Aliens: Colonial Marines hands on impressions, new aliens and Ridley Scott’s “secrets”

For fans of the iconic movie franchise, this is in equal parts a hugely exciting and nerve-jangling proposition. Despite the Aliens: Colonial Marines release date delay and having been jaded by tie-in titles from Rebellion and Monolith, each disappointing and flawed in its own way, it’s easy to look at the long development time of this latest xeno-shooter – and the Duke Nukem-shaped blip in developer Gearbox’s record – and dismiss it as just another bug hunt.

But spend any time with the developers behind Colonial Marines and two things become abundantly clear. Firstly, they’re a team full of clinically obsessed Aliens-ophiles. Secondly, they’re deadly serious about making this the best Aliens game of all time.

What sets it apart from all others right back to the Atari Jaguar side-scroller is that this is a canonical sequel, following directly on from James Cameron’s seminal 1986 movie Aliens. The fact that 20th Century Fox is on board with Gearbox’s vision and is, according to CEO and studio head Randy Pitchford, “treating it almost like a movie sequel” speaks volumes for both Colonial Marines’ stakes and how the games industry in general is growing in importance.

However, the result of securing sequel status and digging up secrets from the creative powerhouses that gave the series breath, the pressure’s really on. And so the real question is: after a suspiciously long time in development, how do Colonial Marines’ core mechanics hold up under scrutiny?

As the lights drop and the intro music swells, we’re about to become the first people to find out. The opening level is set just after the final scene in Aliens, and we’re space marines on a rescue mission. We know some bad shit’s gone down on the Sulaco – we just don’t know how bad. Leaving the safety of the dropship, we traverse a giant glass bridge on to the alien-infested vessel. Here goes.

Aliens Colonial Marines PS3 ScreensSince there are no xenos around to pounce on us right away, we get a moment to take in the ear-melting quality of the sound and the impressive lighting and shadows all around. In the early stages of development, Gearbox spent a lot of time creating a bespoke engine, which boasts a very impressive deferred lighting system – before you walk in a room, the engine’s rendered the textures already.

As you actually enter it, the lighting kicks in – in real time – providing realistic shadows and glow. It uses a lot of processing power, but Gearbox has made it work on PS3, proving there are new tricks yet to be taught to our mature console. “And what better game to implement all those deep, realistic shadows in than one set in the Aliens universe?” Pitchford points out.

It certainly doesn’t hurt as we make our way through the Sulaco, motion tracker in hand, feeling distinctly like we’re on some kind of Fox theme park ride round the 1986 set. Look, there’s the bottom half of Bishop on the cargo bay floor! Get the camera out.