The warning signs were there, our motion trackers should have picked up on it, but we chose to ignore the fact that there hadn’t been any pre-release reviews. We shouldn’t have ignored the odd release date or the ridiculous amount of pre-release hype being pushed. But we did, and we bought it, and it was rubbish. I am talking of course, about the years biggest disappointment so far: Aliens: Colonial Marines,which was reviewed on Game-Modo by Chris last week.
Our review followed the same direction as most reviews – just written better, obviously. There was very little in the way of positives for a game that had seen its fair share of bouncing between developers since its original announcement which was for the PS2 in its final year. It was GearBox and Sega that caught the ball and ran with it though, and initial screen shots showed huge promise. Fans of the horror sci-fi franchise had been starved of a decent Alien game, with only the likes of the excellent Alien 3 on the SNES and the decent enough Alien Resurrection filling the void. But this game, we were promised, would be different. This would focus totally on the first sequel which is arguably most people’s favourite chapter of the franchise.
We were promised a story and characters that would follow on from the 1986 classic, related locations, iconic weaponry and a game that would finally give us the chance to go on a proper bug hunt, and to be fair, in terms of story and imagery, you can tell the game was made by fans, for fans of Aliens. It’s just a shame that they forgot to include a game that would be worthy of more than 60 minutes of attention.
I say 60 minutes because there are moments, brief moments, where the game shows a glimmer of promise. (This is the part where spoilers come into play, the game is spoilt anyway so it may not matter too much, but the warning is here…). Wandering around areas of the Sulaco at the games beginning, is one big nostalgia trip for fans. Seeing areas of the ship faithfully and finally recreated in a game is a big plus. Once you’ve seen the cryo tubes, and mess table and the docking bay which housed the two drop ships, the run and gun nature of the game kicks in and you realise there isn’t an awful lot to do. The first encounter with a Xenomorph, which has become too long a word these days and so is shortened to Xeno, is brief as it runs at you and you shoot it. Its then that you hope and prey that later Xenos are a bit more evolved. The next chapter still onboard the Sulcao sees the aliens vanish and replaced with Weyland Yutani mercs, who at least come across as a bit more of a challenge ducking behind cover, but shooting humans with a Pulse rifle feels slightly odd and unnatural. The weapons in the early stages are fairly bland, but have those all important pulse rifle shrills and the motion tracker bips are nice enough. But all in all, even in those early stages, the game starts to feel tired. And by the way, you’re only an hour in.
The arrival on LV-426 brings about another peak in the nostalgia levels. A quick wander outside Hadleys Hope and you’re thrown straight into the Operations room of the colony. Again, all very faithful and detailed, you’ll see the grills on the floor missing from where Hudson was dragged away, the blueprint map table, the little alcove where Ripley and Newt share a little hot chocolate and the red corridor which Burke, Carter J, attempted to escape through. This is followed by a stroll through Medical bay, you see the preserved dead facehuggers, and the room in which Burke, Carter J, tried to impregnate Ripley and Newt with huggers, complete with overturned bed, broken window and two dead facehuggers. The attention to detail is very impressive and gives you the impression the game may just be worthy of playing on through, just to see what other fan service will be made. But unfortunately, after the nostalgic moments wear off, the game becomes a long, six-hour chore. Back tracking through the same places, shooting the same enemies with the same weapons with the occasional Aliens reference thrown in with little care or thought. Want to pilot a Loader? Not in this game you don’t.
The first person shooter is one genre that has evolved perhaps more than any other type of game. The bar has been set so high by the likes of Halo and COD that simple run and gun games are just not enough these days. Doom 3 however, is a good example of a very good run and gun, no gimmicks or squads or commands, you point, you shoot, you move. Doom 3 was very similar to what Aliens: CM should have been in terms of looks and atmosphere, but it falls dramatically short, even behind a now nine-year-old game. Early indications of Aliens suggested that a squad system would be incorporated to make use of the Colonial Marines you had by your side. There is no sign of that at all, and there would be little call for it as you spend the majority of the game with just the one marine by your side; a wasted opportunity.
The rest of the game is slog with little to no other moments of excitement or tension. The inevitable underground sewer level is different, with no weapons being held and ’husk’ aliens to contend with. This wouldn’t be an overly awful idea, but its let down terribly by some appalling animation which looks like its been taken from the Sega Saturn Alien Trilogy game. It’s also at this point that the Xenos are given the ability to explode. Really.
Visually, the game has its ups and downs. Some areas, mainly the internal ones, such as inside the Derelict Space Jockey (yes, I still call it a Space Jockey, none of this Engineer rubbish) ship is very good, as are the dark corridors of Hadley’s Hope and some of the lighting effects seen in the sewers and areas of the Sulaco. But on the whole, visually the game looks rushed, glitchy and a bit of a mess. Bugs will disappear through walls and reappear, tails will show through floors, marines will magically appear in front of you, and outside locations struggle to build as you approach them. It’s a far cry from the original screen grabs we were shown early last year, or even the ones shown on the game box.
The combination of poor graphics and AI actually makes for some unintended sights, such as the moment I witnessed my marine colleague and a Xeno standing still next to each other, almost appearing to be having a conversation with each other, ”lets just bug out and call it even ok” perhaps? Even the achievements appear glitched, I gained some for saving a marine from a middle mouth makeover, shooting the bug popped the acheevo up, but as the Xeno flew backward in a slew of acid, the marine dropped to floor, dead. Not from being drowned in acid, but from the middle mouth makeover my achievement told me I had already gained.
The story for Colonial Marines is patchy. The reason to return to the Sulaco is valid enough and its return to LV-426 is reasonably explained. The majority of the story though, is purely an excuse to shoe horn in locations and characters for fans. Hadley’s Hope was just outside the main area of a 40 mega tonne thermo nuclear explosion. Now, I’m no engineer or demolitions expert, but Hadley’s Hope, wouldn’t have had a hope. Yes, some of Hadley’s is on fire and a few walls are missing, but the fact that most of the complex is still intact is daft. Then there is the Weyland Yutani hostage, who is teased as being a surviving member of the original squad. Would it be Hudson who could have plausibly escaped the alien clutches perhaps? Drake maybe, badly scarred but kept alive? How about Weizbowski?! No, the big reveal of the surviving member ends up being Hicks. Hicks? Yes, Hicks, he who died in the EEV as it crashed into Fiorina and was cremated by a bunch a prisoner monks in Alien 3. Yes, that one, and voiced by Michael Beihn as well. So, what was Hicks’s in-game explanation for his miraculous return, well it was along the lines of ”we have bigger things to deal with than that right now.” That is a plot hole even Prometheus would have been proud of. So yes, the plot is silly and that’s without mentioning where all the xenos have come from, seeing as they already managed to spawn from 157 of the 158 members of Hadley’s Hope, or the flat Queen ‘big boss’ battle and Bishops final quote, which even if you are still interested by that time, will leave you with the question ”well, would you care to share please?”
The Alien franchise appears to be a tough one to crack via video game , but this was the glimmer of hope and it failed miserably. Aliens V Predator for all its faults, was a far better game, perhaps hindered mainly by spreading itself to thin over three different view points. The Marine levels of that game were far better than this though, and that game was in development for far less time and with a smaller budget. So what went wrong?
Perhaps we as fans should take some of the blame. Have our expectations been too high? Is the Alien series just to hard to translate into a game that pleases both fans and gamers. It shouldn’t be. As mentioned before, Doom 3 has the look, and atmosphere of an Alien game, as has Dead Space. Somewhere out there, there is a development team full of fans of the franchise with the talent to create something really special. Unfortunately for us though, it wasn’t the team at GearBox.