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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
Edited by Yanngc33

But is it any good? ;)

Posted by shatteringlast
Edited by GasparNolasco

BOOM! worst than RE6! Now the year has started.

Game over, man!

Posted by KingX
Posted by smcn

This is definitely a good week to be a person who doesn't give a shit about Alien(s). Sucks for those who do, and I think Gearbox might be in need of some soul searching.

Posted by Lenny

More like FAILiens. Right folks??

Ha, ha! Nice one ! :)

Posted by Ghostiet

@2kings: We also give zero fucks.

Posted by Ronanana

Not that it really matters, but the game is set after Alien 3. Someone mentions that the Sulaco was brought back from Fury 161 (the planet in Alien 3) at some point.

Just Sayin'.

Posted by NekuSakuraba

Saw it coming, just looked like a generic FPS to me, although, not a very good one.

Posted by gramblor

I'm really glad Alex opened this review up by referencing Randy Pitchford's sleazy salesmanship of this game. I have no respect for that man, who I'm convinced is a sociopath.

Posted by FilipHolm

More like FAILiens. Right folks??

Why did I laugh at this?

Posted by sdhdgasd
Edited by Wilshere

It seems like Gearbox is picking up games in trouble, invests minimal amounts of money and development time to make them "release worthy" and hopes that enough people are baited to buy them. I know that they probably need money to keep the studio alive, but c'mon. Give a bit more effort.

Posted by hughesie27

I refuse to believe that Alex would dislike a video game.

Posted by iAmJohn

I was wondering how long it'd take for someone to post this joke of a review. Has he even like, publicly backed up his take? Or are all the claims that it was a "money-hat" true? It's like he didn't even play the game.

I find it hard to believe that Sega would've money-hatted this review, if only because that would imply that EGM is relevant enough that buying positive coverage off them would make sense. They're not, and it doesn't. He just seems like one of those crazy Dave Halverson types who will love something unconditionally even if it's actually fucked beyond belief.

Online
Posted by HellBound

Just because Prometheus did something new and did not focus on just killing does not mean it was bad.

I love movies that make me think and question.

Edited by ArtisanBreads

Well that was an unnecessary dig at Prometheus at the front.Great movie.I don't even think of it in relation to Alien.

Just because Prometheus did something new and did not focus on just killing does not mean it was bad.

I love movies that make me think and question.

Agreed. I think the advertising didn't do any favors to the real tone of the film (made it look Aliens) but it was a very interesting movie. Didn't all quite make sense but that's not what I watch movies for. Loved it.

Posted by Bawlsz

Guys, check out the the demo version of the game then compare it to the actual game, there is a huge difference in quality and the actual demo looks allot better.

Edited by NTM

@hellbound

said:

Just because Prometheus did something new and did not focus on just killing does not mean it was bad.

I love movies that make me think and question.

Yeah, I really liked Prometheus aside from some stupid and annoying characters, as well as some other problems with it that I can look past. Furthermore, as stated in the review, it's not a retcon. I thought it was fascinating that it was almost completely different, and dealt with different things, and yet it was interestingly in the same universe as Aliens, when it didn't really have to be if they were just to take some scenes out and change some names, but I like that it is.

Edited by FreedomTown

@mongoose:

@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.

If you were looking forward to it, keep looking forward to it. Why let one random person's opinion of the game change your mind about something. I hate seeing this kind of post after reading a bad "review". You know what you like, you know if you will have fun playing it. Hell some of the most "fun" games out there probably have scored bad reviews, while other so called "blockbuster", well made, big budget games, were boring and quickly forgotten about.

This isn't to say this specific game is any good at all, just that you should trust in what you like, not what random people think is good or bad, especially since you can't trust anything you hear from others in the media.

Honestly, this review comes off as written by someone who expected this game to be great, with a huge expectation behind it. Who had that? No one as far as I know. It was built up to be a mediocre shooter, and it turned out to be a mediocre shooter. It didn't need this harsh (or lengthy) of a review.

Also, why the hell are there so many deleted posts on GB now? Is this how things are going to be?

Posted by myslead

terrible game alright

Posted by peritus

Man thats a low score, but i believe it :( Pleasant to read as always.

Edited by EDfromRED

Like Duke Nukem:Forever, this looks like it's destined to pile up in the Wal Mart $9.99 bargain bin in a few months time. Sounds like it's not even worth it at that price. Glad I still have my copy of Rebellion's Aliens vs Predator.

Randy Pitchford needs to stop praising to high heaven such crap before release. It does not do him or his company's reputation any good. It's looking like Gearbox is a one franchise pony.

