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Aliens: Colonial Marines Review

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  • PC

Both functionally broken and creatively bankrupt, Aliens: Colonial Marines is an extinction-level disaster.

Many have chided Ridley Scott's recent sort-of-Alien-prequel Prometheus as a cynical, unnecessary retcon of the existing Alien canon that never quite justified its own existence. Aliens: Colonial Marines makes Prometheus look vital by comparison. Gearbox Software, who were ostensibly in charge of the seven-year operation required to bring this thing to fruition, have spent much of that time talking about just how much they loved Aliens. Studio head Randy Pitchford has spent years recounting the tale of the time he went to Ridley Scott's office, and had the opportunity to flip through the original Alien's concept art sketches with the director in the name of research for their upcoming Aliens game. To hear them tell it, all anyone at Gearbox wanted to do was bring a little of their own enthusiasm to a franchise they loved and revered. This makes reconciling the game spoken of by the studio's various figureheads, and the game currently available at retail, nigh-on impossible.

We spent a long time waiting for Aliens: Colonial Marines. Maybe we shouldn't have done that.

In reality, the many years of development spent on Colonial Marines have resulted in a staggering misfire. Ugly, tedious, and frankly more than a little bit broken, Colonial Marines is not a game that offers you, the presumed Aliens fan, anything you wouldn't do just fine without. The game's idea of expanding on the timeline that exists between Aliens and Alien 3 has never stood out as a particularly necessary one, but based on the aforementioned enthusiasm for the material, one couldn't help but hope that maybe the developers had some cool, unexpected ideas of how to flesh out that particularly nebulous period between film series protagonist Ellen Ripley's escape from the xenomorph-infested planet LV-426, and her arrival on the prison planet in Alien 3.

They did not.

Instead of thoughtfully fleshing out the existing canon, the developers instead chose to rewrite whole chunks of it just for the sake of making their dumb story fly. In the game, you arrive at LV-426 with a battalion of colonial marines who have come to find out what happened to the squads previously sent to the planet in Aliens. What they find is the Sulaco, the derelict ship that once housed the movie's marines, floating around in space. It's been overrun with xenomorphs, as well as Weyland-Yutani hired mercenaries, who have seemingly been conducting an operation on the planet and the ship. You, as marine Christopher Winters, begin the game by storming the Sulaco looking to aid your comrades in battle against the Wey-U soldiers and horrible creatures that have infested it, but eventually will end up back on LV-426, trapped in a much larger, and much stupider conspiracy than you'd ever dreamed.

This is one of the biggest fundamental flaws of Colonial Marines, and one it shares with Prometheus. Namely, this game feels like it was built around its setpieces, and not the other way around. Granted, at least Prometheus grew out of the germ of an idea that was answering the question of who the giant "Space Jockey" was that the hapless humans of the original Alien stumbled upon. That question may not have had the most coherent of answers, but at least it made a half-hearted effort to answer something. Colonial Marines instead takes the Star Tours approach, picking key locations from Alien and Aliens for the player to arrive at and proceed to gawk toward, while building a hacky, totally uninteresting story around why the player has to go to those places.

Lacking a coherent story direction, the game relies on its main characters to build up the drama. Unfortunately, we're saddled with Winters and a few other marine grunts who offer no identifiable personality outside of their endless recycled references to "no marine left behind" and patently unconvincing "ooh-rahs!" By the time the tatters of the team end up on LV-426, the game finally begins showing its hand, offering up ridiculous plot twists and poorly executed conspiracies that just add a giant pile of nonsense to the nifty, if somewhat vague premise of Alien 3. I cannot explain much beyond that without outright spoiling the game, but let's just say that a late-game cameo (that the game telegraphs in its opening credits) is one of the dumbest, most hamfisted twists in anything of Alien's canon. Yes, dumber than the entire Aliens vs. Predator franchise.

The worst part is that it does this for no real reason other than the sake of having another character you recognize in the mix. The existence of Lance Henriksen's Bishop at least makes canonical sense since he's a mass-produced artificial lifeform, but all this cameo character does is show up, try to explain away his appearance by actively avoiding trying to explain away his appearance--they literally answer a key plot question by saying "That's another, longer story..."--and then proceed to do nothing of note or consequence for the rest of the game. It's a twist for the sake of a twist, and nothing more.

