“Allright, sweethearts, you heard the man and you know the drill! Assholes and elbows!”
Oh Gearbox, how you have broken my heart. I was willing to look past the farce that was Duke Nukem Forever in order to keep our love affair going. But Aliens: Colonial Marines is the straw that not only broke the camels back, it ripped out the camels spine and did a Mexican hat dance on its intestines. All the while grinning like a retarded kid who just discovered his first boner.
It’s not so much that the game is terrible that bothers me. Gearbox wouldn’t be the first developer to let out a stinker, nor the last. It was the adamant promotion from Gearbox’s president Randy Pitchford, and 20th Century Fox that this game was the Aliens experience we had been waiting for. The true sequel to James Cameron’s classic film. Aliens: Colonial Marines was hyped as a game that would capture everything that was great about the Aliens film. Delivering it to us in a interactive experience the likes we have not seen from this license. Ultimately Aliens: Colonial Marines falls short of this promise on every level.
It leaves me wondering if Randy Pitchford ever actually played the game, or if he just has no problem bullshitting the hell out of his audience.
“Hey, Hicks. Man, you look just like I feel.”
Graphically the game feels pretty dated in most regards. Gearbox did a fantastic job of recreating the iconic locations from the movie like Operations, Medical and the Sulaco’s hangar. It’s when a player progresses past these sections that the game quickly devolves into a plethora of uninteresting looking corridors, filled to the brim with low-resolution textures. Every ugly new corridor traveled down feels like a wasted opportunity to expand into the sections of Hadley’s Hope which we didn’t get to see in the movie. At least if the never ending series of corridors that comprise A:CM were up to current-gen standards, it would be something. Instead the majority of the game made me feel like I was looking at a title from 2004, not 2013. The ungodly number of invisible walls a player will run into during a playthrough go a long way to reinforcing this feeling of last-gen linearity. The look of the Xenomorphs is serviceable (at least until they start moving, but we’ll get to that in a bit), and manages to convey the sheer ferocity of these colony killing creatures. Nailing the look of the Xenos is the easy part though, there is a ton of source material to draw from. On a positive note, A:CM actually sports some pretty decent lighting effects. Coupled with the Aliens score, the game manages to build a bit of the familiar tension from the film.
Of course that tension is quickly destroyed by the games god awful AI, and the fact that these Marines have the ability to speak.
“He’s comin’ in. I feel safer already.”
The AI is where Aliens: Colonial Marines truly fails. I could look past all the other faults in the game if Gearbox had just managed to create a Xenomorph that felt like it was a danger to my Marines. Instead we are served up a steaming hot helping of mindless bullet magnets. Their only purpose, to remind us that this is in fact a licensed game. Enemy AI, be it the Xenomorphs or Weyland-Yutani troops, will run the same route over and over, and after five minutes players will have the timing down. In an attempt to compensate for the obvious lack of substantial, and challenging AI, Gearbox went with the ‘more is better’ approach. The game throws scores of enemies at players, hoping to create challenge through numbers. This may have worked if not for the terrible AI. During these sequences players can basically run through a level untouched. Once enemies are outside their designated route, enemy AI gives up the chase and return to said routes. Even if one does find themselves in a situation where they can’t run away, most likely the Xenomorph AI will get stuck in a corner, or against a wall, or just ignore the player all together. So no need to fret! Take your time, reload, grab some coffee, go do some laundry. The Aliens will still be dumb as fuck when you get back.
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Friendly AI could only be worse if your fellow Marines actually started shooting themselves instead of the Xenomorphs. Of course they would probably just miss, like they do throughout the majority of the game. Most times players will find their squad-mates worrying less about engaging the enemy, and more about getting to the next check point. Oh, they will be waiting for you after you kill everything and are ready to move on, but expect no support from them.
As a shooter A:CM feels pretty middle of the road. Moving through environments can feel sluggish at times, but the turn rates are acceptable. The weapons and gadgets of the Colonial Marines all feel authentic, with Gearbox nailing the look and sound of the pulse rifle, and the motion detector. It’s just a shame that they didn’t develop a reason to actually use the motion detector. Sure it’s cool to bring up the first few times. Hearing the iconic pinging, which lets one know he or she is about to catch a second mouth to the face, provides a bit of a thrill. More often than not the motion detector is unnecessary though, and may even get you killed a few times. The campaign boils down to rinse and repeat for the 4-5 hours that it lasts, with little deviation in objective or difficulty. It’s an exercise in the mundane, and not worthy of the source material.
“Hey top, what’s the op?”
Aliens fans will remember that the Sulaco, with Ripley, Hicks, Newt, and Bishop aboard, left LV-426 at the end of Aliens. So how did the mighty ship find itself back in orbit around LV-426 at the beginning of Colonial Marines? You would think that would be a question that writers Bradley Thompson and David Weddle might have wanted to address. This being the direct sequel to Aliens and all. Perhaps they were too busy writing terrible dialogue for our company of Marines to bother with the details in the plot. Any questions one might have regarding the Sulaco’s whereabouts before the game opens, or the reasoning for its return to LV-426 are not addressed in the slightest. One can come to the conclusion that Weyland-Yutani has something to do with it. But if you were expecting a thorough explanation of the events leading up to A:CM, you’ll probably walk away disappointed. A:CM introduces us to a new squad of Marines, with the player filling the shoes of one Cpl. Christopher Winter. Their mission is to investigate the Sulaco, search for survivors, and find out what the hell happened on LV-426. Instead of giving these Marines personalities of their own, it feels more like they were created in the image of the Marines from the film. Winter obviously playing the role of Hicks, with Oneal and Bella playing the Drake and Vasquez parts. Terrible attempts to mimic the dialogue from the film makes it even harder to except this new cast of characters as anything but ridiculous.
Speaking of the cast, Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen return to reprise their roles from the film! They do not really serve much of a purpose other than to remind you once again that this game has ties to Aliens, and that you should be excited…it doesn’t work.
“Oh dear Lord Jesus, this ain’t happening, man… This can’t be happening, man! This isn’t happening!”
With four modes to choose from, A:CM’s multiplayer is actually somewhat decent. After playing through the abysmal campaign, I was surprised to find myself actually enjoying the few rounds of Team Deathmatch, and Escape that I played. While enjoyable, Xenomorphs are difficult to control due to their ability to transition from floor, to wall, to ceiling. They also feel wildly under-powered when compared to their Marine opponents. I get that balance is the name of the game when it comes to multiplayer, but these things are supposed to be the perfect killing machine. It should be three or four Marines to take down a Xeno, not the other way around. A:CM also offers up the ability for four player cooperative play. While this negates the problem of horrendous friendly AI, the game does not scale in difficulty. This means that the incredibly small threat that the Xenos represent is even lessened when joined by a few friends. Even on the harder difficulties it’s way to easy to mow through the campaign with a few buddies at your side.
“That’s great, this is really fuckin’ great, man. Now, what the fuck are we supposed to do? We’re in some pretty shit now, man.”
Aliens: Colonial Marines feels less like the sequel to Aliens we were promised, and more like yet another haphazard attempt to cash in on the license. To Gearbox’s credit they stayed faithful to the source material, and there are a few moments in the game which will make fans of the film squeal. They are few and far between though. The meat and potatoes which compromises the other 90% of A:CM are mind numbingly ponderous, and does not warrant the $49.99 price tag. This is the game you buy a true Aliens fan if you really dislike them. It is truly nothing more than a lesson in wasted potential, and shoddy development.