Also On: Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: Gearbox Software (With TimeGate Studios & Nerve Software)
Rating: 18 (PEGI) / M (ESRB)
Aliens, the best of a sci-fi franchise that has kept me, and people like me, happy for a long time. It practically birthed a whole genre of film, and sci-fi horror games like Dead Space owe so very much to it. It’s a perfect candidate for a game and Colonial Marines looked like one to make that happen. Most likely you know it didn’t happen. I’m going to tell you what I think anyway.
I love Aliens. This meant that I was going to play this no matter what. What a regret that is. A story in the making for six years, multiple development teams and rumours abound pointing that only late stage development was done by Gearbox Software, most early being outsourced to other less illustrious studios. All of this shows on the final quality on what should have been something to look forward to. Of course the expectations I had, albeit partly from watching the excellent looking gameplay demo revealed at E3 in 2011, is a large part of the ill will I feel.
What is good about Colonial Marines? Very little, but not quite nothing. It does manage to set up a strong atmosphere one or two times, especially in a level that leaves you weaponless and sneaking through sound-detector-explodey-aliens that have nested in the obligatory sewer level. That just brought me to an odd realisation, this is possibly the first time the sewer level has actually improved the game or been the best part of it.
Adding to atmosphere is the lighting system. It helps increase the claustrophobic feel of the tight corridors and enclosed areas and can also enhance the scene of a meant-to-be intense fight. If you let yourself get sucked in and hope so much that the name of “Aliens” isn’t being butchered you may even fall for the scene. Indeed, there is actually one moment where somebody is trying to open a door and you, with two AI, are tasked to hold off a swarm of Xenomorphs with an achievement being to not let a single one of them pass the barricade.
The thing done most right though? It’s just bringing back fonder memories of greater things through the use of locations, characters and names from Aliens. I know I’m not the only one who has wanted to return to LV-426, to wander around Hadley’s Hope and uncover all I can about the derelict ship. All of this is a big nostalgia trip that allows you a more intimate look which is perfect for fans.
If so little went right then the prospects of what went wrong must be huge. Not completely true but the list of negatives is immeasurable. The first thing that went wrong is the major thing they got right, being Aliens. It’s this shameless link to something great that helps with the digestion of the game, but leaves you resenting the hubris of it being linked to something so complete, while being so unfinished.
Of course that’s down to opinion. I read a review earlier that claimed Colonial Marines was excellent and was a 9/10, so obviously it has appealed to somebody out there. Let’s try to move towards a little more objectivity. Still linking to the film, where you will have enjoyed the characters through strong personalities and script, this has none of it. With a script so ham-handed and forced it’s cringe worthy, and characters so contrived it becomes a slog to pay attention to the cutscenes or story based segments of the game, even getting as bad as making you want to get back into the action.
Being bad enough to make you want to get back into the action is no mean feat either. The reason for this is that the action is bland and uninspired. For the most part you find yourself running through corridors, barely recognising the change from one to the last, shooting down a pop-up gallery of Humans and, on occasions, Xenomorphs. The fact that your key enemies are humans, faceless mercenaries hired by Weyland-Yutani, makes for the most annoying aspect. What adds to the mess is that these humans are better fighters than the Xenomorphs, offering more of a challenge.
The reason the humans are better boils down to the terrible AI that runs throughout. The Xenomorphs lack any intelligence in the slightest and the Dodo’s had more self-preservation instincts. A fight with them tends towards you standing still, firing in a 45 degree cone in front of you as they blindly charge towards you, often ignoring your AI allies along the way. The only time you get an Alien that acts like those from the film, sneaking in the darkness and the vents, are in completely scripted sequences. The humans are at least competent enough to use cover and are smart enough to attempt to flush you out of cover with grenades. You sometimes even have to head towards them instead of sitting back, mowing them down like it’s a Sci-Fi recreation of the battle of the Somme.
There is actually one other, slight, positive to bring. The Multiplayer is half decent and quite enthralling when playing last stand or survivor. It can be quite tense as the humans and for once the game actually requires a bit of thought and tactical finesse, ostensibly due to the opponents being controlled by other people. Being the Aliens in multiplayer is better as it turns into a bit of griefing fun. I tend to enjoy being the spitter, hanging from the ceiling and just spitting acid at people.
Multiplayer isn’t without it’s flaws though. Controlling the aliens takes a little getting used to. Climbing walls, for example, requires a particular button push – as do long leaps. It led to me, for the first ten or so minutes, looking like a gormless twat as I kept running into walls and jumping randomly in the direction of tall structures. It also suffers from visuals, like the rest of the game. Visually we have moved back about eight years, only being a little better than the likes of Half Life 2 even with the PC release. The console releases have reports of much screen tearing and just simply terrible visuals.
If you’re like me and you love Aliens you will find the feeling of exploring and touching the iconic locations a pleasurable one. The sad thing is, even this is marred by the innumerable flaws present. Is is possible to recommend this to anybody? Only die-hard fans who need that interactivity and can put up with anything to get it will be happy with the experience here. The reason for this is simple, Aliens: Colonial Marines is terrible and should be held up as an example of how not to do things.