In absence of proper storytelling, Colonial Marines must then rely on its gameplay to keep your attention. This is most unfortunate for a number of reasons. As a first-person shooter, Colonial Marines is at least a basically functional piece of work. The weaponry you're provided is neat and authentic, right down to the gunfire sound effects you remember from the movie. Yet, the action is deeply unsatisfying. The whole crux of the game, namely the violence done between man and xenomorph, is an unconscionable mess. Granted, combat in Aliens mostly boiled down to big, tough marines being savaged by creatures their weaponry and hubris could not stand up to, and that would probably not make for much of a game if repeated over long level sections in a shooter. So instead, xenos come frolicking after you, bounding up one leap at a time until they're right up in your face, swiping and snarling until you pump enough bullets into them to make them dissolve into acidic goo.

Multiplayer seems well-meaning, but isn't nearly balanced nor interesting enough to keep your attention.

Yes, this does become quite repetitive. The xenomorphs just aren't built to surprise you, or force you to really do anything other than just fire at anything that looks black and menacing. They crawl around on walls, sure, but the way they're scripted to attack robs the game of any tension or excitement. You will hear a blip on your motion tracker (a largely useless device in the context of this game), and suddenly there will be bad guys. Considering this game's only scare tactic is to have aliens start crawling out of air vents or bursting out of floors when you supposedly least expect it--keep in mind, it does this in pretty much every other corridor or room--this solitary ping is a shockingly ill-conceived move, in that it steels you for what's about to come every single time. If you had to actually use the motion tracker (which replaces the gun in your hand) for any kind of early warning, that'd make for some interesting, tense moments as you scan around for movement. But no, all you have to do is wait for the ping, and have your gun ready.

That Colonial Marines' campaign so thoroughly lacks in dread or terror is perhaps the most damning thing I can say about it. The only time the game pulls off anything even resembling unease is during a brief scene when your character is alone and without weapons. Zombie xenomorphs (no, seriously) who cannot see but can sense motion stumble around in Hadley's Hope's sewage, and as you fumble around in the dark, you're unsure which alien husks are still alive, and which are dead. For a moment, this is terrifying, but then the first moving zombie xeno appears, begins glowing an irradiated green, and then runs toward something moving and explodes. Suddenly, the scary gives way to the silly, and any hope you might have had of being properly frightened just flies out the window.

The zombie xenos are dumb-looking, but really all of the game's xenos are dumb-acting. Far from the efficient killing machines of the movies, these xenos are clumsy, dimwitted, and seemingly incapable of handling even just a few broken-down marines. The AI will frequently bug out, so to speak, leaving xenos pathetically trying to crawl up stairs, getting hung up in doorways, or just standing at unremarkable distances, stoically, as you pump dozens of rounds into them. Human enemies aren't much better, though they usually are able to walk around basic obstacles and even use cover.

AI bugs are just one of the many technical issues that plague Colonial Marines. There are serious glitches to be found elsewhere, often in the vein of weird debug code popping into random gameplay sequences and then just disappearing, environments simply not loading properly, or character and xenomorph animations flipping out into spazzy, bizarre flurries of movement. It's ugly stuff made even uglier by the world surrounding it. Sure, the artists involved in this game's development nailed a lot of the little details from the movie, from the ship design of the Sulaco, to the decimated ruins of Hadley's Hope down on the planet. But those things all had reference material, something to copy from, rather than something to be outright created. Where the game is forced to fill in the margins is where it gets downright unpleasant. Character models are bug-eyed, emotionless, and generally poorly animated, while environments often look crusty and poorly lit. No, I don't mean in that "we're keeping it dark to maintain a sense of dread" kind of way. I mean in that "we're trying to keep your eyes off these years-old looking environmental textures" kind of way.

Some will undoubtedly complain that the single-player campaign, which can also be played cooperatively (more on that in a moment), doesn't take longer than maybe five hours to finish. However, I don't consider that to be one of the game's faults. In absence of a strong story, Colonial Marines already drags as it plods along, tossing xenomorph after xenomorph at you, struggling mightily to get you to all the different landmarks it figures you're itching to see while also maintaining some semblance of an atmosphere. As it is, the campaign is merely severely disappointing and often unpleasant. Were it any longer, it'd be be outright unbearable.

