Aliens: Colonial Marines is not a great game. Actually, it's a stretch to call it a good game. I'm most comfortable in labeling it a "decent" game. Sure, it has it's moments, but taken as a whole, it is very evident that the developers, Gearbox Software and Time Gate Studios, either didn't care, or were too rushed to create what could have been a masterpiece of a licensed Sci-Fi shooter. Now, with seven years since the announcement, and five years since the first screenshots, it is really hard to say that Aliens: Colonial Marines was a "rushed game." So, questions arise as to what went wrong, and why?
First of all, the good: the story takes place 17 weeks after the events of James Cameron's Aliens film. A group of USCMs, upon hearing Corporal Hicks' (Michael Biehn, reprising his role) distress call, comes to the Sulaco, which is still in orbit over LV-426, to investigate what happened. After finding a few xenos (Aliens, bugs, whatever you want to call them) all hell breaks loose when a group of Mercenaries hired by Weyland-Yutani attack the Sulaco and the marines' other ship, destroying both. Eventually, this group of Colonial Marines ends up on the surface of LV-426, in the same settlement (Hadley's Hope) from the film, and the story of betrayal, corporate greed, and a fleshing out of the greater mythos on the Aliens universe (forget Prometheus exists...lord knows I've tried) comes to a head with an inevitable queen battle.
The story is decent and fits into the greater Aliens storyline. It serves as a bridge of sorts between Aliens and David Fincher's Alien 3, and it does its job, which is to give gamers a reason to visit the iconic Sulaco and LV-426.
Also, the developers (I say this ambiguously, as there is some contention as to who did what on this game) faithfully recreated the environs from the film, including the derelict ship from Ridley Scott's Alien, complete with space jockey and egg farm. Also, the creature design on the Aliens is well done, especially on the "lurker," who resembles the xeno from the first film and is much tougher to kill than his "soldier" counterparts, who resemble the creatures from Aliens. The queen is also a sight to behold.
Now the bad: essentially, everything else. The gameplay is littered with bugs (pun intended) such as near-constant screen flickers, environ pops, and wonky character model hit detection. I once stood in place and watched a fellow marine walk through me. RIGHT THROUGH ME! Ammo dumps have been on screen, yet I never got the icon to grab them, and even objectives have been slow to load, which sucks when on a battlefield literally crawling with xenos and merc troops, all trying to kill me.
Also, the AI on both sides is atrocious. Aliens will target me in a group and my fellow marines will watch it happen, even commenting that I should "hurry up" or some other inane chatter. Hit detection and damage are criminally unbalanced. I once shot a merc with a shotgun point blank, in the head, only to have him shake it off. And a xeno's tail has, on multiple occasions, destroyed my full shields and erased my full life. A TAIL ATTACK!?!
The rendered CGI cut scenes look decidedly last gen - as in PS2/Xbox. It is distracting, especially after seeing the trailers and footage that SEGA has released in recent weeks. Heck the "acid blood" trailer from two weeks ago was one of the coolest commercials I have ever seen.
Sadly, the graphics, characters and situations in that trailer are NOT in Aliens: Colonial Marines. When they use the in-game models for a cut scene, the models look "off" and the shading is inconsistent. This is one of the worst uses of the Unreal 3 engine, and it really shows that age is catching up to the now-classic game engine.
I'd also like to punch in the face whoever decided to make item pick ups a button pressing event. Especially after mapping the item pick up/interaction button to the reload button. There is nothing like running to a much-needed healthpack, only to stop and go into the reload animation because it is the same button. This happened so many times that I felt it important to mention with a threat of violence. That should tell you something.
I can keep kicking the rotting horse here, but what is wrong with the game can go on for many, many pages, and most of it has been said elsewhere. The last thing that really bothers me is that the voice synching is off. Way off. The developers went out and hired a cast of great actors, many reprising their roles (Lance Henrickson even returns as Bishop) and then they can't make the words match the generic movements of the character model's mouths? It was comical, most times, and distracting all of the time.
Multiplayer offers more choices and helps offset some of the failings of the problematic campaign. There is a co-op mode and a four-player campaign option, which is nice if you have a group of friends to play with.
For straight up online multiplayer, Aliens: Colonial Marines offers five game types: Team Deathmatch, Extermination (5 on 5; Colonial Marines try to wipe out egg farm, Xenos try to stop them), Escape (4 on 4; marines try to escape alive, xenos try to stop them), and Survivor (4 on 4; xenos swarm and marines try to survive). One of the neat options, solely in theory, is to play as the aliens. Unfortunately, the aliens are basically fodder as of the three creature classes, only one has a range attack (that acts more like a aimed grenade toss in other, more capable FPS games), so players cursed to play as the xenos will die. A lot. Which makes most of the games unbalanced. Also, XP and levels earned in the campaign transfer over to the multiplayer mode, but since you can't be a xeno in the campaign, all xenos start at level 1, and the average player will have a colonial marine leveled at 15-20. So, even from the first outing, the teams are unbalanced.
All in all, Aliens: Colonial Marines is a very uneven game. It has flashes of brilliance in the greater storytelling, and it could have been a great game, but shoddy design and graphics, inexplicable bugs and the overall feeling of a "rushed" game (even with a 5-7 year development window) really bring the whole production down to a level of mediocrity. Fans of the Alien franchise may enjoy it, but the feeling that it could have been so much more hangs over the game in every facet.
What makes matters worse, last week a much-anticipated game for the PS3, The Last of Us, was very publicly delayed a few months and gamers bemoaned the decision, yet the developers said they needed more time to make it right. Aliens: Colonial Marines should have done the same, and made sure the product that they were creating was the best it can be, because the end result game is a disappointment in almost every way.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is available now on the Xbox 360 and PS3. A Wii U version is coming later this year.
- Jon Hueber
Shop for Aliens: Colonial Marines for a discounted price at Amazon.com (February 12, 2013 release date).