The pulse rifle sounds like a pulse rifle should. This is the single greatest achievement in Aliens: Colonial Marines, and even this iconic noise will start to grate on you. If the accurately emulated sound of short, controlled bursts is not enough to justify the price of a full retail game for you, then you may want to look elsewhere. Admittedly, there is some merit in the multiplayer portion, but even the game’s numerous issues hamper the competition. If you are an Aliens fan, the best course of action is to take off and nuke the game from orbit.
If only Ripley knew alien queens couldn't get in containers.
Despite being based off a franchise known for atmosphere and tension, Colonial Marines manages to be wholly uninteresting. The presentation may appear and sound like the 1986 classic, but all similarities bottom out at the surface level. The titular aliens are a great example; they certainly look like the movies' black exoskeleton beasts, though that's all Gearbox has achieved. As a key point of the Alien franchise, the xenomorphs are intelligent and adaptable killing machines that should not be trifled with. One alien was enough to wipe out most of the spaceship’s crew in the original film, and in the more action-heavy sequel, it became clear that even Earth’s finest marines were no match for these deadly creatures. That could not be less true here. The aliens in Colonial Marines are no threat at all and exhibit no intelligence. They run straight at you, rather than showing off any tactical prowess. This gives the player ample time to gun xenomorphs down without any worry for their safety. Sometimes there are a lot of enemies, yet they never display coordination, die very quickly, and occasionally run around the environment aimlessly. On top of this, every encounter feels exactly the same. Aliens pop out of the floor or the walls and throw themselves in front of your gun when ammo and health are plentiful.
Luckily, not all of your time is spent fighting xenomorphs. Things change early in the campaign when you are suddenly attacked by a large group of humans. The game claims you are fighting Weyland-Yutani PMCs, but you would imagine such a wealthy company could have bought better soldiers. Much like the aliens, the humans are boring to fight. There isn't enough enemy variety on either side, and what adversaries do exist are uniformly stupid. The PMCs will shoot at you, but they are also more than happy to ignore you, run in random directions, or spend their lives crouching behind waist-high walls. They don’t pose much of a risk, and are never satisfying to engage with. As a result, there's no reason for you to act strategically. You simply walk through numerous corridors laying waste to anything in your path like the unstoppable machine of death you are. While this seems to have a certain allure, it’s actually quite dull. Colonial Marines contains some appeal to using the guns from the film, but this novelty just isn't enough. The weapons are a touch inaccurate, and the core shooting does not save the game from a pit of mediocrity.
It's like the bit from the movie!
These problems are exacerbated by the repetitive structure of the campaign. First-person shooters may have become set-piece-driven roller coaster rides, but Aliens is happier being a shooting gallery. Players spend the majority of the game in similarly modeled, enclosed environments (primarily corridors) walking from one encounter to the next. There’s a severe lack of variety to the campaign, and the five-hour length drags throughout. Environments eventually expand and although you will be given some different objectives, what you are actually doing hardly ever changes. The game is a shooter, so expect to be shooting stuff a lot, but those parts are not fulfilling when that is all you do. At one point in the campaign, there is a deviation, yet even this mission has problems. Your weapons are taken from you for one level, and you become truly vulnerable to the alien menace. Instead of fighting, you now take the stealthy approach as you walk slowly through a sewer populated by husk-like aliens. The triumph of this section is that the developers actually managed to create a dumber species of xenomorph who animate terribly. This new enemy type cannot see and reacts only to noise, meaning you have to tread carefully as you navigate your way through the infested tunnels. It sounds tense, but the aliens really have no idea what to do. They may hear a sound and run towards it, or, more frequently, ignore you while you stand still. The whole scenario seems more unfair to them as you slip past with ease as they stumble about blindly.
The repetitive gameplay is not the only problem here, though. Visually, Aliens: Colonial Marines appears years behind current games. It may capture the film's aesthetic, and the lighting is occasionally serviceable, but textures are bad and environmental detail is at a minimum. The corridors look like the cramped corridors of Aliens, but don’t gaze at them too long (though environments repeat so often it’s hard not to do so). The game even manages to look worse in the poorly compressed cutscenes. Here you get to see your teammates up close, and it’s not a pretty sight. Facial animations are so limited that only the mouths move, and even then they just flap unconvincingly. Characters will also blink on occasion, but most maintain a glassy-eyed stare that makes everybody seem like androids. It works for the synthetic Bishop but does nobody else a favor.
Press 'E' to not get hugged.
Continuing the trend, Colonial Marines' story is also a big issue. The game allegedly fits between Aliens and Alien 3: Resurrection, and has been marketed to fill gaps as a canonical sequel to the second film. If this is true, we were better off with Alien 3. The story does nothing to clarify certain events, and barely explains itself. Numerous plot points will frustrate anybody with a basic knowledge of how the Alien universe works, and at times, the game actively refuses to give much-needed exposition. There is a major plot hole involving a returning character (who I won’t name) that makes little sense. All it needs is an explanation of how these events came to be, but instead, the character in question literally just states it is a long story and leaves it at that. It’s completely aggravating and is emblematic of the game’s bad storytelling. Colonial Marines was supposed to elaborate on what happened to the support team Hicks called for in Aliens, but is, in reality, a poorly justified excuse to show you places you may recognize from the movies.
The one redeeming feature of the game remains the multiplayer, which is actually quite interesting. However, the same mechanical problems carry over. There may be some neat ideas here, but they are couched in a subpar shooter. Thus, Colonial Marines will never be your go-to for multiplayer. Having the opportunity to play as the xenomorphs seems cool, but the controls are not as good as they really should be. It does make for a tense experience for the marines, though. With people controlling them, the aliens exhibit some intelligence. The motion tracker is completely useless in the campaign, because the shootouts are so predictable and boring, but in multiplayer it becomes a necessity. The fact that you have to switch between tracker and gun (and that the aliens could be anywhere) makes for an engaging experience not present in the story. There’s also a nice variety of modes that encourage cooperative play. Escape is the highlight, a Left 4 Dead-like experience where a group of player-controlled marines have to get from point A to B while being besieged by player-controlled aliens. The aliens can respawn; the marines cannot. Escape can be a lot of fun, but you are better off sticking with Left 4 Dead. The same is true of the multiplayer as a whole. There’s some promise here, but it’s all done better elsewhere.
Colonial Marines is not a looker.
Put simply, Aliens: Colonial Marines is a huge disappointment. Its campaign is completely devoid of any atmosphere or tension and does a complete disservice to the franchise it is based on. It attempts to touch on what made Aliens so memorable, but never captures any of it. Yes, you will find a power loader, but the only time you fight in it feels like a glitchy mess as you and an alien flail at each other and clip through the environment. Yes, you encounter the alien queen, but the final showdown with her is an awful section that belittles one of the greatest monsters in science fiction. If you like Aliens, you will hate the game; if you don’t enjoy Aliens, then all that's left is a subpar shooter. It’s still a functional shooter, albeit one that never manages to be good.
Developer: Gearbox Software
Release Date: February 12, 2013
Number of Players:1-4 (Campaign) 2-10 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Xbox 360, PlayStation 3