As for the co-op, it has all the hallmarks of a feature hastily tossed in late in a development cycle. Up to four players can experience this idiotic story together, but only one character is really acknowledged or even focused on for the duration. You don't take over the roles of AI teammates already embedded in the story, but rather other marines who simply do not exist otherwise. Worse, many levels were clearly not designed for multiple people. Corridors are cramped to the point of bursting, which makes particularly heated firefights against the xenos utterly incomprehensible. And that level I mentioned earlier, the one where you have no guns? Right, that still happens, but with multiple people, which is hilarious since characters will often warp to one another if they become too far separated. This will tip off the bad guys, which results in explosions of acid and death. The only time the co-op seems to function as intended is out on the surface of LV-426, where open spaces let you gain your bearings and actually work together properly. Unfortunately, you're still fighting the same dumb enemies, but at least it's an improvement.

This is Alex, a survivor of Aliens: Colonial Marines, signing off. Don't play this game.

Elsewhere, there is competitive multiplayer featuring teams of marines and xenomorphs. The playable xenomorphs are an interesting idea (that has, admittedly, been done better elsewhere), in that they can climb walls, have different attack classes (spitters can do ranged attacks, while lurkers can move more stealthily), and require a different sort of teamwork than playing as a marine. Unfortunately, too many of the game's multiplayer modes favor the marines, who are far better armed and better equipped to handle the xenos than the reverse. Xenos are remarkably easy to kill, which means the xenos are forced to stay stealthy. Doing so is easier said than done, and the lack of attack variety in the playable xenos eventually leads you to wonder if it's even worth the trouble. Nailing a marine the first few times is actually quite satisfying, but as matches wear on, it becomes far less so.

It's strange and depressing thing to consider a game like Aliens: Colonial Marines. Think of all the potential, the time, the effort, the budget used up over these last several years, only to produce something so deeply, fundamentally flawed in every facet of its execution. Instead of the properly reverent Aliens sequel Gearbox supposedly set out to make, they've shoved this awful, grotesque thing into the chest cavity of the very franchise that they purported to love. I kind of hope that disappoints them, because it sure as hell disappointed me.

Alex Navarro on Google+
383 Comments
Posted by Anupsis
Posted by Chibithor
@cakebomb said:

This is at least 2 stars, 1 star should be broken, completely unplayable crap like Big Rigs. This is a mediocre by-the-numbers FPS with a great mythology behind it (even if it's mishandled). But oh well, hate train speaks louder I guess.

They should have gone off-canon and played out the unused Alien 3 script where Hicks is the main character, start off already without Ripley and go from there. Michael Biehn gets a job, he's happy to voice the character and just assume it's not canon from the beginning to avoid angry fans.

Still going to play this anyway.

The review scale would be worthless and might as well be three stars if you're going to reserve the extremes for the worst and best game ever made. From the text this is by all means a terrible game that would hardly be interesting even if it wasn't mechanically broken. One star seems justified.

Posted by mdimmett

They mostly come at night... mostly...

Posted by Zleunamme

Since they are already making call backs to the film. They should included a marine that had the likeness and voice of James Remar.

Posted by supermonkey122

There won't be any "reviewer" avatar in the new site? =(

Yea, I miss them.

Posted by blacklab

'Functionally broken and creatively bankrupt'

Well I guess that's about it.

Posted by supermonkey122

I'm still gonna rent this game though.

Edited by rts375

@atom:

It means "mission accomplished" for Gearbox. Make a below average game based off a classic film, add dubstep in the trailer, then watch the cash come in.

Posted by TheManWithNoPlan

Ouch. How did this happen? The amount of money it cost to make this game and the actual return they'll make back is a complete mystery to me. This game wasn't really on my radar, but it's too bad that they couldn't make it work. I personally would've loved to play a modern iteration of an Aliens game that was good.

Edited by Sackmanjones

Sad times.... Kinda expected this but hoped I was wrong. I was not.

Posted by vickydog

I heard gearbox actually only worked on the multiplayer and the rest was timegate studios and nerve software.

Posted by Solh0und

Man, I'm so bummed that this game is garbage. So bummed!

