Aliens: Colonial Marines

First look: We're on an express elevator to hell

H. R. Giger's creatures are damn scary - they move blindingly fast, melt into shadows unseen, strike violently, and have no mercy. There's no dropping to the knees and pleading for your life if you encounter a xenomorph. And thanks to Gearbox, the bitch and her spawn are back...

Aliens: Colonial Marines is based on James Cameron's Aliens, presenting a frenetic, frightening universe where you and your squad are facing off against hordes of the creatures, in a game set just after the events of Alien3.

Alien: CM's placement in the canonical Alien timeline should spare us the terrible human/aliens hybrids and the Predalien that the film franchise has inflicted on us more recently. Just to underline: we're in pure Cameron war movie territory.

The storyline, written by Battlestar Galactica (the new cool one, not the ultra-camp '70s one) scribes Bradley Thompson and Dave Webber, is a closely guarded secret, but apparently you begin the game as a brand-new character in charge of a squad of marines who are sent aboard the derelict USS Sulaco, which was left abandoned at the start of Alien3, to find out what happened to its crew.

However, Aliens: CM doesn't just include the atmospheric settings of spaceships such as the alien derelict (where John Hurt was facehugged for the first time), but expands into bigger locations including cargo ships (so that means power-loaders) and even futuristic cities - so maybe we'll get to see xenomorphs on Earth after all...

Gearbox are huge fans of the sci-fi series and are carefully recreating many of the classic beasts, sets and weapons from the first two films, using a large collection of replicas and original props from the movies. They've even got their hands on original sound effect recordings from Aliens to meddle with.

All the Colonial Marines' armoury seen in Aliens will appear in the game, including the pulse rifle, those cool automated gun turrets that appear in the extended Aliens: Special Edition, and Hicks' favourite boom stick, the Remington shotgun - although to keep you immersed in the action, there's no in-game HUD, with ammo counters appearing on the side of each weapon.

Despite the probable release date of next year, Aliens: CM is already looking like the kind of game we've been waiting a long time for.

In one demonstration level that takes place on a colony planet similar to LV-426 (the planetary setting for Alien and Aliens) the four marines have to "make a stand" (as Gearbox says) by setting up a defensive perimeter before the xenomorphs begin scuttling towards your positions in droves. As leader, you can command your troops to set up the sentry guns, set explosive traps and weld doors shut, all done with context-sensitive actions.

Soon, the proximity meter is blipping, and the place is torn apart by dozens of murderous creatures, attacking through vents in the ceiling, and punching through floor tiles, as the realistic-looking environments are filled with the glistening, deadly bastards.

Although the animation is still unfinished and glitchy in places, it's clear that Gearbox already have a handle on the unearthly xenomorph physicality, apparently hand-animating all the creatures to avoid 'guy in the suit' B-movie monster syndrome.

While you can order your three AI squadmates around, and also leave them to fight any enemies without telling them to (as with Brothers in Arms), there's also a nifty bonus: Aliens: CM is set to feature seamless jump-in/jump-out co-op for up to four players.

Just imagine what it'll be like with today's tech and four mates swearing and laughing at each other as you bumble around the levels hopelessly causing lethal chaos. This could be an experience that might even match Left 4 Dead, and that's saying something.

Aliens: Colonial Marines is ages away, but we're already expecting great things from this express elevator to hell. Don't let us down Gearbox.