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Aliens: Colonial Marines SDCC 2012 Impressions

July 15, 2012

UPDATE:  Much to the delight of many very vocal fans, Gearbox has now stated in their official forums (thanks to John for the heads-up):

Acid blood damage is present in both campaign and multiplayer.

As the game is still being developed, the specific details are still being tuned so we don’t have anything more to share about how the mechanic works at this time, but it’s definitely there.

Sega and Gearbox meant business when they had Syd Mead, the conceptual artist for Aliens, show up at their booth to sign exclusive lithographs of the USS Sulaco. Also, in the hotel lobby was the original 12-foot tall Alien Queen used in the Aliens film. After waiting in line for over an hour to meet & greet Mr. Mead, I had a very long hands-on opportunity with the A:CM multiplayer. While the Gearbox staff manned the xenomorphs (aliens), the convention gamers manned the Colonial Marines. Needless to say, the gameplay was filled with tension, fear, and visceral action. The aliens were coming out of vents, crashing through glass windows, ceiling and floor grates, etc. Gamers that were talking crap were ultimately tag teamed by the Gearbox staff and the results often ended with decapitations of heads and limbs or impalement from spiked tails.

The MP gameplay is extremely polished with the engine’s use of lighting and shadows. I commended the MP designers that were at hand on their decision to keep the aliens’ perspective in third-person because players would eventually sucuumb to vertigo if it was in first-person. One of the female MP level designers commented that it was a decision born from one of the failures of Rebellion’s most recent Aliens vs. Predator game. Players felt disoriented anytime they would climb on a wall or the ceiling, so they wanted to correct that in Gearbox’s iteration of the Aliens franchise. Gearbox confirmed that there will not be female MP characters due to the skeletal programming and animations that would have to be reprogrammed because they are simply not skin meshes. Although there are strong female characters represented in the campaign, they would not be making their way into the MP gameplay. I cited the difficulties that Epic’s Gears of War 3 had with the introduction of female MP characters due to the smaller hit boxes. Gearbox was well aware of the on-going  petition that’s been circulating the Web, but they said that the memory requirements and additional work that would have to be employed would better be spent on polishing the gameplay and features. In a sense, it is what it is. I asked if smaller creatures such as facehuggers and chestbursters would be playable in the MP, and they confirmed that anything smaller than humanoid-form would not be available. I expressed that the decision to forego that option was a missed opportunity. Another aspect that I got them to confirm was that the alien’s acidic blood would indeed affect the marines. There are cringe animations when they come in contact with the blood and damage would result from it. However, the acidic blood would not affect players in the campaign because it proved too frustrating and took a lot of the ‘fun factor’ from the game when “seven dead aliens would bottleneck players & kill them.” Although it’s hard to hear, it does make sense.  The only aliens that were playable were the warrior drones and Crusher alien. After three consecutive kills, players would have the opportunity to evolve into the Crusher alien. However, the Crusher alien-form would be on a thirty second timer because it is so devastating. The Gearbox staff looked at the successes of the Left4Dead special infected characters for inspiration when providing a repertoire of lethal options for their aliens. As an alien, you could keep track of your teammates due to their persistent glow that appears anywhere in the map. Finally, they wouldn’t confirm how long the campaign would be, but they did say that a lot of DLC is planned in the form of MP maps & the such.

I could not get over how polished the game looks thus far, and I cannot imagine what the final product will be when it releases eight months from now. This game is the real deal even for those that aren’t familiar with the Alien franchise. I will be continuously quoting lines from the Aliens film as I game with the usual suspects of this site. LOL

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21 Comments
  1. 3Suns permalink*
    July 16, 2012 12:58 am

    Thanks for this, Kenny! Sounds great. Understood about the acid blood in campaign, though I think it is something, that like “Realism” mode in L4D2, should be allowed (or added at a later date) for those who want it. Heck, I might not even want it if it were offered, but then again, there is such a thing as getting so good at a game (as we did with L4D) that you welcome the added challenge. Anyway, it is in MP, and that is what I will eventually be playing almost exclusively. Also, though it is made with Unreal, since the MP is asymmetrical, lag issues (again, as in the L4D games) will not be as devastating.

