Aliens: Colonial Marines review
Like a blip-less motion tracker, the signs were good. Everything Gearbox, Randy Pitchford and SEGA had put out there made Aliens: Colonial Marines an enticing prospect. It was to be a proper modern Aliens game that replicated the horror and pulsating action that made Jim Cameron’s 1986 film a classic. In the end however, Aliens: Colonial Marines doesn’t even deserve to cower in the shadow of what you dreamt this game could be. A masterclass in laziness, cynicism seeps from its every pore and is visible in every frame. Only cliché-laden cut scenes break up the monotonous gameplay.
One of the first lines of dialogue uttered is, “This is not a drill and you ain’t in Kansas anymore”. It sets the tone for what’s to come. When control is eventually given to the player they are presented with the pulse rifle – THE pulse rifle – and your character, one Corporal Winter, inspects it thoroughly despite the urgency of his situation. There is a small thrill in firing that weapon and hearing its distinctive sound, likewise in roaming locations from the films and hearing the Xenomorphs squeal. These are cheap ploys however and easy enough to replicate or simply lift directly from the film itself.
The Alien series is about tension and mood, it’s about an atmosphere of dread and a beast that overwhelms either in strength or in number. There’s none of this in Colonial Marines. Moment-to-moment gameplay becomes a literally bug hunt, with the Xenos representing little more than insects running directly at the sole your boot.
Did you say human?
Any real challenge comes from the human enemy. Yes, the human enemy. Having failed to conceive a game that could at least attempt to vary from the norm, Gearbox, TimeGate or whoever actually developed the single player campaign chose to use human foes – mercenaries hired by the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. They offer up a different challenge, one welcome compared to the grind that hunting Xenos so quickly becomes, but their AI is pretty much non-existent. Their difficulty to conquer across the game’s four difficulties is also erratic and not at all consistent.
Problems with difficulty curves and enemy AI would have been obvious in any other game, but here they’re hidden behind a curtain of glitches and slow-loading PS2-grade textures. Sometimes textures won’t even load at all. About two thirds of the way through the short campaign you are greeted with the sight of the derelict alien ship made famous in the original film, looming in the distance it was… well it was blurry. I waited to see it properly but nothing changed.
Parts of the game do look fine, namely a sewer section shortly after the player is left without his squad for about the only time in a game that would have benefited from such moments of isolation. It borders on the kind of atmospheric, scary tone of the films but it’s all ruined when you encounter the Boilers.
Animation is the boilers.
Boilers are a new type of Xeno, one that uses sound to see and explodes as a form of attack (presumably just to piss off Charles Darwin). You’re told to freeze when one appears and wait for it to pass or for it to return to its static state. However the way they walk is nothing short of hilarious.
And here lies another problem in Colonial Marines; animation. Mercenaries look like they’ve jumped out of a decade-old game and Xenos run towards you with their arms-out like they’re awaiting a hug. Some animations aren’t even finished – at various points NPCs jump around areas to the point they’re supposed to be for the game to continue. Most of the time it’s behind your back but still noticeable due to a basic understanding of the concept of time and space, other times they vanish right in front of your eyes in a flash of pale blue light.
It isn’t all bad however, as the multiplayer is actually pretty fun. As either Marines or Xenos there are four game modes including the standard Team Deathmatch. Extermination tasks the Marines with wiping out clusters of alien eggs with explosives; Escape sets the Marines objectives on their way to escaping alien-infested areas and Survivor pits soldiers with only one-life against a relentless attack. It being the portion of the game actually made by lead-developers Gearbox, it looks and plays pretty well and saves a game that would be hard to give away for free from being totally without merit.
Perhaps Aliens is just a tough series to make a good game from, but even under the ugly, polish-less skin of Colonial Marines there is only an average shooter. Nostalgia was the game’s mission statement and it does achieve that, but it’s not nostalgia for the films; rather a reminder of FPS games from decades passed.