Aliens is one of the most ripped-off franchises in videogame history, but Rebellion's admirable crossovers aside, the industry has yet to produce a game that does the films justice. Aliens: Colonial Marines could be that game, a gruesomely authentic FPS homage that's been knocking around Gearbox Software's hivemind since 2008.
In the first of our "12 for 2012" previews - comprehensive looks at a few of next year's most promising games - we go through the new shooter in digestible Q&A format: plot, gameplay, release date, multiplayer, technology, the works. Go fetch your motion trackers. Another beautiful day in the Corps is about to dawn...
"Aliens", you say. As opposed to "Alien".
Quite. The inspiration here is James Cameron's panicky action movie, rather than the decidedly creepier Ridley Scott original. Think adrenal overkill rather than spine-tingling build-up, blasts in the cargo hold rather than bumps in the night.
Is Ellen Ripley Colonial Marines' lead character?
Afraid not, as the plot takes place after the events of Aliens 3. Instead you'll play a Colonial Marine. Surprising, right? His name is Winters.
Tell us about the Alien: Colonial Marines story.
Happy to. Here's the premise in five bite-sized morsels. (1) Ripley, Newt and Bishop abandon the cruiser USS Sulaco at the beginning of Aliens 3 (2) corporate overlords Weyland-Yutani discover the hulk after the film's finale, and (3) send it back to planet LV-426 in hopes of harvesting a few Aliens for the usual bio-weapon research purposes. Predictably (4) everything goes to hell in a hand-basket and (5) you and your Colonial Marines squad are flown in to clean up the mess. Lucky you. Battlestar Galactica writers Bradley Thompson and David Weddle are doing the script.
So which fascinating flavour of Marine are we? The stubble-headed kind who swears a lot, or the completely bald kind who swears a lot?
Don't worry - you may be a rowdy, gung ho man-child with more bullets than free-standing follicles, but you'll still have a personality. Or so Gearbox assures us. Each member of your squad - Cruz, O'Neal, Bella, Reid and Monday are a few of the names in the teaser trailer - has a distinct look and backstory. One carries a pack of cards wedged into the brim of his helmet; another sports a prosthetic leg. There will be "redshirts" - characters destined to die - but nobody outright looks like they're expendable.
Why did Gearbox get rid of the squad play we were promised back in 2008?
I know, we were saddened by that too, but there are some compelling reasons. One is that the game needs to be accessible - yeah, really, it does - or the millions who dig Aliens but don't understand flanking tactics will pass on by with looks of cryo-frozen incomprehension. Another is that it's not actually practical to issue orders while (deep breath) THEY'RE COMING OUT OF THE GODDAMN WALLS. Xenomorphs aren't Nazis - they're fast, they're quiet, they like dark corners and they're not particularly bothered about cover. "Nuke from orbit" is about as scientific as you can get. Randy Pitchford sums it up nicely: "there's no manoeuvring on an alien."
Is Colonial Marines more of a traditional first-person shooter, then?
Yes, but it's not a generic corridor crawl or spawn-fest. The E3 trailer showed off some of the high intensity stuff, but you'll also get survival horror bits, and neat scripted encounters like facehuggers in jars that are somewhat, shall we say, "eager to make your acquaintance". Remember Gorman's banks of helmet cam monitors from the Marine APC? They'll show up in some capacity, letting you experience a few first-person deaths at a staticky remove.