We know what you’re thinking - is Gearbox’s Aliens going to be Brothers in Arms in space? Despite using the same engine (Unreal 3) and sharing Col. John Antal as military consultant, we’re pleased to say that the similarities between the two aren’t overbearing. The developer certainly has a challenge in giving one of the most inspirational movies ever a fresh spin, particularly when almost every sci-fi FPS has borrowed some element from the franchise.
It’s not as if there’s been a shortage of actual Aliens shooters either, from PlayStation’s Alien Trilogy to the more recent Aliens vs Predator on PC. So rather than retread the story of the 1986 blockbuster, Gearbox is creating an entirely new storyline which delves into characters and locations never before seen in the franchise. You play as a squad of six new Colonial Marines ordered to clear and sweep the USS Sulaco after its previous crew goes missing. We already know what happened to Ripley and company, but these battle-hardened troops have no idea they’re about to have a close-encounter face off with the galaxy’s deadliest species.
The game plays out as a squad-based shooter with each mission putting you into the role of a different member of the team. Plot details beyond that are really thin on the ground, but Gearbox says that the six Colonial Marines will all have a unique perspective on the conflict, and that the game will be divided up into ‘TV-style’ episodes. This should mean that you can pick up the game for an hour at a time and feel like you’ve experienced a satisfying self-contained storyline. Don’t worry about a thing though, there’s going to be plenty more than six episodes to play through.
Aliens’ opening mission is similar to the tension-building start of the movie. Rather than fighting hundreds of creatures, you have to explore the Sulaco for one or two lifeforms that keep sending your motion sensor - and your heart - into palpitations. Even though we didn’t see too much of the Sulaco in the movie, the artists have done a great job of keeping it authentic, while at the same time adding a whole raft of unseen areas of the ship. Gearbox hired the movie’s original concept artist to define the look of each level, while the Unreal Engine seems more than capable of rendering every minute detail of the enormous Colonial battleship.
One of the first encounters with the alien isn’t a conventional FPS scene with all guns blazing. Instead, you’re taken by surprise and dragged up into an air vent. This xenomorph is apparently trying to cocoon you to eat/breed with later - rather than go for the instant kill, meaning that you have one brief opportunity to escape. The game immediately switches into a Quick Time Event (QTE) where you have to press directions as they appear on screen. Arguably, this works a little more convincingly than the QTEs in games like Heavenly Sword because your button presses relate more closely to the on-screen action.