Six years. Six years I’ve been waiting for the release of Aliens: Colonial Marines, ever since I first saw it in a Game Informer cover story all the way back in 2006. The visuals, the concept, the gameplay and pretty much everything else about it looked great on paper, and I was certain I’d one day have it in my hands and be able to satisfyingly conclude the long road of hype I’d been travelling. Unfortunately, as you probably already know, the game is an utter disappointment, and in no way reflects six years of time and effort.
The start of the game is rather abrupt. Continuing 17 weeks after the events at Hadley’s Hope in the film Aliens, you take on the role of Sgt. Winters, a generic character with seemingly no backstory and whom is really just there for the ride. However, there is one good thing about Winters that I will point out; he’s not a silent protagonist, which is great in the sense that it makes you feel like you’re actually playing the role of someone, a definite plus in the iconic and story-driven world of Aliens. Anyways, Winters and his squad of Colonial Marines are on a mission to find out what exactly happened to Ripley and her squad by investigating the ship Sulaco and eventually going to the planet LV-42.
The beginning of the game seems to be on the right track. Dark and tense environments with lots of canonical movie references and details are thrown at you right off the bat. Within the first five minutes of the game, you’ll see a chest ripped open by a face hugger, fire the iconic-sounding pulse rifle, peer at the screen of a beeping motion-tracker and get a glimpse of LV-42 from outer space. As you’d expect, things don’t go as planned, and events quickly turn for the worse and everything goes downhill for the Colonial Marines. Throughout the campaign, you’ll see the soldiers transform from just your regular gung-ho space marines that show no fear, to characters who are ready to lay down and weep for mercy. It shows a genuine attempt at some character development, but the overall story of Colonial Marines is pretty convoluted, and it doesn’t do a very swell job of even explaining and justifying its own events, which leads to many questions being raised than there are answers by the time the game draws to a close.
Gameplay wise, Colonial Marines is a mixed bag. The first ten minutes of the game has you believing the game will offer plenty of tense atmosphere and fun old-school gunplay. However, the first two missions of the game already do a solid job of proving otherwise. Out of nowhere, Weyland-Yutani mercenaries begin bombarding the Sulaco, and the game quickly turns into a generic FPS game where you’re pitted against human enemies. If that’s not enough, both the human and aliens have horrid AI that often has them pointlessly waltzing around or outright walking up to you, and the animations look like they’re from a current generation launch title. The aliens look well done when in their crawling position, but once they get up close and stand up on two legs to swipe at you, they just looks like they’re coming to give you a hug. Gunplay against human enemies almost made me want to just drop the controller and walk away from the game. Their AI almost never misses a shot, which is a real pain on harder difficulty, and at one point during the second mission I probably died at least 10-15 times due to random grenades being thrown at me from seemingly out of nowhere.
There really was no need to include these human encounters in the game, as the aliens are interesting and varied enough to keep the gameplay fresh and frantic. The inclusion of the wildly inconsistent overly smart/dumb human AI takes you away from the experience and is one of the most irritating things I’ve experienced in a video game in recent years. The later portions of the game do improve once you reach LV-42 and Hadley’s Hope. If you can manage the irritation of the first two levels, you’ll reach the real meat of the game and may even have a reasonable amount of fun.
That doesn’t mean the rest of the game isn’t a disappointment, however. The graphics look like they were pulled from 2006 themselves. Textures are muddy up close, facial and movement animations are stiff and floaty, and the explosions and particle effects leave much to be desired. Trying to review Aliens: Colonial Marines is really irritating, if you haven’t noticed yet. When looking back at the October 2012 demo, you’ll see that the game was looking fantastic, but the final product looks as if everything good about that demo was ripped away. The environments and lighting aren’t amazing by any means, but they convey well enough the setting found in Aliens, just as Gearbox had promised. On the positive side of things, the soundtrack is quite good, and the voice acting, for the most part, isn’t too shabby except for a bit too much macho space marine mutter in the first part of the game. As stated before, when I look back at the 2012 demo, all I can do is try to telepathically speak to Gearbox, Timegate and any other party involved and ask them, “what the hell happened to this title?”
On the multiplayer side of things, basically all the gameplay elements from the campaign remain the same, as do the graphics, meaning you’ll get similarly stiff animations and shooting mechanics that are definitely not the most fluid around. Colonial Marines’ multiplayer mode is essentially Left 4 Dead if the zombies were replaced by wall-crawling aliens with claws, though the dynamic between the gun-toting marines and stealthy xenomorphs does make for some fun and tense battles. Sadly, if you’re single player like we are, the multiplayer portion probably won’t appeal to you, which is a shame considering it’s one of the game’s better features.
Overall, Colonial Marines is already a contender for one of 2013’s biggest disappointments. We have no idea what exactly happened during the course of development, but the game that was shown off in the 2012 preview is absent here. Writing this review was painful, as I honestly have been anticipating this game since I first heard about it, and my hopes for the game peaked with the showing of the 2012 demo. Unfortunately, the final product is anything but stellar. Colonial Marines may be worthy of a $20 purchase further down the line if you’re a diehard Aliens fan, but certainly not $60. If you must play it, rent it, and maybe then the unfocused, frustrating and technically unimpressive game before you will be a bit more tolerable.
If you do happen to trudge through to the end of the game, have a ‘blast’ with the final boss fight. ;)
(Reviewed on Xbox 360. Review copy generously provided by the people at SEGA. Thank you.)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 7/10
Gameplay/Design – 3/10
Visuals – 5/10
Sound – 8/10
Lasting Appeal – 4/10
Overall – 5/10
(Not an average)
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Rating: Mature (ESRB), 18 (PEGI)