Fan service: Gearbox’s Martel on Aliens: Colonial Marines

Thursday, 18th August 2011 07:04 GMT By Alex Donaldson

Aliens: Colonial Marines is clearly a labour of love. Crafted, according to Gearbox, with the intention of being the Aliens “sequel we all wanted”, the game is dripping with fan service.

Aliens: Colonial Marines

First announced in late 2006 after Sega acquired the Aliens license.

Went quiet in mid 2008 and was rumoured to have suffered lay off-releated delays.

Surfaced again at PAX 2010, with marketing winding up early 2011.

Announced for spring 2012.

It’s a far cry from the Aliens vs. Predator games that SEGA have put out in the past, intended to be more loyal to the source material than any other game. “The predominant idea is that we really wanted to make the sequel to Aliens that we all wanted,” Brian Martel, chief creative officer at developer Gearbox Software tells VG247 after our demo.

“We wanted to have more time with the marines – this time we’re in the boots of the Colonial Marines – so in that way you get to finally be them – use their hardware, all that kind of stuff. We’re not gonna mix in Predators and things – it always felt to me a little bit like someone was mixing their Wasabi in my Reece’s Cup, y’know – it always felt kind of weird.”

With dreadlocked baddies firmly out of the picture, Colonial Marines seems poised to be a scarier, edgier experience than past Aliens titles. We see marines, including the playable character, waking up amongst rubble.

“Are you alright?” one character asks the player. “How many fingers am I holding up?” It’s three, but the response is a one-fingered gesture. “He’s fine,” the squad leader says, ignoring the gesture – and then he’s up, the player in control.

The marines skulk through the ruins of a building lit now only by dim, red emergency lighting. “What the hell is that?” One marine remarks at a strange, small alien creature – familiar to those who have seen the movies – that ominously floats in a giant test tube. Further into the building, rain pours inside through a gigantic hole in the wall. But that’s not all that’s wrong.

Up comes the motion tracker, a major visual hallmark of the Aliens world. Bad news – it’s bleeping. Tense music pulses and the beeping quickens as more and more red dots representing doom appear on the tracker, actually in the marine’s hand in game as opposed to a mere HUD element. Suddenly, aliens burst from air vents – they’re smaller than the ones from the movies but also fast. The marines shoot and shoot, but some are dragged to their doom. There’s screaming, shouting.

“There’ll be an option to turn off the HUD if you want to and be able to play the game as immersed as possible. We want you to feel like you’re in there.”

One alien leaps onto the player, who is tasked with fighting it off with button presses. This first person action is fairly key to the style of Colonial Marines, the choice to keep the camera angle locked to the eyes of the marine a deliberate one on Gearbox’s part.

“We really want you to feel like you’re in there,” Martel explains. “There’ll be an option to turn off the HUD if you want to and be able to play the game as immersed as possible – you’ll be able to look at your weapons and shields and see the counters – or the counters will only come up when you need them, that kind of thing. We want you to feel like you’re in there.”

“Sometimes you need to set the scene up in a way, and it is a cinematic game – it’s based off a movie – so in that way it’s okay to sometimes pull out and show the player what’s in the immediate area around them – the introduction of a new type of alien, for example, is important – we want to get that right – so that’s when we exit first person.”

The aliens we see are seemingly smaller and more agile than the ones I remember from the movies, but that’s soon remedied – outside the building a huge, hulking alien ambushes the squad. Running to a building, the squad closes the shutters before the alien can get in. It crashes against the barrier loudly and then slinks away – and you can even watch it do so on the motion tracker.

The audio mix on that crash seems impressive in the small room we’re in, surround sound in full effect, and the visuals stand up very well too – the rain looks cool as it pours into the ruined building, and the aliens look sufficiently slimy and disgusting. The visual design, ripped right from the movies, is still as awesome-looking as it was in the 80′s.

