride when it ended, but in the seconds leading up to the demo’s close, I mowed down three soldier-class aliens with my semi-automatic shotgun, including one that was winding up for a close quarters execution. I felt like a golden god, sent to whatever planet we were on to take (alien) heads, and chew (caustic) bubblegum — a feeling only heightened by the fact that we were playing against members of Team Immunity. These guys are not only professional gamers, they had also been playing the game for at least three days straight. It was a nice moment.
The weapons feel as though they have a true weight to them, which is best reflected in the marines’ movement. At their fastest the marines move at what feels like a cautious jog, when walking their weapon is raised, poised to fire upon any piece of shiny carapace that moves. The sound direction really captures the feel of the films, mostly thanks to the twin screams of clashing aliens and pulse rifles.
Players are able to choose from five different customisable loadouts before they spawn, which Chris confirmed can be populated with gear unlocked by progression in multiplayer, singleplayer, and drop-in-drop-out co-op. My go-to weapon combination was the pulse rifle/semi-auto shotgun, because flexibility is important. In practice though, the shotgun was by far the most used weapon in my arsenal.
Due to their enhanced, green-tinged vision, an alien will often see you before you see it — meaning that by the time you’re ready to fire, they’re already all over you. Shotguns rule the day, though Team Immunity did a good job of staying out of our direct firing line. Once an alien begins slashing at you with their claws, your vision becomes obscured by disobedient blood leaving your body without permission. Wildly unloading shotgun blasts into the red haze often bought me a few precious moments of life before falling to another of the seemingly endless horde of professional gamers/aliens.
In each round of the demo, both teams received a power-up that with proper use, could turn the tide of the battle in their favour. The marines get access to a smart gun, which spawns as a pickup in a random location on the map, while a member of the alien team will randomly spawn as a Crusher, a bull-like alien with an egregious amount of health and a charging attack. how often these power-ups spawn is still being tweaked.
While queuing, I was able to observe the members of Team Immunity as they both figuratively and literally dissected their opponents. The alien soldiers were able to move quickly along any surface in the environment in order to close on their prey and claw them into a fine scarlet paste. It appeared that the only aliens in play for the demo were soldiers which also had a first-person tail attack that could be used to deal damage from the walls or ceiling. Chris was eager to detail the other alien types that would be present in the final product: The Lurker has less health than the Soldier, but is faster and has a pounce attack. The Spitter has a ranged attack which needs to be charged up before it can be unleashed. Charging the attack causes the spitter’s head to glow, giving away its position and warning marines of the attack.
The Aliens: Colonial Marines multiplayer demo brought back strong and fond memories of hours-long AvP and AvP2 LAN sessions. Only time will tell whether the singleplayer campaign can elicit such a reaction from fans of the movies. Aliens: Colonial Marines is due for release on February 12 2013 on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.