You're walking through the halls of a colonial outpost. It's obvious something bad has happened here. Sliding doors hang slightly askew, lights flicker ominously, and everywhere you see holes where something very nasty has eaten through the metal floor. And the floor below. And the floor below that.
You're a rookie in the Colonial Marines, sent to investigate a distress call by a group of colonists stationed on this far-off planet. You're scared, sure, but you've got teammates beside you to back you up. Working your way up multiple levels of deserted base, you end up at a makeshift barricade manned by another Marine. She's obviously as nervous as you are, but your motion sensor is reporting nothing but its reassuring neutral ping.
And then all hell breaks loose. You're tracking movement from multiple directions, but you don't see anything on the floor. Then you look up. Just in time for a Xenomorph -- an Alien -- to leap on your face.
This is just one part of Aliens vs. Predator, a game which includes three distinct storylines allowing players to step into the shoes of an Alien, a Predator, or a Colonial Marine. Sega is showing off the Colonial Marines segment in a private demo room, where we can fully experience the scaly sounds of Alien movement, the muted pop of a pulse rifle, and the terrifying ping of a hyperactive motion sensor in frightening surround sound.
The game looks -- and sounds -- like it's drawn directly from James Cameron's classic Aliens. And though the game takes place 30 years after the events of Alien 3, it's that classic second film that is its biggest influence. "Aliens is one of our key focuses," says producer Paul Mackman, "along with the original Predator. But we draw inspiration from everywhere. We take what's appropriate for the story we're trying to tell and the gameplay we're trying to create. It's important to us not to contradict anything, but we do add a lot to the franchises. We're all massive fans, massive nerds, so we know everything anyway."
A big part of re-creating that atmosphere is the careful use of lighting, and the game comes through with lighting effects that elicited surprised murmurs from our small group of journalists: A flare thrown under an open stairway throws convincing shadows on the wall above, for example, and the flashlight at the end of our host's rifle looks appropriately realistic. When, halfway through the demo, the lights in the station go out, the sense of claustrophobia is palpable, and only heightened by unidentifiable glimmers out in the distance.
But pretty graphics or no, this feels like a fairly straightforward first-person shooter. It's also, as I said, only a third of the game, and downstairs in their booth Sega is showing off the Predator segment. Though this is also in first-person, the gameplay is dramatically different, involving lots of stealth (using, of course, the Predator's trademark cloaking technology) and hand-to-hand combat. Here, you take on the role of a creature higher up the food chain than the Colonial Marines, with powers to match. He can leap ridiculous distances (with the help of an intuitive-looking target system), mimic human voices to help separate Marines moving in groups, and see in the infrared.
He can also tear the heads of his prey with his bare hands. And these trophy kills, complete with their attached spines, can be collected for health boosts and other power-ups.
As for the Aliens segment of the game? Sega's not ready to show that yet, nor are they ready to talk about multiplayer -- though they did confirm its existence, and that it would involve all three species competing simultaneously. We'll no doubt hear much more before the game is released in early 2010 for PC, 360, and PS3.