10 hopes for Colonial Marines

With the first Predator-free Aliens game looming in late Autumn, Martin's request-list is probably a bit late...

Martin is very excited at the prospect of doing this.

I’m not a gamer in any sense that the gaming community understands it – until I played Marathon on the Mac in the late 90s, my digital gaming experience was limited to a 386 version of Tetris and pouring bucketloads of cash into arcade machines on holiday. This is not, nor will it ever be a gaming column – I would have to Wikipedia every vowel, and Mr Ryan Lambie has the matter in good hands over at his DoG column.

But still, fuck that: the Alien universe is coming to my Xbox 360 within six months in the form of Aliens: Colonial Marines, and there’s not a tosspot predator in sight! And I am very happy about this. I think about it quite a lot…

I was calling for this game in December of last year, when it seemed that Sega would sit on their arses forever without doing anything to salvage the Colonial Marines project abandoned in 2001. In that period I re-bought the AVP2 game that I had enjoyed some years earlier, and was delighted to find myself finally playing it on a PC where an attack involving more than one Alien didn’t put the processor into crisis. I have to admit, the Giger beasties were a bit disappointing now that I could see them, and that the true fun of the game was being immersed in the creepy environment of the infested colony…

For me, atmosphere is everything. I fail to understand why half the office on this floor at Dennis Publishing have chosen to spend their lunchtimes shooting each other in the anodyne forests and shacks of CoD2. As someone who is fairly claustrophobic, there’s a masochistic pleasure in being forced down into the dark bowels of the colony in AVP2 with a failing torch. Avoiding the terrible creations of H.R. Giger in such a setting is a bit more involving for me than being sniped at by Fritz the Sub-Editor and his tag-buddy Helga The Layout Artist. Where’s the love? And where are the xenomorphs?

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Both my readers will be aware by now that I love all things Alien prior to the AVP films, which, for me, constitute a spectacularly inept YouTube ‘fan-edit’ of classic material. When I attended the press conference for WALL-E, it was hard not to stare at Sigourney Weaver – Ripley! Until last week, Alien creator Dan O’Bannon was the only interview I’d ever let go on beyond the half-hour mark. He actually created the Alien universe, and it was hard to hang up…

And so my interest in A:CM is pronounced and my anticipation of it unreasonable. I don’t really care if Bill Paxton closes the game with Hudson’s immortal ‘Game over, man!’ (as many do) – knowing my own meagre prowess as a gamer, I may never even get that far. Some of the things I do care about..

Stick to the look of the films I hear that a lot of the action is going to get away from the claustrophobic and enclosed spaces of the Alien oeuvre. Mistake, but I know why – pretty much every sci-fi shooter ever has been designed from frame-grabs of Aliens, and real fidelity to the amazing production design of the ‘proper’ Alien movies risks to look like those imitators. Hold fast, because you can’t beat the originals.

No heavy metal guitars God save us. And I hear He has, with a ‘moody’ score. Excellent! If the rights can be secured, it would be great to get some of the original scoring from the four (FOUR!) Alien films in as well.

No Playing as Aliens! This isn’t kiddie playground antics where you swap hats – this is ALIEN! The behaviour and psychology of the beasts has not been fully explored in the films, and Colonial Marines is a great chance to take it further. The fact that Gearbox hired Syd Mead to extend his original interiors for the Sulaco is a very good sign that the game has true fans of the movies driving it. How mysterious can the beasties be if you can play as them yourself?

No Predators! Not so much as a piece of Predator graffiti on the walls of the ruined colonies, please. No acknowledgement whatsoever of their existence. I tolerated the space-Rastas in the AVP2 game because they weren’t removable, but their interjection has done more to fuck up the Alien franchise than anything else. I’d have Alien 5 in my DVD collection by now if it hadn’t been for the Preds. They’re strictly passengers – blow ‘em out the airlock for this outing. And do it before the game starts.

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A good ‘fear system’ This was a great source of tension in the Xbox and PC game of The Thing, where you had to earn the trust of your colleagues, as they all suspected that you might be about to ‘thing out’. And you also had to keep an eye on them in case they did. In A:CM, any bot-colleagues should be able to ‘pull a Hudson’ and wig out under the pressure, and not at set points either – for this was what ruined the replay value of The Thing, to an extent. Maybe there should also be tasks you have to do to keep your own tension levels under control.

Reasonable saving system I want to be afraid of the Aliens and the environment, not that I will have to trudge back through nine consecutive boss-battles to reach the one meagre save-station on the planet. God forbid that A:CM disappoint me as much as Dead Rising did, with its hideously overlit locale and zombie-guarded save-station. A horror FPS that needs to resort to creating tension in this way has failed in its primary ambit.

‘Sensible’ hordes The Xbox 360 is a nice system, but it isn’t necessarily capable of generating the hordes of Aliens that I have heard will besiege the marines at various ‘fortress’ points in the game. Be realistic about processor and graphics capabilities in all versions – otherwise we’re all going to have to go and res-down before a battle.

Let the primary player get ‘infected’ Though ‘host’ Ripley died in Alien 3, the surgical excision of the Alien from the Ripley clone in Alien Resurrection established canon that an infection is not necessarily fatal if adequate medical help can be sought. That’s a pretty good motivation for fighting your way to med-lab.

Let us set the darkness and contrast As in the films, the Aliens in A:CM look a bit rubbish overlit. But don’t pull a Doom and have us groping for a white stick or a third-party patch just to let us see a foot in front of our face. We will know what you are up to.

Don’t run it on rails I love Gears Of War, and GoW2 is the only other game I’m slavering over this year, but it really is something of a conveyor belt. There’s more to versatility than capture-the-flag, so let a replay yield new experiences, if possible.

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Even if Gearbox were listening, it’s all too late. They’re just adding the Alien blood effects about now, I guess, and then…we get what we get. Let’s stay frosty and hope for the best

Martin writes his (mostly) sci-fi column (almost) every Friday at Den Of Geek. He doesn’t believe in the Kobayashi Maru scenario. Check out the complete list of his columns.