The latest trailer for Aliens: Colonial Marines has been released, and it certainly looks and sounds the part. It’s dark and shadowy; LV-426 and the marines look as we remember them from the films; and the sound effects are perfectly recreated, from the beep of the motion tracker to the high-pitched sputter of the pulse rifle.
But as Star Wars game have shown time and time again, art assets and sound effects are not always enough to replicate the feeling and atmosphere of a film.
I’ve watched the Aliens films a lot in my life…probably too much. What makes the films so exhilarating and scary is that the Xenomorphs are kept hidden, either off camera or away in the shadows. In Alien we only saw the creature in quick snaps – like when Dallas is killed in the air vent – and in Aliens, even when the unit of marines is first attacked by the hive we only get to see quick cut away shots of the creatures scurrying across walls and ceilings. It’s only at the end of the films that we really get to see proper, full-on shots of the creatures themselves.
The point is that through the techniques of cinema, Xenomorphs are made to feel like stealthy, fast and deadly creatures that move with a beyond-human physicality and an uncanny aptitude for staying hidden. It makes them all the more scary – you never know where they are, or where they might come from. That’s what makes the films so successful.
Now I’m looking forward to the game, but not as much as other Aliens fans I know because I feel like Alien and Aliens are about more than cool-looking creature design and marines with awesome weapons. It’s about atmosphere; a sense of place; being terrified by the unknown; excellent pacing; and characters you truly care about. Action-based FPSs are certainly good as some of these things, but not all. But even if Aliens Marines does manage to hit the mark on all these points the nature of the genre dictates that the aliens have to be front and centre for much of the game, attacking the player constantly and presenting a consistent threat.
Because of this, they’re not going to be as frightening as they are in the films. They won’t be dangerous and unknown enemies, but just another moving object to point the reticule at and fire. I’ll do just that, and I’ll be reminded of the films in all their greatness as I do so. However, at the exact same time I’ll also be very aware of just how unlike the films the game will be outside of its aesthetic design.
Colonial Marines will certainly look and sound like Aliens, but I doubt it’s going to feel like it.