Preface: it’s hard to be immersed in an E3 demo. At any given moment you’re sandwiched between dubstep and explosions, and there’s nary a second where there isn’t a booth babe in your peripheral vision. And yet, despite this, we were still genuinely frightened by Aliens: Colonial Marines – and we were playing multiplayer.
Above: The multiplayer looks like this singleplayer footage, just with people controlling the xenomorphs
Though the focus of Gearbox’s Aliens: Colonial Marines is its robust singleplayer campaign, the long-delayed game will feature a healthy heaping of multiplayer as well, pitting player-controlled marines against player-controlled xenomorphs. At E3 we went hands-on with the marines (yeah, we know, but it was the only side available) and spent a few minutes acting as the prey to the alien horde.
The match was short, so we didn’t have an incredibly long time to explore the dark, desolate space station, but even in the few minutes we played we were able to get a sense as to what the developers are attempting with Colonial Marines’ multiplayer. Playing as the Marines (and fighting against developer-controlled aliens) was a frightening experience – even with advanced firepower, coming in the form of powerful blaster rifles and incredibly strong shotguns, we never felt safe.
We walked with our group through the dingy halls, attempting to find locations to hold out, but we never, ever felt like we were truly out of reach of the xenomorphs. Mostly because we weren’t; the aliens were faster, more nimble, and could reach locations we couldn’t dream of. We’d see a group of them charging down a hall, but before we’d have a chance to react they’d be gone, scattered to the walls or ceiling, slipping in and out of the darkness.
At first, it seemed wholly imbalanced – we’d be taken down before we even saw the enemies, and even when we got the drop on a xeno they’d escape before we could fire a shot, but over time we began to learn how to react. We realized that it wasn't the game's fault that we were dying, it was that we were playing it like a traditional shooter when we should have been playing it like a game of cat and mouse.
Once we figured this out, we changed how we reacted to the presence of xenomorphs. We were no longer pretending to be the hunters. We didn't run around looking for xenos to kill, and we didn't lob grenades into the dark hoping to score a lucky hit. We hid, and used our tools (like the heartbeat monitor) to stay alive. This forced them to take risks, running into the open where we could face them in a realistic setting. Things changed when a bull-like alien showed up and charged through a few of our teammates and sent their corpses flying, but after a few shotgun blasts we were back to our defensive stance.
In many ways, the asymmetrical gameplay reminded us more of Left 4 Dead than it did other shooters. It wasn’t about killing our opponents – or even necessarily “winning.” Instead, playing as a marine was about surviving, which is really what it should be like. Hopefully next time we’re able to take control of the xenomorphs, though, as we’d really love to see what it’s like to be the predator instead of the prey.