Hudson was definitely right when he exclaimed that those pesky Xenomorphs were “Coming outta the walls” if Gearbox’s take on the Alien mythos is anything to go by. At this year’s E3 I got the chance to have some hands-on time with the multiplayer portion of the game, and, having played it, I think I know exactly how Hudson was feeling.
The multiplayer mode I got to play was a straight up deathmatch which pitted a team of Marines against a team of Aliens controlled by Gearbox staff members. The action took place in a level named ‘Lost Hope’, an indoor arena whose name should sound very familiar to fans of the film, and one which featured raised walkways and ventilation shafts which, as a bulky Marine I was unable to access. However, it quickly became apparent that there was something which could access these shafts.
After choosing my weapon loadout (I decided to go with the classic Pulse Rifle), I was dropped straight into the action. Gearbox have previously stated that this game is to be considered an official entry into the canon of the Alien series, and it shows. The Pulse Rifle is an exact replica of the one carried by Hicks and Hudson, complete with an ammo counter on the side. The Marines look as though they have stepped straight from the silver screen into the game’s levels; and, of course, the motion tracker emits the haunting beeps that signal imminent doom.
The use of the motion tracker is an interesting mechanic. Pull up the tracker and you’ll be unable to use your weapon, however you will see the general direction of movement of entities which are bearing down on you. Whether these are friendly Marines or decidedly unfriendly Xenomorphs isn’t clear until they are right on top of you. Add to the fact that the Xenomorphs (the technical name for an Alien in case you were wondering) can scurry about the vents and pop out of nowhere, and pretty soon you find you are rather tense. There’s a slight delay when switching back to your weapon, which produces an intriguing trade-off: Do you keep your weapon out so you are better prepared for when the Alien will inevitably strike, and sacrifice the knowledge of where the beast will strike from, or do you use the motion tracker so to have a better idea as to where your foe may emerge, but at the cost of having no fire-power to deal with the threat?
Gearbox has captured the atmosphere and fear of the Alien series perfectly here, and the multiplayer match I played was a frantic affair which had me checking every corner, and being scared stiff by the shadow of my teammates which I thought were Aliens. Even in a mode as simple as deathmatch, it quickly became clear that teamwork was key. Wander the halls alone, and you will be overwhelmed. However, if you can work with the other Marines in a cohesive unit you will stand a much better chance against the Xenomorph horde as they encroach on your position from every angle. This is especially true when the opposing team is able to activate what can only be described as an Alien Hulk; a giant, lumbering beast who can charge and knock Marines aside like bowling pins, and who takes a rather large amount of ammunition to dispatch.
Quite what releases this beast is unclear, but a quick peek around the other side of the set-up after my match had finished revealed that the Aliens are controlled from a third person perspective (in comparison to first person for the Marines) and make use of what can best be described as sonar vision so as to see their team-mates and the Marines which they hunt. They also, obviously, have the ability to crawl over a variety of surfaces and leap great distances to attack their prey.
The differences in how the two sides play certainly presents an intriguing concept, but it remains to be seen just how well the Aliens control, or how balanced the two teams are. Our particular group of Marines suffered a resounding defeat, and I don’t think I saw a single team win during my time at the booth, but I think that can be attributed to the fact that no-one on the Marine side had played the game before and we were facing off against Gearbox staff members; at least I keep telling myself that.
What was clear during my short time with the game is that Gearbox has definitely tried (and succeeded) to create an authentic experience, one that captures the spirit of the 1986 film and the series as a whole (we’ll forget about the Alien Vs. Predator films though). However, my worry is that the atmosphere, authenticity, and Alien license won’t be enough to set it apart from other shooters which feature multiplayer. With the game not due to be released until February of next year, I certainly hope we learn more about the multiplayer portion of the game as I feel there is a real opportunity here to offer gamers something a bit different rather than the straight up ‘shoot anything that moves’ mechanic that we’re so used to.