Aliens Colonial Marines
Gameplay - 3
Presentation - 2
Story - 1
Lifespan - 4
Aliens: Colonial Marines is a glitchy, unpolished, barely finished and all-round terrible game. You don’t wanna know this! It’s a murderer and rapist of the Aliens franchise!
I’m afraid Aliens: Colonial Marines has some bad news…
Saying that the development of Aliens Colonial Marines was troubled would be something of an understatement. The project was continually delayed and passed between studios, eventually falling into the hands of Gearbox Software and released to much anticipation. Quite frankly, development hell is exactly where this game should have stayed. Aliens: Colonial Marines is, in all honesty, one of the worst first person shooters I have ever played.
Gameplay is an entirely dull affair, with each mission consisting of almost identical linear corridors and outdoor environments, and mission objectives never really deviate from rescuing other Marines and fixing broken electrical devices. The enemy AI is terrible; a particularly egregious crime given that the Xenomorphs of the Alien movies are stealthy, cunning and intelligent, whereas the Xenomorphs of Colonial Marines almost take on the role of cannon fodder, running towards the player with hilarious, jerky animations, almost waiting for the player to kill them instead of offering any genuine threat. Worse yet is the introduction of human enemies, turning large chunks of the game into more of a generic FPS than anything Aliens related. Weapons are woefully inaccurate and extremely unsatisfying to use, giving very little impact or sense of power and essentially removing the thrill that the task of mowing down Xenomorphs should provide.
Possibly my least favourite section of the entire game is the token stealth section around the mid-point. With the player unarmed and isolated, there was strong potential here for a tense, maze-like Xenomorph encounter in the style of something like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but the enemy AI is so pathetic that, for me at least, the Xenomorphs could walk over my character and not notice them, a basic, fundamental piece of game design that even last generation games like Metal Gear Solid 3 and Splinter Cell managed perfectly well. The sections I reservedly call “boss fights” are a joke, consisting of simple gimmick puzzles and slightly stronger versions of regular enemies. The Alien Queen fight is notably poor, neutering all of her genuine threat and reducing the masterful setpieces of the movie encounters to a series of lever pulls.
The graphics maintain the feel of an early PS2 shooter in the same way as the gameplay; they are at least 10 years out of date and absolutely embarrassing for a current generation console. Many of the textures look ripped straight from PS1-era games, and on many occasions it took between 5-10 seconds for these poor quality textures to load once a gameplay section had already started. The enemy animations are almost non-existent; Xenomorphs move with none of the grace and smoothness of their movie counterparts, in many cases they don’t so much run as they warp from point to point like you’re playing in a room with strobe lights. Teammates very often get caught on scenery or refuse to follow you forward, often vanishing and re-appearing in front of you seconds later as if nothing happened.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is very much a “water-cooler” game, but rather than discussing cool gameplay segments or set pieces, pretty much all of the conversation would be devoted to game breaking glitches. The worst I experienced was when I cleared out a room of Xenomorphs and the door to the next objective wouldn’t open. After searching the environment for 10 minutes and looking at a walkthrough, I reloaded my last checkpoint to find myself at the next objective marker. It’s just staggering to me that such problems exist in a modern “AAA” videogame.
The story offends me as an Aliens fan in the same way that the gameplay offends me as an FPS fan. I find it very difficult to believe that anyone involved in this game watched the films, or understood them to any great degree. All 3 of the original films, to varying degrees, offered a deconstruction of the typical action movie scenario. The Marines were characterised as overconfident and macho, an attitude promptly looked down upon as they’re rapidly and systematically slaughtered, leaving a woman and a cat and a small girl to step in and save the day, and Colonial Marines somewhat misses this point by heartily embracing the ridiculous masculine power fantasy that the films took a stance against, a particularly terrible misunderstanding in a story that is considered canon.
Alien 3 fans, like myself, will find the story of Colonial Marines to be particularly offensive, as it takes great pride in retconning and contradicting the story presented in that film, a film that Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford claims to respect, no less. It wouldn’t be quite as bad if the game was pitched as an alternative post-Aliens scenario, but claiming that your story is “pure Aliens canon” and then ignoring a large chunk of it to tell your own, almost completely unrelated story is unforgivable. I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but in one particular scene, a plot point from Alien 3 is retconned, another character points out the plot hole this retcon causes, and is given a one sentence reply completely disregarding it as if it was nothing. This kind of open contempt for the original movies is disgusting, and it permeates the entire experience of the game.
The characters are barely defined at all; I couldn’t even remember their names without looking them up on Wikipedia before writing this review, another horrendous offense given the strong character focus of the movies. The problem is a simple lack of effort; Aliens, for example, spent at least half its running time on characterisation, giving each character a personality and building up our emotional attachments to them, a task that Colonial Marines seems to think can be accomplished in a 10 minute cutscene. I can safely say that I didn’t once feel sorry for these characters when they were worried or suffering; you can’t just expect the audience to conjure emotions out of nowhere for these characters, you have to put in effort and make us care about them with dialogue and interactions. It can be done it videogames, whether in Metal Gear Solid-style cutscenes or Dead Space-style in game interactions, but Colonial Marines seems perfectly happy to shrug this task off. It’s just lazy, terrible storytelling.
In terms of lifespan, this game is incredibly short. I finished my campaign playthrough in roughly 6 hours but, outside of a small scattering of collectible items and weapon upgrades, there was very little to merit a second playthrough, unless you want to play co-op and remind yourself and 3 friends to be grateful that better co-op games exist. There is, of course, a multiplayer mode. I’m not a huge multiplayer fan so I can’t judge it too critically but it’s a very standard affair, offering the standard ‘capture the flag,” “defend the area” and “deathmatch” varieties of gameplay, so unless the idea of playing as a poorly animated Xenomorph has enough novelty to be entertaining for longer than 10 minutes then the multiplayer won’t really offer anything that Call of Duty didn’t do better over 5 years ago.
One last point I’d like to address is the pre-release trailer used to advertise the game, as it’s the most appalling case of false advertising I’ve ever seen, showing sequences of far higher graphical and gameplay quality than those found in the game. So just a warning, if you’ve seen the high quality trailer and think it may be worth buying, as I did, then let me tell you that’s its completely unrepresentative of the final product.