Aliens: Colonial Marines was one of my most anticipated games of 2013. I love the whole Alien franchise and my favourite film without a doubt was Aliens, so when I heard that a bona fide sequel was being made, in game form, I could barely contain my excitement. At the Eurogamer Expo 2012 I was able to demo the online game-play and I was pleasantly surprised with the authenticity of the maps and the sound of the classic pulse rifle blowing out the brains of enemy Xenomorphs. This led me into believing that Aliens: Colonial Marines would be a truly amazing game, if only for being faithful to James Cameron’s timeless film. I had watched almost every video about the game and couldn’t wait to pick up some Legendary weapons and blast some aliens. There were such high hopes for this game and I really expected Gearbox to deliver.
Unfortunately, that is not the case at all. Aliens: Colonial Marines left me bitterly underwhelmed and wanting much more than I got. Upon starting the game I instantly noticed the incredibly poor graphics for a game so late into the console generation. Colonial Marines looks very basic, lacking detail on surfaces, textures and enemies that you would expect to see on a big budget game like this. I was equally disappointed when the first aliens actually appeared on the screen; they were poorly rendered and didn’t evoke the same amount of fear or shock that the film was able to do over 20 years ago.
However, what is possibly the worst thing about the game’s dated graphics is the terrible use of set pieces, which often end in a lacklustre explosion with a poor frame rate. This is what brings the game down for those hardcore film fans; they can deal with the poor gameplay, but to see the Aliens world dampened by lazy graphics and half-hearted set-pieces completely ruins the whole sense of excitement and fear that the film led us to feel.
Aliens: Colonial Marines was supposed to be a game that mixed fear, story and action all together to form a genuinely immersive tale that would explain the aftermath of Aliens and what happened in Hadley’s Hope. The one thing I did enjoy about this game was the amount of Easter Eggs that were scattered across the campaign; whether it was the lower half of Bishop’s dismembered body or the ability to find and use Legendary weapons that we saw in the film. Aliens: Colonial Marines enabled you to walk through the ruins of Hadley’s Hope, sparking flashbacks of great scenes from the film from the player’s imagination. In addition to this, every weapon sounds amazing when fired, the pulse rifle especially.
Nostalgia aside though, there isn’t much in the way of a real storyline, with the focus here being on Corporal Winter – a Colonial Marine who crashes on Hadley’s Hope and has to save a marine that has been captured by the evil Weyland Yutani. The narrative is weak, never encouraging attachment to any of the characters due to a poor script. It doesn’t help that the humans also have horrendously ugly character models. Even when you manage to reach the end of the game, there is no proper resolution to key game events. In all honesty, I was expecting a real end to the plot. It is expected that Gearbox will release a proper ending in some form of DLC, as the one that is given to players just doesn’t cut it for the price tag the game carries, but this in itself is pretty shoddy design.
“Aliens: Colonial Marines was meant to be a chest-bursting game that sent the current generation consoles off with a bang, but ends up letting everyone down.”
While the game initially begins on the Sulaco, the majority of the campaign consists of walking through the now dilapidated Hadley’s Hope in order to find clues and other marines. It is at this point in which you must prepare yourself for possibly the most monotonous six hours of your life, as all there is for you to do is moving through bad-looking terrain broken up by hordes of ridiculously dumb enemies. The biggest let down is the enemy AI; instead of enemy aliens sneaking up on you and bursting out of the darkness, they crawl out of holes or drop from the ceiling only to stand there for a while. The enemies are so stupid that it is too easy to kill them. Xenomorphs were constantly just running straight onto my shotgun blasts without even attempting to evade.
For some reason, Winter seems to be able to carry every weapon he finds, so there is never that feeling of dread or fear as you will rarely run out of ammo. Being able to quickly switch from weapon to weapon meant that I had a constant supply of death at my hands, never once feeling like my back was against the wall. In the one section that is meant to be dripping with tension, where you are walking through sewers with no weapons, the supposedly dangerous Boilers just walk on set routes and are easy to bypass, making the whole sequence laughably poor when these volatile aliens just walk up and down a sewer oblivious to your actions.
In big fire-fights that occur far too often, enemies often just pop out of thin air or fly across the map when shot. It feels like the game just isn’t finished, with a lot more fine tweaking needed to be done when it comes to the action. There were too many occasions in which enemies disappeared from in front of me and the re-appeared 20 feet away dead. I didn’t go into Aliens: Colonial Marines‘ storyline expecting to have fire-fights with Weyland Yutani troops either! This section of the game was tediously boring and added nothing to the overall sense of fear that one expects to find. I also found that the amount of damage an enemy soldier could take varied massively; some died from one shot to the chest, while others needed a whole clip in them before they hit the dirt. A couple of sections in the game where you get to use a hydraulic loader machine are equally awful to play. There is no fun to be had whilst plodding along in the loader killing aliens.
When you’ve had enough of the relatively short campaign, it is time for the online multiplayer component. You will sit there in the lobby thinking “Yeah, the online will redeem this game, yeah it will be great”. Nope! The online is just as bad as the campaign, leaving much to be desired. Aliens: Colonial Marines currently has four game modes to play: Escape, Extermination, Team Deathmatch and Survival. However, each mode does not boast many maps to play on and Escape, which was by far the most enjoyable, has only two. Escape mode is a 4v4 game in which the marines must reach the end of the map whilst setting up defences and fighting off aliens. This is the only redeemable area of the online multiplayer, but even this is marred by getting old and boring very quickly. Unfortunately it is far too imbalanced and can be a real pain to play, especially when the amount of damage enemies can take constantly varies for no reason. Playing as an Xenomorph was so infuriatingly bad that I had to leave games. Gearbox have made the aliens far too weak and clunky to use, so there is no contest when you are playing as a human.
There is some limited customisation for weapons but the only way to get it is by playing the game more, which frankly is not an appealing idea. Online co-op for up to four players is also available, but that would mean having to play through the utterly dismal campaign again. One thing that really annoyed me was that when playing in a match and you want to check the score, pressing the appropriate button will cause the whole screen to freeze for a good second or two before showing the leader-boards. This disrupts the whole experience of immersive online gaming and often led to my untimely death.
Aliens: Colonial Marines was meant to be a chest-bursting game that sent the current generation consoles off with a bang, but ends up letting everyone down. It is a game that tries to hold true to the Aliens fear factor, but miserably fails and embarrasses itself when put side-by-side with the Aliens franchise. While there are some great Easter Eggs available to find, this is not enough for any gamer to sink their teeth into at all. A lacklustre campaign that feels unfinished mixed with forgettable online gameplay that was arduous to play, coupled with a complete lack of online content, meant that there is very little replay value. “My mommy always said there were no monsters – no real ones – but there are” and in this case, Aliens: Colonial Marines is certainly one of these monsters.