In space…..no one can hear you scream. Well sadly in this case, anyone who plays this will probably be screaming in agony at how torturous Aliens: Colonial Marines is to play. I’ve been eagerly waiting for Aliens: Colonial Marines for several years now and the anticipation had culminated in me being giddy for its arrival. I clawed open the package, sampled the game for several hours and ultimately it greatly disappointed.
Despite the big gap between the film Aliens and Aliens: Colonial Marines (1987-2013) Colonial Marines is the story sequel to Aliens, taking place several months after the film. You return to the Sulaco as Corporal Christopher Winter, your mission is to investigate the disappearance of Ellen Ripley and Corporal Dwayne Hicks amongst other soldiers. You’re rather promptly introduced to the hell that is the Sulaco and you have to endure more disgusting, slobbering aliens. Your ship the Sephora is destroyed by Weyland Yutani’s armed forces in an attempt to cover this whole scenario up. You’re forced to explore LV-426 with your allies such as O’Neal and Bella and hope you can escape the planet whilst uncovering some grizzly answers. This is about it for the story, I struggled to be gripped by it as it’s incredibly difficult to get caught up in a story that is strangled with mediocre dialogue and unforgivable errors in modern-day gaming. It’s hard to know where to start…….but here goes.
The introduction and certain cut-scenes are quite well done as I temporarily felt immersed because of the excellent cinematic presentation. The top and bottom of the screen having thick black lines made the game feel like a cinema. I was hoping it was an omen for things to come and to create intricate story-telling with blockbuster aspects; but alas no. Characters show no signs of obvious emotion and it’s quite disturbing how void some characters are of emotion when they react to certain pieces of news. I’ve had dialogue be cut off to make way for yet more terrible dialogue that makes me wonder why they bothered to include it.
“SHIT! It’s blocked. It’s really blocked.”
“Let’s not go that way”.
Was the last line really necessary?
“I was almost done…..I almost died”
This line was said in the most emotionless way possible and it actually made me laugh, and considering how emotional the scene was supposed to be its clear the script isn’t a priority. No actor has conviction in any of their parts and characterisation is minimal at best.
The xenomorphs are creepy and at times I definitely felt a sense of anxiety as I’d navigate the dull corridors and hear them, my heart would stop and I’d forget it was only a game. Their AI to some extent is well done as they adopt aerial tactics, clinging to the ceilings and walls and even scamper underneath the platform you’re on. That’s great! Intelligent and genuinely interesting A.I. that makes you frantically spin on your axis to avoid having massive chomp marks in your face.
What isn’t great however, is the classic Facehugger enemy which is scarce and poses no challenge whatsoever. A quick bashing of a button and a shell/burst of bullets and its dead; merely included just for the sake of it it seems. But the xenomorphs themselves can charge at you before seeing a pretty butterfly and stopping in the middle of nowhere to do nothing except be a lamb to the slaughter. Ermm ok, I’ll leave my allies to mop you up…OH WAIT..they’ve decided to inexplicably stand right behind a wall during combat and not move. Well that’s kind of unprofessional of you O’Neal, I guess I’ll just go and give you a nudge like I would in a standard shooter to push you into the field of conflict….OH WAIT…..I’ve defied the laws of physics and walked straight through you!
I mean really? It’s 2013 and a hotly anticipated title with renowned studios behind it can’t implement an engine capable of sustaining a collision detection system? One of my compatriots Bella skillfully managed to run through not 1 but 2! consecutive walls; David Blaine take note. Dead bodies even move from side-to-side like a scene from the exorcist. I was absolutely flabbergasted and appalled by this, BUT I soldiered on and was willing to look past these glaring issues as it was inconceivable that the game could throw up any more basic errors. To my great sadness I was wrong.
You revisit famous locations from the Alien films and it is fan–pleasing nostalgia, the environments even squelch with footsteps treading across the slime-stricken floors. The score is borrowed from the films which is nice and adds some authenticity to the game and the pulse rifle retains its classic sound bytes. But just as the game wraps you up in its familiar blanket, you immediately want to wriggle free due to more poor examples of “Artificial Idiocy”.
For instance, my teammate O’Neal walked out into the open of a corridor and was looking down the barrel of an activated and automated sentry turret. But he doesn’t get shot which sends curiosity waves to my brain, “Will I get shot”? I stood DIRECTLY behind O’Neal and lo and behold, my body was being pounded harder than a boxing match with Butterbean. During a heated firefight, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a xenomorph. That may not seem peculiar but when I inform you that he was in the middle of nowhere, standing still and hovering a good 5ft in the air; well you get the idea. In one instance I opened a door and one of the Weyland soldiers was staring face-to-face with me and did absolutely nothing but wait for his demise. He may as well have been sent to the Green Mile and befriended a mouse.
I’ve had my team mates literally wander off on ahead leaving me behind in the desolate ruins to fight off a hoard of xenos. I’ve encountered enemies that think I’m Sarah Connor as they run past everyone else and are determined to only kill me, team mates looking at me whilst they’re body is 180 degrees and firing at the enemy. The skill and confidence to shoot without looking deserves to put them Angelina Jolie in Wanted or Daniel Craig MI5, although I think it’s possibly bad programming. I’m going to go with bad programming. Yeah, definitely bad programming.
