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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 Undeadpool

This isn't terribly surprising. After looking at that Quick Look, this game has every single hallmark of being over-developed (as in developed for too long with more primitive tech) : bad textures, weak AI, but the most obvious one to me was the wild gesticulations people make in cutscenes while talking. That was a hallmark of last-gen games that predated well-rendered faces.

Posted by Redhorn

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.

Uh, who did? You? This is some Glenn Beck shit.

Edited by Oy

Gross. I wonder if they spent Sega's money making Borderlands DLC instead. Great review.

Edited by Wraxend

I wonder how this will effect Gearboxs future? I mean I know everyone loves BL but this and Duke has left me wondering what this will do to there reputation.

Posted by Svenzon
@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.

To me, the mishandling of the great and beloved mythology behind this game only makes it worse. It seems like an even more cynical cashgrab with the Aliens name on the box than if it had been, say a bargain bin Call of Duty clone. Even if the game had gotten 2 stars, that extra star would've been so weak that it wouldn't have mattered anyway.

Posted by Zombie_Shakespeare

As is usual for the last few months, I'm once again surprised by the quality of Alex's writing.

I think it's the facial hair.

Posted by Sumna

Alex do you ever just go home and look at a copy of Suikoden 3 or Bayonetta weep? You get the shittiest games to review bud.

Posted by Grimluck343

As is usual for the last few months, I'm once again surprised by the quality of Alex's writing.

I think it's the facial hair.

Gotta be the hair.

Posted by Phoenix87

One star? Ouch.

I guess that's why they played it for almost an hour and a half on that quick look. Because that's how shitty games work right? you keep playing them for an hour and a half.

Edited by MildMolasses

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

That's kind of your fault. They've had the option to switch between white and black backgrounds for years. You only just discovered it

Posted by rand0mZer00

My enthusiasm for Colonial Marines started to die down as I saw more of the game, but I still held out hope that it would be at the very least an entertaining game that just fills the time until something else is released, and apparently that is not the case.

I will still rent the game because, who knows, I might actually like it.

Posted by Zombie_Shakespeare

@zombie_shakespeare

said:

As is usual for the last few months, I'm once again surprised by the quality of Alex's writing.

I think it's the facial hair.

Gotta be the hair.

There is no other explanation.

Edited by Funkydupe

I really want a new Aliens game. Just not this one.

Online
Posted by iAmJohn

I guess that's why they played it for almost an hour and a half on that quick look. Because that's how shitty games work right? you keep playing them for an hour and a half.

Funny, I don't remember Alex or anyone who had played all that much of the game being in the Quick Look. Must've been watching the wrong one.

No seriously, what point are you even trying to make here?

Edited by AnjinM

That is a mighty harsh indictment of the game, Alex. Seems to be well deserved, too. Ouch.

Posted by MeatSim

Considering it's a licensed game, and was in development hell. The writing was kind of on the wall.

Posted by DawnShinto

@rudecubes said:

How does Gearbox keep messing up on everything EXCEPT Borderlands?

because they try to fix games that should've just been scrapped? duke nukem... now this...

Posted by frankepooz

Please outsource and hype the shit outta every game from now Gearbox, it will bring us closer to the cleansing collapse that will save us all.

Posted by Sooty
@wraxend said:

I wonder how this will effect Gearboxs future? I mean I know everyone loves BL but this and Duke has left me wondering what this will do to there reputation.

Borderlands isn't even good, no idea how people last more than a few hours. It's so simplistic and no amounts of crazy guns and bad humour can save it.

Edited by avantegardener

<p>Well if anything, Gear Box are probably the last studio on earth producing B Tier entertainment in world of AAA or Indy mobile, so that's one for the historians anyway... this game looks fucking terrible.</p>

Edit: To be be fair to GBX, thy appeared to have inherited there 2 most dismal outputs. If nothing else they proved to publishers they can ship, no matter what the final product might look like. They are really all merc projects to keep the studio lucrative and let work on there true passion projects, anything with 'Border' in the title, which if I'm honest have never really done much for me.

Edited by Lazyaza

Boy do I feel bad for anyone who bought this game before reviews hit, ouch. If any such people are reading these comments I feel your pain as I bought Duke Nukem forever for $60, new.

Gearbox are run by some evil evil people that's for sure.

