Attention to detail is a vital thing in creating a convincing game world. It sticks out like a sore thumb when you’re exploring a world and really feel like you’ve received every possible piece of information available and that there’s nothing more to gain. Take The Elder Scrolls, for example. So rich in lore than no matter how big a fan you are, you know very well there’s more you could learn or know about the universe, past and present.
Shooters have a tendency to ignore this kind of depth. Aliens: Colonial Marines, on the other hand, begs to differ.
This is a game being crafted by fans of the movie, and every minute detail tells you so. It’s those moments when you hear a slightly anachronistic piece of jargon delivered naturalistically, when the model number of a heavy lifter is actually correct, when the cinematography looks eerily familiar and the opening shot is a perfect homage to the Aliens movie of old – I could go on and litter this page with countless examples of just how much care and dedication has gone into this game. It feels very loved.
When you get your hands on Colonial Marines, you’ll be subject to the same moments of heart-pounding action and intense terror.
Mild spoiler warning – when the troops are under siege in Aliens, Hudson overhears that they’ll have evac coming in about 17 weeks. “17 weeks?!?” he yells. “We’re not gonna last 17 hours!”
I’ll stop short of telling you how the movie ends (but suffice to say, you really should watch it before playing this game), but the game picks up as a direct sequel – exactly 17 weeks after the time when that call was made.
I’ve no idea how this game would feel for someone who hadn’t seen the movie, but I’d guess the fun would be just as high even if many references weren’t received properly. But for those who have, get ready to see the rest of the colony from the Aliens movie, ripped directly from the pages of notes of the chap who created the world (there was a lot he’d created for the movie which fell to the cutting room floor) as it comes to life for the first time in this game.
One of the fundamental differences between Alien and Aliens was that in the original, a few deep space blue collar workers were stunned by the presence of one of these acid-for-saliva-having travesties and it cost them most of their crew to destroy it – the second film, however, was gung-ho marines armed to the teeth taking them down in droves.
Ideal fodder for a videogame.
So it is that when you get your hands on Colonial Marines, you’ll be subject to the same moments of heart-pounding action and intense terror. A complaint which is fiendishly easy to level at contemporary shooters (military in particular), is that they’re becoming very one-note. Far too many are so deathly afraid of the player being bored that you’re inundated with action to the point that it all loses its impact.
No such fears plague Gearbox Software, who are quite happy to let you languish in spaces of silence, giving you just enough freedom to pull out the iconic handheld motion sensor that you feel like your imminent death isn’t being handled by a rollercoaster, but by your own weakness or courage. No beats are missed – within minutes you’re terrified, sensor in hand spinning around wildly trying to figure out which direction the harrowing pings are coming from. Moments later – you’re reliving the best moments of Doom 3, shotgun in hand or using the amazing slight auto-aim on Vasquez’s minigun to mow down entire corridors of the monsters at a time.
There are some areas where the game doesn’t feel terribly solid, in the rather literal sense of the term. In multiplayer at E3 in June, in particular, there’s still a kind of jerkiness of movement, and in single it’s not uncommon to see characters walk through one another. It’s a jarring moment or two perhaps, but in an otherwise expertly executed experience. For every small down, there’s a big up. In multiplayer, the teamplay is phenomenal, with aliens vs humans and the idea of working as a team playing perhaps a bigger part in achieving success than in any other multiplayer game which has come this year. In single player, the erroneous flickers of unreality here and there are offset by the presence of Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen.
There are certainly some moments which are ripped from the playbook of now stock standard horror shooters (passing through an environment with tension dripping from its eerie silence only to return through it in reverse moments later for an action sequence), but at no point do you feel confident in knowing what’s going to happen next.
It may not revolutionise much, but it’s a breath of fresh air in the shooter crowd regardless. In many a shooter these days I’m yawning at the prospect of getting to x to repair y, but the Aliens universe is so alive that you never pause to give any generic objectives a moment’s thought. Add to this the blessed removal of a constant arrow on screen telling you where to go next (the scourge of many an already terribly linear shooter these days), and there’s little to stop you getting incredibly immersed.
By Leigh Harris