Adding new things to that universe is difficult for Gearbox; though movie rights owners Fox are on hand to help out with ensuring that everything fits the vision of the Aliens universe. “It’s very different than something like LucasArts where there’s one person who is kind of the keeper of all things, but we’ve been able to work with Fox very heavily,” Martel elaborated.

“Working with Fox really gives us the detail – in-depth photos, all the resources they had from the films – and they took a lot of photos – blueprints, everything. All that’s been really helpful and they’ve just been really cool – every time we’re making up a new Alien they’ve been there to help us figure out the details to work it into the canon – it’s cool.”

Aliens Colonial Marines E3 2011 teaser.

Making up all-new aliens is something that is tantamount to sacrilege to big fans of the series, but Martel argues that it’s a necessity for a game to have a variety of enemies. “It is an interactive experience, so you have to have variety so that players don’t get bored.”

“In the story we’re able to do some things with the aliens so we’re able to deal with some of that stuff. How they mutated over some event or whatever and so on. Then there’s the idea of the hive. Who is guarding the queen, what else is inside the hive – you’ve gotta have that sort of thing in your game or else it’ll be repetitive.”

From the gamescom demo, that attitude appears to pay off – the demo we saw was varied. Starting off with a crashing ship, it transitioned to a slower, quiet section as the marines carefully worked their way through the building. From there it all pops off in a big way and goes badly wrong for the marines.

In a mission that started with a stealth focus, the marines now have to pick up automated turrets and place them in bottlenecks to rip aliens to shreds. Marines are picked off one by one as aliens burst from air vents and drag them off – the sense of desperation from the marines is palpable in the animations, the voice acting and the scripting.

As if things weren’t bad enough, out go the lights. The Gearbox rep playing pulls up the motion sensor and uses it to avoid and fight aliens until he reaches another lit area – through all of this, the marines are trying to beat a desperate retreat, but the game keeps switching gears between firefights, running and suspense-packed moments.

The demo ends on an even grander note, with a bunch of marines facing off against a ridiculously massive enemy creature. One marine is controlling and fighting in the big yellow mech from the end of the movie – and it’s swatted aside by this new, tank-like alien with ease.

That big alien’s advancing on the player – closer, closer – it picks him up – and the demo ends. We’ll have to wait until Aliens: Colonial Marines launches to find out what happens and wait until we can go hands-on before we pass judgement on the gameplay, but this much is certain from what was on show at gamescom: it looks cool as hell.

Aliens: Colonial Marines launches in spring 2012 for PS3, 360 and PC.



  1. HauntaVirus

    Not even sure why people want this…

    #1 3 years ago
  2. Maximum Payne

    @! I don’t know before was hyped because 4 players coop and all scary campaign and Aliens! but know its like ”ok” game.Also because gearbox is doing it so there is also hype and hope.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. Henry

    “Aliens sequel we all wanted”. YES!!!!

    #3 3 years ago
  4. NightCrawler1970

    If Preditor is in the game, i go for it, love to shop the head off before they even know it :D..

    #4 3 years ago
  5. soqquatto

    “Not even sure why people want this…” hello clueless! Because the marines in Aliens are still evoking the best sci-fi military vibe of all time, with tense moments, all-out action, rage and desperation. Of course, only time will tell if Gearbox can nail what Cameron singlehandedly created. We can only hope, I guess.

    #4 no Predators thankfully. It’s written up there.

    #5 3 years ago
  6. viralshag

    I’m looking forward to this, I hope it’s like Dead Space in 1st person, just with Aliens and better. :)

    “More and more red dots representing doom appear on the tracker”

    Wasn’t the tracker HUD white? How much research did you say you were doing? :P

    #6 3 years ago
  7. TheBlackHole

    “I’m looking forward to this, I hope it’s like Dead Space in 1st person, just with Aliens and better.”

    So in other words you wish it was like ALIENS, then?

