CJ Miozzi’s E3 hands-on with Aliens: Colonial Marines made a very important point: The game has to be great. The franchise has genrally been molested in popular culture, with terrible comics, terrible movies, and absolutely terrible games being the norm for nearly 2 decades. Colonial Marines may then be the last chance to get it right before it suffers a crippling blow that ruins it forever.
After my hands-on with the new ‘Escape Mode’ at PAX Prime, I have no idea if the final game is going to be as great as it needs to be. But if it is, I’m shocked to report that the multiplayer is going to one of the reasons for its success.
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Escape mode is simple – a team of colonial marines must complete a series of objectives that will allow them to escape a Xenomorph infested map, while a team of Xenomorphs attack constantly (think Left 4 Dead’s versus and campaign modes combined, but with aliens). Objectives, at least in the PAX demo, ranged from tasks like opening airlocks and summoning elevators, to defending spots on the map. The goal is simple survival; the team of Marines will win if even one member makes it past the exit. If a player is disabled during a match, they can be revived by teammates, but there is, so we were told, no penalty for the team if one member dies during the game.
What really makes the mode sizzle is the way it pits teams with vastly different, logically contradictory skills against one another. Whether you play as a marine or a xenomorph, team communication is more critical to failure or success than any shooter I’ve played in a long time. Colonial Marines come fully strapped with excessive firepower, but have to carefully ration ammo (refills are placed around the map, but they’re not exhaustive). Meanwhile, Xenomorphs, with one notable exception, are short range fighters who have to get close in order to rip Marines to shreds, making them vulnerable to the hail of bullets. However, they can use a sonar-like ability to see through walls, giving them a serious tactical advantage.
That’s a lot of variety forced on people whose primary mission is to avoid being killed, and it suggests some interesting strategic possibilities. For instance, while I didn’t get the chance to test the idea out, I can’t help but imagine that clever players will designate certain members of their team to conduct suicide attacks in the final moments of a match, in order to ensure that the survivors are able to make it out. Possibilities like that, even if they weren’t testable, made combat feel both fast paced and exciting, ala Call of Duty, and also highly structured and smart. Some moments were spent running wildly, others saw us dug into tight, closed spaces taking out enemies as they came at us (and somehow instinctively taking up positions to ensure that we were shooting from different directions.) It was a hell of a lot of fun, even if we were hilariously outclassed by the dev-comprised team.
It’s not a secret that I largely detest multiplayer. More often than not, it’s a stupid add-on designed to make a game as generic as possible (better to chase the Call of Duty dragon), almost always to the detriment of the story and single player campaign. But Escape Mode is a clue that Colonial Marines will have a lot of added value for players. It really felt more like an unscripted story-based mission, rather than yet another boring killkillkill multiplayer death match.
The level was short and our time playing Escape Mode + observing the developers fighting as Xenomorphs amounted to about 30 minutes. But even in such a limited time, I came away fairly impressed. What I saw was genuinely novel, and a strong indicator that the final game may just be the first non-silly version of Aliens in over 20 years.
A few additional notes:
* About the demo’s map: it began inside a cavernous warehouse (literally – it was underground), eventually spilling out into a factory with varied (man-made) terrain. I didn’t see, but I expect plenty of Weyland-Yutani branding in the final game.
* Marines have 4 different playable classes, though I only had time for one of them.
* Players can choose their loadout at the beginning of every match. However, each level will have several optional weapons lying around (I found a flamethrower), plus armor and ammo resupplies, to ensure things don’t devolve into death by a thousand (Aliens) cuts.
* Controls are standard COD style, right down to running by clicking the l-stick.
* Xenomorphs, come in several varieties, including a spitter; however, the exact number of classes is unknown at this time.
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