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Decades later, 'Aliens' gets a sequel you can play

Well that looks like a facehug waiting to happen.
Well that looks like a facehug waiting to happen.Gearbox/Sega

The thing is, if you're going to base a video game on the iconic "Aliens" films there are going to be expectations.

For starters, your game will have to include some facehugs. Likewise, there will have to be chest-bursting (as in, Xenomorphs will have to come exploding right out of some unfortunate characters' ribcages ). After all, those are some of the most iconic scenes from the famed movie franchise — the kind of scenes that have haunted our dreams ever since the films got their start with "Alien" in 1979.

But more importantly, if you're Gearbox Software — a company that is making a video game that it dares to call the "true sequel" to the beloved second movie "Aliens" — then the expectations are: you betterdo it right.

At the Penny Arcade video game expo in Seattle this past weekend, Gearbox was on hand to show off the work they've been doing on "Aliens: Colonial Marines." After getting a look at a hands-off demo of the game as well as some brand new footage, I had a chance to chat with "Colonial Marines" producer Brian Burleson and Gearbox president Randy Pitchford about the game, the expectations and the thrill of being handed the keys to one of film's enduring legends.

"I do feel the pressure. I definitely feel like we have to do it right," Pitchford told me. "But we're such nerds about the material ourselves."

"It's kind of a baby of ours," Burleson explained.

Gearbox has partnered with Hollywood studio 20th Century Fox and game publisher Sega to release "Aliens: Colonial Marines" sometime during the spring of 2012 for the Xbox 360, PS3, PC and even the forthcoming Wii U. It's an intriguing choice considering that there is no "Aliens" film on the horizon that the game is directly spun off of — as is typically the case. (Though, yes, Ridley Scott is working on the mysterious "Prometheus" film which might maybe have something to do with "Aliens.")

But Pitchford said that he and the folks at Gearbox decided to make an "Aliens" game and make it now purely because they love the films — films that have, in fact, influenced many video games including some of their own. (Check out the drop ships in "Halo" and the headcrabs in "Half-Life" just for a few examples.)

"I have been ripping off 'Aliens' all of my life," Pitchford said, both joking and not.

More importantly, they decided to make a game that they feel is the true sequel to the second film in the franchise — the 1986 James Cameron-directed "Aliens." Pitchford says he doesn't mean that as a slight against "Alien 3" (which was, truth be told, perhaps the weakest in the series). Instead, the way he sees it, in theme, tone and style, "Alien 3" played out more like a sequel to the first "Alien" movie." In those films, it was Lt. Ellen Ripley trapped in a foreboding place pitted against, essentially, one badass alien.

Colonial Marines return to the locations seen the 1986 film
Colonial Marines return to the locations seen the 1986 filmGearbox/Sega

"Aliens: Colonial Marines," on the other hand, is being built with the "Aliens 2" plot and pacing in mind — not to mention, it will return to the same "Aliens" locales: the U.S.S. Sulaco space ship, the planet LV-426 and the colony of Hadley's Hope.

After watching some of the game in action at PAX and catching some new footage, it seems "Colonial Marines" is taking everything we loved about "Aliens," and expanding upon it. The Colonial Marines are back in force and in all their colorful glory, so are the eerie, otherworldly environments, and the unique pacing — a heart-pounding, alien-infested blend of intense action intermingled with quiet, fear-drenched anticipation.

"It's something that I think people have been wanting for a while — we want to know what happened after 'Aliens,'" Burleson said. "So we're actually going back there ... but you get to experience it yourself. You get to experience what it's like to be a Colonial Marine."

The game will feature four-player drop-in, drop-out co-op. And players will get their hands on the weapons and equipment they saw in the movie: the Motion Tracker, the Smartgun, the Pulse Rifle, the Sentry Turrets and, of course, the Power Loader that Ripley so memorably used against the Xenomorph queen in "Aliens."

Here's your chance to step into a Power Loader.
Here's your chance to step into a Power Loader.Gearbox/Sega

"The sequel to 'Aliens' is not a movie, it's a video game. How cool is that?" Pitchford said. "That's how important our industry has become."

Of course, previous "Aliens"-related games have been a mixed bag. So to achieve something that feels authentic to the movies — and to help ensure that "Colonial Marines" has even a shred of a chance of living up to expectations — Pitchford said they have worked with "Alien" director Ridley Scott who went over the original movie's story boards with them and even passed along some important and never-revealed history about the giant Space Jockey first seen in "Alien" (and which will, reportedly, appear in "Prometheus"). And yes, Pitchford says, we will learn more about the mysterious Space Jockey in "Colonial Marines."

They also worked with famous futurist and designer Syd Mead — the man who created many of science fiction's most memorable visuals: the "Tron" Light Cycles, "Blade Runner" cityscapes and vehicles, and iconic locales and vehicles in "Aliens."

Mead, it turns out, had sketched out far more of the "Aliens" environments than we ever saw in the movie and Gearbox was able to draw on those plans for their game. LV-426, Hadley's Hope, the Sulaco, the Derelict Ship — they say we'll get to see them like never before.

"I never would have guessed 20 years ago that I would be the one trusted with this material," Pitchford said with a truly boyish enthusiasm. "It's like a dream come true."

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Winda Benedetti writes about games for msnbc.com. You can follow her tweets about games and other things here on Twitter or join her in the stream here on Google+.And be sure to check out the In-Game Facebook page here.