The Aliens franchise has taken a bit of a battering over the years. After two of the finest movies ever made, the franchise has never quite reached those levels again. Alien 3 was average at best, and Alien: Resurrection wasn’t much better and suffered from having the Human/Alien hybrid which was… well, less said the better. The two Aliens vs Predator films came and made Alien 3 and Resurrection look like classics. Then you had Prometheus, which Ridley Scott says wasn’t an Alien prequel, but frankly he’s not fooling anyone. I can only speak for myself, but I’d rather be sat in a room and made to watch Alien 3, Resurrection and the two AvP films back-to-back than watch Prometheus again. Not necessarily because it’s THAT bad a film, but because of the potential that it promised, but ultimately failed to deliver in all aspects.
It’s that same affliction that Aliens: Colonial Marines suffers from. With the subject matter of the game being set directly after the 1986 ‘Aliens’ film, and described as a ‘true sequel’ to that film, it sets the bar pretty high in terms of expectations. To try and deliver a direct follow-up to Aliens in video game format can best be described as risky and ambitious from the get-go, so any effort that was delivered was going to have to be slick, frightening, fluid, tense, brimming with nostalgia and, most of all, extremely playable.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is none of those things.
I think the most frustrating thing about Colonial Marines is that with a bit of care attention it COULD have been a good game. But for a game that looks so impressive in it’s development stages, it’s a shadow of what it could have been. Slick graphics and impressive set pieces have been replaced with dated textures, ropey animations, lacklustre weapons and a complete lack of tension. This isn’t even mentioning the bugs - and I don’t mean the Xenomorphs. At the time of writing, well over a month after release and several patches later, the game is still broken and I don’t think any amount of patching will be able to fix it.
A prime example of bugs and lack of tension occurs at the very start of the game - let me set the scene: Seventeen weeks after the events of Aliens, a rescue team from the vessel USS Sephora replies to a distress call from the USS Sulaco - the setting of the aforementioned film. The Sephora sends a squad over to the Sulaco, which is now in orbit around the planet LV-426, instead of around Fiorina-161 (where Ripley wound up in Alien 3) as it should have been. The opening cut scene doesn’t actually look too bad, but only flatters to decieve, because once it switches to the in-game engine, it winds up looking like a game from 2005. But more on that shortly…
Upon arriving on the Sulaco, you take control of Corporal Christopher T. Winter, accompanied by Private Peter O’Neal, and Private Bella Clarison. Soon after arriving on the Sulaco, you discover the Alien infestation that slaughtered the majority of the Sulaco’s crew during the Aliens movie. Equipped with the Alien universe’s signature M41A Pulse Rifle and motion tracker, you follow the ever-so familiar ‘ping’ of the motion tracker, signifying that there is something just through the next room, waiting for you. You make your way through to the next room, the motion tracker getting louder and louder, the white dot signifying the target getting ever closer and closer. Then, all of a sudden that first encounter is upon and a Xenomorph bursts from a vent and…
It gets stuck.
The Xenomorph is bugged. It gets stuck on the scenery.
You walk up to it and shoot it in the head. Any tension that may have been built in the opening moments disappears, and it doesn’t appear again for the entire game.
This whole sequence of events encapsulated my entire experience with Aliens: Colonial Marines. So much promise, let down by a sheer lack of polish and execution.
From this point on, the game just kept presenting it’s myriad of flaws. I’ve said it twice already, but the game looks dated to the point it barely passes looking like a current generation game. The textures look grainy and bland. The animations are abysmal - the humans run awkwardly, and when one dies, they ragdoll in a way that just looks like it’s crumpled like a stack of cards. Worse still, the Xenomorphs themselves completely lack the deadly grace and poise that we have come to expect from some of the deadliest creatures ever written from science fiction, running hither and dither like a herd of sheep.
