Embrace the IP
Aliens: Colonial Marines is an important game for the future of Gearbox Software. Coming from the studio behind the blockbuster hit Borderlands 2, it has a lot to live up to. Yet Gearbox’s precedent of excellent releases was marred by the 2011 release of Duke Nukem Forever, the inauspicious amalgamation of outdated ideas and eyeroll-worthy crass. In two years, we have a juxtaposition of excellence and inferiority, and such a pairing is enough to root seeds of worry in the player’s minds. Gearbox are no fools. They know how important Aliens is for their legacy and, in the current climate of big releases and bigger layoffs, their ability to develop titles of AAA scale and longevity. So they have gone all out and embraced the IP with all their combined talent and focus. The result is a game true to its origin and authentic in atmosphere. But a game is more than just its setting. The question is, in a market literally overflowing with space marines, does Colonial Marines offer enough to stand out from the masses of would-bes and hopefuls? Packing an in-depth campaign and full-featured multiplayer modes, it damn well intends to try.
Brings back memories
Aliens: Colonial Marines takes place 17 weeks after the close of the third film and can be considered somewhat of a sequel. Gearbox has worked closely with the original team, including Ridley Scott, for the narrative to be considered canon. The opening sequences see the player, one Christopher Winter, and his team of U.S. Colonial Space Marines investigating the re-appearance of the Sulaco – the ship from the original Alien – over the Xenomorph-ridden planet LV-426. Events unfold and the team plummets to a crash landing just outside of Hadley’s Hope, a former human colony.
Gearbox’s attention to detail is impressive as any fan of the original trilogy will quickly see. These players will likely be treated more than newcomers to the franchise, it seems, as exploring the ruined medical bay and command center of Hadley’s Hope immediately brings back memories of the events of the film. Bullet holes in the walls, scorch marks of explosions, and the quiet mentions from your comrades all remind you of those who came before. There is also an eerie quality to being there, not unlike a child afraid to leave his bed for the hand waiting to grab his ankle.
Visuals and audio
This is all aided by a wonderful visual and auditory aesthetic. All of the details described here and seen in other preview events would not be possible without a strong graphics engine and Gearbox delivers. Much of the game is locked into tight corridors and enclosed settings which makes them easier to render with great intricacy. With the help of Syd Mead, the man responsible for the blue-black grit of the films, Colonial Marines is a flashlight lit paradise for terror. James Horner’s theatrical score also features prominently and is used to good effect. Voice acting and a strong blend of active and passive story delivery also help draw you into the experience. At times it feels as if you have made the jump into the movie, into this -place-, which is a feat no other Aliens game has been able to accomplish.
Lance Henrikson also makes a return as Bishop. He is a welcome addition but try to act surprised when you meet him. Also, keep an eye out for his legs. You will probably come across them at some point.