Aug 30 2011 3:27pm

Aliens: Colonial Marines Debuts Gameplay Footage at PAX

The Alien saga is one of science fiction’s most-mined franchises, a true pop culture landmark. With its iconic action sequences, James Cameron’s Aliens is arguably the most popular film of the series and certainly a natural choice for a first-person shooter spinoff. In fact, there’s been Alien games almost as long as there have been consoles. And finding homages to facehuggers, power loaders, and the evil Weyland-Yutani sprinkled throughout other popular franchises such as Half-Life, isn’t hard. In Spring 2012, Sega and developer Gearbox Software are bringing the latest incarnation to Wii U, PS3, Xbox 360 and PC with Aliens: Colonial Marines.

I was surprised to find that Randy Pitchford, Gearbox’s CEO and one of the driving forces behind the (in)famous resurrection of Duke Nukem Forever, was personally delivering the PAX presentation for Aliens: Colonial Marines. Pitchford was heavily involved in the controversial promotion of DNF prior to its release and developed an immature fratboy reputation. I was pleasantly surprised to find this perception to be mostly inaccurate. Over the course of his PAX presentation, it became increasingly clear that Pitchford was a man with an unbridled enthusiasm and passion for his work; he came across as a highly approachable, occasionally overexcited, and generally unapologetic fanboy of the franchises he works on. Despite his approachability, I managed to resist the urge to ask him what went wrong with Duke Nukem Forever and instead focused on the game at hand.

Aliens: Colonial Marines is being hyped as the true, direct sequel to the movie, Aliens (“Not that there’s anything wrong with Alien 3, but it seemed to be more of a sequel to the first movie.”) Pitchford made it quite clear that Gearbox has been given complete authority by 20th Century Fox to create a true sequel in video game form that will become part of the Alien canon. Accordingly, game plotting began with a visit to Ridley Scott, who dusted off a number of old storyboards and helped plant the seeds for the storyline of Colonial Marines. After being given a little more information establishing where the game is situated in relation to the movies, PAX audiences were shown the first extended gameplay sequence (about 15-20 minutes) released anywhere, to this point.

In Colonial Marines, a brand new squad of military men are sent on a search and rescue mission to find Lieutenant Ellen Ripley, Corporal Dwayne Hicks, and the other missing marines who traveled to LV-426, the xenomorph-infested planet from the second film. The story was written by Battlestar Galactica scribes Bradley Thompson and David Weddle. Set pieces include the U.S.S. Sulaco, the alien derelict ship from the first film, and a host of new locations based on unused Aliens original concept art.

Gearbox created a brand new graphics engine focused specifically on dynamic shadows and lighting for Aliens: Colonial Marines — a decision that I first thought was intended to hearken back to the days of the first Aliens vs. Predator game, released in 1999, which focused (extremely successfully) on atmosphere and mood. Aliens vs. Predator produced some of my favorite and most terrifying gaming memories — a sentiment that I’m sure is shared by any readers who can still recall playing as the Marine, armed only with a Pulse Rifle and motion detector, advancing through pitch black corridors, staring agonizingly at the radar screen and dreading the appearance of every white blip suddenly speeding your way. Graphically, the engine that Gearbox has created is quite attractive and stands up well to the aesthetics of its peers. However, the footage on display at PAX strays from the solitary, intense, 1-on-1 feel of the original AvP and seems to instead focus more on squad-based gameplay and taking on swarms of aliens at once. Given the specialization of the engine, though, I would think (and hope) that later stages of the game will eventually revisit the more nervewracking elements of its predecessors.

In regard to the gameplay and game environment, I found the speed of the aliens to be somewhat underwhelming, and the splash damage of alien blood is, as of now, virtually non-existent. In fact, the game as a whole could (in keeping with the franchise to which it’s dedicated) do with a considerably larger overall dose of blood and gore. Furthermore, the environment feels a bit too clean and shiny. With that said, many of these issues are factors that may well be ironed out throughout the remainder of the development and testing process and are not, as of yet, any real cause for concern.

Some aspects of the game that I appreciated include the constant introduction of new, different types of aliens as the game progresses, and the attention to detail in the levels. Revisiting some of the locations made famous by Cameron’s movie and seeing familiar tech maps and weaponry lying around the control center tables and floors brought a smile to my face. I can honestly say that Aliens: Colonial Marines is in the hands of people who are deeply familiar with and passionate about the franchise. Whether this will result in a great game remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a good place to start.

Check out the most recent Aliens: Colonial Marines trailer.

Pritpaul Bains is an avid gamer and an alum of the 2008 Clarion West Writers’ Workshop. This was his first time at PAX.

Fake Name
1. ThePendragon
Uh, that's the old teaser. The new trailer with actual footage is here.

2. sofrina
so what you're saying is, there's no vasquez?
3. Dave 2000
Cannot wait for this game!! :D
Theresa DeLucci
4. theresa_delucci
No Vasquez. Bummer. I can't say I was very impressed with the footage. The lighting was moody - reminded me a bit of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay which was the best movie tie-in game ever -- but I just loved the AvP and Alien: Resurrection games so much. Without that spooky atmosphere, this can be pretty much any old shooter.
5. sofrina
i'm only kidding. video games are like my kryptonite. gave up on 'em back when i was losing at ms. pacman at the skate rink every saturday night. this franchise could lure through the gates of hell, but it cannot put a console (joystick?) in my hands.
Pritpaul Bains
6. Kickpuncher
@1 Must've mixed up my tabs. Whoops! Thanks for posting the right link instead.

@2 Actually, Vasquez's sister (Carmen) apparently appeared in the Colonial Marines comic, but there was no mention of whether she would be in the game. So there's a chance there may be a Vasquez!

@3 I'm cautiously optimistic. Hopefully the look will be a little grittier in the final product.

@4 I'm really hoping that Gearbox is aware that it would be a waste of an engine that is designed specifically to handle dynamic shadows/lighting well if they don't revisit that atmosphere fairly significantly in the game. Fingers crossed!
8. ME!!
The 1999 AvP game was NOT the first Alien Vs. Predator game. If I'm not mistaken, the actual first game that incorporated both creatures from those two franchises was the one on the Atari Jaguar first published in 1994. I had a copy and it was actually pretty neat for a cartridge based game. The graphics were nice for their time. You could play as any of the three (just like the AvP game that came out a couple years ago which was developed by some of the same people), a marine, a Predator or an Alien. The Predator had a whole slew of vision types to cycle through and the Alien had the ability to cocoon marines to turn them into eggs (just as the creature was supposed to be able to do in the first Alien film). The game took place on a marine facility that had both a Predator ship (the interior looking as it did in the second Predator film) and a "derelict" craft from the "Space Jockeys" from Alien that you could go into and explore.
9. ME!!
Whoops...I meant to add that the maarine facility had those two ships docked to it.

For the record, I did not purchase a Jaguar when they came out. I knew better. I bought one used many years later for the purpose of playing the AvP game.
Pritpaul Bains
10. Kickpuncher
@8 - You are, of course, absolutely right. Thanks for the correction!

My own first experience was with the 1999 iteration of the game and was extremely memorable/heart-attack inducing. Wish I could've played the Jaguar version - sounds cool.

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