    #7 3 years ago
  8. LOLshock94

    ive been waiting for this game when it was announced and it by far looks fucking amazing and i have huge faith in randy pitchford

    #8 3 years ago
  9. LOLshock94

    Alex Donaldson is the game heavy on COOP

    #9 3 years ago
  10. TheBlackHole

    “i have huge faith in randy pitchford”

    Even after DNF?


    #10 3 years ago
  11. LOLshock94

    @10 he didnt fuck duke nukem up it was 3d realms that fucked duke up

    #11 3 years ago
  12. viralshag

    DNF wasn’t even that bad of a game. Most reviews were way too over the top about how “bad” it was.

    #12 3 years ago
  13. DSB

    This sounds fucking awesome.

    There’s no doubt the daggers were sharpened for Duke Nukem Forever. It obviously didn’t measure up to what’s around today, and as such it was probably a really bad idea to charge full price for it.

    @10 You do realize he didn’t work on the design of that game at all, right?

    #13 3 years ago
  14. viralshag

    @ DSB, Yeah, that is a fair statement. I picked it up during the Steam sale. It certainly isn’t worth the same as any of the new FPS on the market, I think £20 would have been a perfectly fine price point for it.

    Technically too, it doesn’t hold up but I think the worst that could be said about it, is that it was a very basic FPS. On the PC at least, the graphics were not eye-bleeding bad and the gameplay was not unplayable. The humour was outdated, but I still got a few laughs from it.

    #14 3 years ago
  15. TheBlackHole


    Anyone who defends Gearbox by saying that they didn’t design DNF ought to know better.

    If the game was in a releasable state before 3D REALMS went under then it would have been released. They may not have designed the core game, but they WERE responsible for the state it was released in.

    If they’ve released a poor game on purpose just to make money out of the name, then they deserve even more criticism.

    #15 3 years ago
  16. Gekidami

    ^ I agree, people need to quit the apologetics. Gearbox released a terrible game, they could have fixed it up, just canned it or at the very least refrained from talking it up so much but instead they deemed it releasable and worth the attention, that was by their standards not 3D Realms. People need to deal with the facts rather than try to lay the blame on others.

    As a result i dont have any trust in Gearbox, they’re in no way a haul mark name and still have everything to prove.

    #16 3 years ago
  17. LOLshock94

    @15 “If the game was in a releasable state before 3D REALMS went under then it would have been released” its hard working heavily on other projects and a publisher comes out from no where and says “heres a game we want you to fix it, its 80% complete, we want you to fix it in 9 months” thats pretty hard for any developer who has 3 projects maybe more and that comes up. id blame the publishers and not gearbox

    #17 3 years ago
  18. Gekidami

    ^ Gearbox are independent, so no; No publisher forced them to take on the game, they did it out of their own accord, worked on it for as long as they wanted, and released it when they considered it good enough to release.

    Seriously, time to accept the facts.

    #18 3 years ago
  19. Christopher Jack

    @18, Who do you think pays their budgets? They don’t have the security of being owned by a publisher but they still need to follow instructions, 2K won’t fund a product taking forever when it’s already been a decade in the making.

    #19 3 years ago
  20. Gekidami

    The publisher paid the budget… After Gearbox ASKED THEM if they could work on the IP.

    “2K won’t fund a product taking forever when it’s already been a decade in the making.”

    This argument actually works in my favour; It just shows that Gearbox are willing to release utter trash under their name if the publisher demands it, they obviously dont give a shit if the game needs more time.

    Oh well hey! Will you look at that!: Aliens: Colonial Marines is also owned by a publisher, and its been in the making since 2006. Say, do you think Gearbox would have kept it up to date since then? Lets hope Warner doesnt give them “instructions”.

    #20 3 years ago
  21. DSB

    @15 Here’s a shocking revelation: Everybody releases games to make money out of them. They’re free to sell whatever they want, and you’re purely responsible for the risk of the games you buy, just like everybody else. Nobody cares if you stomp your feet and act like a spoiled brat just because someone makes a game you don’t like.

