Developer: Gearbox Software
Aliens: Colonial Marines Review (PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
*This review is based on the PC version of Aliens: Colonial Marines, all settings were put to maximum*
Aliens: Colonial Marines is an odd beast. It’s a game that tries so hard to mimic the look and feel of the 1986 classic film, but at the same time it seems to go out of its way to disregard it. Sold as a sequel (apparently Fox approved) Aliens: Colonial Marines picks up directly after the events which occurred during Aliens. Players take up the role of a marine named Christopher Winter who is part of a team tasked with responding to a distress call sent out by Corporal Hicks.
The plot opens up opportunities for players to go back to LV-426 and explore familiar locations seen in the film, as well as witnessing the aftermath of a thermonuclear explosion. This is where a lot of the appeal lies within the game, along with players using iconic weaponry such as the pulse rifle and smart gun. The problem is this main selling point doesn’t play much of a part in the actual game, instead it merely makes a cameo. Within the first half hour of the story it becomes clear that Colonial Marines lacks that very distinct touch from Aliens that is still coveted today.
The story itself twists and turns to the point where it barely features anything resembling a continuation of already established events. There is even a plot point revealed halfway through the game that disregards an entire movie from the franchise. While this may not sound like that much of an issue, it should be remembered that Colonial Marines is being marketed as being a canonical entry into the Alien franchise. Other underlying problems with the story are a major lack of structure along with a distinctive switch in tone which leaves the game an unworthy entry into the franchise.
Disappointment can also be found in the sheer lack of marines present. For the majority of the campaign, players are with two other marines both of which have no character to them in the slightest. The only depth they are given is the fact they have slept together, bar that all they are is an NPC barking orders at you. It truly feels like a missed opportunity not to have a single memorable marine in the company of the player.
The bulk of the gameplay is nothing more than running through corridors shooting enemies that simply charge at the player. The easiest way to describe the gameplay would be flat and uninspiring. There’s no tension to the game and any threat surrounding the Xenomrophs is quickly destroyed thanks to some awful AI and the betrayal of established lore. Heading down a corridor blasting the hundredth charging Xenomorph offers little to no satisfaction and the gunplay overall offers little enjoyment and feels rather rigid and primitive. There are some attempts to change things up slightly with introductions of various weapons and enemy types, but these changes do little to solve the problems. For the most part each weapon offers very little in terms of variation. The pulse rifle is featured (and to the games credit it does look and sound the part) but the guns all fall into the same category. It becomes tedious when the only options are either rifles or shotguns.
The worst thing about the gameplay is that it’s just boring and unpolished. Things are not helped by some of the worst AI featured in a major release. The Xenomorphs will charge head first at the player and upon reaching their target they will begin to awkwardly swing at the player, often missing. There are some cases in which the Xenos will simply stand looking at the player (or NPC) until they are killed. It’s a bizarre sight to behold. The stealth like manner in which they manoeuvred in the films has been completely removed, as too has the hive like attack method. For the most part they will only ever attack the player one at a time; this presents no challenge in the slightest. Colonial Marines also features human enemies who enjoy simply standing behind boxes doing absolutely nothing. On the rare occasion they do open fire, they tend to wonder away from their cover and stand in the open allowing them to be shot down. Even on the higher difficulty settings the AI is horrendous.
Colonial Marines falls flat at nearly every turn. The game has no tension or atmosphere that the films are known for, resulting in the game just feeling incredibility dreary and bland. The bland themes continue when it comes to the visuals. Textures lack any real detail which leads to environments looking almost plastic and toy like. Character models come off as rather rigid and underdeveloped with their faces also looking like they were crafted out of plastic. The visuals fail to create a natural looking environment; this isn’t helped by the hit and miss lighting within the game. There are a few occasions where the lighting system is used to good effect, but for the most part it’s both outdated and spectacularly underwhelming. Sound design is also an area in which Colonial Marines stumbles. While the pulse rifle sounds exactly like it does in the film, everything else sounds rather muted and soft. There’s no iconic alien death scream, nor is there any real feeling of weight to the other fire arms in the game. Much like the visuals, the audio is simply bland and hugely underwhelming.
With a campaign clocking in at the 4-5 hour mark there is a number of incentives for repeat plays. Collectables such as audio logs and dog tags are hidden (though not every well) throughout each level. The most interesting of the collectables comes in the shape of the legendary options. These weapons are those belonging to the marines featured in the film, Hick’s shotgun and Hudson’s pulse rifle are just a few up for grabs. While it may simply be fan service (and there’s quite a bit of that within the early stages of the game) it is quite nifty using Hudson’s customized rifle.
One of the core elements to Colonial Marines replay value is the ranking system at the heart of the game. Players earn experience points by completing challenges and earning high amount of kills within each stage of the game. Ranking up rewards the player with weapon unlocks to customize the weapons featured throughout the game. Ranks and unlocks carry over to multiplayer which exposes a weakness with the system.
Multiplayer sees marines square off with Xenomorphs, both sides have customizable load outs expanded by the ranking system. The problem is ranks are earned separately for each faction. This creates an instant gulf in terms of load outs and unlocks between the marine team and the Xeno team. The only way to unlock skills for the Xenomorphs is to play as them in multiplayer, the marines however carry over everything unlocked from the campaign. This creates a situation in which one team is decked out with top end weapons and attachments while the other is forced to use the bare basics.
The multiplayer mode itself does have some fun to be had, but it does have a number of frustrations .The game modes are nothing original with the likes of Team Deathmatch and Extermination taking basic rule sets and applying them to the Aliens universe. Escape and Survivor host the best experiences thanks to a slight sense of panic as marine teammates are picked off one by one. There’s a clear inspiration from a certain Valve created game, however Colonial Marines does not offer as smooth of a gameplay experience. The Xenomorphs are simply not all that fun to play as. The only approach to combat a Xeno player can take is to charge at the enemy and spam melee attacks. Stealth isn’t a viable option thanks to a complete lack of executions that past Aliens titles have offered. It’s a truly jarring sight when witnessing an alien thrashing around like its being stung by a swarm of bees, it’s certainly not terrifying or intimidating. The worst mechanic of playing as a Xenomorph comes in the shape of the utterly bugged wall running. The mechanic barely works with players getting stuck on various obstacles and set dressing. It’s a issue that is simply frustrating and renders running along walls utterly useless.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is hard to recommend to most people. Fans of the films will surely enjoy seeing familiar locations as well as various references to the film. On the flip side fans will almost certainly be both confused and annoyed by the story as it completely disregards events established in the film franchise. The combination of a poor story with below par visuals, audio and gameplay result in a dull experience. Poor AI sucks any real challenge out of the game and helps create a repetitive over tone to the game. While it’s not unplayable, it’s certainly hard to enjoy as the game drags on. Co-op and multiplayer have something to offer, but not enough to make up for the failings of core gameplay. It’s a shame to think that no one has been able to truly create a top quality game based on the Aliens universe in over ten years. Colonial Marines had potential, but instead it has turned out to be a hollow shell of a game. Falling flat at almost every turn Aliens: Colonial Marines is simply a poorly designed, and poorly handled, game and addition to the Aliens universe that lacks the distinctive brutal edge synonymous with the films.
For a game targeted directly at the hardcore Aliens fan base, Colonial Marines simply fails and betrays the film franchise.
Aliens: Colonial Marines Review (PC, Xbox 360, PS3),