Posted by Vitor

For anyone interested in the rumoured division of labour on this project:

http://www.reddit.com/r/LV426/comments/18ewf4/a_lot_of_you_are_rightfully_upset_at_the_final/

TL:DR - Apparently TimeGate did 85% of the SP campaign, Gearbox didn't think it was up to snuff but contractual obligations meant that they had to ship it.

Posted by Slow_pC

I was really hoping as well as almost everyone else out there that this could be good... and well... it wasn't. :(

Posted by bigdaddygamebot

That reddit article is interesting. Shame that with so much potential for something interesting to be made, it resulted in this.

Posted by Amaru25
Posted by ZeForgotten

I really want this game to be awesome.
And I mean awesome like this one that Jim Sterling is showing off and not the one they decided to actually make. It sucks when they just make a demo look awesome (because that's what's gonna rope people/the press in) and then make the game nothing like it.

Online
Posted by Rox360

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

At least they know what "shovelware" means and use it accordingly.

Edited by Kosayn

The Aliens arcade game was alright. Kind of a quarter muncher, but it was definitely fun in co-op and reverent for the time. I guess that's the only Aliens game I've really enjoyed, or am likely to.

As for this game, it amazes me how these zombie projects shuffle along to completion. At some point when designing a game, shouldn't the focus be to at least make one gameplay loop fun to play, and then worry about all the fanservice? Crazy. Give me Dead Space 1 anyday.It is possible to make a shooter that's scary, challenging, and filled with melee enemies.Just have to start with the game mechanics rather than the licensing checklist.

Posted by RecSpec
Posted by Flappy

I'm still waiting for the blessed day where someone can make a good Aliens game. While I wait for that, I'll continue to mourn the loss of the Reviewer avatars.

Posted by Grixxel

I give up, nobody is ever going to get this shit right. I am sad.

Posted by EdsXwing

After watching the quicklook, I have to agree this game looks terrible... but then I'm still going to GameFly it so maybe that makes me part of the problem...

Posted by paulunga

First the last AvP sucked, then Prometheus and now this. Man. Alien fans just don't get to catch a break.

Edited by GodsAreMonsters

@ravelle: Who gives a fuck? No one accused you of not liking that piece of shit.

Posted by Sharpless

After this and Duke Nukem Forever, is Gearbox and/or Randy Pitchford in trouble? Even Borderlands 2 didn't seem quite as well-received as the original. The disconnect between their hype and their results is staggering and, in my opinion, much more noticeable than it is with most other devs.

Posted by Boopie

seems Navarro is up to his old tricks again

Posted by EarthBowl

Will this be the most Disappointing game of the year? From what I read, strong signs point to a definitely.

Posted by Wonloong

Why is Gearbox doing this to themselves? First Duke Nukem, now this? But I love the Borderland series. I guess that's a redeeming factor for them.

Posted by maskedarcstrike

Why is that developers will place the setting of the game on LV-426 after the events of Aliens and have the characters still be able to breath?

HOW THE FUCK. Can people breath AFTER the atmospheric processor got blown up!? It's not like there's a crap ton of trees and plants around. I thought the whole point of the atmospheric processor was to create oxygen and allow people to breathe without suits on the planet.

Is this at least addressed in the story? That's all I want to know.

Edited by hbkdx12

I never really cared for the game to begin with so my opinion might be a lil harsh but i don't understand how people saw the shitfest that was Duke Nukem and didn't expect this, on some level.

Posted by JEC03

Another messed up movie license game destroyed.

Posted by HODGEY3000

i can't believe gearbox made this game

Posted by Suits
Posted by Vitor

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.

Uh, who did? You? This is some Glenn Beck shit.

Uh, that movie was critically panned on release and drubbed by fans also. It very much seemed like any positive opinions were very much in the minority.


Posted by DillonWerner

Damn, was hoping that this would turn out playable :(

Posted by jerseyscum
Posted by Chaoskiller2000

I am honestly sad it turned out this way. It could have been really good. I kept telling myself it was Gearbox they won't mess up but they did. I wonder if we will ever get a good Aliens game?

Posted by Miketakon

Gearbox and 20 other studios made this Frankengame.

Edited by MonkeyKing1969

Is the veil finally lifted that Randy Pitchford is full of shit. "We're gonna make this game...but first we'll make this game...this game...and a sequel to this other game....but we're still making an Aliens game too...well most of it...we some of it, maybe?"