Sci-fi shooters have borrowed elements from the Alien movies for as long as I can remember. Gearbox’s Alien: Colonial Marines started off looking like it had potential. Unfortunately, the final product leaves much to be desired. The game feels empty, clunky and dated. Initially, there was much promise in the meticulous recreation of the film’s sights and sounds. Strobing lights and shadows creep along the functional future decks of the Sulaco while various audio queues whir and buzz around your character, reminding players of the game’s roots. The inventory of pulse rifles, shotguns and steadicam-rigged smartguns shows the marine’s arsenal is intact. The aliens, otherwise known as Xenomorphs, skulk and lurk in the shadows waiting to attack. The game begins to show its weakness when you stop looking and start shooting at them, which is never good when the game is intended to be a shooter.
I’m going to rewind a bit and share some details regarding the game’s story. Established as a direct sequel to the 1986 film Aliens, Colonial Marines places players in charge of one of many soldiers tasked with following up on a distress call sent out after the conclusion of the movie. Fans of the franchise will be excited to become a part of the Aliens universe. A lot of the locations from the film are actually used as backdrops for larger battles in the game. Many details connected to the movie’s plot are also present, and if you’re a fan of the film you’ll know exactly why there’s an android torn in half on the Sulaco. Throughout the game’s main campaign, you can expect to find legendary weapons named after the characters from Aliens, audio recordings sharing details on events, and dog tags of expired soldiers.
The controls in Aliens: Colonial Marines are straightforward and share many of Call of Duty’s functions. Most gamers will pick up the game and know immediately how to play. The biggest issue with Gearbox’s Colonial Marines game is that the aliens just aren’t scary. A lot of the time I felt embarrassed for the developers. The Xenomorphs constantly find themselves stuck on the scenery. Often they would pause and stare at me while I reloaded too. The Xenomorphs come across feeling slow and dim witted, yet in the films they were portrayed as expert killing machines. These weren’t the frightening, powerful creatures I was expecting to fight; instead they were dumb comical aliens running into walls waiting to be shot. Partway through the game two new variations of Xenomporhs are introduced called spitters. They use ranged attacks and are stealthy lurkers who can be found fumbling around in the shadows. All in all the aliens lack the necessary intelligence to be believable, and the combat fails to be interesting without it.
Much of the combat in Colonial Marines sets you against human enemies rather than the aliens. The game’s unconvincing conspiracy storyline grows old quickly, and the story devolves into a simple “angry marine with a big gun” tale. Similar to the combat against the Xenomorphs, the human enemies also suffer from weak design. The Weyland-Yutani mercenaries are admittedly more intelligent, and present a more interesting side of combat, but this isn’t saying much. With so many great shooters currently out in 2013, Colonial Marine’s faults become even more evident because of such strong surrounding competition.
This is really all the campaign has to offer; the slaughter of hordes of dimwitted Xenomorphs with generic cover shooting sections against equally incompetent soldiers. If you manage to slog through this, you will find yourself arriving some six hours later at one of the worst boss fights ever. This is followed by a mysterious cut scene sharing little to no information about the Alien universe and its current state after this game’s events. Colonial Marine’s story is officially considered canon for the series. Many fans will find this very upsetting, considering Gearbox’s goal was to give fans an answer to what happened on Hadley’s Hope after the events of the film Aliens. Apparently, that is still left unresolved since nothing is given to provide fans with any closure. There is no story resolution to speak of, and most people are under the impression that the conclusion will make its appearance in some form of DLC.
The co-op campaign option provided offers some fun, but it is just as clumsy – if not worse – than when playing by yourself. Within adversarial multiplayer, player-controlled marines go toe to toe against player-controlled Xenomorphs in a number of different game modes. Playing as Xenomorphs feels unique, with third-person gameplay and the ability to climb walls to attack your enemies. When facing off against a player-controlled Xenomorph, the combat shows some promise. That is until the game begins to show its true colors with bugs and glitches running amuck. It’s a shame, though, that these modes are so buggy–you’ll leap at an enemy as a Xenomorph and get stuck in an animation. I even spawned a couple of times where the first person camera was facing on the wrong side of my neck. If the multiplayer was more polished it might add some much needed replayability to Colonial Marines; instead, it is a buggy mess of disappointment.
Beyond gameplay oriented technical issues, graphic and audio bugs constantly pop up too. Having grown accustomed to the bigger gap in visual quality between PC and console releases this late in the current hardware cycle, the console version of Colonial Marines doesn’t just look bad next to the PC version, it looks almost an entire generation behind. Frequent screen tearing, rampant aliasing, gross textures and ridiculous pop up plague the entirety of the game. The biggest offender involves the gun in your own hands bugging out with textures. The sound department is no better, with forgettable tracks and odd hitches while playing music. The guns sound decent, but lack much variety. The Xenomorphs screech and howl as they did in the films, but nothing within the audio is fantastic. All of this together makes for a shooter that is far below what is expected at this point in time.
All in all, Aliens: Colonial Marines is a missed opportunity. The game feels disappointing. Some fans may enjoy the nostalgia the game instills in them, but it suffers so severely from a lack of optimization on the console that most people will be turned off. Fundamentally, it is flawed with poor design and weak content. Colonial Marines feels dated, and fails to capture any essence of what an Alien game should be. Though Aliens: Colonial Marines has been crafted with the fans in mind, it just needed a stronger approach in its design, accompanied by some serious polish.