Ask any game developer, and they'll tell you without shame that they've been ripping off James Cameron's Aliens their whole career. It's the movie that defined the mechanics of convention of the first-person shooter, so when a studio gets the chance to make not just a licensed Aliens game but a canonical sequel to the movies, the stakes are pretty high.
Luckily for anyone who can quote their way through the entire 1986 movie script, Gearbox software isn't taking that responsibility on lightly - seemingly everyone involved in Aliens Colonial Marines is a die-hard fan with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Aliens universe. Take art director Brian Cozzens - ask him which specific type of film James Cameron used to shoot Aliens, and without so much as a blink he'll respond: "Kodak 5293."
Cozzens didn't leave it at that though - "that stock was chosen because of the exposure, because it was going to be used mainly on dark sets, and it was very grainy. I actually got in touch with the Kodak labs, and had them send me the specs of that stock with the density/exposure curves, and we're working to reproduce those curves in the game. So we can have the same tone and contrast in the game that we did in the film."
That's a level of dedication even a Tibetan monk would begrudge an approving nod to, and it's the rule rather than the exception of the guys working on Colonial Marines. For a game that's spent so long in development, it's looking technically impressive too, thanks to the deferred lighting engine that powers each inky shadow and flickering light aboard the Sulaco. Textures and poly models are generated before you enter the room, then lighting's handled in real-time - it's like a x10 creepiness multiplier.
Every bit as impressive is the sound - from the terrifying Hollywood score to the authentic motion tracker beeps and pulse rifle bursts that came straight from 20th Century Fox's archives. It's in a team deathmatch multiplayer session that we first get to unleash those bursts of fire, and wince at every tracker blip.
Since Gearbox has been building up the solo campaign and its narrative taken straight from the horses mouth after working with Ridley Scott and concept artist Syd Mead who designed the Sulaco, expectations for Colonial Marines' multiplayer component weren't exactly sky-high before we got hands-on - it just didn't seem to be the focus. It's a bit of a revelation to find a team deathmatch mode that's more than a simple xeno-bashing muck about - the asymmetrical gameplay is equal parts tense and grin-inducing.