Aliens: Colonial Marines Review
Let’s not beat around the bush here, Aliens: Colonial Marines is a bad game. I can’t say I’m surprised. It’s been in development for over six years, passed through the hands of several developers, and was delayed a number of times. Not exactly a recipe for success in the video game business. But while I may not be surprised, as a fan of the films Alien and Aliens, I’m no less disappointed.
Where do I begin? Let’s start with the single player campaign, and let’s talk about the positives. If you’re a fan of James Cameron’s Aliens, you’ll get to revisit some of that film’s locations, including the USS Sulaco and the ruins of Hadley’s Hope down on the surface of LV-426. Easter eggs in the form of audio logs and “legendary” weapons, such as Corporal Hicks’ shotgun and Private Vasquez’s Smartgun, add a nice touch. The iconic sound effects of the Xenomorphs, pulse rifle and motion tracker have been authentically captured, and the symphonic score for Aliens: Colonial Marines, composed by Kevin Riepl, is really quite good.
Umm…yeah, that’s about it.
The rest of the campaign is, in a word, dated, and it starts with the presentation. Colonial Marines would have a hard time standing out in the last generation of consoles, let alone the current one. The environments are bland and repetitive, the textures are dark and muddy, the character models are lifeless, and the animations are stiff. Even the voice acting is terrible, no thanks to a clichéd and befuddling script.
Aliens: Colonial Marines picks up seventeen weeks after the events of Aliens. You play as Corporal Christopher Winter, one of several Colonial Marines sent to investigate the distress call of Corporal Dwayne Hicks of the USS Sulaco. There’s something fishy about this search-and-rescue mission, however. Not only is the Sulaco back in orbit around LV-426 and not Fiorina-161, as it was supposed to be during the events of Alien 3, the ship has been infested by Xenomorph and is being commanded by mercenaries of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation.
I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are two key issues with this story. About two-thirds of the way through, a familiar character from the Aliens film makes a surprise appearance. When asked, essentially, how they’re still alive, the character simply responds, “That’s a long story.” Really? No explanation is given because no explanation can be given. It’s a twist for the sake of having a twist, whether it makes a lick of sense or not. And in this case, it doesn’t.
But there’s an even worse offender, and that’s the ending. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything so allow me this analogy. Imagine you’re a treasure hunter. After spending the last five hours in search of a mysterious chest, you finally happen upon it. With bated breath, you lift the lid and…roll credits. That’s Colonial Marines in a nutshell – just one big tease. What have you been fighting for this whole time? Damned if I know. The story is entirely pointless. And Twentieth Century Fox allowed this nonsense to be an official part of the Alien franchise’s canon?
Let’s move on to gameplay. Along with hit detection issues, the AI, both enemy and friendly, leaves a lot to be desired. The Xenomorph are appropriately aggressive, but unintelligently so. Aliens: Colonial Marines is mostly a corridor shooter, which limits their ability to flank your position and/or force you to move. Most foes in the game are bullet sponges, but at least the enemy mercenaries use cover from time to time. This brings me to one of my pet peeves. Aliens: Colonial Marines does not feature a cover system, but for some reason mercenaries can peak around corners and blindfire. It bothers me when enemies can use simple tactics that players cannot. It’s also not uncommon for any number of AI glitches to occur, like enemies and/or NPCs getting stuck on objects in the environment.
You’ll be in the company of one or more Colonial Marines throughout most of the campaign. These friendly soldiers seem to have an on/off switch. When turned on they are killing machines, eliminating enemies left, right and center, to the point where they’ll clear out entire groups of Xenomorph for you. When turned off, though, they’ll just sit there and watch enemies run right past them en route to attacking you. The juxtaposition is laughable at times.
You can try to eliminate the later issue by playing Aliens: Colonial Marines with up to four friends co-operatively, but this feature was clearly added late in development. The host will play as Corporal Winter but instead of playing as the supporting characters, like O’Neal and Bella, the rest of your friends will take control of generic Marines who have no role in the overarching story. On top of that, because Aliens: Colonial Marines is, for the most part, a corridor shooter, there simply isn’t enough room for four players. There’s one section that was obviously designed for solo play, in which Winter has to traverse a sewer beneath Hadley’s Hope while avoiding the Xenomorph Queen. Playing this section with four players is just plain weird.
While the developers nailed the sound effect for the motion tracker, they couldn’t have botched up its use any worse in the single player campaign. You have to holster your weapon in order to use the motion tracker, which is perfectly fine. In theory it should create some incredibly tense moments as you walk around the ship or complex, seeking out your objectives all the while keeping a close eye and ear on the activity of the motion tracker. But alas, you don’t need to have the motion tracker in hand. Whenever you’re about to be attacked by an enemy, hidden or otherwise, the motion tracker will emit a single “beep,” even if you don’t have it equipped. It gives away the element of surprise and eliminates any tension that should exist. This is by far the worst design decision in Aliens: Colonial Marines.
There are several minor annoyances as well. While I appreciate the look of the HUD, it can be difficult to read and challenging to change weapons on the fly. Speaking of weapons, you’ll have access to the Smartgun, one of the best weapons in the Aliens universe, for roughly 15 minutes during the 5-hour long campaign. It’s not uncommon to run into invisible walls and the last boss fight is…underwhelming to say the least.
The good news is competitive multiplayer is actually decent, though it is a little shallow and unbalanced at the moment. There are four game modes, each pitting Colonial Marines versus Xenomorph, either 4-on-4 or 5-on-5. Most of the modes currently favor the Marines, but that’s largely due to players bringing their high-level Marine in from the single-player campaign and facing off against low-level Xenomorph (your Marine earns experience, gains levels and unlocks new weapons and weapon attachments as you play through the campaign, while your Xenomorph only earns experience in competitive multiplayer). Because of this, Team Deathmatch rarely ends well for the Xenomorph. I’m sure the disparity will even out as players level up the different Xenomorph species, unlocking new attacks, abilities and mutations as they go.
Where competitive multiplayer becomes a little shallow is in map selection. The Team Deathmatch and Extermination modes offer 5 maps each, while the Escape and Survivor modes offer only 2 maps each. Sega and Gearbox plan to release four additional DLC packs for Aliens: Colonial Marines in the future, with the first set to introduce a new Bug Hunt mode, but considering one of those DLC packs will be campaign-focused, we’ll have to see just how much content gets added to multiplayer, and how quickly players begin to abandon it. I will say this much, at least in competitive multiplayer the motion tracker plays a much more significant and worthwhile role.
You know how some games are so bad, they’re actually fun to play? Aliens: Colonial Marines isn’t one of those games. It’s just bad. The single player campaign is terrible, co-op is clearly tacked on, and while multiplayer can be fun at times it doesn’t nearly make up for the rest of the experience. I don’t understand how a developer like Gearbox Software can make a brilliant co-op shooter like Borderlands 2, while pushing out a couple of turds like Duke Nukem Forever and Aliens: Colonial Marines. As Private William Hudson famously said, “That’s it man, game over man, game over!”
Reviewed By: Stephen Riach
This review is based on a copy of Aliens: Colonial Marines for the Xbox 360 provided by Sega.