I was quite excited when Aliens: Colonial Marines was first announced. For a long time James Cameron’s Aliens has been my all time favorite film, so a direct sequel in game form? You can bet I want that! As per usual since the rights purchase, the game was published by SEGA and distributed by 20th Century Fox. But this time Gearbox Software, in association with TimeGate Studios and Nerve Software, took up the reigns for the latest in the extensive list of Alien themed games. It’s been no secret that this game has bitterly disappointed the vast majority of the gaming world, but when you look at the game as what it was meant to be, a sequel to one of the greatest sci-fi horror franchises of all time, it actually doesn’t do as badly as everyone is saying.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is set 17 weeks after the events of Aliens. A team of Marines on board the U.S.S Sephora are sent to investigate a distress beacon sent out by corporal Hicks from the U.S.S Sulaco which is situated above the desolate colony of LV-426. On board the Marines discover an infestation of Xenomorphs as well as a hostile force of human mercenaries hired by Weyland-Yutani Corporation to lure in the Marines to use as hosts for the Xenos. After a brief fight the marines find them self on the surface of LV-426 in the ruins of Hadley’s Hope searching for Corporal Hicks himself who is under the custody of Weyland-Yutani. It’s not the most revolutionary or gripping of stories in any regard, but the belief is that it is at least canon and actually does an excellent job when it comes to referring back to the film as well as featuring excellent voice work right from the start such as Michael Biehn who plays Hicks in both James Cameron’s Aliens and the game, Lance Henriksen who played Bishop and Mark Rolston who played Drake. This made the campaign more enjoyable for me as the attention to detail made it feel more authentic.
Gameplay wise the game is fairly standard FPS fair. Controls are identical to Call of Duty which I guess will familiarize it with a lot of players. The game isn’t always spray and praying with the Pulse Rifle. In fact the game does the Alien fighting very well. If they get to close you’ve got the chance to counter them causing them to get knocked back and leaving them open to a follow up bullet, if you’re to slow they’ll sometimes lunge on top of you making you mash a button until they get off, leaving you on the floor with just your sidearm trying to fend them off until you stand up. Which was a simple but nice addition. There’s also what happens when you get a perfect counter, where you place your pistol upon their chin and blow their green brains out. I don’t think there was enough focus on the acid but that’s not too bad. Unfortunately human combat isn’t nearly as fun, the shoddy AI is alright on Aliens because they don’t have to do much except disappear into the walls and appear somewhere else, but the people are just plain dumb! And also highly frustrating. They have the old “know where you are no matter what and are pin point accurate” disease which has broken so many past titles. Luckily you don’t have to put up with too much solid human combat and they’re pretty easily dealt with. I think the saving thing about this game’s gameplay is, because the enemies aren’t particularity interesting or challenging to fight, they’re just fun to kill. Shooting Alien’s heads off, shooting the merc’s leg off, totally exploding a group of enemies at once. They’re just simply fun to kill, which makes it fun to play a lot of the time.
The motion tracker carried by all marines is of course back with it’s signature climactic beep. But they didn’t make it necessary to use, it was too hard to read and I found myself using it to try and find where I was meant to be going, because that was never very well explained. Using it as an actual motion tracker was difficult and your were always better off spinning around looking at the ceiling trying to spot Aliens manually. Possibly one of my favorite features in the game is the weapons and the Arsenal. At the start of the game you’re introduced to the Arsenal in the player menu. In here you can customize your weapons then in game, which I must admit I didn’t know this until the last level which meant I was stuck with the same guns for nearly the entire game. By simply holding the ‘Y’ button to choose your active weapons. I feel this was badly explained but it was pretty intuitive and easy to use most of the time after. As far as customization goes there’s a lot to do. Most guns have under-barrel attachments and this game has more under-barrel weapons than actual weapons. There’s the normal grenade launcher, there’s a firebomb launcher, shotgun, incendiary shotgun, frag round shotgun, flamethrower, electrified shotgun and probably more I’ve just forgotten to mention. This means you have a decent amount of options when it comes to choosing your loadout. For instance, I’d often equip my long range battle rifle with an under-barrel shotgun so I could defend myself in close quarters. You’ve also got you normal scope, body, fire mode and skin mods which means there’s enough to change to make any gun your own. A couple of arsenal related features that I really loved were the physical look and style of the guns.
