PAX East 2012

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  • Aliens: Colonial Marines Preview

    7 April 2012 | Written by Maxxum

    The first time I saw "Aliens: Colonial Marines" was at E3:2011. and, by "saw" I mean I could see the sign for the booth, and that's it. There was an hours long line of people waiting for a glimpse of Gearbox's rendition of a game series with a list of titles spanning 30 years, the first being "Alien" for the Atari 2600 in 1982, which was more of a theme on Pac-Man than anything to do with the plot from the movie. So, I was relieved to see the same booth at PAX East; it even had the same horde of people waiting in ridiculously long lines. After twice returning several hours apart, I got in at the very tail-end of the last viewing of the day.

    Randy Pitchford, CEO of Gearbox, walked the group through the premise behind the game, and billed it as a sequel to the movie "Aliens." My eyebrow was raised by that comment, but he qualifies the statement by explaining that the game director, Brian Martel met with "Alien" director, Ridley Scott and Syd Mead (who designed the U.S.S. Sulaco in "Aliens") to discuss his ideas for the game. The effort is an impressive demonstration of Martel's dedication to the plot of the movies, but unfortunately I cannot say truly if it shows - the game is "almost ready for alpha" according to Pitchford, and what we were to see was only a small portion of what to expect.

    The demonstration was played live as the group watched a colonial marine being briefed prior to boarding a derelict U.S.S. Sulaco. During the briefing, Pitchford's earlier advisement held true in that the mouth-work of the marine sergeant wasn't synched, and tell-tale signs of seams in the textures around the teeth and lips were visible. Furthermore, it was clear that fine detailing wasn't fully present in the walls, objects or uniforms.

    The game progresses and our marine (now aboard the Sulaco) prepares to rescue a trapped comrade when he is suddenly attacked by an alien. Rather than spraying the area with bullets to quickly kill the alien, the developer at the controls leisurely fights the alien so we can more easily see how combat occurs within the game. As I watch our marine chase the alien through hallways, I can see that the textures are now more developed, and subtle nuances of damaged metal, rust and smoke are evident (in contrast to the previous briefing scene) - I get so distracted with the environment that I lose track of the alien who is now using its surroundings as camouflage, a subtle reference to the behavior of the aliens in the movies. Combat is accidentally cut-short when the developer lands an unexpectedly lucky shot.

    If I weren't already a fan of the movies, I might have been bored as there wasn't anything exciting happening on screen, and if the game is only almost in alpha, why are we watching this now? I had already started to lose interest as our marines begin their return to the Sulaco's internal dock... and, that's when the demo drops the hammer. Aliens from all directions begin attacking in true movie form - aliens on ceilings, aliens on walls... it was the panic scene from "Aliens" when the marines realized that they were in over their heads - everything one would want in a game about the series.

    Our marines arrive at the Sulaco dock, only to receive more bad news as the ship's alarms start to sound - a group of aliens are inbound. If ever there was a reason to play the game, the resulting combat scene was it. Our developer equips one of the large, harnessed smart guns seen in the movies and we watch as groups of aliens storm the dock, only to be mowed down in another scene reminiscent of the movies - I suspect that the developers knew fans of the series would want to play those scenes, and even anyone who has never seen the first two movies in the series would still be excited as the game developers chose to leverage the best parts of the movies in combination with modern systems capable of creating a believable environment... and this was just the first 15 minutes. I'm excited to see how the game progresses, and am looking forward to their booth at E3:2012 in two months.

    End of line.

    Journalist Comments:

    The actors from the Aliens: Colonial Marines booth obliged with me with some of their time at closing, and we made a little video. Those of you who attended PAX will understand:

    Video by Maxxum