Fans of Ridley Scott and the Alien franchise have Prometheus to look forward to soon, but where that movie is set to fill in some holes as a prequel, there's actually a sequel to Aliens coming out this year as well.
I'm a Colonial Marine named Winter, and my commanding officer wants me to check out one of our ships that was supposedly destroyed. But the U.S.S. Sulaco is fairly intact and is currently tethered to our own ship by an umbilical, although all attempts to make contact with her have failed. We were sent out here on a rescue, but so far we haven't heard from anyone. I'm supposed to head across and check out the derelict ship.
That's one of the opening moments from Aliens: Colonial Marines, a forthcoming video game being developed by Gearbox Software and which Sega is publishing later this year. They've certainly come a long way since introducing a little blue hedgehog to the world. But this game is special, as it not only continues the story from James Cameron's Aliens, and Ridley Scott's original Alien, but it also has ties to Aliens 3 as well, and 20th Century Fox considers the game to be canon. This is the first game in the Alien franchise to do that, and the 20th Century Fox logo and fanfare greets you as the game begins.
Gearbox game director Brian Martel described meeting with Ridley Scott to discuss the game: “It was one of those weird fan moments where you say, 'I can't believe I'm doing this right now.’ Ridley brought out his original hand-drawn storyboards for Alien, blew the dust off of them, and showed me a lot of details. He told me about the Space Jockey as well. Of course I’m probably wrong but I like to think that maybe this planted the seed in his head and got him excited about Alien again.” Martel noted that Ridley was still using television storyboards at that time, because that was his background.
He also met with futurist and designer Syd Mead who has worked on the iconic designs behind films like Tron, Blade Runner, and Aliens (he designed the Sulaco) and Fox had loaned the team the original Alien Queen from Aliens, who towered over the event under spooky blue lights in case there were any doubts about the project's authenticity.
But while it has been the team’s dream to work on an Aliens title, creative director Mike Neumann said “It’s been one of the greatest things I’ve worked on in my life, and also the fucking hardest thing I’ve ever worked on in my life.” Not only did he want to provide the ultimate fan experience in the game, but also he didn’t want to mess things up for whoever came after him. “I mean, it’s a big experience being handed the keys to the canon like that. What does a xenomorph eat? I can’t say ‘Okay, they eat carrots’ and then screw it up for everyone that comes after us.”
That speaks to the team's dedication in providing an authentic story and background in the game, but it doesn't end there. They have recreated entire sets from the film, fleshing out locations in the Sulaco (with Mead’s help) that you've never seen before, and have perfectly recreated the sounds from the franchise from the chattering of the pulse rifle to the baby elephant-sounding squeal that happens when a xenomorph gets shot. Art Director Brian Cousins has even recreated the look of Cameron’s grainy film stock in the game. That was Cameron's favorite film stock, and it was being phased out when he shot Aliens. Just in case you were wondering.
But what happens when you play this game? You’ll be investigating the events that took place in Aliens, learning the fates of the marine squads who came before you, finding out what happened to Hadley's Hope and the rest of the colony after the atmospheric processors exploded, and encountering familiar faces like Lance Henriksen’s, although it’s unclear if he’ll be Bishop… or someone else. You'll also find out why Ripley, Newt, Hicks, and what was left of Bishop (you'll see his legs still on the floor of the Sulaco’s hangar deck) were jettisoned into space from their cryotubes, heralding the opening of David Fincher's Aliens 3.
But your biggest concern won't be what happened in the past. It's going to be what's happening to you right now. Since there is an Aliens title, you'd better expect to encounter lots of xenomorphs, including types you've never seen before. You won't be trying to study them up close, either. You'll be using the same weapons that you saw the squads use in Aliens: M-41A pulse rifles, M56 Smartguns, shotguns that you can "keep handy for close encounters,” and a slew of new weapons. You'll also be using the same motion trackers and cutters used in the film, as well as the automated sentry turrets that were only seen in the special edition of the film.
In fact, not long after you arrive on scene and as you're traversing your connection to the Sulaco, an explosive decompression shakes things up, cracks windows, and sends a body careening off the surface above you. Things aren't going well, and you can imagine if they start that way, things will only get worse. Which in fact, they do. It isn't long before you're blasting away at xenomorphs and trying to retrieve the black box from the Sulaco to find out what happened. Gearbox has set out to make this a true fantasy experience for fans of Aliens, and for all practical purposes, you’re inside the sequel to that movie, playing the story on the frontlines.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is due this fall for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows, and upcoming Wii U. Play with your friends in co-op or multiplayer for a true squad-based experience, and draw straws to figure out who gets to play as Hudson and quote Bill Paxton.