PAX East 2012 — Aliens: Colonial Marines Preview

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To say that attendees at PAX East this past weekend were excited to see Aliens: Colonial Marines would be a massive understatement; booth staff estimated wait times at an insane three hours. Gearbox Software’s SEGA-published title had a lot to prove, is what I’m getting at here.

Time with Colonial Marines was split into two parts, starting with a live single-player demo played by one of the game’s developers. Any disappointment that the hands-off aspect caused was quickly canceled out by how fantastic the following 15 to 20 minutes would be.

The first point of note is that Aliens: Colonial Marines is officially a part of the Aliens movie canon, taking place shortly after the events of Aliens. As the demo was being played, a couple of fans were visibly and audibly excited by a couple of easter eggs and references that were placed around the surrounding areas.

The demo begins with the player taking control of Colonel Christopher White taking orders from one of his superiors to investigate trouble on the U.S.S. Sulaco, which they’re docked to via airlock. While your CO is barking orders at you, it’s hard to ignore just how good the facial animations are.

Once you’re through the airlock and on the ship the tension is palpable, with the environment doing a fabulous job of selling you a feeling of dread. Blood and bodies abound, as something very bad has very obviously happened here. After several minutes of slowly trudging through a couple of less-than-uplifting areas, things take a turn for the worse.

You enter a new room and see obvious signs of a xenomorph presence. Their trademark ooze and nests line the walls and ceilings, and plenty of unfortunate marines are trapped within. As you begin to cut down one of the live soldiers, a xeno type known as a stalker climbs down the wall to claim his prize. You react just quickly enough to spare the terrified grunt a gruesome death, but now there’s a xeno loose somewhere.

Now it’s time to break out a motion tracker, which helps you figure out just where the slimy bastard is hiding. The first couple of times that you see the red blip on the device, the xenomorph scurries behind something before you can catch him; these things are fast. Eventually it lunges out of the darkness to tackle you, and you’re barely able to fight him off and shoot him in the face. “Lucky shot,” says the demoer, who returns to the soldier and finishes cutting him down.

Soon enough, you and your newly-rescued buddy make it back to a large room, one that you passed soon after exiting the airlock at the beginning of the demo. This time around, the room is literally crawling with xenos, and a huge fight for your lives breaks out. You take control of a “smart gun,” which is a turret that automatically locks onto any enemies in your field of vision as you hold down the trigger. It sounds like it would make the situation too easy, but there are so many xenos moving so quickly that staying alive remains difficult.