    I am still sort of in disbelief as there was a time when A:CM was announced to have only Co-op MP. Even if there were a versus mode, it was still only a fanboy’s dream that Gearbox would borrow the L4D model. While it seemed a no brainer, it was still something that the dev with their own design biases would never support. And yet, here it is.

    P.S. There is a mislabeled E3 2012 walkthrough video out there. That is not 2012. It is from 2011. We featured it back when it was released.

    Here is a video with some MP VS footage (the only footage I could find).

    • Blankman permalink*
      July 16, 2012 3:49 pm

      The second vid that you put up is not MP versus gameplay rather it’s co-op campaign, Mike. We’ve seen that footage as well.

      This is what you’re looking for:

    • 3Suns permalink*
      July 16, 2012 10:05 pm

      Thanks, Kenny. Looks good. Those Marines definitely had not been trained in L4D. The camera for the big guy was awful, but I am sure that things will be tweaked over the next 8 months.

    • Blankman permalink*
      July 16, 2012 10:22 pm

      I believe that the camera on the Crusher alien was intentional because it’s so overpowered. In a sense, it works like the obscured perspective of the Beserker in Gears 3’a Beast mode, in theory. Otherwise, the Crusher would just annihilate the opposition & continually dominate the game everytime a player evolves into it.

  2. July 16, 2012 5:43 am

    Great, detailed write up Kenny. We shall roast marshmallows over the Alien’s funeral pyre.

  3. July 16, 2012 4:02 pm

    Good write-up! Looking forward to this!

  4. Tabrias permalink
    July 16, 2012 7:08 pm

    Wow, I’ve just lost almost any interest I had in this game.

    No acid blood in singleplayer? or facehuggers/chestbursters? Only two alien types, at all?! seriously? These are staples of the Alien franchise. No females in multiplayer is simply stupid, for any reason. This entire series is ABOUT strong female characters, and we can’t play as them?

    And of course, >lots of dlc planned.

    • Blankman permalink*
      July 16, 2012 9:38 pm

      There were only two aliens that have been shown thus far (PAX East, E3, & SDCC). The Gearbox designers that I spoke to said that there will be more MP characters (xenos) that will be revealed at a later date since there’s eight months until the launch of the game. However, they ruled out facehuggers & chestbursters when I asked about their possibility.

      I think that people are getting ahead of themselves by making snap judgments about the game before it’s even released. Look, I’m a rabid Alien fan, but I have faith in Gearbox. As consumers, we make our own decisions on what to support. However, Randy & crew are Alien franchise fans as well. If it weren’t for them, who else would people want developing this game? Remember when Duke Nukem Forever was vaporware & in development hell? If it weren’t for Gearbox’s love for the character, it would never have seen the light of day. Take note that Gearbox wasn’t responsible for the story or horrid gameplay except for bringing some closure to Duke, so that shouldn’t be an indictment on them. If that isn’t a prime example of Gearbox’s dedication to a franchise, I don’t know what else will convince Alien fans that this game wouldn’t have been possible with anyone else. We’ve got eight months until the launch of the game, let’s not prejudge something before the actual product is out.

  5. Wereman permalink
    July 16, 2012 8:04 pm

    I just hope first person alien mode and acid blood are optional. IF this review reflects the single player campaign which is more important to some people, I have some words;
    The fun in aliens games is overcoming challenges, not being able to do a whole run-through of a game without dying, or rushing to the next checkpoint like call of duty, etc. Also substituting mechanics from the alien canon to make the game feel more arcade style (warrior evolving into crusher for limited time, no facehuggers, OH GOD WHAT IS THAT TAPPING SOUND, THAT BETTER NOT BE A FACE-oh its just a can rolling around on the flOH GOD A FACEHUGGER.) will be a major set back to many fans who were looking forward to this game, including me, and sets the question in my mind whether or not it is worth it now. I love Sega and Gearbox, but the decisions made seem to be more about fitting in to the mass market for games and mainly online gaming, which some decisions of still seem a little silly because everyone loves to be facehuggers.

