NYCC 2012 – Hands On With Aliens: Colonial Marines
We got an extended preview of single player and hands on with two multiplayer modes for the upcoming Gearbox game, Aliens: Colonial Marines during a closed door session at New York Comic Con the other night. Gearbox President and CEO, Randy Pitchford gave us some background on the game and how it all came about.
The team are all huge fans of the movies and they’re incredibly excited to be doing an in canon sequel to the films. The idea is to make you feel like one of the Marines in the movies but have the experience of the characters be all new. The original film was roughly a three month shoot with a fifteen million dollar budget and they’ve already spent three times that on the game.
At the preview were Design Director John Mulkey who worked on the stealth-fps game No One Lives Forever and the original F.E.A.R.. along with Chief Creative Champion, Mikey Neumann who wrote Brothers in Arms, rewrote Borderlands from Pitchford’s original script, and has now written Aliens: Colonial Marines.
Also on hand were Gearbox co-founder and Chief Creative Officer Brian Martel and the venerable Lance Henriksen who played Bishop and Weyland in the Alien franchise. Martel had a meeting with Ridley Scott at the start of the project to discuss the overall franchise and where their story could fit in. Apparently as the meeting progressed and Scott got deeper into the old storyboards and notes for Alien he became more and more animated and excited about the project. Maybe not coincidentally, Prometheus was announced shortly after that initial meeting.
Set after Alien 3, a battalion sized force of Marines is sent to LV-426 to find out what happened to the last expedition. If you remember the part in Aliens where Ripley asks how long after they’re declared overdue before a rescue and she’s told seventeen days. That’s the opening the team at Gearbox used to build the story and keep it as part of the canon. We saw a real attention to detail when it came to the events of the movies and how everything would fit which will come up again later.
At the end of Aliens, the colony reactors blew wreaking havoc in a roughly thirty kilometer radius but of course, the derelict ship with thousands of eggs was about a thousand kilometers away from there, leaving the door open to plenty of chaos and carnage in the game. As Pitchford said, with a battalion sized force of about four hundred soldiers arriving on the Sephora, sister ship to the Sulaco, expect “plenty of red shirts”.
The full campaign runs roughly eight to ten hours and can be played solo or co-op with up to four players online or split screen much like Borderlands. During the single player portion, we saw a group of Marines on the Sulaco. You’ll board the ship early in the game and reach the bridge, which was not seen in the films. In the section we saw, the ship was rapidly falling apart with fire, doors being blown out, hull breaches and more. You’ve stumbled on to the Weyland-Yutani corporation’s plans and their soldiers, seen at the end of Alien 3, are busy sabotaging the ship and trying to kill you. Oh, and by the way, Aliens are loose aboard the ship as well.
On screen, you’ll see a minimalistic HUD with grenades, ammo, health and armor. An all new engine was built specifically for this game and it’s already looking great at this early stage of development. They just hit Beta and they’re currently cleaning things up and ironing out bugs. The lighting is all done in real time and it looks fantastic, with steam and smoke, electrical effects and fire all playing a part in how you move through levels.
The Aliens are already looking quite detailed along with their attacks. You’ll have to melee them back if they get to close to you, otherwise the spray of their acidic blood will strip away your armor, then your health and you won’t last long. We also saw some new Xenotypes, including one with a much larger head that can charge like a bull, take much more damage and quickly tear you apart.
The other section we saw took place down on LV-426 and was much slower and suspense filled. You’ll see the aftermath of the explosion with a massive mushroom cloud in the distance. The engine renders outdoor landscapes particularly well with lightning and water effects. You’ll come across the APC that Ripley drove out and eventually had to abandon and then find that Hadley’s Hope was not completely destroyed in the explosion.
Another synthetic Bishop is, of course, along for the ride and as you explore what’s left of the Hadley’s Hope, you’ll find collectible audio logs and dog tags. Your teams reaches what’s left of the Operations Center from the film and you’re sent out to place motion sensors around the perimeter. The suspense and exploration come to the forefront as you move from room to room, well aware of what took place here while the marines you’re controlling are not. You’ll see face huggers in jars, the room where Ripley and Newt were sleeping when Burke locked them in. The mark on the wall where the face hugger was pulled from Ripley and blown away is still there, in the correct place. The sentry guns in the hallway with all their expended ammo are in place and one of your Marines comments that it looks like “someone put up a helluva a last stand here”. The attention to detail is exciting for a fan of the movies and you can really see that this is a labor of love for the guys at Gearbox.
The sensors will start to go offline and Aliens will begin to swarm you in some intense action that mirrors the firefights in Aliens. You’ll also have challenges available such as “Kill 15 Xenomorphs With Your Sidearm” or “Kill Ten Face Huggers” which add XP for upgrades and such that carry over between the single player and multiplayer portions of the game.
From what we saw of the single player campaign, Gearbox really knows what they’re doing and they’re going to great lengths to ensure accuracy when it comes to environments and the events of the films the preceded the game.
For the multiplayer, we got to play a Team Death Match, with Marines versus Aliens and Escape Mode. We also learned that a number of the actors from Aliens provided voices for the multiplayer with the notable exception of Bill Paxton. On a side note, I ran into one of the developers the next day and he told me that Paxton, who was there for a panel on Saturday, came by the booth and got into the exosuit cargo-loader replica for a picture.
In Team Death Match, the key to survival for the Marines is sticking together. Since the Alien’s only weapons are themselves, they need to rely on the element of surprise and the ability to pick off players that end up on their own. They can climb walls and ceilings which is key because as I watched both sides before playing, I noticed that nobody on the Marine side ever looked up, they just didn’t expect any attacks to come from that direction. I suspect that this will change very quickly as people get their feet wet in multiplayer matches.
The other advantage the Alien side has is a sort of real time 3D radar like in the new Batman games. They can essentially see the Marines through the walls allowing them to plot how best to attack them. It’s this critical balancing that made the matches so much fun. Marines can pick apart Aliens at a distance so finding a way to surprise them is critical, whether it’s dropping from the ceiling, hiding in a vent until they walk by or just coming up behind them. We also saw that one player on the Alien side would randomly spawn as the Bull type Alien with the ability to take a ton of damage and plow into a group of Marines. This helps the Alien side separate tightly packed groups making them easier to attack.
Escape Mode is also Aliens versus Marines but this time, a number of objectives need to be completed within an allotted time to escape the map. You’ll need to keep your Marines together as you move from spot to spot, opening doors and such. The cool thing about this mode is that when your soldiers go down, they’re still able to function in a sort of last stand effort. Laying on the ground firing at any attacking Aliens while their health slowly drains. Someone in the squad will need to save them before they die because once that happens, they’re out for the match while everyone on the Alien side keeps respawning.
Both modes played great despite the minor technical hiccups we encountered along the way. The multiplayer was actually completed before the story and they’ve been spending the majority of their time on balancing everything and it shows. The attention to detail in the single player campaign and the hard work that’s going into the multiplayer has me really looking forward to the full game when it releases next February 12th.