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E3 2011 first look: Aliens Colonial Marines

The guys at Gearbox Software have made a business out of finishing games for other studios, working on several big series like Half-Life and Brothers in Arms. They also deserve credit for actually finishing Duke Nukem Forever. Duke will hit shelves shortly (July 10), but in the meantime, Gearbox is showing off Aliens: Colonial Marines, another game that’s been in development for many years. We visited the Sega booth to check out the game, which was live demoed by the dev team, but not available to play on the show floor.

This is Gearbox’s attempt to bring Ridley Scott and James Cameron’s epic Aliens franchise to life as a first-person shooter. The game takes place after the events of Alien 3 as a search and rescue team of Colonial Marines attempt to search through the U.S.S. Sulaco to find Ellen Ripley, Corporal Dwayne Hicks, and everyone else who’s gone missing. The story may sound routine, but it’s good fodder for a lot of nasty alien encounters and two Battlestar Galactica scribes, Bradley Thompson and David Weddle, have signed on to pen the script.

The section of the game we saw took place on a planet (I think LV-426) where the team inspects the remnants of a base and then gets assaulted by a whole bunch of aliens eventually ending in encounters with a tricerotops-like alien and a queen. Unfortunately, my first impressions are rather mixed. At times, the action was truly frantic and creepy, but never did I get the sense of dread and suspense that accompanied the best of the Alien movies. Still, I am hopeful.

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My issue is with the intensity of its cutscenes and alien encounters. The level begins with the marines exploring the surface and seeing blips on the radar coming closer, but when we actually see the aliens begin to appear and do things like grab a marine and pull him through a vent, it happens too slowly and without impact. The marines themselves seem to lack the dread needed. They say things, but their facial animation is not up to par with some games coming out, though, to be fair, few game studios have facial animation down. This, combined with a general lack of enthusiasm from the game made me wonder exactly what makes the Aliens franchise so interesting. When you are mowing down 20 or 30 aliens at a time, are they really that scary?

Conversely, some of the rain and outdoor effects were nice and once we got toward the end of the demo aliens began crawling up the ceilings and walls from crevices I didn’t even realize were crevices. This was chilling and quite amazing to watch, especially with the high resolution and quite accurate design of the creatures. At one point, the power for the facility is cut and red emergency lights go on, which amped up the fear and suspense a bit as well

I should note that this was an early look at the game, which won’t be hitting shelves until Spring 2012 (Xbox, PS3, PC, and Wii U, said the developers in our closed door session). Hopefully the finished game will be less of a slaughter and more of an intelligent, suspenseful thriller. If you watch one of the decent Alien movies, about half of the time is spent building suspense and fear. Gearbox needs to find that fear.