After many delays and several press events, Aliens: Colonial Marines finally hit store shelves this past Tuesday. Undoubtedly, gamers have already seen many of the gameplay videos out there (check out our first impressions and first 20 minutes video), there are still parts of Aliens: Colonial Marines that are worth looking at from a micro perspective, to find out where exactly it all went wrong.
From the very first frame, Aliens: Colonial Marines sets itself up to be a disappointment. Rough textures, stilted dialogue that comes off as independent sound bytes, and poor animation and lip-synching plague any cut scene, which makes every story beat or plot set-up wholly distracting. Colonial Marines’ story is designed to be a post-Aliens narrative, but it’s really just a retread of iconic locations from that James Cameron film.
As Corporal Winters, players will start first on the vacant Sulaco, trying to piece together what happened to the ship’s original crew (i.e. Ripley, Hicks, Bishop, etc…). Of course, what the player finds is a cornucopia of xenomorphs trying to eviscerate them at every turn. The game also features some Weyland Yutani soldiers, who are merely around to provide a different enemy type.
There’s something to do with studying the xenomorphs, and there are some portions that tie into the Aliens storyline, but ultimately the connective tissue is thin, and the story arc itself is trite. Don’t go in expecting some sort of grand revelation, or any explanation as to what happened between Aliens and Alien 3, it’s simply not there.
Whether it’s battling the WY soldiers or the xenomorphs, Colonial Marines is a standard, by-the-numbers FPS experience. There are a handful of weapons at the player’s disposal, including a few special one-off weapons (like a flamethrower and an auto-targeting LMG). However, players will find that the assault rifle as primary and shotgun as secondary loadout works just fine.
To be honest, it really doesn’t matter what weapon the player uses, because the AI is just plain dumb. The human enemies alternate between running around aimlessly and ducking behind cover without any sense of self-preservation; and the xenomorphs endlessly charge the player, turning themselves into instant shotgun fodder. There are a few enemy types within each category (like xenomorphs that spit acid and Weyland Yutani heavy types), but it’s all just one big shooting gallery. It gets even worse for teammate AI, who can be actually killing enemies one second and then shooting at a wall the next. Yes, I actually caught my teammates shooting at absolutely nothing more than a couple times.
Early on, gamers will discover that Colonial Marines isn’t all that challenging, and what it offers as far as shooters are concerned is a less-than-mediocre experience. Haphazardly shooting various enemies without contextual feedback or mindlessly pressing buttons is not fun, it’s actually really boring. The final boss fight, for example, requires the player run around and push buttons.
There are spots that are difficult, but that’s not by design, it’s almost by accident. The game liberally scatters health packs and armor throughout its levels, but oftentimes it’s hard to predict how much damage the player is taking. At the same time, there are enemies that will spawn out of nowhere – sometimes behind the player – or trap them in a corner and waste them easily. Dying wouldn’t be much of a nuisance either, but the game’s checkpoint system is terrible – leaving long stretches between enemy encounters. There’s nothing more demoralizing than getting through a 5-minute sequence, taking out dozens of enemies, only to die and have to start all over again. It’s a small gripe, but the lack of convenient checkpoints is a real misstep.
There’s also a specific section in the game where player is stripped of their weapons and asked to stealthily make their way through the sewers. It breaks up the monotony of what is a very rote experience, but the sequence itself can be boiled down to first person walking. Scattered throughout the level are xenomorphs that react to sound, and to avoid them all the player must do is walk slowly. Some might call it unique, but it comes across as filler.
All in all, though, the shooting is passable – players aim down the barrel, fire, and the enemies take damage. So it’s hard to be too negative about a sub-par FPS when, at the very least, it functions. On the other hand, the game’s presentation is a complete disaster. Beyond just the outdated and rough-around-the-edges visuals and sound, the game’s animations and level design are extremely poor. Oftentimes it’s hard to discern xenomorphs from the background, especially the very small facehuggers. As well, the various xenomorphs look fine from a design standpoint, but their movement and attack animations are far too ugly not to be pointed out.
Once the 6-hour single player campaign has reached its conclusion – which includes several battles with the xenomorph queen – players can take the experience online for any of the game’s multiplayer modes. The modes themselves are riffs on standard team deathmatch, cooperative, or objective-based modes, but it’s the opportunity to play as a xenomorph that is the real draw here. Unfortunately the lack of balance between the marine players and the xenomorphs can lead to some seriously one-sided matches.
Xenomorphs have the inherent ability to sense enemies through walls, and the marines have the added bonus of the motion tracker, which, on the surface, should have balanced the two options. Unfortunately the gameplay balancing only extended that far, leaving the marines much stronger than the xenomorphs if they simply back in a corner and hunker down with their squad. So, while playing as the xenomorphs is unique and fun, it won’t lead to too many victories. But props to the developers for creating a multiplayer experience that makes the best use of the Aliens IP, even if few gamers will come back to it after the first week.
For a game that was in development for this long, Aliens: Colonial Marines redefines the term disappointment. Its rough visuals, awful animations, and generic combat turn what might have been a mediocre shooter into a terrible one. To be fair the game is not unplayable, it’s buggy animation and random moments where enemies disappear into thin air are not a hindrance to campaign progression, but why someone would want to progress past the first hour is a mystery.
What’s worse is that this is a game that leverages a beloved sci-fi property to suck as many $60 purchases out of fans as it can. The Aliens faithful have already shown their willingness to jump head first into anything that loosely connects to the franchise, so in that regard the existence of Colonial Marines feels exploitative. While it’s hard to know just who to blame (main developer Gearbox Software claims much of the campaign was outsourced to TimeGate), Aliens should have been much better, but the fact that it’s this bad just makes the game an embarrassment.
Have you had a chance to check out Aliens: Colonial Marines? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is out now for the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. Game Rant was provided the Xbox 360 version for this review.
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