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The biggest cliché in video games is saving the Princess, but the second biggest is The Space Marine. Countless games have forced players to strap on the standard issue combat boots of generic troops to go out on bug hunts. But I can forgive Gearbox for making a game full of cosmic jarheads because their game Aliens: Colonial Marines is an official part of the franchise that gave us the cliche. Yes, space marines go back to the 50’s in the works of Heinlein and other military sci-fi writers, but James Cameron introduced audiences to the likes of gruff-but-concerned Sergeant Apone bad-ass Vasquez and “Seventeen Days? We’re not gonna last seventeen hours” Hudson.
Even though gamers have been able to play as colonial marines before in other games, most notably the Alien Versus Predator series, this is the first shooter in a few years that focuses on just the Alien series (No predators allowed).
I got some hands on with the game at the Penny Arcade Expo East recently, where PAX attendees got to watch live gameplay of one of the early levels in the campaign, then face off against the dev team at Gearbox in multiplayer. The demo of the single-player campaign immediately showed authenticity and reverence for the source material. There’s a major effort to create a story that fits in with the existing Alien movies. The game is set after the events of Aliens but doesn’t seem to bother much with Alien 3. This a proper place for a new story, because many fans lost interest in the franchise with the third movie.
In Aliens Colonial Marines, players get to revisit locations from Aliens, like the ship, Sulaco (Including a locker room where players can see Easter Egg references to the movie) and the planet LV-426. It’s an in-cannon tale, but players are controlling a new character named Corporal Winter who is part of a rescue team sent to investigate the Sulaco The story will help bridge the gap between the movies and hopefully add in a dose of dignity to the deaths of characters like Hicks and Newt who were written out abruptly at the beginning of Alien 3.
The multiplayer portion of the game pits a team of humans against a swarm of “Xenomorphs”. At PAX East, the aliens were controlled by the actual developers at Gearbox, so my squad of Marines was up against an experienced group of space monsters. In this demo players could select from a handful of basic kits, although the full game will have more options for customization. While there was a nice selection of weapons, any real Space Marine knows that the only weapon he needs is the M41-a pulse rifle; Ten millimeter with over-and-under thirty millimeter pump action grenade launcher.
Equipped with my pulse rifle, I charged into battle and found myself engaged in a fast-paced asymmetrical battle against a swarm of space monsters with acid for blood. The distinctive sound effects of the pulse rifle were present, as was the shriek of the xenomorphs as they I riddled them with bullets and blasted them with the functioning under-barrel grenade launcher.
There are a few other obvious nods to the movie, such as the typical radar HUD being replaced by the use of a hand-held Motion Tracker that players can bring up. Plus, players can grab a power up that gives them the M56 “Smart Gun” seen in the movies. It had a strong feeling of authenticity as xenomorphs scurried through crawlspaces and squad members got picked off one by one in the shadows.
While the Marines could choose different weapons, the xenomorphs we faced could select different subspecies of alien, one that focused on stealth and mobility, or one that fared better in a stand up fight. They also had the power to mutate into a much more dangerous form by finding a power-up during the match.
Although Sega has been handling the Aliens franchise for a few years, this is Gearbox’s first shot at the series, and it looks like they’re taking the series in the right direction. It arrives for PC, Xbox, Wii U, and Playstation this Fall.