Aliens: Colonial Marines Review (PS3)

By now you’ve read the reports. Aliens: Colonial Marines is not worth six months’ development time, let alone six years, and after all the hype we’ve ended up with a sub-par shooter that fails to live up to any expectations. I went into the game expecting the worst, and in that regard I wasn’t disappointed. It’s not the worst shooter I’ve ever played, not even the worst in the last year (007 Legends and Call of Juarez: The Cartel are more irritating), but in terms of promise fulfilment it’s undoubtedly one of the most terrible offenders. For the full report, read on if you dare.

The story was pitched as a sequel to Aliens and it tries to be just that, but ends up as satisfying as anything with the words “Aliens Vs Predator” written on it released in the last decade. Several weeks after the events of LV-426 a new squad of marines aboard the starship Sephora arrive at the planet to answer the distress call sent by the movie’s team. They find the Sulaco somehow back in orbit despite last being seen near Fury 161 in Alien3, and it soon becomes obvious that Weyland-Yutani (“The Company”) have started conducting experiments and breeding Aliens in a manner that really doesn’t make sense considering Ripley’s end in Alien3. And that’s not the last thing that fails to make sense in this badly-written slice of fan fiction.

Excitement! Terror! A rare case of character shadows!

SPOILERS FOR THE STORY RIGHT NOW, SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON’T WANT TO READ. Still here? It doesn’t really matter as if you plan on playing the game it’s probably better to have your jaw drop now rather than spit bile/acid at your monitor screen when it happens. Basically you discover that a Marine from the Sulaco is being held hostage. This turns out to be, in a hard kick to fans of the franchise everywhere, Hicks. Yes, Corporal “I’m John Connor’s Dad” Hicks, who was very clearly impaled through the chest during cryo-sleep at the beginning of Alien3. When your main character Winters points out this massive plothole, Hicks replies “that’s a longer story”. That’s it?! If you can’t think of an explanation Gearbox (and not surprising, since it’s utterly impossible) then don’t bother. Why not make it Apone or one of those marines who didn’t get an obvious on-screen death? That would have been far more plausible and explainable!

I could write off this bizarre canon-slapping plot twist if the rest of the game was fantastic. It’s not, and even the rest of the writing fails to redeem things. All the marines talk in “current popular Modern Warfare-esque” jingo that the marines in Aliens in no way talked like, saying stuff like “oorah” and “we don’t leave marines behind” every five minutes. Twists are predictable, characters are unlikeable or painfully irritating, and if Weyland-Yutani had a private military army why did they bother sending in the Colonial Marines in the first place? Also, why does your teammate seem surprised when Aliens tear apart a facility you just spent ages turning off the power to so Aliens could tear it apart?

Oh yes, it’s not just Aliens you’re fighting in Aliens: Colonial Marines. Presumably in an effort to cultivate variety The Company is supporting its nefarious activities with their own private army, which of course you have to fight. Shootouts are so utterly basic however that they never really threaten to be fun, and when Aliens go against Soldiers they don’t really seem to have much of an impact – until of course you join in and they all attack you. While Soldier AI is basic it at least does the job, but Alien AI is sadly crippled. They get stuck on walls, on ceilings, through each other and your teammates, they mostly run straight at you and just when they’re about to land the killing blow they back off for no reason at all. They’ve been nerfed, basically. While early previews (including my own) made a big deal about the Aliens having different personality types, in reality this boils down to One That Runs Right At You, One That Hangs Back And Spits, One That Hides A Bit Before Running Right At You, Big One That Runs Right At You, and the Alien Queen… Who Runs Right At You. Oh, and the half-formed freaky derpy Aliens in the sewers who have one crappy stealth section and walk like they need to wee-wee.

The simple matter of fact is, fighting these enemies is not fun. None offer any sort of challenge and player deaths always seem to be cheap, like being shot from miles away by three guys who really should’ve been concentrating on the Alien gnawing at their ankles. I played on Hard and still barely died through the entire campaign, and when I did of course the Checkpoints were too far back. Furthermore the boss battles are some of the worst I have ever seen. A slightly bigger Alien is defeated by climbing in a Power Loader (making its only real appearance in the entire game incidentally) and pressing the Left and Right mouse buttons until it dies. The much-advertised Charger fight plays out nothing like the video and just consists of sidestepping left or right and shooting the thing. The final battle against the Alien Queen would be cool as a preamble to a bigger boss fight, but when you realise that’s it for the entire game you feel cheated. Then relief when you realise you can now either uninstall or sell the game for something better.