Aliens only featured about 4-5 guns, so most of the guns in Colonial Marines were made up and the design did a fantastic job in making them fit. They’re just perfectly designed and anyone who hasn’t seen the film would probably just assume they were all in there. I also love the legendary weapons they’ve placed throughout the game. Weapons like Hudson’s Pulse Rifle and Hick’s Shotgun. They’re all different to the normal weapon in some way and really cool additions. I’m not sure if Ripley’s hybrid Pulse Rifle/Machine Gun is in it somewhere, although I’m sure it is. It’s just a nice edition. I also really liked a portion of the game in the middle, where you go through the sewers of the facility of Hadley’s Hope. Under here you see the Aliens that were wiped out by the Reactor explosion, most of them dead, but some of them are still alive, crippled and mutated from the radiation as well as blind and volatile. It was a cool thing to do and I for one really appreciated it and found it to be one of the more intense parts of the game, although they made it too easy by adding insta-kill switches that basically caused all the aliens in the room to commit suicide. Which I think brings us to the worst part of Aliens: Colonial Marines’ gameplay. The AI. It’s simply terrible! Aliens will just walk out in the open and not try and stick to shadows unless they’re a lurker, the mercs are worse and don’t seem to have any form of developed AI. It’s just either stand still in the same spot and shoot or go stand behind cover and shoot the wall in your general direction. It’s a bit of an experience ruiner and is inexcusable for a triple A title from a developer as well established and experienced as Gearbox.
The graphics of Colonial Marines is where it really disappoints. Anyone who saw the 2012 gameplay demo of a level that wasn’t even in the game would agree. The game looked sublime then and absolutely rubbish upon release. I mean terrible! it’s dull, boring and outdated. And it’s obviously not a case of “The hardware can’t take it” because we saw from the demo what the game could have looked like and the contrast is absurd. To sum it up, the textures are very average, the models are dull, the lighting seems last gen with no volumetric shadows that we saw in the demo and it just doesn’t have that polish new games should have. It’s really that bad. I think the weapon models are the standout, they look nice and are very well made. I also like some of the depth of field effect when looking down sights and stuff, but these are fairly standard features in most of today’s games. The Aliens themselves are quite nice, and the main colonial marines aren’t terrible, but the rest of the in-game models are just uninteresting and look very rushed. Same with the levels, the first levels in particular are just boring and dull. Only when you get to the planet surface that things start to look a bit better, but even then they are far from what they were and what they should have been.
I think the sound design of the game was one place where the game did really well. The music was excellent with original tracks from the film and new tracks composed to fit perfectly. The weapons sounds effects were spot on and the voice acting was excellent on the most part with original voice actors from the film. Although some of the Marines were a bit boring and poorly scripted, the only thing missing was Sigourney Weaver. I think where the sound goes askew is with the Aliens. They seemed somehow… Different. More like a ferrel cat in a fight. Maybe it was just me but they didn’t seem scary enough and there wasn’t really much hissing.
I think the biggest savior for Aliens: Colonial Marines for a lot of people was the Multiplayer. The game features 4 player seamless drop-in/drop-out cooperative play as well as online competitive multiplayer across four game types where players play as either Marines or Aliens. I played a bit of Co-op with a friend and surprisingly really enjoyed it. Escape mode was my favorite where four marines have to escape the Aliens by completing a series of tasks such as cutting open doors, welding them shut, activating generators to power lifts and so fourth, which makes for quite a strategic game. One guy is there cutting open the door and the Aliens are constantly attacking them so the other three have to defend him. This was fast paced and intense and very well done. I unfortunately didn’t get to try out any other game modes and there’s not a whole lot do say about the co-op as it basically stays the same as single player except you can revive your team mates, team kill, and… not much else unfortunately. But it’s still fun to be able to play through the campaign with three friends and seamlessly drop in and out is always a nice addition.
So in the end it’s a bit of a mixed result. The game has it’s pros but it certainly has it’s cons. A lot of people are calling this game one of the worst games they’ve ever played which I think is a bit unfair. It’s by no means a great, nor really a good, game but it does do some things well. It stays cannon to the franchise, it has some solid gameplay, it has fun multiplayer with a lot of features and a very good soundtrack and authentic arsenal that give it that real Aliens feel. But it has a very average look and feel when compared to other blockbuster titles. It has extremely poor AI and a less than strong story. In the end it floats in the middle, the good and bad balanced out enough in my view to make it mediocre and possibly the best compliment I can give it is that it didn’t break the franchise. Gearbox should have known and done better and this is definitely not the game it should have been, but it’s the game we have and I at least enjoyed some of it.