Aliens: Colonial Marines New York Comic-Con 2012 Preview -- Xenomorphobia on the RiseBy Adam Rosenberg - Posted Oct 15, 2012
I'm worried about you, Aliens: Colonial Marines. You looked so promising in your 2008 debut, but then you disappeared. You're hitting a lot of the right check boxes, especially for a Gearbox Software game. Four-player, drop-in/drop-out co-op is always welcome. Marines vs. Xenos multiplayer is similarly welcome. You have a canon-certified story that amounts to an Alien/Aliens/Alien 3 sequel and you have a cast that includes Bishop himself, Lance Henriksen.
By all accounts, you're doing it right. So why am I worried?
Sega staged a hands-on preview event for Aliens: Colonial Marines during the New York Comic-Con 2012 festivities this month. The event was originally announced as a first-time hands-on with the campaign portion of the game, though that plan changed to an eyes-on story demo and multiplayer hands-on less than 24 hours before the event was set to happen. For a game that is coming out in February 2013, just about four months from now, that wasn't an encouraging development.
That said, it's not all bad news. The campaign demo amounted to roughly an hour of gameplay pulled from an early-ish section of the story. The gathered media watched as a Gearbox rep guided Winter (voiced by Friday Night Lights' Derek Phillips) through the Sulaco as it followed a crash course down to the surface of LV-426. We learned here that Xenos aren't the only threat you'll face; gun-toting, Weyland-Yutani-funded black ops soldiers will stand in your way as well, and they seem to have something to do with the crashing Sulaco.
The other chunk of gameplay picked up a short time after the crash, with Winter and his squad heading to the abandoned ruins of Hadley's Hope. The Sulaco sequence felt decidedly shooter-y, what with the human resistance, but the planetside portion of the demo was pure Aliens.
The demo started out with Winter's squad approaching the settlement from the surface, the flame-dotted ruins appearing against the backdrop of a nighttime lightning storm. There are no outward signs of life, and a closer look at the facility reveals it to be a ghost town. Winter and a squadmate are sent off to install motion trackers throughout the facility, a task that unfolds without incident until, not surprisingly, one of the previously placed sensors goes dead. The one in the morgue. You can probably see where this is going.
The Xenos descend shortly after Winter arrives to investigate, and a corridor crawl ensues as the alien aggressors attack from all sides. They skitter along the ceilings, appear suddenly out of vents, and generally leap around staging quick hit and run attacks. They fall quickly beneath Winter's hail of bullets, though the spray of their acidic blood causes damage whenever you score a close-range kill.
The demo was played on what was no doubt a powerful gaming PC, but Colonial Marines is looking visually solid. The "deferred lighting" that keeps coming up in previews and interviews is immediately noticeable. The environments are littered with light sources, and they all cast convincing pools of light and shadow around you.
Seeing the campaign unfold eased my anxieties somewhat. Sure, the last-minute switch away from hands-on with the story is alarming, but the pacing of what we were shown wasn't really action-packed enough to paint a full picture of what to expect. That was my read, at any rate. Unfortunately, the hands-on time with the multiplayer that followed didn't fill me with a ton of confidence.
I've actually played the Aliens: Colonial Marines multiplayer twice, at an April 2012 event and at E3 in June. Both sessions restricted media to the Marines, with Gearbox reps handling the Xeno squad. The NYCC event offered a first hands-on crack at the Xenos, and it's clear that it's going to take a lot of work before this is polished.
Multiplayer on the Xeno side is great fun when it works. The aliens can run along walls and ceilings, see their human prey through walls as outlines, and slip into air ducts to move around the maps quickly and quietly. Soldier and Lurker classes ostensibly offered more combat- and stealth-oriented roles, respectively, though both felt fairly similar in play. There's also the ever-present drip-feed of experience that you earn for kills, hinting at a deeper experience to come.
All of this is great, but the game in its current form frequently doesn't work. More than once, I found that my Xenos weren't responding to controller inputs. On one occasion, I evolved into the powerful Crusher form--how you'll do that in the final game isn't clear--only to immediately find myself clipped and stuck inside a nearby wall, unable to move.
Trying out the game's objective-driven No Escape mode brought similar results. Here, a squad of four Marines work through a series of objectives as they face off against waves of human-controlled alien attackers. It's not unlike Left 4 Dead's Versus mode. Unfortunately, game-killing bugs plagued this mode as well. Attendees were only permitted to play as the Colonial Marines in No Escape mode, but that same strange clipping issue emerged again after I was revived from a downed state.
I should have left the preview event raring to see more Aliens: Colonial Marines, but I didn't. I'm worried. There's a talented team at Gearbox Software, and it's clear that they're passionate about delivering a fun, canon-extending game within the Alien universe. That said, they have four months to polish off a game that looks great but feels woefully unfinished. Can it be done? I'll be rooting for them every step of the way, but I've yet to be convinced.