The game feels disjointed and out of ideas before it even gets going as the first few missions aboard the derelict are so mundane. The corridors are so generic and so wincingly dull, yet Gearbox persists with them. For them to make a game like Borderlands that is so creative and great to look at, the scenery never changes. Even the later levels when you’re on LV-426 (a planet) are samey samey very quickly; plus very linear. Even boss fights are stupid, I hate using the word stupid because it’s plain, yet it describes them perfectly. Big, scary, fear-inducing aliens should have you fighting for your life and an encounter should feel ominous. But one is a repetitive pow, pow, pow till its dead with a vehicle that I thoroughly enjoyed using; instead the vehicle is wasted on this. But the final boss so beyond underwhelming and had no build-up, it was “hey, here is our end of game boss, bye”. Wha?
I will give credit to the start of Mission 5 though as the early parts of this mission are purely stealth-based as you are weaponless and have to negotiate your way through a plethora of statue-like aliens that prey upon sound. They will charge right up to you and leave you petrified. This gave me uncontrollable levels of tension that I felt in Dead Space and Doom, but when the section was finished, it was back to Mundane Shooter: Colonial Marines.
These locations would be passable if they were nice to look at and cause you to be quivering in awe of their shining beauty. Whereas instead I was a pulling a face you might expect to do when you lick a lemon. In certain parts of the game you have really dark areas and a red light will illuminate a small part of the area which is quite mood-fitting, if a little cheap. But the reality is that the darkness is used to cover water which I’m afraid barely constitutes water. It’s not gleaming Florida sunshine sea water but more disgusting cloudy swamp water with little to no texture; it couldn’t be more aesthetically unpleasing if it tried. On a side note, the water doesn’t ripple when someone walks through it either. Lightening resembles childish scribble on a drawing pad; glass shattering looks like horrible square pixels and the fire isn’t too convincing either.
If it sounds like I’m being hypercritical then rest assure I’m not. I’m just struggling to comprehend how a game in 2013 can take all basic principles for graphics and design and blatantly ignore them. They didn’t need to be over-the-top incredible graphics but at least be pleasing on the eye; instead it feels like a blast from the past nightmare. Interactivity within the game is surprisingly enjoyable though, the melee system makes it so that if a xenomorph lunges at you, you can grab its head and blow its brains out with a pistol. The brutality of the game feels better and more in-keeping with the violence and terror of the game. When you or enemies die then you see limbs fly off, bodies explode and it’s strangely pleasant and satisfying to experience during combat.
I like the array of weaponry I have at my disposal and it’s nice to see weapons from the films being included in the game (reference to the nostalgia point). It’s just that I needed so little of it: a pistol, battle rifle, pulse rifle, tactical shotgun, pump action shotgun etc. Apart from the limited appearance of the smart gun, this could single-handedly mow down a platoon of well-armed SAS forces, and the flamethrower. I only needed the pulse rifle and tactical shotgun to get me through the game.
The weapons themselves were pretty horrible to use as it felt sluggish to aim and they are inaccurate with terrible recoil (even aiming down the sight). You’d be convinced your marine has a nervous tendency towards firing his gun and it causes him to erratically flinch.
In addition to all the errors so far, I can understand why some of them failed, I can tolerate these awful howling frailties. But giving me a second to avoid grenades? I must have survived 1 of about 10 grenades as the fuse is obscenely short. Also why does it take 10 years for a door to open? I counted and a door once took 30 seconds to open, I was fortunate in that some only took a measly 20 seconds. They honestly left me incredulous!
Aliens is also one of the first ever games to have me SCARED of hiding behind cover. Not because of the xenos but because the soldiers had magic penetrating bullets that hit me anyway. I checked and it was definitely a rock I was behind and not a piece of coloured paper. On the plus side, the motion tracker is a useful tool that points out the location of objectives and enemies and you will use it frequently. The inventory system is somewhat inventive as it saves going into the menu and aids the speed of the selection process with intuitive functions.
The game has challenges for you to complete which reward you with XP to buy upgrades. It’s a nice little system that adds length and depth to the game. Customary collectibles are prevalent in the levels in the form of audio logs, dog tags and legendary weapons found in the films. The stale 6 hour campaign is possibly worth another play through providing you have someone else to form an emotional attachment with to get through it. It has drop in-drop out co-op and the multi-player is enjoyable for a few games as you gun down free-roaming human controlled xenomorphs. The traditional level up system and classes apply.
The controversial decision with Aliens: Colonial Marines comes in the form of its original game play demo. Gearbox showed off a demo that was dark, made use of exceptional lighting effects to make the game scary like an Aliens game should be. When playing the actual game, it is completely different and features none of this, even changing bits of a level that were fun in the form of an epic stand-off. Where did it go wrong? Why did these changes happen and critically destroy Aliens: Colonial Marines chances of being a critical success?
+ Nice nod to the films with guns, sounds and characters
+ Collectibles and co-op make the game just about replayable
- Unsatisfying narrative
– Gameplay elements are flawed
– Horrible graphics
– Awful dialogue and emotionless characters
– Changing whole landscape of the game to something worse
– Poor A.I
This very philosophical and opinionated review has tried to cover all areas possible to try to describe this game. Gearbox has produced fine titles in the past and this is NOT one to add to the collection and has reflected badly on them. A very outdated game engine that can’t handle simple physics, a list longer than Santa Claus’ naughty and nice list of game play frailties and a bizarre controversial decision make Aliens: Colonial Marines one of the let downs of 2013 and doesn’t come close to justifying years of development.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is out now for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC
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