    Nice review, even though I got a bit upset over it. I will definitely be waiting for post-release reviews for this one.

    • Blankman permalink*
      July 16, 2012 10:26 pm

      Thanks for the kind words. My hands-on time was limited only to the MP. I asked about the acid blood lethality in both SP & MP because it’s important to Aliens fans.

  6. 3Suns permalink*
    July 16, 2012 10:26 pm

    Kenny, what did you think of the respawn for the Marines? That is a big deviation from the L4D formula. I know you aren’t a big fan of that kind of gameplay anymore.

    • Blankman permalink*
      July 16, 2012 10:28 pm

      The respawn time was very quick. After you died, you instantly had access to your perks menu to get right back into the action. This was apparent in both the Marines & the xenos. However, I think that Gearbox will implement some respawn duration on the final product.

      TDM is what has been shown in all of the shows thus far. Gearbox has indicated that there are objective versus modes, but those will be revealed later.

  7. July 17, 2012 6:38 am

    Blankman, please tell me you got a chance to stop by and say “Hi” to Peter Jackson and the Hobbit gang.

    • Blankman permalink*
      July 17, 2012 4:14 pm

      Don’t get me started on The Hobbit. I waited six hours with a friend to get into Hall H & got c-blocked when the panel started. Six hours and nothing to show for it. That pretty much summed up my Saturday (last day @ SDCC). Argh!!!

    • July 18, 2012 7:16 am

      Oh Buddy! Sorry to hear that. Have you been watching the PJ video logs? I’ve really enjoyed them. So looking forward to seeing the films.

      btw: Just started re-reading the LoTR’s. It’s been probably 25 years since I last read them. I am surprised that I am finding I enjoy the films better than the book so far (that never happens as it is usually / always the books that are better), but PJ and crew did such an Awesome job, that reading the book again, it feels, umm long winded with parts unnecessary to the essential tale.

    • 3Suns permalink*
      July 18, 2012 2:02 pm

      Having more people than seating, lining up at all, let alone for 6 hours, is really, REALLY poor management. That should never happen. How much money does it cost to pay some high school kid minimum wage to stand at the end of the line and tell people beyond that point, the show is “sold out”.

      I DID just that for the entire summer of The Temple of Doom.

      San Diego Comic Con should be ashamed of themselves. That kind of unprofessionalism is bad for business.

  8. July 20, 2012 8:49 am

    I think they dropped the ball in the POV. Aliens vs. Predator wasn’t as bad as to warrant a third person only, they should just make toggle from 1st to 3rd. They could balance out more in the gameplay rather than the POV.

    I get it that it’s more like playing L4D with Alien Skins. AvP was more like a traditional deathmatch. The speed made up for the POV. In this game the aliens are so slow in comparison. They don’t really seem that menacing, more of a overwhelming factor than anything.

    but hey at least there’s MP and something to consider. There’s a lot of things that one can nitpick about it, but the bottom line is that at least this thing is getting done. I wouldn’t buy it right away, for a game to be in limbo for so long, something must have been wronged somewhere that it may be too late to change like Duke.

    This is just one of those games that is best to wait out till’ the smoke clears, reviews are out, a few patches are made, and maybe a price drop or two a few months later.

  9. John permalink
    July 21, 2012 11:42 am

    Gearbox has debunked the information on your article. According to them acid blood does affect players in the single player campaign: http://forums.gearboxsoftware.com/showpost.php?p=2651108&postcount=123

  10. 3Suns permalink*
    July 21, 2012 3:11 pm

    Thanks for the heads-up on this, John. Looks like Gearbox is doing their best to listen to the fans. Article updated to reflect that change. Good stuff.

    • John permalink
      July 21, 2012 4:47 pm

      This is confusing. What happens with what the MP level designer told Blankman then? It sounded like he was directly quoting a dev.

    • Blankman permalink*
      July 21, 2012 4:51 pm

      That was what two level designers told me. The initial designer that I interviewed asked his partner if his info was correct & his partner indicated that he was. Since the acid issue has been escalated & confirmed by senior designers, I’m encouraged that Gearbox is sticking as close to the canon as they can.

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