    Sure, Duke Nukem Forever was ancient in every sense of the word, but it’s a game that has a place in the history of the medium that will probably never be forgotten, even more so than Daikatana. That’s how I chose to view it while I played it, and as such I enjoyed reliving the shooters of 10 years ago.

    What Gearbox tried to do was save the franchise, and to do that they had to scrape in whatever they could on what was there, to justify securing the IP to a publisher. They knew it wasn’t great, but they can’t ask 2K/Take Two to throw money at their good intentions, without any kind of effort on their part. They could either release the game to the best of their ability or let the whole thing die. I think they made the right decision.

    That has nothing to with your claims though. You’re holding a designer responsible for a game he hasn’t had a part in for more than a decade.

    @18 Gearbox didn’t buy Duke Nukem, Take Two/2K Games did. Gearbox tried to polish it as much as they could before release, with the help of the old 3D Realms team, in an effort to acquire the IP. Those be the facts.

    #21 3 years ago
  22. ManuOtaku

    #13 “It obviously didn’t measure up to what’s around today, and as such it was probably a really bad idea to charge full price for it”

    Most of the games this gen doenst deserve the full asked price if you ask me

    #21 “@18 Gearbox didn’t buy Duke Nukem, Take Two/2K Games did. Gearbox tried to polish it as much as they could before release, with the help of the old 3D Realms team, in an effort to acquire the IP. Those be the facts”.
    Pretty much agree

    #22 3 years ago
  23. TheBlackHole

    “What Gearbox tried to do was save the franchise”

    No. They pretty much ****** it by ensuring that nobody now wants a new DN game because this one was way below par.

    To save a franchise, you create a GOOD game that brings the core gameplay mechanics and features up-to-date with modern technology and rival titles, whilst retaining the identity of the original game/s, thus ensuring the ‘old-school’ gamers buy into the remake and younger gamers will appreciate the game (and by extension, the franchise), for the quality that it is.

    Perfect examples of this being: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Batman: Arkham Asylum and Resident Evil 4.

    If you think that the way to save a franchise is by releasing an average, outdated representation of the brand, then I’m glad you’re not greenlighting game projects.

    #23 3 years ago
  24. ManuOtaku

    #23 IMHO They didnt create the game, they received a game that was almost done and then they finish it in the way that was intended by the original creators, thats two very different things, the game was almost 80% done therefore they are accountable only by 20% of the game, but not the whole thing.
    P.S lets say for instance the game was a GOTY contender and lets say that it did win the best game of the year on so many sites, which dev will be more responsable for that, Gearbox or 3D realms?, for me it will be the same, 3D realms, on both sides of the coin.

    #24 3 years ago
  25. DSB

    @23 Listen, nobody can stop you from being an idiot.

    Those are the facts. If you’re too childish to really understand things like damage control, that’s just too bad. Finishing Duke Nukem Forever was the price that Gearbox had to pay to make the next one.

    To save a franchise you do what’s neccesary, and you don’t do that by telling a publisher they’ll have to throw out a game that they’ve already spent millions on publishing rights for, and then ask them to go put in even more millions to buy that atrocious IP, afterwards.

    “Hey, we’re gonna throw your investment away, but we’d really like you to make an even bigger one for the same franchise” – Right… Great plan, man.

    It’s dollars and cents, nobody cares about your sensitive little emotions.
    You can whine as much as you like, nobody cares. These people are just being realistic, they know what’s required, and the fact that Randy Pitchford wants to save an IP doesn’t say jack shit for his ability to put together a game he actually works on himself. Even if people are fully entitled not to like the result.

    The interesting question, whether Gearbox are able to bring Duke Nukem succesfully into the 21st century, is still to be answered.

    #25 3 years ago
  26. SplatteredHouse

    Very good article. That sounds like some excellent gameplay that was sampled.

    #26 3 years ago
  27. TheBlackHole


    You should really do something about that passive aggression.

    #27 3 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.