Posted by TheGorilla

Oh wow, 1 star. I've never been happier and I don't know why.

Posted by SCHULTZ

I played this game last night. Got the Day1 patch, if that means anything. 8hr campaign with a bit of collectible-searching. What I found with A:CM was a mediocre game, with some occasional sloppiness, and non-existent AI. Online coop was kinda fun. While I like leveling/unlocking stuff in my games, it doesn't fit with Aliens. I'd rather they spent their energy with ominous environments and wicked smart AI for the Aliens. All this said, this game is in no way only worth 1 star, as if it's unplayable or broken. A patch or two, and it'll be a standard average FPS. GiantBomb giving out a 1 star actually lowers my opinion of your reviews, which I've held in the highest regard for years. Leave those site-hit-pandering scores to IGN, Joystick, and Destructiod.

Edited by nutter

For a long time my heart cried out yes" while my brain dismissively said "no."

I hate that my brain was right.

Goddamned shame...

Posted by BlatantNinja23

Remember those awesome demos gear box gave of their upcoming aliens game? When is that version coming out?

Edited by PurplePartyRobot

Mister Pitchford is a hell of a hypeman.

Edited by habster3

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

I'm really hoping they bring that back.

Honestly, this game's terrible reception didn't surprise me at all. Although I knew this game wasn't developed by the same team that did the last AvP game, I expected the quality of the game to be similar.

Posted by TheSouthernDandy

sigh...i'ma go be sad somewhere now

:( :( :(

Posted by dialisl2

@iamjohn: The background image on EGM is an A:CM promotional splash...they clearly thought EGM was relevant enough to buy coverage.

Posted by ssj4raditz

Well, that's a bummer for the folks who were looking forward to this game. Glad I wasn't.

Posted by Vuud

Bring back the reviewer cartoons! How else can I know what they thought?? Besides reading I mean. Reading is for nerds.

Posted by McGhee

Ease down . . . just ease on down. Ease down now. Ease down.

Edited by Ghostiet

@schultz: I think the score fits considering how much hyped this game was. If they didn't pump the balloon so much, it would get 2 stars, but Pitchford has been audaciously selling this as the best thing in the Alien IP since Scott and Cameron's movies. When you take that into account - it's an absolute failure. Not to mention that patches don't matter, what matters is the product that is put on shelves. If the game suffers from a plethora of bugs on release, the fact that it can be ironed out in a few patches shouldn't matter, because someone clearly fucked up and forces someone to wait with a finished product.

@ronanana: Nope. It's been said and confirmed that it's supposed to take place in between Aliens and Alien 3. The fact that they managed to get that shit wrong while boasting of their reverence to the source material is just another layer of shit.

Edited by Hitchenson
Posted by iceveiled

Sweet jesus black text on a white background. Finally I can read GB reviews without my retinas burning. Thanks!

Edited by redelectric

Anybody here play the PSX Alien:Ressurection?

Looking pretty good right about now, ain't it?

Posted by Morningstar

This game is so bad I'm gonna have to play it. 5 dollar steam sale here I come.

Posted by BNB82

What a bummer. It is so disappointing that something that had this much attention put into it would turn out so bad.

Edited by Moncole

I want to play this, to see how bad it is.

Posted by CivilizedWorm

Bought it on Steam yesterday, and I'm enjoying it so far. Dunno what all the hate is about.

Edited by gogosox82

Ok so what the hell is going on at gearbox? It seems like if it isn't borderlands, its really bad. Are they like a one trick pony or something?

Posted by mastrbiggy

This is unfortunate.

Posted by triviaman09

So much Prometheus hate in these comments. That movie was okay.

Posted by Deusoma

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

You mean, caring more about the actual quality of a game rather than the hype? Yes, yes it does. :-)

Edited by Sticky_Pennies

Well-deserved. Fuck this game. Fuck it and all the copy-paste bullshit tropes it used to completely ruin this IP.

Edited by antivanti

I was at the local Gamestop visiting a friend who runs it when they got the delivery of the Collectors Edition. Statue looked neat so I looked up some reviews online to see if it was better than what it had looked like it would be so I could justify filling my bookshelf with more collectors editions. Gamespot gave it 4.5 so I abstained. Now a 1 star here? This game seems even worse than I feared and I thought the previews looked quite bad.

Edited by jimmyfenix

@SCHULTZ none of us can control alex's opinion of the game, if its a 1 star game then hell its a 1 star game

Posted by Nettacki

Ok so what the hell is going on at gearbox? It seems like if it isn't borderlands, its really bad. Are they like a one trick pony or something?

They made the Brothers in Arms series, which was really good, before they made Borderlands.