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Aliens: Colonial Marines: Can it topple Halo, Gears and Call of Duty?

Is this a stand-up fight...or another big hunt?

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HARSH WINTERS
Fittingly, our demo ends with a death - ours, to be precise. Having retreated to the cargo bay of the Sulaco, we're still alive, but our numbers have been reduced. Then the Crusher smashes into shot, and its opening gambit is tearing apart the marine unfortunate enough to be closest. Then it turns its attention to us. Helpless, we can only stare at the screen as it rushes over and bites Winters' head clean off. Good night.

Will the death of all playable characters be a theme of the final game? Are Gearbox so keen to service the franchise that they'll kill off the player whatever they do? It would be an admirably bold move for sure, and one that could give Colonial Marines an interesting additional angle to anyone not blown away by its authenticity.

"At Gearbox we're all hardcore game players and we make sure to analyse and enjoy all the games that might be relevant to whatever title we're currently working on," says Cozzens. "We feel the horror genre of videogames doesn't get enough attention so we definitely are handling this aspect with kid gloves." There's no doubting the real sense of horror in the game so far. The bodycount, the atmosphere, the impressively lit settings - they're all pointing towards a game desperate to terrify.

How do you make four players scared at the same time? It's the challenge Gearbox face in co-op

Yet, Gearbox have their work cut out in this department, especially as the game will be playable in co-op. How do you scare four players at once when they're all looking in different directions, or chatting over Live? It's tricky. The demo gave a flavour of more traditional scare tactics like vents collapsing in showers of sparks, hisses of steam, and classic misdirection where you're encouraged to look one way, only for something else to happen out of the corner of your eye. Or behind you.

Zoom

However, horror is only half the battle. Right now the action seems solid - definitely competent, without dazzling. The pacing of the demo was high-tempo, leaving us with little down-time to reflect on each encounter. And despite looking authentic, weapons currently sound like pop-guns, making blasting Xenomorphs a touch unsatisfying at this stage.

The Aliens themselves lack that spider-like menace that comes across in the films too - there needs to be more fluidity to their movements. However, there's plenty of time to work on these problems, with 'early 2012' the new estimated release date for Colonial Marines. It's a long way from the game's initial announcement back in 2008, before the ill-fated Aliens vs Predator was even talked about - but this is something Cozzens is keen to downplay.

"There was quite a bit of time between the announcement of the game and when we wrote our first line of code. Very much a side effect of everyone being so excited to have the opportunity to work on this title. There are certain parts to the franchise that are quite unique and we don't want to rush these things either - we desire them to be fun!"

So do we - it's something we've been waiting a long, long time for - and if we're not grinnin' when Colonial Marines drops its linen this will feel like one of the generation's biggest missed opportunities.

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