Feb. 12, 2013 at 3:57 AM ET
It's been almost three decades since "Aliens" first arrived in theaters, but on Tuesday the iconic science fiction film filled with evil aliens, badass space marines and nefarious corporate shenanigans is getting a brand new sequel.
It just so happens that this sequel is one you can play.
It's called "Aliens: Colonial Marines" and it's a video game — but it isn't your average game/movie tie-in. The development company behind "Colonial Marines" — Gearbox Software — is calling it the "true sequel" to the beloved second film in the Aliens series. And the Hollywood studio in charge of the franchise — 20th Century Fox — officially considers the game canon in the Aliens universe.
What that means is, "Aliens: Colonial Marines" is carving itself a unique place in the increasingly blurred space where film and games meet. It also means that if you've ever wanted to set foot inside the wondrous, horrifying, Xenomorph-infested Aliens universe (and fend off a deadly alien facehugger or 20) then here's your chance.
"Everybody at Gearbox wanted to do something in the Aliens universe, but we didn't want to just kind of play around in it," John Mulkey, Design Director at Gearbox Software, told me in a recent interview. "We wanted to do something really meaningful."
Of course, one of the things that made the 1986 James Cameron-directed "Aliens" such a memorable thrill-ride of a film was the colorful cast of space marines who joined Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) on her journey to the planet known as LV-426. Mulkey says Gearbox has set out to continue that Cameron vision. With that in mind, "Aliens: Colonial Marines" not only expands on the film's story, it sets out to extend the marines' experience to the audience. And it does both in some unique ways.
For starters, to fire up the game is to step into the boots of one Cpl. Christopher Winter. He and his team have been sent to find out what happened to Ripley and the crew of marines dispatched to the colony of Hadley's Hope in the "Aliens" film. And that means players find themselves (virtually) walking around in places last seen in the movie.
Among the locales Gearbox has meticulously recreated: the U.S.S. Sulaco space ship, the planet LV-426 and Hadley's Hope — or at least what remains of it (you may remember that it went kaboom at the end of "Aliens"). In fact, these locales have been recreated with such attention to detail that it's worth putting the game's first-person shooting action on hold to take an appreciative gander.
Remember that scene from "Aliens" where the android Bishop does the high-speed trick with the knife? Go to the mess hall in the game, look for the table and you can see the marks where the blade struck, Mulkey points out. Meanwhile, go to the operations post where Ripley and the marines made their stand against the aliens, and you’ll see the spot in the floor where the creatures pulled Private "GAME OVER, MAN!" Hudson (aka Bill Paxton) through the grates.
"It’s just a little extra layer of love we added to the game," Mulkey says.
Of course, any hardcore fan of the Aliens movies is going to want to play "Colonial Marines" just to see what the game's story has to reveal about what happened in the films.
"I don’t want to spoil anything, but as you’re playing through you’ll start to discover some really interesting twists on what you thought had occurred " Mulkey says. "There are some exciting things with the narrative and the characters that play upon events in both 'Aliens' and 'Aliens 3'."
In fact, he says, "One of our goals is that — once you play our game — 'Aliens 3' will be a better movie." ("Aliens 3," of course, was the critically panned film sequel to "Aliens" and the movie that found Ripley on a prison planet.)
We aren't naming any names here, but let's just say that Aliens fans will see some familiar faces making some surprising returns in the game. And players will learn a lot more about what those alien-studying corporate baddies — the Weyland-Yutani Corporation — have been up to.
But perhaps the most important thing is, "Aliens: Colonial Marines" looks, feels and sounds like an interactive Aliens movie.
Jump into "Colonial Marines" and you'll find yourself ensconced in an eerily familiar world of futuristic machinery choked by dank alien growth. You'll immediately get your hands the alien-sensing Motion Tracker you saw in the movie. You'll quickly take down Xenomorph after Xenomorph with a Pulse Rifle -- its bursting metallic buzz taking you on an audio trip down memory lane.
You'll also step into a Power Loader (the iconic machinery that Ripley used to grapple with the Xenomorph queen in "Aliens.") And you will most certainly find yourself desperately trying to keep the famed Alien facehuggers from jamming their egg-planting tentacles down your throat. (Good luck with that.)
"We spent a lot of time and a lot of effort really try to get the details right," Mulkey says.
Of course, creating a sequel — a video game sequel no less — to "Aliens" doesn't come without significant pressure.
Says Mulkey, "It’s a great responsibility to be pulling this together and putting it out there for everybody, because you really want to do it proud, you know?"
Winda Benedetti writes about video games for NBC News. You can follow her tweets about games and other things on Twitter here @WindaBenedetti and you can follow her on Google+. Meanwhile, be sure to check out the IN-GAME FACEBOOK PAGE to discuss the day's gaming news and reviews.