Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Aliens: Colonial Marines TC (ALIENSCM.PK3)

When I was a kid, I had several recurring nightmares. One of these had me walking to my room upstairs and seeing an Alien through the crack between the door and the frame. And even though I knew there was an Alien in the room, I couldn't stop myself from going in. In a way, Aliens: Colonial Marines (and the Justin Fisher TC before it) is a cathartic experience. The difference between the game and the dream is that, while I know There Be Aliens Here, I have just the slightest bit more control over my situation. Colonial Marines as a whole is much more lethal than the '94 relic, though it has some new toys and, as it's in GZDoom, a plethora of features including dynamic lighting, 3D floors, and other things to help set up its frightening atmosphere. The architecture is great, with a fairly realistic layout that only adds to the atmosphere, especially in the third area, the "Atmosphere Processor", and other places like those hallways to the east in the first area look like they were ripped right out of the movie.

This Aliens TC removes the human element from the movie's story and instead attempts to relive the best bits of action from the point of view of one single marine, Corporal Dwayne Hicks. If you're not familiar with the story (where have you been?), here goes. Your ship has been sent to investigate possible hostile lifeforms on planet LV-246, the location of a terraforming colony that's mysteriously ceased communications with the Weyland-Yutani corporation. When you arrive, it's clear that the xenomorphs wiped out the colony. Why you're the only marine sent in to investigate is never established, but who cares? Time to frag some Aliens, marine.

Of course, Colonial Marines is not Doom, though it runs with either primary IWAD (that's right, dual compatibility!). You're not going to kill every alien that comes at you in this minisode. Eventually you'll do something that spawns an insurmountable wave of night terrors. In Comerma's survival guide there are a number of great hints and tips that will help extend your momentary lifespan. Search every nook and cranny; sentry guns are your best and only friend; the flamethrower is civilization; etc.. The most important note talks about knowing where to go when you hit a switch. This is because switches attract undue attention, summoning in a tide of monsters that you cannot hope to kill. Plot your escape and lay down whatever you can to slow your enemies.

The Aliens are many, and yet they are few. Your primary opponent is the ubiquitous alien warrior, which leaps with frightening speed and chews through your health and armor, spraying acid on its death. Some start out crawling on the ceiling. Thankfully, no Alien that touches the ground will ascend. Facehuggers return, more annoying and mobile than its '94 incarnation, but the true pest is the chestburster. These lightning-fast little shits crawl out of the dead colonist bodies lying everywhere and nickel and dime your health away. The good news is that when you've caught on, you can generally kill them as they appear, briefly immobile and vulnerable.

You've got a fair number of tools to combat the Alien threat. I don't recall ever using the pistol, but it's there, I guess. The pulse rifle is decent for taking on a few aliens at a distance, and has an explosive grenade alt-fire, but every so often it undergoes a reloading animation, and without a counter advising you when that's going to happen, you may find yourself frantically looking for some blockade. There's also the shotgun, of course, "for close encounters". The flamethrower is pretty handy, sweeping creepy-crawlies on the ground as well as single-target damage. The smart gun is the real beast, blowing through aliens and ammo like popcorn, but you can't move when firing. Sentry guns are a great deterrent, provided you don't wake up a chestburster nearby and eat some friendly fire. The flashlight is cute, but flares are far more practical in hostile territory. Thank God for flares when you're crawling through the hive.

Exploring the uninfested areas is neat, and the lighting and architecture look great and help sell the package, but the best parts of this TC occur when you're running from evil or walking on eggshells in the depths of the atmosphere processor. It's about as far from Doom as you can get, unless by run you mean back the way you came. There's definitely a lot of tension, even more so if you return to previously explored areas only to find an alien force barely held back by some choke point. I'm not particularly fond of the first encounter with the Queen, though. Moving past her and to the elevator is an uphill battle dependant upon her ability to call in reinforcements on a whim and how you handle the various obstacles in the hallway immediately after. The sheer amount of blockage in that one point is maddening.

That's really my one major pet peeve in a pretty cool TC, though. Seventeen years after the first, Comerma gives us another take on Aliens for a modern source port and all the advantages that entails. While it's not Doom as we know it – the slowest moments are much slower and the fastest moments much faster – it's much closer to the survival horror that inspired id. A lot like Doom 3, really, but with a ton of desperation mixed in. If this kind of FPS style turns you off, don't play Colonial Marines. On the other hand, if you want to experience Aliens in Doom and the lo-fi '94 TC never appealed to you, here's your chance. Just stay frosty and check those corners...


by Oriol "Deimos Anomaly" Comerma

Main Colony ComplexE1M1
Drops you off outside the base with zero fanfare. The colony exterior is creepy, being poorly lit, with its sparse encounters leave you guessing where the next attack will be coming from. The sparseness lets you get used to the mechanics and play around with things like the flares and flashlight. Exploration pays off, awarding precious ammo and other handy utilities. Take your own pace up until you hit the main switch; you'll need to get used to the more cautious gameplay as the aliens are incredibly deadly. The final portion is a mad dash to the exit, opposed by an enormous number of xenomorphs. Make good use of your supplies and keep a good pace or you'll find yourself cut down in a matter of moments. I like the layout of the level, though if you don't plan out your route to the exit, you'll probably spend a few attempts getting swarmed.

E1M2Med.Lab and Operations
The Med Lab starts out like the complex, with no aliens in sight, but it's quickly apparent that the threat is greater. You'll quickly snag an invaluable shotgun and spend a few minutes clearing the lurking monsters, where a bit with the red key causes an insurgence of enemies heading toward the air duct. Unlike other waves of aliens, it's practical (and necessary) to kill them. From here exploration continues as normal until you hit the Operations room. It's a tricky little bit as, like before, hitting the button causes an onrush of xenomorphs. The first time I didn't realize where the actual exit was, assuming that the door immediately north of the Operations hallway was the actual exit. What you actually have to do is duck into the ducts in a sideroom, where gameplay interestingly branches between two routes, a warehouse with lurking beasts and a jaunt to the base's northwest exterior, still thick with aliens. Pretty cool.

Atmosphere ProcessorE1M3
Massive and very cool. Starts out silent but the first door you open unleashes a wave of aliens you'll want to be prepared for. Afterward, it's by the numbers room clearing of aliens, except with that monster count you know the stakes are higher. I know there are several spawns partway through when you hit certain objectives, with the primary one being the cluster that effectively seals off the staircase when you first enter the hive. The hive is an excellent claustrophobic nightmare and you'll be treading lightly, ready to backpedal at the slightest noise. And so you reach the biggest bottleneck, the alien queen herself. You can't actually kill her, of course. The problem is that you have to clear out the eggs in order to make a run to the exit. During this, she occasionally summons more drones, which are a pain in the ass to deal with. Even when you've cleared the eggs out, you have to book it into a hallway with at least two beasts inside, chestbursters popping out of the corpses immediately outside, and, well, it's incredibly difficult to punch through with all the bullshit going on behind you. Very frustrating.

E1M4U.S.S. Sulacco
Time for the all-important showdown. It's essentially an endurance match with you loaded with supplies against the queen and however many uglies she decides to summon up. Oh, and you can actually kill her this time. The Sulacco looks great for a boss arena; just whittle down the bitch's health until it's all over and use the ducts if you need some respite.