Aliens Colonial Marines Review: Bug Hunt
The Alien franchise and name are venerable, having been the inspiration for numerous other series and concepts throughout the years. Unfortunately it has been a very long time since this grand-sire of science fiction got a quality game of its own, with the most recent Aliens vs Predator in 2010 just falling below expectations and what it should have been. Now Gearbox ha released Aliens Colonial Marines, and have been talking a good game with their passion and respect for the franchise, and early signs certainly looked positive for what this game could be.So how did Gearbox's guidance turn out in the end for the final release? Well fortunately for myself I was not personally expecting a whole lot from the title due to its troubled development cycle and my general lack of enthusiasm for the series gaming past. I say fortunate because Aliens Colonial Marines is a bit of a mess and disappoints in multiple areas.
Aliens Colonial Marines is supposedly a direct sequel to the events of Aliens, and is set in the immediate aftermath of that film, but its events are so paltry and out of place that it amounts to nothing more than fan fiction with a stage. The game opens with the player in the role of a Marine named Winters as he and his crewmates are sent to investigate the Sulaco and its disappeared crew. You are quickly brought into the orbit of the planer LV-426 and the plot devolves into the same old formula of meeting Xenomorphs, get scattered, fight Weyland Yutani forces and so on. Its predictable, disengaging and above all boring, but the worst part of the story is not the actual plot itself but the characters that plague it.
All of the titular Colonial Marines are archetypal gung-ho assholes with no redeemable qualities to speak of. They constantly shout "hoorah" and their motto of "no marine left behind", but it all gets tiring really fast. The dialogue is completely flaccid, and the entire narrative is focused on characters drowning in their testosterone, rendering them almost indistinguishable from each other. You won't learn anything about any of them and you won't want to, and this lack of investment in the cast completely kills any kind of player investment in the game and its events before it leaves its crib. The whole thing is only made worse by characters who make inexplicable bad decisions and actions that make no sense, from a marine setting off a grenade that kills some of his friends in a space vacuum to a commanding officer with no tactical sense whatsoever, its an astonishingly poorly written game. Worst of all, Colonial Marines retconns an element of the films in a forced way that shows a lack of either understanding or care for the source material, and perhaps even both. It is a plot twist that makes no sense, and the game even acknowledges it as such but dismisses it as "that's another story", never to be addressed again. Utterly ridiculous.
The pathetic storyline is not where the missteps of Colonial Marines end. The visuals of the game are a complete disgrace both artistically and technically. The Sulaco and other environments that you travel through are certainly authentic for the franchise, and they initially look the part with dark corridors and destroyed living quarters, but once things come into motion and you start interacting with this environment you realise how ugly this game really is. There is a lack of colour, with most everything being dark and lifeless, but the lack of life and immersion is pitiful when you look at what the likes of Visceral achieved with the first Dead Space way back in 2008.
Animations are jerky and look incomplete somehow, with the Aliens themselves awkwardly climbing ceilings and grates, and disappearing into pools of badly rendered acid when they die. Friends and foes alike get stuck in terrain and fall through floors and walls, or randomly throw themselves into glitchy spasms on a regular basis, making them unable to participate in any kind of combat. Screen tearing, awful texture quality, blocky environmental details and broken animations are all abundant in this game. Friendly characters will teleport in front of the player in a flash of blue light when you get to a checkpoint, and it is the most out of place and ridiculous animation I have seen in a modern game for a long time, systematic of the sheer laziness that went into the development of this game. The whole thing is just visually shoddy, with an aesthetic design that is bankrupt and far below the standards of many PS2 era games, and a host of graphical technical issues.
The soundtrack is weak, with a couple of pieces lifted from the films but nothing original of note, and voice acting from the bottom of the acting barrel for the most part. Even the Xenomorphs themselves fail to make an audio impact, and only the blip of the motion tracker has any longevity in my memory of this game, for all of its uselessness in actual gameplay terms.