Even worse are the ‘Boiler’ Xenomorphs that the game introduces. They sound promising enough - they’re essentially blind xenomorphs, which work on their hearing alone. They coil themselves up, staying deceptively still, and occasionally get up to stalk around the area. Instead of a traditional attack, they adopt a kamikaze tactic whereby the launch themselves at the player, and explode in a cascade of acidic blood. They’re even introduced at a stage where the player is unarmed and wading through a darkened, desolate sewage system, and it should be one of the scariest segments of the game. But once again all tension is ruined by the game’s mechanics, with the Boiler Xeno walking around on it’s hind legs like a brain damaged T-Rex that has been rectally violated. I wish there was a more eloquant way to describe it, but that’s the best I got…
Besides how the game looks, it lets itself down in several other areas. The weapons feel ‘boxy’ and firing them doesn’t feel natural or satisfying at all. This is a cardinal sin when the game boasts two of the most iconic guns in science fiction in the Pulse Rifle and the Smart Gun. Also, annoyingly, the Smart Gun’s ammo is limited and can’t be reloaded, and yet your companion - Private O’Neal - can run around the entire game without running out of ammo. What’s that about?
The game also lacks any sort of real challenge. I started the game on the highest ‘Ultimate Badass’ difficulty despite being one of the word’s most average shooter players, and the only time I felt challenged was down to the game’s shoddy mechanics than needing any sort of any tactical nous or due to superior enemy AI. In fact, ‘intelligence’ isn’t a word I would apply to Colonial Marines, artificial or otherwise.
The simple fact is that past the terrible game mechanics, Colonial Marines is also just an average First Person Shooter. There’s little to set it apart from the rest of the games out there. You progress through the game chapter by chapter, occasionally facing off against a big boss fight or large shootout, and your character progresses by levelling up and unlocking new weapons and upgrades for those weapons. It’s been seen before and would have struggled to feel fresh and new had it been released 4 or 5 years ago.
I don’t want to be completely negative towards the game, though, since every game must have some kind of saving grace. In Colonial Marine’s case is that the plot isn’t that bad, and is better than the last few films that have been released under the Aliens banner. The voice acting is passable, and when the game switches to the cut scene engine, it actually looks ok. It’s like these elements have been made by a completely different developer, which could well be the case, since Gearbox should be doing far, far better than this. Also, the game does have several collectibles and challenges that the player can complete, which honestly does provide for a welcome distraction from the monotony of the main game.
Also, in a change from the norm, the multiplayer is actually better than the single-player experience. I am not a big multiplayer gamer by any stretch of the imagination, with the gaming time I do get usually being dedicated to single player games. But I thought I’d try the multiplayer of Colonial Marines, and it was actually fun in small doses. It does suffer from the clunky mechanics of the single player game and the game modes aren’t anything to shout about either - you have a 6 vs 6 deathmatch mode, a 4 vs 4 mode called escape where the marines have to escape from the pursuing Alien team, and a capture-the-flag style mode called Extermination, where the marines have to destroy nests of Alien eggs. But with a team of humans controlling the Xenos, it actually gives them the danger, unpredictability and tension that the Xenomorphs should have had in the single player game from the very beginning.
This smattering of high points though aren’t enough to save Aliens: Colonial Marines from suffering the ignominy of being the worst Alien game of this console generation, with it making the distinctly lukewarm reception of 2010’s Aliens vs Predator seem highly-celebrated in comparison, and leaving us waiting for something to hit the heights of 1999’s game of the same name. It’s mystifying as to why it’s so hard for developers to come up with a definitive Alien game in this day and age of such high-spec gaming tech. There are two classic films to use as starting points in terms of how to build tension in two completely different ways, and the sad fact is that the closest we’ve come to the definitive Alien game on this console generation is the original Dead Space game.
As it stands, there’s very little here to recommend Aliens: Colonial Marines whatsoever, whether it’s to the casual gamer, hardcore first-person shooter nut, or avid Aliens fan who must own everything related to Aliens. All you’ll find here is a half-arsed attempt at cashing in on the franchise, that will leave you with nothing but disappointment and resentment.Positives
+ The plot isn’t bad
+ Cut scenes are passable
+ The multiplayer can be funNegatives
- Dated graphics
- Terrible animations
- Buggy as hell
- Competely lacking in tension
- Feels like an 8 year old game
- Xenomorphs are laughable
- How long have you got?Verdict:
Game over, man. Game over.
As always, this review is also posted on my video game blog: http://bigfriendlygamer.tumblr.com