Agreed. I didn't even bother to try to rent it anywhere.

Edited by Agent47

@slash_rick:Yeah I bummed on that too,it gave a splash of personality at least.Now it's like every other site with just the name of the reviewer and the review,it isn't a big thing but it's kind of dissapointing to see that little artistic detail removed.

Edited by Winternet

Is the new site playing tricks on me or is this review quite long?

Edited by SpaceRunaway

As awful as it is, as heartbreaking and disappointing as it turned out for all the build up and promises from Gearbox to the Alien(s) fans that they were going to get it right, I'll still pick it up eventually. Only now, it's gone from "get it around release" to "get it when it's around 15 dollars". That...probably won't be too long.

Posted by BigSteve1983

I'm going to get this, however I'll be getting it pre-owned for sure, not spending £40 on it.

Posted by durden77

It's so weird how similar this game's release was to DNF. Both in development hell for insane amounts of time. Both finally delivered by Gearbox. Both did not have quite full control by Gearbox (DNF was them putting out an old product). Both were hyped up a ton by Gearbox.

Both suck, apparently. Although I'll be honest, I really did enjoy Duke Nukem Forever. But I think it was because I knew what I was getting into, and was playing it more on an academic level rather than a "new shooter" level. I never bought into all the hype Gearbox was creating as them actually saying, "THIS GAME IS AMAZING AND A REVOLUTION!", I always saw it more as "IT'S FINALLY FUCKING COMING OUT, DO YOU WANT TO PLAY IT?". So that whole campaign really didn't bother me as much as it seems to have other people.

But this one, they were really putting their soul into the marketing for this one. I really did believe it was going to be something awesome. I'll still probably check out it out for the multi sometime down the line when it's cheap, but damn, disappointing.

Posted by OneManX

Game over, man.Game over.

NOW this quote makes sense.

Posted by sephirm87
@ravelle said:

@alkusanagi

said:

No, this is still better than Prometheus...

I quite enjoyed Prometheus.

me too

Edited by Brackstone

I think the saddest thing about this game is that Sega, instead of cancelling this mess, canceled what was a supposedly almost finished turn based Aliens rpg by Obsidian. Given that it was Obsidian, it very well could have been just as broken as this, but it wouldn't have been as creatively bankrupt at least.

At this point I just hope whoever is in charge of this decides to release that Aliens: Infestation game on other platforms. That actually looked pretty great.

Posted by patrick5152003

1 star haha, thats fucked up. i am quite enjoying this game.

Posted by DaMisterChief

HOT GARBAGE

Edited by haggis

@kanyeeast said:

Game over, man.Game over.

I guess that was inevitable. Still made me laugh, though. :)

Posted by R3DT1D3

I can't help but feel it only got 1 star because Alex reviewed it. A mediocre shooter that breaks in bits and destroys the subject matter is not the worst thing ever. Is it really that much worse than the Battleship: Movie: The Game or whatever it was called?

Maybe it's just me, but 1 star implies everything it does is bad not just mediocre.

Posted by mORTEN81

Not proud to say that I laughed at that one..

Posted by Demoskinos

So honestly, does anyone still think Gearbox is a good developer? What do they have that anyone likes besides borderlands?

Edited by Deusx

Man I'm loving this new site. Anyways, great review Alex!

Posted by 2kings
@ghostiet said:

You know what? I hope this makes Randy Pitchford think twice before he opens his mouth again.

@gs_dan

said:

@ravelle

said:

@alkusanagi

said:

No, this is still better than Prometheus...

I quite enjoyed Prometheus.

Me too :)

Me too. Characters are constructs needed to behave idiotically so the plot can move forward, but I really liked the movie overall.

NO! Prometheus took a giant shit on science, rational thought and the first 2 Alien movies. You guys just have bad taste in films. :)

Posted by Ravenlight

How does Gearbox keep messing up on everything EXCEPT Borderlands?

Based on the recent Reddit infodump, it's because they focused on Borderlands to the exclusion of every other game they developed.

Posted by Gatorsurfer

@geirr: My reaction as soon I heard that this game sucks.

Posted by Barrock

@rudecubes

said:

How does Gearbox keep messing up on everything EXCEPT Borderlands?

