"Oorah to ashes"
After years of growth in its black cocoon, Aliens: Colonial Marines has been pushed out into store shelves. I would like to preface this review by saying that the only Aliens related film I have ever watched is Prometheus. I am purely judging this game on how good of a game it is, not on how well it treats the universe's characters and events. A game that was originally as a Republic Commando-style game set in the Aliens universe, ended up just another mediocre shooter.
Colonial Marines is a first-person shooter set after the events of Alien, you put on the heavy boots of Corporal Winter, a marine fresh from cryrogenic sleep on a ship infested by Xenomorphs. The story is incredibly thin throughout the game until the final (relatively lengthy) cutscene, unfortunately this final cutscene was the most engaging part of the entire arc that plays out in the game. The story is told through a mixture of ugly, low framerate cutscenes, some in-game dialogue and a number of audio logs. The writing in all of these isn't offensively bad, it just doesn't really go out of its way to surprise or engage you; it feels like a "good enough" script. While there are a few rubbish performances, overall the voice acting is serviceable There is one impressive effect where if you are within earshot the vocal audio sounds normal, but when you are a good 50 meters (or more) away from your squad the game applies a few distortion effects over the audio that makes it sound like you listening to them over the radio. It's a simple effect that I can't really recall being used in any other game.
While I was playing single player campaign I was trying to think of a time that this game would have been considered "good". I came to the conclusion that it would have had to have been pre-Halo (1) and even then I don't think people would have enjoyed playing most of it, the game would have only been praised for its control scheme (which is essentially Call of Duty's) and for looking as "good" (relative term) as it does. For the first third of the game most of the weapons available to you have a huge amount of recoil, which is fine for simulation shooters because that is what happens when you fire a gun. In Colonial Marine's case though, (a game that does not promote itself as a simulation) the guns just end up not being very fun to shoot. This can be remedied somewhat by spending your rank points on upgrades that reduce recoil, or you can wait till you get your hands on more satisfying weapons such as the M56 Smartgun; which is essentially a minigun with auto-aim attachment.
Ammo is never an issue in Colonial Marines, as enemies drop plenty when killed and you can switch to any weapon you have unlocked at any time. One of the worst parts of the game is fighting human enemies, they are usually found in large numbers and can take you down pretty quickly if you stay out in the open for too long. They are not particularly smart either, they are not capable of flanking your or performing any other advanced maneuvers Because of this you are forced to just sit back and slowly chip away at them until they are all dead. The Xenomorphs at least have the ability to climb on the wall and roofs and attack you from multiple angles, giving you a much more interesting battle than the human enemies. The framerate also constantly drops below 30 frames per second on the Xbox 360 version of the game, which makes the experience even worse. The gunplay does get slowly better as you progress through the campaign and unlock better weapons and yet; it plays so much worse than Gearbox's 2012 release Borderlands 2.
Thankfully the game does include a few moments that do not involve shooting, these also happened to be my favourite moments of the campaign. In the first few chapters, your character regains conciousness inside a heavily infested part of the ship. He struggles out of the slimy shackles that have attached him to the wall, as you make your way out of the infested zone the Queen spots you and starts sprinting after you. Your squadmate who has recently dealt with this creature instructs you to run and seal the doors behind you, which you proceed to do. This was just a great unexpected sequence, that managed to make me feel distressed as I was trying to seal these giant mechanical sliding doors before the Queen arrived and tore my body to shreds. Sadly, there are only 2 other moments like this one; it would have been great if there was more content like this in the game to break of the shooting segments better. As you make your way through the campaign you can also collect dogtags and legendary weapons from key characters from the franchise. There are a number of challenges that you can complete, which earn you experience points towards the next rank. Each time you rank up you are given points to spend on attachments for your weapons, these include: scopes, underslung shotguns and flamethrowers. Interestingly these unlocks are available to you in the multiplayer component of the game and vice versa, which is a nice bonus.
Visually the game looks horrible, it looks like an upscaled Wii game. The game runs on Unreal Engine 3 and has the really bad texture pop-in that was present in launch games for the Xbox 360 and PS3, so for a good portion of the game it looks like you are traversing a planet made out of plasticine Even when the textures do pop-in they are commonly blurry upon close inspection. The animations for both enemies and squad members feel like there are frames of animation missing, and both allies and enemies will slide along the floor occasionally instead of using their limbs to move. The frame-rate is a big problem in both single player and multiplayer, in both modes when you display the scoreboard the game turns into a slideshow. With over 5 years of development time, you would think that they would have been able to find and fix all of these technical issues that I experienced while playing the game.
The multiplayer redeems the package somewhat, there are four different modes to play: Team Deathmatch, Extermination, Escape and Survivor. Team Deathmatch is what you would expect with the twist being that one team will be playing as the Xenomorphs. When playing as marines you have the choice of picking one of your loadouts, which let you customise your equipped weapons, their attachments and your tactical slot (grenades or C4). When playing as a Xenomorph you can customise the abilities, armour type and perk. When playing as Xenomorph you can attach to walls of the map, it is far from a smooth experience as you frequently get caught on geometry. Extermination utilises the same 5 maps used for Team Deathmatch but, places areas on the map that Xenomorphs must defend and Marines must capture.
Escape is the most interesting of the four modes, four players play as Marines that have been are given the order to escape the area, while the other 4 play as Xenomorphs trying to stop them from escaping. There are safe rooms along the way and the mode does a pretty decent job making it feel like you just made it every time you run through the door into the safe room, there are two unique modes for this mode. Survival is a horde-type mode that pits 4 Marines against a horde of player controlled Xenomorphs, once a Marine dies that player is out of the game - Xenomorph players however can continue to spawn until the match is over.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is a wasted opportunity, the Aliens universe is rich, and has more than enough depth to create an interesting game. Colonial Marines has obviously had some problems during it's 5 year development and we have no idea how many times the whole project has been scrapped and started again. With first person shooter genre being as crowded as it is there are so many better options available. I could only recommend this game to the most hardcore of Aliens fans who would appreciate any piece of Aliens related media, even then I would probably wait for a sale. Then again if you care that much about the universe, you should maybe just consider avoiding this completely.