Speaking of the gameplay, things wouldn't be so bad if the game played well despite its failings in story and art, but even here it is a failure. Things start promisingly, with an opening level that builds up an atmosphere of expectation and tension as you enter the infested Sulaco. The atmosphere continues to build before you meet the first Alien, and the player is eventually ambushed by the deadly creature, but as you are prompted to enter a quick time event that "pushes" the lethal Xenomorph off you things completely fall apart and the game never really manages or even attempts to make the Aliens a foe to be feared again. From here gameplay settles into a formulaic and familiarly boring shooter that involves only the most basic tactics. Xenomorphs are easy to kill, face-huggers are a joke and far too much time is spent fighting Weylanfd Yutani human soldiers, devolving affairs into a first person cover shooter without a cover system.
The enemy AI is laughable, with Aliens charging mindlessly at the player to be gunned down, and allies are miserably useless for the most part. The one section where the game comes into the territory of reaching an actual level of atmosphere is a sewer section with an unarmed player facing zombiesque Xenomorphs, but even this is botched due to them being almost no threat whatsoever. The promised walker fight is a joke, and the encounters with boss enemies are all terrible and worse than normal gameplay. Weapons are not fun to use, the players movement feels out of synch with the game itself, and there is no kickback or impact when yo actually shoot a Xenomorph. It all feels fake, with no gravitas or energy about it, and this is probably the single worst thing about Colonial Marines. It also doesn't help that the game is 5 hours long.
I have already talked about the litany of technical problems on display in Colonial Marines, and it is inexcusable that a major release in 2013 should have such a long list of fundamental failures. Beyond these flaws, the level design is counter-intuitive to a smooth shooter and is more of a problem for the player than the Xenomorphs are. Corridors are tight and prevent proper movement. The co-op is completely un-viable because if one player has difficulty manoeuvring in the claustrophobic and narrow levels then what are four players going to do. The load times are long, and when you die it takes 40 seconds and more to get back to the last checkpoint, which is often badly placed. Mission objectives are unclear, navigation across the clunky interface is difficult and lip synching seems to have been forgotten about ny the developers.
The motion tracker is iconic in Aliens, and it is something that Gearbox made a lot of noise about going into the release of Colonial Marines, but the unfortunate truth is that the motion tracker is nearly useless as enemies don't try to surprise you but rather come head on, and as a result it has no significant role or place in the game. Colonial Marines was always going to have difficulty reconciling horror elements with being a shooter, but its sheer scale of failure to do well at either is astonishing, and shows that 2010's Alien vs Predator by Rebellion was not that bad an attempt. I want to give a special shout out to the final boss fight in the game as one of the worst in recent times and an absolute let-down that embodies the problems with Colonial Marines as a whole. As for the multiplayer, well it is certainly superior to the pathetic campaign, but the lack of balance between the Xenomorphs and the Humans is difficult to bridge as the Alien players will be smashed at a distance every time. I also found the multiplayer to bot be very much fun at all, and well below what I would want from a game like this.
Aliens Colonial Marines is nothing short of a disaster. It has an awful plot and narrative, a boring campaign that barely runs 5 hours, though I won't hole the length against it because any monger would be torture, and a list of bugs and issues that render it near broken. Its multiplayer is only alright, and the lack of balance is completely off-putting, and really the only positive thing I can say about the game is that it has an ok ranking system, but after 7 years of Call of Duty getting that so right why should it not be able to replicate something along the same lines. Colonial Marines utterly fails to live up to the franchise it purports to respect, and while I have certainly played worse games than this I have not played many that are more insulting to their vision and source material. Colonial Marines should be avoided, and its shocking to me that Gearbox would put something this unpolished on store shelves, and at full price too.
- The multiplayer has a good ranking system
- Interesting stealth level
- Ugly graphics and a huge amount of technical problems
- Boring campaign filled with crap
- Lacks tension and has a non-existent story
- Terrible AI
- "That's another story"
- 2/10 - Terrible