This preview originally appeared in issue 242 of PC Gamer UK.
Videogame designers have spent a lifetime ripping off Aliens, but that doesn't mean that making a game using the original creature is easy. Gearbox's challenge in Colonial Marines is working out how to make swarms of identical xenomorphs interesting for the length of a game. They've found a couple of different ways, the best of which is pretty simple: make the xenomorphs human-controlled.
Colonial Marines' team-based multiplayer mode pits the aliens against marines in grey, smoky corridors familiar from the films or the game's singleplayer missions. There are plenty of boxes and vents, and aliens everywhere. It's a straightforward score-based challenge, but the marine's motion sensor alone makes it a little different. As the marine, you can change your loadout at the start of each life, picking between machineguns or shotguns – or slightly larger machineguns, or machineguns with grenade launchers slung underneath.
Using the motion sensor means putting those weapons away, but knowing the locations of those little red blips makes you feel both powerful and terrified.
“It's not a fair set-up, basically,” explains senior producer Brian Burleson. “You've got to be smart, you've got to use your tools well, and that adds a tension that isn't usually in games. It's brutal. When you watch multiplayer, with first-person shooters, you normally see people just running around and shooting stuff. Do that here and you'll die in under a second,” says Brian. He's wrong: it took about 20 seconds for a xenomorph to tear my face off. “So here the marines start pulling out motion trackers, organising who shoots and who tracks, and working together.”
My anonymous marine buddies and I don't communicate much, but we did learn pretty quickly to stay close to one another. We found choke points where we could stand back to back, and ledges where we could reach higher ground.
I never got the chance to play as one of the xenomorphs, but Brian explained the game's balancing act. “The Xenos are basically melee characters, so they have to be really strategic and wait and watch in the darkness, looking for anyone who has become separated. They don't have much health, so if they just run straight into a group of marines, they'll die pretty quickly too.”
The core of the game is still its singleplayer story – a direct sequel to James Cameron's Aliens. You'll venture back to the Sulaco, and revisit the settings of character deaths from that film. The core of the multiplayer is also still the drop-in, drop-out co-op mode that lets you play that same story with a friend. Which leaves the team-based multiplayer mode to play third fiddle, even if it's the only option if you want to play as an alien. And I do.