We recently got the opportunity to experience the terror of Gearbox's latest shooter, Aliens: Colonial Marines. At a fun location kitted out to look just like Hadley's Hope, complete with fully-dressed Marines and Face-huggers in jars, our time in the bug hunt of the campaign and the mayhem of multiplayer (which we'll be addressing in another preview very soon!) gave us a taste of "just another day in the Corps..."
Express elevator to hell... going DOWN!
The Campaign segment we played begins just after your arrival on the planet LV-426. With your skeleton crew of Marines and Bishop in tow, you must make your way to Hadley's Hope. As you wander through the alien terrain of LV-426, shadows will dance in your peripheral vision, giving you the feeling that you are being watched. With this in mind, having the motion tracker out puts you mind at ease.
It's here where we dabbled with the controls. Thankfully the controls are pretty standard for an First Person Shooter, meaning that the only buttons you'll need to learn from scratch are the torch (Down on the D-pad), and the Motion tracker (Left Bumper).
Gearbox has done wonders with the sound in Aliens: Colonial Marines, whether it's the Motion Tracker pinging that'll stop your heart as soon as you hear the blip, or the music, which has been pulled straight from the films. The most notable instance of this was the first sighting of Hadley's Hope, as the music includes the fanfare from Aliens as Ripley and Co saw it for the first time.
To say Hadley's Hope is a mess is an understatement. The atmospheric processor is in pieces with smoke still billowing from within, and the facility has massive chunks missing. Impressive as this looks, it's inside the facility that gets you. Much like the film, bits of debris litter the floors and ceilings in the aftermath of not only the explosion but, the fight the colonists and marines had with the Xenomorph.
As you progress into the facility, you have the same sense of nervous excitement during the film, waiting for something to strike, whether it sneaks up unseen, runs full pelt from the front or sets off the ever present Motion Tracker. It's very rare that a game can replicate the same sense of excitement a film has achieved as the film dictates the pace - you're just there for the ride - but ACM manages just that.
Like the Marines before, you head for operations, and although this has been mapped to match the original set, it couldn't look more different! Xenomorph bodies litter the ground, some melted into the floor as the Acid in their blood has neutralised after their death. Part of the wall is missing with the now-destroyed atmospheric processor in view.
It's in operations that you start seeing some of the nods to the film, after entering you hear an exchange between two of the Marines, about the floor, on closer inspection you'll notice that part of the floor is missing where the legendary Hudson fell in battle.
As you make your way out of operations on your first mission in Hadley's Hope, you'll spot other nods, too. The Sentry Turrets are still standing, waiting for a new target. Newt's bed in Medical is upturned and undisturbed. And if you didn't know that it had been 17 days, then you could be forgiven to think that Hicks, Hudson and Co may appear in the next room, but you know that isn't going to happen. However, in true Alien style, as you think your simple-seeming mission is coming to an end, the horde descends...
We're not gonna last 17 minutes against those things
The Alien attacks are fast and furious with Xenomorphs coming out of vents, the ceiling and floor and from behind. It's a disorientating experience that, on the harder settings, will test even the most battle-hardened FPS fans out there.
Its here you'll get a handle on the capabilities of the Pulse Rifle and Shotgun. Controlled bursts from the Pulse Rifle will slow a Xeno, with a well placed shot taking them out completely. It also has good range, making this your most valuable weapon.
As the attack intensifies, you're ordered back to operations, where you'll make your first stand in the last place that Hicks and Co. did. Aliens drop from the ceiling and pour through the hole in the building; without help, you're not going to last. So it's time to literally pull out the big guns and grab a sentry gun from the corridor.
With the gun set, you now have a fighting chance against the horde that is relentless in its attack. You'll need to be careful, though, as Xeno blood flies from Shotgun blasts and Pulse Rifle fire, eating at your armour and then your health. But, like the film, as soon as an attack begins, it ends. As you catch your breath from the onslaught, you're given new orders to find a Marine who vanished while exploring.
But it's a dry heat
Before leaving operations, you acquire the Xeno-killing Smart Gun. It's a powerful piece of kit but does have its restrictions - as the gun is strapped to you and requires both hands to use, you cannot use the Motion Tracker.
With your finger poised over the trigger you head deeper into the facility to find the missing marine, keeping your eyes peeled for signs of movement. But it's not long before your next close encounter happens in a narrow corridor that once you've entered, you can't get out of.
But panic turns to euphoria as unleash the Smart Gun on the Xeno Masses, cutting them down with ease. With the Smart Gun equipped you have a screen over your eye that targets the Aliens so all you need to do is point and shoot, but, as fun as this sounds, the Smart Gun doesn't have an infinite supply of ammo, and you'll soon find you've chewed through its supply.
Heading deeper you soon find that the metallic and concrete structures have started to twist and become unnatural in their appearance; you are now entering the Xenomorph Hive. So far you've encountered the brute force attacks of the Warrior Xeno; now you'll be subjected to the hide-and-seek methods of the Lurker. Skulking in shadows, this Xeno prefers to wait until your attention is engaged elsewhere and then spring at you from the shadows. This is terrifying!
It was here that our time with the campaign came to an end, but not before seeing one final surprise. As we opened a door to try and escape and find the Marine, we came face to face with a hulking Xeno, smaller than a Queen but bigger than most. This thing wasn't normal. It was decayed and, despite its size, was a shell of the Aliens we've come to know. And as it sprang, the screen went dark.
It was later confirmed that this Xenomorph answers the question of what happened to the stranded when the Queen left, that survived the explosion that tore through Hadley's Hope.
I love the Corps
Aliens: Colonial Marines has managed to capture the heart of the James Cameron's Aliens film. Much of this comes from the fact that FOX and some cast and crew opened up to Gearbox about Aliens, giving great insight into recreating the terrifying atmosphere. But praise must go to Gearbox, too. Their love of the Aliens film shines through in the nods and Easter Eggs that litter the game. Games based on films usually fall under a curse of not living up the film, but as Colonial Marines is something of a spiritual sequel to the movie, it may dodge that bullet!