Based on the recent Reddit infodump, it's because they focused on Borderlands to the exclusion of every other game they developed.

That reddit really draws some parallels between Gearbox and Silicon Knights.

Posted by Triumvir

Good review. The lack of paragraph indentation makes my head hurt though.

Posted by LaserJesus

Man, it's no wonder Alex always seems like the most bitter and cynical man on the planet. He always gets the absolute WORST games to review.

Edited by happymeowmeow

So is Alex in charge of reviewing bad games?

Posted by jayjonesjunior

Dead Space 3, F.E.A.R 3 and Aliens: CM, do you know what they have in common apart from having horror roots(just roots, nothing else)? they all have soldiers saying "actual" and other military jargon.

Posted by jmic75

@cakebomb

said:

This is at least 2 stars, 1 star should be broken, completely unplayable crap like Big Rigs. This is a mediocre by-the-numbers FPS with a great mythology behind it (even if it's mishandled). But oh well, hate train speaks louder I guess.

They should have gone off-canon and played out the unused Alien 3 script where Hicks is the main character, start off already without Ripley and go from there. Michael Biehn gets a job, he's happy to voice the character and just assume it's not canon from the beginning to avoid angry fans.

Still going to play this anyway.

The review scale would be worthless and might as well be three stars if you're going to reserve the extremes for the worst and best game ever made. From the text this is by all means a terrible game that would hardly be interesting even if it wasn't mechanically broken. One star seems justified.

Problem is it isn't mechanically broken, it is competent, it just isn't terribly exciting 2 out of 5 would be been justified. That's still only a 40% and I didn't run into any game stopping bugs or glitches throughout my entire playthrough.

Posted by raptorsrevenge
Posted by ArtelinaRose

The game isn't amazing, but it's alright. By removing it from the Aliens canon in my brain and simply viewing it as a first person shooter that I only dropped $30 on, I enjoy it.

Posted by Rekt_Hed

Mannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn. 1 star huh!? I feel sorry for everyone involved. Whoever wins we lose!

Edited by jazin

It's sad kinda makes you wonder if they do any kind of play testing for it because it shouldn't of made it out the door like this. It's just another duke nukem type game out of gearbox. Had very high hopes

Edited by videogamesarenotart

i find it funny that this game would get a 1/5 but shovelware flash games get goty contender

this kind of stuff pretty much illuminates the direction this site is going

Posted by Lysergica33
@mongoose said:

Was genuinely looking forward to this game... sigh.

Dev. has posted an interesting little story on Reddit about development of this game, worth a read.

Can I get a link to this? I'm interested.
Also... Posting in an epic thread/toasting in an epic bread

Edited by fox01313

@cakebomb: I guess if it took only a year or so to make it, the game would get two stars but with this taking insanely long to create & being just a massive disappointment to Alex, he felt it deserved a score of 1 of 5 if you had to some kind of scale to rating this game. I agree with Alex that this does look like it's designed around set pieces & that works great for Lego games based off movies as well as the first AvP game on the PC, since then it feels like they were constantly just repeating this design idea that just doesn't work on repeated trips through.

Regardless of what Alex writes, anyone including you, who has interest in this should play it & hell might actually enjoy it.

Posted by Luck702

That quick look didn't make this look great, but on the same level of quality of Steel Battalion? I expected more from Gearbox.

Posted by SmilingPig
Posted by boj4ngles

No, this is still better than Prometheus...

I thought Prometheus was awesome.

Posted by Siphillis

This might be an unpopular opinion, but I've always felt Gearbox was and remains a second-rate studio. Their latest batch of creatively-devoid projects (Borderlands 2, DNF, Brothers in Arms: Furious 4, this game) prove they haven't come very far from their days of just porting other studios' works, and are seemingly divorced from having any semblance of taste or wit for themselves.

Posted by Stratto83

Congratulations to Alex Navarro and Aliens Colonial Marines for our first 1 star review of the new year (2013) and our new GiantBomb site. Drop the bomb on it!!!! - excluuuuuuuusive!!!!

This has to get an end of year award being the first 1 star on the new site surely?

Posted by ucankurbaga

I saw this game on a lot of videos and the graphics looks worse then PS2 game. How it manage to look worse then 2010 AvP is beyond me...