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Aliens: Colonial Marines multiplayer, or 'How Gearbox played as Xenomorphs and dissected its guests'


At a recent preview event for Aliens: Colonial Marines, developer Gearbox didn't let us play through the single-player portion of its upcoming shooter, but gave us a shot at commanding our own marine in multiplayer. Playing Team Deathmatch, journalists took the reigns as marines, while a group of Gearbox employees faced off against as us the frightening Xenomorphs.

If you're familiar with team deathmatch from other shooters, Aliens: Colonial Marines will do little to surprise you. The multiplayer is asymmetrical, meaning the two sides of the conflict are pretty different in terms of abilities and play styles. While we didn't get to play as the aliens, we did get to watch them be played, which showed us that there is a least a little here that makes this different from your everyday red vs. blue combat situation.

Gallery: Aliens: Colonial Marines (4/4/12) | 5 Photos

The Colonial Marines play very much like humans in any other class-based shooter. You get a choice of weapon loadouts every time you spawn, with weapons like shotguns, pistols, and grenades. A key difference, though, is that you never really feel invincible. If a Xenomorph gets close to you, you will go down very fast. That's the power struggle between the two races: Humans want to use guns to keep the alien players far away from them. Xenomorph players want to get in close as quickly as possible because if they do, the human is as good as dead. We found the shotgun to be particularly useful at dispatching enemies, but using it risked allowing aliens to get dangerously close. Tapping the left bumper to bring up your motion scanner as a human can also be an important key to victory, but it comes at the cost of not having your weapon ready.

Staying with the other humans on your team is essential. In addition to being faster, more agile, and able to traverse the map in different ways (such as on ceilings and through vents), Xenomorphs can see through walls. A good team of them will spot a solitary human soldier and swarm him immediately. When that happens, the human doesn't stand a chance. At least one alien has the ability to latch onto an opponent and kill him in seconds. The player who is attacked has no way of defending himself when this happens -- his survival rests entirely in the hands of his allies, who have precious few moments to shoot the attacking enemy off before their friend dies.

We didn't get to see a lot in terms of extra abilities or special weapons, but we did see one power-up example from both sides. Near the center of the map we were playing sat a collectable item for both the humans and the aliens. For the aliens, the item allowed the player who picked it up to "evolve" into a much larger and more powerful beast, which was capable of plowing through humans and took a lot of firepower to take down. For the humans, the bonus item was the smart gun: a weapon that can lock onto targets in view and auto-aim at them in a mini-gun- like fashion, allowing its user to mow down enemies quickly. We were told that the functionality and/or availability of these power-ups may be different in the final game, but they should show up in some form.

As has come to be expected in competitive first-person shooters, performing actions (kills, assists, rescues, etc.) will earn you points that go toward unlocking new weapons and abilities. For example, after every match we played we earned enough points to unlock a flamethrower weapon. Unfortunately, stats were reset at the start of each game, so we never got the chance to see it in action.

One interesting feature, though not entirely unique, is that progression in multiplayer will affect progression in single-player and vice-versa. So you might unlock weapons in multiplayer that you can bring into the campaign, which could change that experience. "It's one of those things where, when you invest a lot into a game, you want to make sure your investment carries over, so we want to make sure you can replay the game a lot," Brian Burleson, Aliens: Colonial Marines senior producer, told us. "We made it so if you buy a new attachment for your gun or new grenade or whatever the new elements are, you can use them in either single-player or multiplayer, and that changes the game."

Gallery: Aliens: Colonial Marines (Concept Art) | 6 Photos

Some would worry that combining the progression that way could negatively affect certain aspects of the gameplay. "You have to make sure that if you get something in single player it doesn't unbalance multiplayer, so balance is really key for us to make sure it's perfect," Burleson said. "Definitely you get a sense of power, because you're progressing. Going back to the game and feeling weak isn't really what player progression is about, so we actually want to make players feel more powerful, not just in the sense that their numbers just got bigger, but also that the stuff they got made their play experience different. So if you got a certain type of gun you can go back and play differently, which is kind of neat."

Burleson said that some of the other multiplayer modes would be objective-based, and teased that some might even have a narrative component. That could potentially be far more interesting than this relatively standard offering of team deathmatch that we got to try. What we played was certainly fun, but -- apart from the movie-based setting -- there is little to differentiate Aliens: Colonial Marines from the vast sea of other FPS games on the market. It was a decent taste, but we walked away with questions of how the Xenomorphs will feel and what additional modes are available.

Aliens: Colonial Marines is expected to launch this fall.

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