Aliens Colonial Marines preview: survival horror or just another shooter?

Hands-on in Hadley's Hope

The Sulaco is a fluorescent blue hell. Crossing the enclosed bridge into the ship - which was overrun by xenomorphs at the end of Aliens - there's a powerful sense of impending doom. It's you, an abandoned ship, and the terrifying black nothingness of space. There's no turning back.


Set 17 weeks after the events of Aliens, and at about the same time as the events of Aliens 3, you're colonial marine Corporal Christopher Winter. In this sequence you're tasked with checking what went down at the Sulaco, which has re-emerged after a presumed fatal crash. It's you, a motion tracker, and a weapon you're not sure will cut the mustard.

Our experience with the Sulaco was hands-off, but visually speaking, it captures precisely the cold blue misery of the Aliens films. The Sulaco is filled with telling references to the films and their characters, and these are details you'll soak up because this is a game best played slowly and tactfully. Indeed, it's this uneventful moment - the approach to the Sulaco - that leaves the greatest impression on this writer. It's evidence that for many, Aliens: Colonial Marines will be a game about the moments in-between. It'll be a game about being there more so than shooting things.

When we're allowed some hands-on time we're invited to explore Hadley's Hope - a destroyed human colony on LV-426. In fairly rote first-person shooter style, we're tasked with placing a bunch of sensors on a bunch of walls signposted by markers. Aliens: Colonial Marines is a corridor shooter in the purest sense of the term, but Gearbox appears to have perfected the dreaded claustrophobia befitting a wander through a ravaged human colony. It'd be a miserable place to die.


See, dread is something Aliens: Colonial Marines absolutely needs to succeed. It needs to scare you. It needs to make you feel like you're there. You need to feel like something is at stake and, crucially, you need to feel like those xenomorphs are going to rip you to shreds if you stuff it up. This isn't a technically impressive game - even on a top-end PC running the game at 60fps it didn't look cutting edge by any stretch of the imagination - but it doesn't need to be, so long as it makes your skin crawl.

Which it does, until your first encounter with a xenomorph. Spotting one for the first time after a slow, dreaded crawl through Hadley's is a chilling moment.

But then you shoot it and it dies. Just like that. It goes down like a sack of crap amid billowing green stuff. Then more of them come and you shoot them. Suddenly you feel like a god, which frankly, is a bit disappointing. Obviously you're a marine, but the sense of barely prevailing against insurmountable odds diminishes as soon as you're mowing xenomorphs down with an automatic rifle. It's just not scary anymore.

Aliens: Colonial Marines isn't a survivor horror game. It's a first person shooter with unprecedented license to play with and expand upon its beloved source material. It feels divided between horror and the usual military-shooter power fantasy, but whether it succeeds at either of those is unclear as yet. The best moments of Aliens thus far are the parts where you're doing nothing important.