Aliens: Colonial Marines preview – the atmosphere’s great, now fix the alien animation

Aliens Colonial Marines PS3 Preview

As great as the combat lighting and shadowing effects are, fighting is currently the game’s biggest potential choke point. Animations jitter as Xenos transition from surface to surface, resulting in a comedic effect that dashes all sense of fear that’s otherwise been expertly crafted. What good are environments lathered in atmosphere if enemy encounters don’t provide the biggest shocks of all?

Aliens Colonial Marines PS3 screens

Indeed, the sole scare factor from the combat stems from fact that close-quarters kills often leave you splashed with corrosive acid. Colonial Marines uses traditional health and armour bars-and-packs systems (although health is broken up into discrete recharging ‘pips’), and an acid shower will instantly dissolve any armour you’ve grabbed.

While there’s still work to be done on Xenomorph animations, human movement is looking fine. Not just those of friendlies, but of enemies, too – of the Weyland-Yutani PMCs, to be precise. We meet this faction in another new area – a sprint through the USS Sulaco as it begins to suffer catastrophic explosions – and three-way fights between the Marines, the PMCs and the Xenos soon begin.

In theory, Aliens’ human-on-human combat works much like any other shooter, but as the Sulaco is buffeted by explosions, the ship shakes, drops and tilts all over the place, turning around like Uncharted 3’s cruise liner. Impressive? Undoubtedly. Yet with the visual gut-punchers of Crysis 3 and Bioshock Infinite also due out in February, Colonial Marines has picked a tough month to stand out on tech alone. The delays surrounding that very tech have given Gearbox an altogether unexpected bonus opportunity, though: a chance to dive in and retcon content in the wake of Ridley Scott’s latest piece of cinema.

“We did some things after we saw Prometheus,” admits design director John Mulkey. “In our game you go into the derelict spacecraft. We knew [the Prometheus version] was going to be in people’s minds probably more than the original Alien one, and after seeing this… we had to have an amalgam of those designs that made sense. It was pretty painless. We went over to our artists and said, ‘We’ve been watching Prometheus and we think we need to do this and this,’ but they’d already changed it all!”

This sort of attitude has us thinking this still has a strong chance of coming good after all. Gearbox is clearly obsessed with Aliens and wants Colonial Marines to be the game Aliens fans have always dreamed of playing. “When people get it, they’re going to feel that if it’s not the best Aliens game ever made, it’s one of the best they’ve ever had a chance to play,” says game director Brian Martel. “For us, it feels [like] the best that’s ever been done: being in the boots of these soldiers, not throwing in Predators or [other] crap, really lets us focus on that.” Now all we need is a deck of cards to tide us over until February.