by Ingvi Snædal
previewed on X360
When reminiscing about the good old days of LAN meets, the ones where you’d have to haul your 17” tube monitor which weighed about 20kgs along with your tower and peripherals into a room smelling of socks and balls, Alien vs. Predator 2 always comes to mind. It remains one of the greatest multiplayer experiences a gamer can have and is a poster-child for the perfect mix of suspense and action in a multiplayer game. I played it religiously back in the day before broadband internet meant we could play each other pretty smoothly without ever pulling a plug. That is, until I got utterly humiliated by a girl and swore the game off forever.
In light of this, however, it is understandable that I was pretty excited about Sega’s reawakening of this dormant franchise in 2010, when they published Alien vs. Predator. The game was not the smash hit I had hoped for. Plagued with over-complicated controls and stupefying design issues, it failed completely at its attempt to reach the heights its predecessor did. This time around, however, Sega have passed the ball onto Gearbox Software, the development studio behind Brothers in Arms and Borderlands, in the hopes of making their next Alien title, Aliens: Colonial Marines, a smash hit.
For those of you hoping for anything along the lines of Alien vs. Predator, you will be disappointed. Alien vs. Predator’s signature feature was the inclusion of three separate stories to play through, one for each species. This time around, however, Sega are focusing only on the Colonial Marines and considering what kind of game they are making, that may be an excellent decision. Aliens: Colonial Marines is a squad-based first-person shooter in which the player must control a squad of marines through multiple locations familiar to Alien fans, such as the USS Sulaco, the surface of LV-426, and Hadley’s Hope. Gearbox’s squad-based World War II shooter franchise, Brothers in Arms, contains some of the genre’s most celebrated titles and one can safely assume that Gearbox will be bringing their expertise in the field to Colonial Marines. How well it will be incorporated into a predominantly horror/suspense franchise, however, remains to be seen.
Aliens: Colonial Marines takes place after the events of Aliens, the second film in the Alien franchise. What made that film particularly memorable to me was the fact that, while it played heavily on the survival and personal fears of the main characters, in the background oodles of nameless marines were being slaughtered like sheep, hammering home the danger the Xenomorphs posed and the brutality of their nature. Conveying that same emotion in a videogame centred around those lunches-on-legs, without descending into a feeling of hopelessness, may prove a difficult task, but with Gearbox’s experience with portraying the very depths of human emotions, dread should be an easy task.
If Borderlands taught me anything, it is that Gearbox really know what they’re doing when it comes to cooperative multiplayer. Colonial Marines will feature two player split-screen as well as four player drop-in/drop-out online co-op. With an action packed game featuring hoards of Xenomorphs rushing at you from every direction, you’ll likely need as much help as you can get, and AI team mates in no way match up to real players by your side. Although competitive multiplayer has been unofficially rumoured, it’s hard to imagine how it would fit in with the plot being a story of survival by a handful of soldiers against an overwhelming enemy. Marines vs. Xenomorphs would be a blast, but Marines vs. Marines simply wouldn’t fit. It’d probably feel like just another tacked on multiplayer mode added to a game that didn’t really warrant one. Most of the information available is centred around the console versions of the game so there’s no telling how the multiplayer features will play out in the PC version.
The development team has taken a few liberties when it comes to the original design of the Xenomorphs and the futuristic weaponry of the Colonial Marines. Keeping to the basic frames of the original film’s weapons, they have added rails to most of them which will presumably allow the player to add customisations such as scopes, lights, laser sights, and such to their weapon. The introduction of new Xenomorph types also plays a big role in the game’s setting as it allows for a multitude of varying challenges to be presented to the team. Very little information has been made public about these additions, however, so nothing can be said about whether or not these weapons may make the Marines overly powerful or weather the new Xenomorphs break the style of the original aliens.
The Alien vs. Predator games had no real connection to any of the Alien films, but Colonial Marines is a spiritual sequel to the events of the second film. This is a double edged blade as it will undoubtedly create a buzz for the game amongst the film’s avid fans, but those same fans will be scrutinising and analysing every aspect of the game’s design, setting, and story with the unrelenting prejudice of their fanboyism. The development team’s attention to detail may therefore play a bigger part in the game’s ultimate success than other elements, and considering how heavily Sega appears to be emphasising that in their marketing, it appears to be the part they are proudest of. We’ll just have to wait and see how well it stands up to scrutiny.