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Aliens: Colonial Marines multiplayer - not the Left 4 Dead clone you've been waiting for

In space, nobody can hear you scream insults at your co-op partners

The terror potential of an Alien lies not in its unearthly speed, strength or razor-sharp appendages, but its capacity for staying still. There's a sequence in Ridley Scott's expanded version of the original film when the camera pulls away, ever so fleetingly, to dwell on a cluster of anomalous mechanisms dangling from a chain. It's not till a good 30 seconds after the perspective shifts back to Brett that you realise you've been looking at the creature itself, awaiting Scott's cue in the darkness of the Nostromo's engine room.

Sometimes unfairly dismissed as a bundle of Freudian metaphors, Giger's eyeless, insectile monstrosity is easily lost among the wheezing pipes and knotted circuits of the set, just one more lethal machine among many. Later, Ripley leans down to inspect a terminal aboard the shuttle and almost loses her jugular to a clawed arm, popped out of the furnishings like a disc tray.


Turn that lurking, camouflaged horror into an action film baddy, and you've got immediate problems - problems James Cameron was able to overcome with the aid of an astonishingly well-budgeted puppetry department and some creative editing. Turn that action film baddy into a player-controlled character, and you've got more. For all its vaunted acrobatic capabilities, the Alien's physique is too angular and complex to animate elegantly in full view, and the Colonial Marines incarnation handles less like the ultimate bio-weapon as a clothes horse loaded down with Iron Age knitwear.

Running at full pelt is oddly ponderous, making you tap your foot with irritation as you chase down the orange silhouette of an out-of-view Marine. Melee attacks, meanwhile, are all about getting so close you can't see anything but pop-eyed human mugshot, then hammering the button till your Alien leaks industrial-strength Mountain Dew and collapses. (I occasionally scored a QTE kill by way of certain secondary abilities, quite by accident, and there was much rejoicing.)

Wall-crawling - a source of frustration even in Rebellion's original, trend-setting Aliens vs Predator - shows Gearbox's multiplayer at its worst. You nuzzle up to a surface pathetically, like a child soliciting another cookie, and after a few seconds it grudgingly welcomes you to the vertical plane. Then you're shot to pieces by an unhelpfully off-screen Marine while you're trying to clamber round the lip of a door. There are moments where the terrain clears up sufficiently that it's possible to engineer a genuine "death from above" scenario, poking your tail through somebody's ribcage as they exit a hatchway, but those moments are rare.

Some aggravating map structure and mode choices don't help. In theory, the xenomorphs have the same advantages over their gun-toting adversaries that the Infected have over Survivors in Left 4 Dead. As an Alien, you can spot people through walls and squeeze yourself into air ducts to get the drop on Marine squads, setting up face-chomping ambushes at corners and conniving to isolate stragglers.


But there simply aren't enough in the way of routes or Alien-only chambers to exploit, right now, and unlike in Left 4 Dead, dying equals a trip back to the respawning grounds, which are sometimes tens of seconds away from the action. During rounds of the self-explanatory Escape mode, moderately skilled Marine teams commonly streak ahead of their many-fanged opponents, hampered only by hold-the-line scenarios such as defending the doors of an elevator. "There's no manoeuvring on an Alien," Randy Pitchford once told us. From the looks of things, he was over-estimating their capabilities.

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