Seeing a game in action is one thing but actually getting some hands-on time with it is when things get truly interesting. It’s fine to see a game be demoed or presented through a pre-recorded video, but grabbing a controller putting a game through its paces is when it’s known if a game is on the track to greatness or if we’ve basically been tricked for the last few months and the game in question is merely a fake gemstone that could pass for the real thing at first but upon closer inspection is a noticeable fake. For the past year we’ve seen footage of Aliens: Colonial Marines but finally at E3 2012 I had the chance to see if the game is indeed going to be the Aliens game we all want it to be or if it was something that be best forgotten as soon as possible.
Right off the bat I’ll say that I’m a huge fan of the Aliens franchise, so much so that Aliens is one of the few films that I can quote consistently when I watch it. So to say that I had high expectations for Aliens: Colonial Marines would be a huge understatement as it’s a game I’ve been waiting for nearly my entire career as a gamer. Thankfully, the hands-on time I got with the game was something that not only pleased me as an Aliens fan but was one of my immediate highlights of E3 2012.
My first hands-on experience with Aliens: Colonial Marines wasn’t with the single-player mode but instead the competitive multiplayer mode; in particular the humans vs. xenomorphs team deathmatch. Yeah, it did hurt my gamer heart a bit I wasn’t able to have a go with the single-player campaign, but the notion of playing an 8 vs. 8 multiplayer match in which the development team from Gearbox were playing as the xenomorphs team was simply too good to pass up.
As expected there really isn’t anything groundbreaking per say about how Aliens: Colonial Marines goes about presenting a multiplayer match or how such a thing is rooted when it comes to gameplay mechanics. Gearbox has kept things relatively simple but instead of just dropping some Aliens motifs in a game and calling it a day they’ve done what matters the most: pay attention to detail and craft every element of the game.
So here’s the basic outline of the multiplayer match I partook in: I and my teammates were dropped into an abandoned locale and immediately grouped together as we essentially ran around like rabbits afraid of anything that moved or was thought to have moved. Ok, I may be over exaggerating things a bit, but when a group of colonial marines are in a dark area battling enemies that can leap at them at any time in addition to having the ability to crawl on walls and ceilings I think it’s ok to be slightly scared if not paranoid at every sound or subtle movement.
Despite the basic purpose of the match being for one team to rack up the most kills the vibe in the multiplayer match was unlike anything I’ve played before. Not knowing what was waiting ahead or lurking behind the corner resulted in a match that didn’t have the non-stop action feeling of something like CoD or even Battlefield nor did it have a slightly slow or meticulous pace to it. Things definitely got heavy in the multiplayer match with xenos jumping me and giving me the inner mouth kiss of death, or me getting the upper hand and going on a three kill streak that would make Sgt. Apone nod with approval. But amidst the brief spurts of blood filled action there were plenty of moments that were all about the mood – whether it was the sudden silence in a battle or trying to quickly find your team after spawning back into the match. It was these moments which when combined with the pace of the battles made me think of the actual film Aliens as it married both the action and the mood in a perfect way without one being overbearing.
While I didn’t have a chance to control the xenomorphs in the multiplayer match, the Colonial Marines felt perfect in how they controlled and reacted in certain scenarios. There’s not much leeway developers have in FPS games these days, but Aliens: Colonial Marines didn’t feel like Gearbox just copied Battlefield or even Borderlands and slapped an Aliens skin on top of everything. Controlling my Colonial Marine was easy and so was doing required combat actions like firing a grenade from my pulse rifle or whipping out my motion tracker to see where the enemies were.
Speaking of the motion tracker I really can’t convey just how cool and spooky that thing is. There’s certainly a nice nostalgia factor upon seeing the radar and hearing that slightly foreboding blip sound, but knowing that each dot represents an actual player controlled character that can drop down at any time and end your life is something that I think really sets the game apart from other titles on the market. The xenos themselves appear to have great agility on the battlefield through the whole wall climbing ability but that comes at a price since they can be taken out with a few well-placed shots, that’s unless the player is assuming the role of the Crusher.
Since the Colonial Marines have different class types it makes sense for the same to be given to the xenomorphs as well but Gearbox has managed to do such a thing without completely ruining the mood of the Aliens franchise. Available to gamers will be the chance to load-out their xenomorph with a special evolutionary trait that when activated upon hitting a kill streak, yes it’s a Perk like ability, will allow them to play as an advanced xenomorph, which in the case of the demo was the giant quadruped Crusher. Having control of a giant xenomorph that uses its head as a battering ram may sound like a potential deal breaker in a multiplayer experience, but I was surprised at how balanced things actually were. I’ll admit to being on the receiving end of the Crusher a few times as my soldier turned into red meat chunks, but it wasn’t too much of a hassle for either myself or my team to take the Crusher out with a few well-placed grenade shots and concentrated gunfire.
Speaking to one of the developers it was mentioned that there will be additional evolutionary types that gamers will be able to select when playing as the xenomorphs so there’s going to be more than just the Crusher. Exactly what else we can expect wasn’t mentioned since Gearbox is being tightlipped about things, but I’m hoping everything else is as balanced as the Crusher was and that conceptually we don’t see any abominations that look like the xeno/human hybrid from Alien: Resurrection. Anything with eyes and a human face needs to stay out of an Aliens experience.
To me the amount of detail and how the game plays has made Aliens: Colonial Marines a promising experience. The mood in the demo stage perfectly encapsulated the vibe from Aliens as seeing xenos crawl towards me or suddenly leap onto my comrades was both horrifying yet highly entertaining. It also helps that the game is visually appealing as the lighting plays a huge part in the game and the xenos, which despite not having their acidic blood play a part in the game, are modeled well as they capture the “classic” xeno look.
Looking ahead at Colonial Marines the sheer detail and enjoyment I had in the multiplayer mode has me optimistic that things will be all good when it comes to the single-player campaign. Perhaps that’s just wishful thinking, but it could be possible that Aliens: Colonial Marines gives us the double whammy of a good single-player campaign and an equally impressive multiplayer mode that manages to hook people in without having half a dozen bonus features to entice people. Perhaps I’m overhyping myself too much after playing Colonial Marines, but unless the multiplayer mode ends up being way unbalanced and the single-player mode ends on a cliffhanger or features a flute that doubles as a key to a spaceship I’m sure the game will deliver on giving us a game that pays utter respect to the Aliens franchise.