Weight of historyMany have tried to make a decent game based on the Alien franchise but few have succeeded. Nevertheless the source material is rich and remains ripe for the picking, so there's plenty of pressure on Borderlands developer Gearbox to deliver where others have failed with its upcoming first person shooter.
Billed as a true sequel to 1986 movie Aliens, Colonial Marines' story is told through the eyes of Corporal Christopher Winter, a Colonial Marine who is part of a search and rescue team sent to investigate the disappearance of Ellen Ripley and the soldiers depicted in James Cameron's film.
Movie influenceEverything we've seen of the game does a great job of capturing the spirit of the Aliens universe, from familiar film environments such as the Sulaco spaceship and the planet LV-426, to the kit that the marines use and the banter they shout. It also requires you to play like you're in the film: stick together, hug the walls, stay frosty.
The iconic xenomorphs are most dangerous when stalking their human prey in packs. They come at you from all angles - jumping around corners, emerging from vents and ledges, running along the walls and ceilings - and dealing with them has the potential to offer a much more kinetic experience than the simple-room-sweeping A-to-B of many shooters. When you begin unleashing pulse rifle bursts and unloading your shotgun, spraying alien brains and acid blood all over the place, it feels like a Call of Duty-style thrill-ride set in the deepest depths of space.
Sense of dreadThe lighting system does a great job of bathing areas in authentic shades of blue and black, and at one point, as we're plunged into near-pitch darkness when aliens attack the electrical system, a strobing red beacon that's our only source of light. Vents collapse in showers of sparks, hissing steam distracts you, and classic misdirection encourages you to look one way only for something else to happen out of the corner of your eye.
And there are hints of a strategic element to the gameplay too, from door welding and sentry gun deployment to monitoring the iconic bleeps from the motion scanners you use to detect incoming hostiles. Gearbox seems to be just as intent on nailing the tense, moment before the storm sections as it does the all-out action sequences.
Team killingPerhaps most exciting is the prospect of playing the game with friends. The whole campaign can be enjoyed with a squad of up to four players, dropping in and out as necessary through self-contained missions within an overarching narrative.
Additional multiplayer modes will complete the experience. So far, Gearbox has shown off eight versus eight team death matches with one group playing as the marines and one as the xenomorphs from a third person view , with the goal being the first team to reach 50 kills.
What we've seen of the game to date appears solid, and with Gearbox essentially using the films as its bibles we're not expecting it to take too much artistic liberty with the franchise. No game has quite managed to capture the brutal, foreboding essence of Aliens to date, but we're hoping that could change when Colonial Marines launches in February.