February 25, 2013 by Paul Curtin
Trying to be an official sequel to the 1986 James Cameron film, Colonial Marines takes place after the events of the second film and sometime around the events of the third. Assuming the role of Christopher Winter, a generic and boring colonial marine, you’ll fight alongside other lifeless A.I. marines who have been sent to find Ripley, Hicks, and the rest of the marines missing aboard the U.S.S. Sulaco ship where the second film left off.
As anybody who has seen Aliens can gather, once arriving on the Sulaco, all hell breaks loose as the team is greeted by the xenomorph aliens. But unfortunately, the aliens aren’t the only bugs you’ll come into contact with throughout the six hour campaign, and the game is plagued with all sorts of problems that hurt gameplay. When the start of an FPS involves your character holding an invisible gun due to a glitch, it’s not a good sign of things to come.
While progressing through the mediocre level designs that have all the sights and sounds you would come to expect in an official Aliens game, you begin to realize just how dated the game has become due to its numerous delays. After six years in development, you’d think they’d be able to do better than this. It’s sad when comparing other similar and far better recent games like Dead Space 3. Colonial Marines plays like something that should have been released at the start of this console generation, not the end.
A game’s visuals aren’t everything (just take Gearbox’s breakout hit series Borderlands as an example), but Colonial Marines doesn’t just look dated, it is dated. Cartoonish character models with terrible anti-aliasing move awkwardly with clipping issues and stare blankly at walls in the wrong direction when talking to you. The mix of poorly written material, dreadful voice acting, and unfunny one-liners are constant reminders that you’re playing a shoddy game and kill any sort of immersion.
Other than a couple very short areas where the game takes away your gun on purpose, there’s never any real tension created by the xenomorphs because you never fear them. Aliens are highly unintelligent and constantly charge straight at you with no real tactics so that you and your crew can mow them down, rinse, and repeat. Even worse than how stupid the declawed aliens are is the fact that almost equal time is devoted to fighting less intelligent and dull enemy soldiers in repetitive and uninspiring shootouts with generic guns.
Gameplay has been described by the devs as consisting of “Gauntlet Runs,” where players must fight enemies as they travel from point A to point B, and “Last Stand” moments, where players must defend a specific area by welding doors and/or setting up automated sentry turrets. And I’d agree with both descriptions of the game, because after a couple hours, you won’t care at all about who, what, where, when, and why; instead, you’ll want to run past all the enemy “Gauntlets” without ever firing a bullet in order to just get to the next checkpoint after the repetitive gameplay has gotten on your last nerves — which you can comically do, even on the harder modes.
To try and distract gamers from how bad everything else is, Gearbox has resorted to playing off the nostalgia factor and has thrown in a ton of fan service, such as Easter eggs, audio logs, and other hidden extras all relating to the previous films. If you’re not familiar with the series, you most likely won’t understand and/or care about anything you find, and you sure won’t have an incentive to go back looking for it again in a second playthrough.
Adding to the list of tacked-on features, Gearbox has thrown in co-op that allows four players to play through the entire campaign together. Which is exactly what every survival horror action game needs these days, as many friends as possible to play alongside with. But unlike Dead Space 3 that ruined its survival horror feel by implementing co-op in a unique and fun way, Colonial Marine‘s co-op doesn’t allow players to take over the main characters; instead, it just adds extra generic marines into the squad. So you’ll still have your dimwitted A.I. companions that run ahead without you, but you’ll also have your friends, too, for even bigger clusterfucks during shootouts in tight spaces.
The one and only good thing about Aliens: Colonial Marines is its multiplayer. It’s been rumored that Gearbox only worked on the game’s multiplayer and outsourced the campaign to other studios, which is highly believable when comparing the two modes. Multiplayer isn’t really anything new. If you’ve played Left 4 Dead, Dead Space 2, or the previous Aliens vs. Predator games, then you’ve already seen the basic concept. The multiplayer pits human marines against xenomorphs in some very exciting battles, especially when playing the Escape mode. Just like L4D, humans use the same first-person perspective from the campaign and try to make it from checkpoint to checkpoint while the xenos take a third-person perspective and try to stop them.
After Gearbox didn’t allow media to play on the xeno team at E3 last summer, I was a little worried that multiplayer might not be anywhere near as enjoyable as what we experienced when kicking the dev team’s ass as the marines. Surprisingly, the xeno controls actually work pretty well… not as good as other games like L4D and DS2, but still good enough to have fun. Each side also has custom loadouts and plenty of upgrades that help give an incentive to play longer, but the xenos all feel a bit too similar and it’s hard to justify playing the multiplayer rather than its older competition — even with Colonial Marines being so much newer, it’s just nowhere near as good.
To be fair, Gearbox’s take on the Aliens series isn’t the worst game ever; it just feels half-assed and unfinished – similar to the last time Gearbox tried to unsuccessfully resurrect Duke Nukem from development hell. I was actually rooting for Colonial Marines and somewhat hyped after learning that Dead Space 3 had axed its similar competitive multiplayer mode. There are even some nice features such as a heartbeat sensor that helps add a little bit of tension to the gameplay, and while the multiplayer isn’t on the same level as its competition, it’s still something new for those who like asymmetrical competitive online modes.
Even with an entertaining multiplayer mode, the game isn’t something that can justify its $60 price tag or even a bargain bin heavy discount. It’s disappointing and shameful what Gearbox has done by baiting everyone in with gameplay footage that was far better looking and in some cases not even in the final version of the game. I can’t think of a worse case of smoke & mirrors in the gaming industry other than the infamous 2006 Killzone 2 teaser, but at least that resulted in close to what Guerrilla Games promised and the best looking game on consoles in 2009 — which is still better in every way when compared to Colonial Marines four years later! And don’t even get me started on the game’s anti-climatic ending, which would have been far more upsetting if I wasn’t just happy to be done wasting my time with the game for this review. Aliens: Colonial Marines gets 2.5 out of 5 stars for its terrible campaign and co-op but somewhat enjoyable solid multiplayer experience.
- Enjoyable asymmetrical multiplayer that lets you play as the marines and xenos
- Sights and sounds all stay true to the Aliens universe
- Plenty of fan service in the form of hidden collectables
- Terrible storytelling, character animations, and voice acting
- Aliens aren’t properly used, resulting in fights feeling like target practice
- Far too many shootouts with generic enemy soldiers
- The final result looks nowhere near as good as what Gearbox teased
- Plenty of bugs throughout the campaign
- Co-op is a poorly integrated mess