It's all your fault you bastard!

So that’s writing and gameplay ruined, and a quick glance at the screenshots confirms that the same thing has happened to the graphics. It’s been videoed side-by-side already, but I saw and previewed a gameplay demo of the beginning of the game last year and it looked stunning, atmospheric, current-gen… on to February 2013 and Colonial Marines looks like an Xbox 360 launch title even on high-spec PCs. Textures are flat and dull, characters (and Aliens) have barely any animation, there are no lighting effects whatsoever, explosions and fire are 2D sprites, and the best graphical effect in the whole game is the little transporter-shimmer when AI teammates teleport in out of nowhere. Somehow the CGI cutscenes look even worse, with pathetic 3D modelling, poor lip-synching and animation, drab environments – even the original Xbox had better cutscenes than this. Music’s just as bad, forgetting to kick in often and when it does the composer does a poor impression of James Horner’s Aliens score since SEGA obviously didn’t get the rights to it.

The one saving grace I hoped Aliens: Colonial Marines would have was the multiplayer, but even that’s spoiled. The co-op, once hyped as making the game “Left 4 Dead with Aliens” (and that’s all I wanted from it), is such an afterthought it’s heartbreaking. You literally just play the single-player campaign with other players, which remember I had little trouble with on Hard (and the hardest difficulty, Ultimate Badass, seems merely to remove the UI), complete with its narrow corridors and dull single-player-orientated objectives. It doesn’t even bother to remove your teleporting glitching AI teammates either (did I mention I once had to reload a save because an AI character disappeared? Good a time as any). “Tacked-on” sums up the co-op nicely, sadly.

The rest of the multiplayer is better, but not substantially. There are four modes, all Marines Versus Aliens with no bots, comprising Team Deathmatch, Escape, Extermination and Survivor. Team Deathmatch is generally fun but obviously isn’t that inspired, as is Survivor (just survive attacks by Aliens). Extermination requires Marines to plant explosives around eggs and the Aliens have to defend (a Domination-style mode, except only one side captures). Escape is the most Left 4 Dead like, particularly that game’s Versus mode, where the Marines have to escape and the Aliens have to stop them. It is all undeniable fun, although the Aliens take some getting use to, but is it long-lasting fun? I don’t think so. There are hidden bonuses like the Smart Gun for the Marines and the exploding Boilers for Aliens, and I never failed to enjoy a match, but it’s hardly ground-breaking stuff. Certainly not a reason to buy it. Furthermore, why aren’t there any straight co-op modes besides the Campaign? Escape and Survivor would be superb with just a group of friends against swarms of AI-controlled Aliens.

You'll be seeing this type of thing often

Aliens: Colonial Marines isn’t the worst FPS in the last year, nor is the pathetically short campaign (5-7 hours, more if you’re really searching for secrets like the Legendary Weapons) completely dry of enjoyment. Fans of Aliens will enjoy the references, and there are even nods to Prometheus when you return to the Engineer ship (the red laser mapping spheres are still going around for instance). Nevertheless the game is decidedly mediocre, filled with bugs (even after the patch I played with), graphical effects from the early days of the 360, boring boss fights and terrible writing. Multiplayer is fairly enjoyable but short-lived, and the co-op side should’ve been far better – but then that could go for the rest of the game too.

After six years, mountains of hype and some suspiciously deceptive demos that are nothing like the final game, Gearbox’s reputation as a “Borderlands and crap games that take far too long” studio is now assured. I’m pretty sure that in six years I could make a better Aliens game than this, on my own, and that includes having to learn how to make games. Aliens: Colonial Marines is a slap in the face to anyone who put the game on their Most Wanted list at any point since 2007. It’ll be remembered for a long time, but for all the wrong reasons. What a shame. I just feel sorry for those who bought the Season Pass… since there probably won’t be a Season now.

Top Game Moment: Having a funny glitch pop up and have an Alien stick to the wall. Seriously, that’s all I got.

Platform Played: PC

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