Thar be aliens here. The long gestating Aliens: Colonial Marines made an appearance this week at E3 and offered us a quick glimpse at what to expect from the online side of things. The competitive multiplayer pits well-armed marines against fast-moving aliens, in a style that is reminiscent of the Dead Space 2 multiplayer, but only to a degree. 

The mode features one side playing as human marines, while the other is made up of Aliens, and each side has its own pros and cons. The Aliens are quick moving enemies that can run on walls and traverse places that only they can go, plus their acidic blood can hurt the humans. The marines will feature a selection of weapons, which you will choose from a loadout at the beginning of each life. They will be offensive powerhouses, but relatively slow and weak compared to the other side.

During my demo, I was paired with a group of random players who would join me as marines, facing off against developers from Gearbox who took control of the Aliens. You could almost hear the proverbial crier shouting “dead men walking” as we sullenly grabbed our controllers and prepared to meet our fates.

But then something unexpected happened: we decided to work together.

Balance is a major issue with this game just by its very nature. You would expect the much faster and stronger aliens to have a clear advantage, and they do, at least one on one. If you are foolish enough to act like the guy in a horror flick who thinks splitting up to cover more ground is a good idea, then you will be slaughtered. The Aliens have a distinct advantage in the way they view the map, and they will always know where you are. The marines, by comparison, need to use the near-iconic motions sensors made famous in the James Cameron film.

As the developers from Gearbox began to pick us off one-by-one, their food source found a defensible area that featured a hallway. We packed ourselves in there and made a stand. Suddenly the terrifying aliens became cannon fodder, throwing themselves at our shotguns and assault rifles. The bodies began to pile up, and I personally hit a 10 kill streak, earning me a dangerous look from one of the developers—dangerous because they knew tricks we didn’t , and soon we were facing a giant, brute-like Alien called a crusher (which resembled a queen from the movies) that ran right through us.

We respawned and returned to our killing ground, and again let the bodies hit the floor. This time when the Big Daddy-like crusher came into view we unloaded grenades into it, and with one well-placed final shot from almost point blank as it charged me, I sent the beast back into the digital ether. We ended up winning the match by one kill.

Finishing 13-5, I have no illusions that what I did was anything but luck, and the interior design of the map favored me far more than the outdoor futuristic scrapyard that was also on rotation. But I’ll take what I can get, and the experience was a highlight of the day for me. 

The game moves well, and the action was intense and satisfying. Only the deathmatch was shown, but more modes are promised, and several other changes–like the number of players per game–are still being discussed.  There are still balance issues to work out, and the Aliens are more powerful and deadly than the marines. Even working as a team in a controlled area, we only managed to win the round by a single kill. It was also painfully obvious that the pump action shotgun, which could kill in one or two shots, was far and away the best marine weapon compared to the others. The game certainly has promise though.

The developers at Gearbox, whose Christmas list I may have worked my way off of, have plenty of time until the game hits PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 on February 12, 2013, and Wii U sometime in 2013.