It’s hard to deny it, Aliens: Colonial Marines isn’t the greatest movie tie-in title ever made – even though it really should have been. It had everything in the right place during the early development scenes and splashes we got a chance to see. For one it was being published by Sega, who tend to release some pretty decent titles when they throw some money behind them. Secondly it was in the hands of Gearbox Software, a developer who has churned out some pretty stellar titles like Borderlands and Brothers in Arms. It was also based around the rather fantastic Alien universe – focusing rather squarely upon perhaps James Cameron’s best film: Aliens. Yet, after having gone through the game development digestive system, in the end all that appeared was a little bit of a turd.
That’s a little bit too harsh of an analysis for Aliens: Colonial Marines though. An analysis that far too many critics have levelled at it. Quite honestly, it really isn’t as bad as it all sounds. It’s definitely not the best game around, nor is it close to being even a mildly good game, but it has enough redeeming features to make it an occasionally enjoyable title. That is once you wipe the rather terrible moments completely from your mind. I could write this like a long list of issues, but that’d bore both me and you. There is one key reason for why Colonial Marines isn’t really up to scratch, and that’s completely down to its utter lack of Aliens feel.
Sure the xenomorphs feature heavily and there’s a load of marine machismo being thrown around the place, but it’s distinctly cold. Cold enough to warm the sub-zero temperatures in the vacuum of space (yes I’m aware of the physics and how impossible that actually is). Instead of providing you with some proper canonical story that really reflects the tension the series is known for, this feels like one part standard cover shooter, one part Serious Sam.
For reasons that escapes me, Gearbox – or TimeGate (after all, who knows who made what) – decided that an Aliens game really needed less xenomorphs in creepy situations and more generic human enemies in the form of Weyland-Yutani PMCs that provide little to no interesting combat opportunities. When the xenos do actually come in, they come in thick and fast – really providing you with absolutely no terror or threat as a pulse rifle round or two tears through them like they were made of china. What’s even worse is the fact that the all important motion tracker isn’t even needed as you won’t ever feel threatened enough to look at it past the tutorial.
Putting aside the woeful AI, incredibly terrible visuals and the distinctly average controls – which at times feel like running through butter, other times turning in concrete - Colonial Marines actually has some flashes of brilliance.
A rather liberal take on the Aliens licence sees you skulking through the sewers of Hadley’s Hope while blind explosive xenos roam the network of tunnels. Despite it being so displeasingly un-Aliens, for the first – and practically only – time things feel uncomfortably tense and on the verge of petrifying while you play. It’s exactly how you want an Aliens game to be. It’s such a shame that it all just doesn’t last long enough.
Another moment arrives that shows promise, but again largely fails to deliver too much more than a little bit of an adrenaline spike before it’s brought crashing to the ground by AI sticking to obstacles, failing to attack foes, or really do anything overly useful at all. It’s also pretty annoying how you can run through most levels practically unscathed.
Once again, everything seems rather doom and gloom, but then Gearbox pull something out of the bag with the multiplayer. Sure it’s not good enough to keep you coming back for more every day, but it’s certainly far better fighting against human controlled xenomorphs over AI ones. Suddenly the peril creeps back in as you have little idea as to where they are and what they’re doing – all while xeno players can see absolutely everything, allowing them to stalk their prey rather effectively.
It’s certainly far from perfect though, but the range of modes on offer – along with the generally enjoyable nature of it all – makes for an entertaining few hours. Which is the least you could ask for after dropping a meaty high-street retail price on what is essentially a game you’ll really never want to put into your machine again once you’ve finished it.
As you may well have gathered, Aliens: Colonial Marines is a disappointment. If you were to take the Aliens licence out of it, it’d be little more than a poorly built and executed shooter. However, as Gearbox aimed to make it an intrinsic part of the series, you can’t really ever remove that as a factor – therefore it’s even more of a disappointment than it really should have been. If anything, Aliens: Colonial Marines is case in point for the uncontrollable hype machine that has begun to surround modern big-budget games – and for that, at least, it should be commended.
Audio/Visual – 2/5: Visually rather poor and textureless, at least the sound of guns, the xenomorphs themselves and the soundtrack are all very accurate to Aliens.
Gameplay – 2/5: Poor due to awful AI (which has had a slight patch since release), but multiplayer shows gameplay in a far better light.
Innovation – 2/5: It tried something new with the motion tracker and exploding alien section, but ultimately delivered little more than your average corridor shooter.
Value – 1/5: The story is rather lengthy – that or just a slog to play – and the multiplayer could draw you in, but for the cost, you certainly don’t get your money’s worth.
Final Score: 2/5
- Vaughn reviewed Aliens: Colonial Marines on Xbox 360 -