Hadley’s Hope isn’t the most welcoming of places. Located on the barren, stormy surface of LV-426, it’s home to a colony of human terraformers attempting to bring life to an uninhabitable moon.
Well, it was the location of a human colony. Following the events of James Cameron’s classic action horror movie Aliens, Hadley’s Hope is now a ruined facility with no survivors.
Unaware of the site’s face-hugging, gut-ripping fate, a team of Colonial Marines has been dispatched to investigate Hadley’s Hope and rescue the crew of the USS Sulaco, the last marine ship to visit LV-426’s ravaged landscape.
Things don’t start well. Following a crash landing the marines find themselves a klick away from Hadley’s Hope, in the midst of an electrical storm, and with no way of getting home.
It’s pretty bad and they haven’t even met the locals yet.
That’s the set-up for Aliens: Colonial Marines and the opening for our recent hands-on demo of the game, in which we got a taster of about 20 minutes of the Gearbox shooter’s single-player. Here’s what we thought.
Aliens: Colonial Marines certainly makes a good first impression. The grey, looming skies of LV-246 look wonderfully dramatic, all broody monochrome sporadically lit with cracks of lightning. Hadley’s Hope looms in the distance.
The trek to the facility allows Gearbox to introduce the main players, including our protagonist Sgt. Winters, his marine squad mates, and Bishop - the same model of cyborg that came to such a messy end in Aliens. Brilliantly, it’s also played by the same actor, Lance Henrickson.
Once inside Hadley’s Hope it’s our job to trudge through the heavily damaged facility planting motion sensors in specific locations. This short section is almost completely without incident, marked only by a nagging sense of dread.
And then it all kicks off. One of the sensors goes down, we’re sent to investigate and before you know it Xenomorphs are attacking us from every angle, hurtling across the metal floors and skittering along the ceilings as we attempt to keep them at bay with our Pulse Rifles. They’re coming out the godamn walls!
H.R Giger’s creations still carry a fearsome fascination. Even after years of substandard sequels, the queasily sexual curves and folds of the Xenomorph still have the power to disturb. But then what would you expect of a creature conceived via oral rape?
There is a slight problem, however. While your first few sightings of the Xenomorph in Aliens: Colonial marines squeeze out a modicum of dread, pretty soon they’re just another thing to kill. There’s hundreds of them and an enemy can’t remain terrifying when they’re just disposable gun fodder.
So instead the mood is set by some great lighting and a few knowing winks to the events of the Aliens movie. You know that some horrible Fecal Leaking has gone down here, and possessing that knowledge while the game’s protagonists cluelessly stumble towards realisation is a powerful tool.
Indeed there are some brilliant little nods to the movie throughout, most noticeably in the audio. Thanks to Gearbox’s levels of access, things like the Pulse Rifle’s firing sound and the beeps of the motion sensor (which you can pop up at any time during the game) are actually the original audio files from the film. It’s wonderfully evocative.
The fan service runs deeper too. This is perhaps best exemplified by the discovery of two UA 571-C Sentry Guns stationed at the end of a corridor early in the game. One is completely out of ammo, while the other retains just a handful of rounds, a clear nod to one of the movie’s most tense scenes.
There’s evidence to suggest that level of fan service will be found throughout Aliens: Marines, as Gearbox displays a real love for the source material.
Unfortunately however, it’s not all good news. A later section of the opening has you picking up one of the Sentry Guns, placing it in a predetermined spot and seeing off wave after wave of attacking Xenomorphs.
Despite the presence of the iconic Smart Gun - that’s the one that straps onto your body and is mounted on an articulation arm - it’s just another FPS level where you’re blasting baddies until some arbitrary clock ticks down. It should be thrilling, but it’s just a grind.
What makes it worse is that combat is marked by XP unlock pop-ups alerting you to whatever new bit of customisation kit you’ve gained access to (XP is persistent across single-player and multiplayer). What should be an immersive experience is disturbed by obtrusive gamey guff.
And that’s our greatest worry about Aliens: Colonial Marines. It has the license and in many regards it uses it well. Getting to romp around familiar locations, blasting away with faithfully recreated weaponry is seductive, but beneath it all it’s just a fairly standard shooter.
There was little about the level or mission design that truly excited and the demo lacked any truly memorable sequences or set-pieces, something that games of this type live or die by. There weren’t any real frights either, not even the jump scares used to such good effect by Dead Space.
And judging by the endless hordes of Xenomorphs thrown at you during the game’s opening section, there’s a nagging feeling that even our smooth headed friends may lose their impact once the credits roll. Then it’s Game Over, man.
All the indications are that Aliens: Colonial Marines is set to be a solid if unremarkable shooter that makes occasionally great use of the license. We’re more than happy to play a game like that, but coming from a developer with the track record of Gearbox we could expect more.
Let’s just hope the rest of the game can deliver just that.
Aliens: Colonial Marines will be coming out of the walls on February 12th, 2013.
Source - X360A