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Aliens: Colonial Marines preview: Game not over, man


Gearbox's Aliens: Colonial Marines is trying to deliver the Aliens sequel you always wanted. The team at Gearbox considers Alien3 to be a sequel to the original, leaving the action-heavy Aliens without a proper narrative followup. In Colonial Marines, a group of, well ... colonial marines find themselves back on LV-426, ready to become the latest incubators of the xenomorph race.

The hands-off demo we saw started with our squad back on the planet and in the Hadley's Hope facility. "But wait, wasn't the complex destroyed in a nuclear blast at the end of Aliens?" you ask, quite astutely. Gearbox explained that a ground-based nuclear blast would leave a cone-shaped crater (that's why nuclear bombs are supposed to be detonated in mid-air), so it could have been possible for the sturdy complex and xenomorph hive to survive. Happy? No? Well, that's the premise, so get used to it.

Gallery: Aliens: Colonial Marines (E3 2011) | 4 Photos

The demo began with a new batch of the corp's finest -- who are still as clueless to the threat as the last -- making their way through the wrecked facility and into the operations rooms when the familiar pings from a motion tracker sound off. The blips get closer, the beeps get louder and, as you no doubt have already pieced together, the squad is attacked by a batch of xeno drones.

A shotgun makes short work of the aliens (no acid blood splatter damage?) before we're introduced to a new type of xenomorph, a bull-like critter named the "crusher." If we had to make a comparison, it's like a giant version of the dog xenomorph from Alien 3, with a shield-like head. It charges the group, crushing a marine against a rock and chasing us back inside, sliding under a closing bulkhead door. Inside, we meet up with another squad of marines, swap out weapons, before another wave of aliens arrives. What follows is a lot more running and screaming, and a finale in which a xeno queen wrecks shop on a marine piloting an exosuit. With that, the demo's over.

The attention to detail in the game is impressive. The development team had access to the film's production assets and it shows in the game's environments, many of which were modeled directly after the movie's sets. Like Gearbox's other games, Aliens: Colonial Marines uses custom renderers which, in this case, lend the Unreal Engine 3-powered experience the look of Aliens' original cinematography. A good example that fans of the movie will no doubt recognize: in one scene, the lights go off and the scene is illuminated by bursts of muzzle flash, and filled with an aura of chaos. Afterwards, the entire environment is flooded with red emergency light.

Gearbox told us there are other throwbacks for fans, like seeing Bishop's torn legs in the USS Sulaco hanger bay, checking out the vent where Vasquez martyred herself, and seeing Newt's doll head. But the game isn't all throwback; in order to deliver a compelling narrative of its own, Gearbox received some early help from Bradley Thompson and David Weddle of Battlestar Galactica fame to augment its in-house writing talent.

The game's campaign supports drop-in, drop-out co-op for up to four players and split-screen play for two. There will also be a competitive multiplayer mode, though Gearbox isn't ready to detail that yet. Instead of playing specific characters and classes in the game's campaign, players will design their own marines and pick up whatever weapons they want in the world, like the requisite pulse rifle and flame throwers. In Alien: Colonial Marines, it's the weapon that determines the player's role in the squad, instead of the game having specific classes.

If you're nervous about yet another Aliens game, Colonial Marines will likely benefit from focusing on one faction, instead of the geeky mix of Aliens vs. Predator. "If you focus on one area, you don't spread yourself thin," Gearbox Chief Creative Officer Brian Martel told us. "I think the first thing to figure out is not to mix your wasabi with your peanut butter and your chocolate and that will help."

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