Also On: PS3, PC
If you haven’t heard by now, Aliens: Colonial Marines is not a good game. I’m not of the mind that it’s complete garbage, I think there’s a handful of redeeming qualities, but its inability to capture the Aliens universe, combined with some really un-inspired, tepid gunplay make for an experience that’s underwhelming at best.
We’ll start with the bad, since there’s so much of it. Considering that we know Gearbox is capable of making good games, with the most obvious examples being the Borderlands series, and with some of their older Brothers in Arms games, the fact that Aliens: Colonial Marines went so wrong is sort of baffling. There’s a lot of finger pointing that’s been done in recent weeks, with blame being shifted to outsourced development houses and then shifted right back at Gearbox, and quite frankly, I think Gearbox should bear the brunt of the burden here considering it’s their name gracing the front of the box. But when the campaign starts up and you’re greeted with an opening credits scrawl that gives you a whole host of possible suspects, it does start to give you the feeling that this game was a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, with no real unified sense of direction outside of the misleading demo showcased for preview purposes over and over again.
The end result isn’t pretty. Aliens: Colonial Marines is filled with awful texture work, hidden by low-lighting effects that do mask some of the deficiencies if you’re not paying close attention. But other things are far more noticeable, like the awful A.I. on both the Alien and human enemies you’ll encounter, and your own friendly A.I. units that do little more than get in your way or act as damage sponges for Alien attacks. The game is filled with odd bugs, you’ll often see Aliens explode into nothing, teleport from one spot to another, get stuck on geometry, float in the air both dead and alive, and so on. When the path-finding for friendly A.I. units starts to go awry, they’ll literally teleport (with some sort of teleport effect even) next to you in order to keep up, which really breaks what little immersion the game has to offer.
The gunplay is about as bland as a shooter can get, and while they do nail the Pulse Rifle’s sound effect from the film, few weapons in the game carry any sort of considerable oomph or power. When fighting Aliens or the human enemies you’ll rarely see any sort of reaction when they’re hit, and there’s almost no indication that they or anyone close to them is in danger. Is the enemy hidden behind pesky cover? Just walk around it, wide open, and blast him from the side. Chances are he won’t even turn around to greet you. And the intelligent Aliens found in the film franchise don’t exist in this game. At various scripted moments they’ll just swarm in from one direction or another, never bothering to stalk or flank you. Also, spitting Aliens are introduced here, which make as little sense as anything else. Are they spitting their own blood at me? Is their spit acidic now? Who knows?
The story is also a mess, but doesn’t really become a groan inducing dump on the source material until a particular character makes his entrance. This is actually ruined right in the beginning credits, so when the unveiling happens you’re not really as surprised as you should be. And the explanation for this character even existing at this point is brushed aside, as if the writers couldn’t be bothered with any sort of reasonable explanation. The best part is that after the initial appearance, he adds little to the rest of the game’s structure, story or otherwise. It’s literally done to tug on the nostalgic heartstrings of fans, and is handled poorly. I realize that it’s been said the events of this game are canon, but I can’t imagine that anyone at Fox or whoever approved it was looking at something other than the potential dollar sign attached.
The other characters aren’t given much to do either. The marine you’ll play as, and the group you roll through the game with, are pretty much cookie-cutter stereotypes of characters found in the films. Any swerves or surprises in the plot are played out on the characters only, as anyone playing the game that enjoys the films will know that no, you can’t really remove a baby Alien without killing the host, and yes, that thing found stuck on someone’s face when they woke up has literally screwed them over. So when you get a late game reveal that the marines were tricked into doing a rescue mission for more dubious reasons, you’re already 10 steps ahead of that. Any emotional impact the sequence is meant to deliver to the player is absolutely pointless, because there’s been no real attempt at getting you invested in who these characters are, why they do what they do, and how they even know each other outside of this singular mission.
For those that do insist on playing the campaign anyways, I’d urge you not to trick your friends into coming along. While the game does feature a four player online co-op option, it clearly was not built around the concept. When you play with other folks, who can thankfully drop in and out at any time, they’re just sort of there. They’ll never be referenced by anyone, they don’t fill the roles of existing characters, and oftentimes you’ll find that a group of other players just gets in the way. This is more of an issue in the interior sections of stages than the more wide-open, outdoors areas, but about half of the game consists of just that. And certain sequences where you’re clearly meant to be alone can become an absolute nightmare with other people in tow, whether they’re actually trying to play with some level of skill or not. It definitely feels like something that was shoe-horned in so that another feature could be slapped on the back of the box.
But, like I said at the top of the review, it’s not all bad. The multiplayer mode featured here is actually sort of fun, if not a little clunky. Everything you do in single-player, co-op, or multiplayer ties into an experience system, which earns you points that can be distributed amongst your weapons for modifications and improvements. Multiplayer consists of just four different modes, and while the game has certainly been critically panned, there’s enough people that have bought it to fill out those online spots for matchmaking anyways. I never had an issue finding a game regardless of the mode chosen, and matchmaking was pretty quick and painless. Of course, the lifeless shooting mechanics are still an issue here, but any problems with the A.I. are quickly resolved by filling those spots with actual people. You’ll find a lot of tense moments, especially in Team Deathmatch with Aliens vs. Marines. Trying to hole up with your squad in some sort of safe position, only to realize you’ve miscalculated all the angles of approach the opposing Alien team can take is both frustrating and exhilarating, and delivers moments that actual feel akin to the original sequel.
The controls for the Aliens can feel a little clunky at first; it took me a while to be able to scale walls and other surfaces with ease. It’s certainly not as intuitive as the first person Alien controls found in Rebellion’s Aliens vs. Predator from 2010, which was a pretty flawed game as well, but managed to deliver on a pretty interesting take for controlling one of the Xenomorphs. The third person view granted the Aliens isn’t always ideal, causing camera issues here and there, but once you get the hang of it you’ll probably have some fun here.
Still, that’s really not enough to excuse the rest of this mess. We don’t really know why something went wrong with Aliens: Colonial Marines, but clearly something did. The end result leaves you with a less-than-hopeful outlook on the future of the Aliens game franchise, which is sort of a feat in itself considering the recent track record (outside of Infestation on the DS) hasn’t been that great to begin with. I would definitely suggest avoiding Aliens: Colonial Marines entirely or at least just rent it if you feel like you need to experience it yourself. Certainly don’t buy it.