Everyone knows that terrifying things hide in the shadows, that the gloom at the periphery of your vision hides every denizen of your worst nightmares.
That distinction between light and shade, between the safety of multiple pairs of eyes searching the black and the lone wolf with his measly field of vision, lies at the very heart of the Aliens: Colonial Marines multiplayer demo I recently experience at the Rezzed games expo.
More than that though, the light and the dark act as primers for the player – here’s the best place for you to launch your attack from, or here’s the room that you and the rest of your team need to defend.
From the marine’s point of view, this is team-based multiplayer at its most stringent. A single alien can take down an entire squad without breaking a sweat, and anyone fool hardy enough to strike out in their own is in for a swift, gory death.
The level we played was a cracked and stricken base of some sort, all twisted metal walkways and unspeakable things oozing through the ceiling. It immediately felt like part of the dank and unpleasant Aliens universe, fitting in perfectly with the down trodden cosmos that Ripley and her cohorts inhabited in the original movies.
This is a human structure that has been overrun by a more powerful, dangerous force, a fact that’s made terrifying clear by the appearance of the first alien.
I take a wrong turn somewhere and get separated from the other players, and within a flash a black shape is on me. There’s a blast of rapid fire machine gun, but that’s all I can do, and it’s entirely in vain. Two beats and my throat has been ripped out, a shower of red blood splattering across the monitor. The end is swift, but it teaches its lesson well: stick together if you want to survive.
There are different classes to choose, with rattling machine guns, meaty shotguns, motion scanners, and a plethora of other equipment choices. All of it pales in comparison to the familiar, hideously lithe shapes that slip from floor to ceiling, dart through pools of yellow light before laying in wait, ready to make a snack of any unsuspecting grunt that stumbles past.
Screaming gunfire greets the appearance of anything shifting in the gloom, the flashes as the bullets escape the barrel lighting the creatures in staccato bursts. We’re losing badly, being picked off too easily, and then we find a place to hole up. Two or three entrances, well lit, a staging post for a thrilling last stand.
They keep coming, but we’re organised now, eyes attuned to the light. It makes for a breath taking, organically generated set piece, as we fight back against concentrated waves of player-controlled xenomorphs.
And then it’s done. And it’s a brief but brilliant taste of what Gearbox have done with the license. The violence is pitched perfectly, the rhythm of the combat attuned to the different beats of the two distinct races. There’s no chance to play as the aliens, but there is an overwhelming feeling that this is a game that finally does the source material justice.
Worth the wait? In the immortal words of Aliens' Newt: 'Affirmative.' Even if the development time has stretched on like a malfunctioned bout of cryosleep.
For: PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii U
When? 12 February 2013