Valve’s Left 4 Dead series is probably a lot more influential than you might think.  It’s considered one of the best cooperative experiences out there, and definitely something that keeps you on your toes, whether you’re playing as zombies or the good guys.  Gearbox Software has obviously played a few rounds of it, as they’ve put in a very similar “battle alongside your friends” mode in their forthcoming Aliens: Colonial Marines, called Escape Mode.  We had a chance to go hands-on with it this weekend at PAX Prime.

Like Left 4 Dead, your job as a group of four (either Marines or aliens) is to complete objectives that are spread out on a map, such as opening blast doors to move to the new area, or, if you’re xenomorph, successfully defeating your prey. 

If you’re on the Marine team, and one of your colleagues is taken down for the count (which is VERY possible because of far-away spitters), they’ll be temporarily incapacitated, unable to move away from harm but still wielding a gun and shooting enemies.  This will allow one of your teammates to come and revive you – provided they don’t get killed first, mind you.  As for the aliens, once you’re dead, you’re dead, but you can jump right back in and go on the hunt.

Along with being able to select from a variety of primary and secondary weapons on the Marine side (our personal favorites were the classic pulse rifle with the LED readout and a shotgun – you know, for close encounters), you’ll also have the opportunity to pick up sentry turrets and plant them in specific spots, so that they can lay down suppressing fire while you and your team scramble to safety.  They only carry so many rounds, but they’re useful in a pinch.  You can also fill up with ammunition and other goods in checkpoints, so make sure you stock up.

As for the Aliens, you play them from a third-person perspective, so you get a better view of the land as you hunt down your heavily armed targets.  You don’t have many assets to use, but you can stab with your tail and, obviously, lunge and go in for the kill before they have a chance to fight back.

Yes, it’s very Left 4 Dead-ish on both sides, but Gearbox did a superb job modifying it for the sci-fi universe.  The map we ran across, taking place in a wide open part of LV-426, offered plenty of room to run around on both sides and no shortage of detail.  The lighting in the open lumber yard was quite cool, as was an underground cavern, with plenty of places to pop out as an alien.  There are some pretty cool blood effects as well, whether it’s the red stuff pouring out of your body or the green goo that explodes from an alien when you blast it to bits.  Nice and gooey.

There were some technical problems over the course of the demo, such as in the elevator, which continued to run even after we reached the top floor, taking us away from the action temporarily.  However, it’s still a work in progress, and the final mode should be a sharp addition to the package.  If you’re a fan of Valve’s zombie shooters, this just might be the next step in getting some co-op satisfaction.

Sega’s Aliens: Colonial Marines will hit stores this February for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.