Aliens: Colonial Marines E3 Demo Impressions and Screens

Back in the Commodore 64 days I owned an Aliens game that mirrored the events of the film. It was primitive by today’s standards, but the ability to run through sub-level 3 avoiding alien eggs and pilot a dropship down the “pipe” hearkens back to the film that played a big part in my love for movies and games today.

Gearbox Software and Sega rocked my world when news broke over 3 years ago that an Aliens-based shooter was in the works. Now, after months and months of silence and speculation that the project may have been shelved, Aliens: Colonial Marines was unveiled for the first time at this past week’s E3 in Los Angeles complete with hired help wearing full-blown Colonial Marine armor and weaponry.

Sega’s Aliens: Colonial Marines E3 demo was tucked inside a bunker made to look like the architecture of Hadley’s Hope from James Cameron’s classic sci-fi sequel. Security was tight; to the point that Gearbox CEO and President Randy Pitchford pointed out a gentleman in the corner wearing night-vision goggles and said he’d escort anyone out who attempted to capture footage from the presentation. Immediately all the smart phones and iPads went dark as if the command had cut the room’s power.

Pitchford is as much a geeked-out fan of Cameron’s film as the Master-in-Chief of the video game project, referencing that Aliens has served as inspiration for many of his militaristic games and others created over the past 20 years. To him, Aliens is the godfather of action-oriented sci-fi properties and having the opportunity to work with Twentieth Century Fox and even Ridley Scott on a digitized direct sequel to Aliens is a dream come true.

There was no denying Pitchford’s enthusiasm as he narrated the demo with the enthusiasm of a child visiting Disneyland for the first time. Pitchford was so excited to share his game, my demo being one of the first on day one of the Expo, he stumbled on his lines a few times and was literally bouncing around when revealing the game will support four-player cooperative play. When the power gets cut and those familiar red emergency lights come on in the demo, Pitchford screamed out “what do you mean they cut the power? They’re animals!” That was one of several film references he dropped while Xenomorphs were being blasted.

The Aliens: Colonial Marines demo begins with a crash as a new squad of Marines end up on the surface of LV-426. They arrive at Hadley’s Hope to find the remnants of the command center that Hudson and Hicks planned their squad’s last stand in the film. The nuclear blast that Ripley, Hicks and Newt narrowly escaped has torn apart much of the structure, but there’s still recognizable components left such as the table map that Hudson uses to figure out the path for Bishop to reach a point where he can call in the second drop ship.

Aliens: Colonial Marines is built to be a fast-paced action game where, on the first play-through, the aliens will pop up from the floor, through the ceiling, or through wall panels to scare the crap out of players and grab unsuspecting CPU-controlled squad mates and drag them to their doom. The aliens are plentiful and scamper through areas with the ability to not only run on walls but on ceilings as well. In the demo’s main confrontation, aliens were climbing all over the ceiling like cockroaches while the Marines, one of which driving a yellow power loader, scrambled to fend them off.

The real draw to Aliens: Colonial Marines are the aural and visual ties to the Aliens film. The pulse rifles sound exactly like pulse rifles. The drone sentry guns, as seen in the director’s cut of the film, can be carried and set up in any position. In the demo, a pair of sentry guns were set up in a hallway and quickly overrun by a swarm of attacking aliens. My personal favorite, the motion tracker, is alive and well with the familiar high-pitched blips as signals “that aren’t us” are picked up. Though the power loader was not accessible by a human player during the demo, odds are favorable it will be at some point during the game.

Gearbox promises Aliens: Colonial Marines will take you not only to Hadley’s Hope, but also the Sulaco and derelict ship where the Alien saga began. With Ridley Scott’s involvement, we may see some of the back story from Scott’s Alien prequel that was scrapped in favor of going a new direction in Promethesus that stars Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class), Idris Elba (Thor), Noomi Rapace (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) and Charlize Theron. That film arrives in theaters in June 2012, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Sega slotted Aliens: Colonial Marines in the same month. But for now the only release date confirmation for Aliens: Colonial Marines is sometime in 2012.

Unfortunately the Aliens: Colonial Marines demonstration was for “our eyes only” and it was strictly a “watch and leave” affair. Questions were not fielded and no mention was made of the confirmed future Nintendo Wii U version that was confirmed during Nintendo’s E3 2011 press conference. According to Kotaku, Gearbox is planning to use the Wii U touch-screen controller as a motion tracker that will allow you to physically spin around and pick up on the movement of Xenomorphs. Another proposed use is as the aforementioned Hadley’s Hope command center table map.

In addition to Wii U, Aliens: Colonial Marines is coming to Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and the PC. Based on the 15 minutes or so of gameplay I enjoyed, Randy Pitchford and the team at Gearbox are headed in the right direction to deliver the Aliens-based game we’ve all been extremely patient in waiting for.

– Dan Bradley

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