A franchise that requires an introduction must not be that great of a franchise, and the same can be said for a franchise that’s falling out of grace. Movie-based games almost never impress, but it’s hard to believe that a coupling between a prestigious developer like Gearbox Software and a franchise like Aliens cannot produce a title that shakes the industry. Actually, consider the industry shaken, but for none of the right reasons: Aliens: Colonial Marines takes what fans love from both namesakes and flips them over into the street.
The game starts off with Marine Winters – and his fellow Marine Platoon members Bella, O’Neal, and Cruz – onboard a space cruiser called the Sephora. The Sephora is connected to another space craft called the Saluca, which is a civilian cruiser created for scientists and scientific studies. As to be expected, since the game cover has “Alien” on it, something goes wrong, as creatures well-known to the Alien franchise begin ransacking and decimating both ships. The high point of this game actually occurs here, as the connecting bridge between each ship ripples when Winters and his platoon are within. However, it’s safe to promise that the rest of the game is dull. Even that event is rather uninteresting, given the fact that the whole thing is just one cutscene. It’s not even an interactive one with button mashing; those repetitious QTEs from Resident Evil and God of War immediately seem interesting by comparison.
After the brief events of the opening sequence, the rest of the game delivers FPS mediocrity. There’s nothing in this game that truly hearkens to greatness, or even mere potential. In fact, traces of great games – including Dead Space, Borderlands, and Call of Duty – appear as mere echoes in Aliens: Colonial Marines. For instance, the Dead Space influence appears in level design and how doors and lab areas look; what comes from Borderlands is obvious, considering Gearbox had its hands in this title, as the first-person gunplay feels like a non-cel-shaded version of the popular shooter. Finally, in-game achievements found in Call of Duty multiplayer make their rounds, even in the single-player campaign.
Granted, the game doesn’t look terrible, but despite passable presentation by current generation standards, textures don’t fit well. Character models, particularly in cutscenes, have very detailed and intricate skin textures, but their face, hand, and body shapes don’t mesh with textures properly. Instead, they look more like they have been scrupulously plastered with realistic faux-skin. The environments take on a similar limitation. Again, they don’t look terrible, but they tend to feel very artificial, much like a poorly cut-and-pasted PhotoShop job. In addition, the proper use of shadows is a major detail that’s mostly excluded in Colonial Marines. Many doorways blocked with barrels and boxes or vehicles more often than not aren’t decorated by any kind of shadow. The feeling of witnessing a bad PhotoShop job strikes again.
The overly aching trend with Aliens is that there’s not much entertainment value to it, leaving the aforementioned coupling mentioned between a storied developer and fan-favorite franchise entirely wasted. Voice acting, even in the heat of battle and the most dire of circumstances, is dry and stale, which ultimately leaves any attempts at characterization and plot-driving drama laughable. Even when an expected attempt at an emotionally driven moment arises, the characters don’t bring home any sense of realism whatsoever. The voice acting is frequently out of sync with video, as well.
Speaking of things being out of sorts, Aliens features some of the cleanest glitches in gaming history – almost like they were intended. At one point, an oversized Xenomorph reached through closed doors without breaking them down and laid waste to Winter in one strike. Other moments saw squad members teleport from five feet behind Winter to five feet in front of him at checkpoints. The last big one, though more spontaneous than the others, brought about the most frustration: after clearing an area, Winter goes to open a door, and – since the loading process is embedded in the process of opening a door – it takes forever to open. This happens quite often, but the actual glitch occurs randomly when Winter stands in front of the door, and the door opening actually kills him, which results in a reload to the last checkpoint.
That’s right. In Aliens, you should stay away from opening doors.
The only aesthetically pleasing aspect to this game is the way that the Aliens, or Xenos (Xenomorphs), look. They retain proper texture dexterity with their elongated, gleaming heads, and their gruesome, franchise-staple details maintain their proper effect – visually, anyway. The first time a Xenomorph appears is rather startling and very memorable. However, that moment dies with the artificial AI that’s been generated for this game, leaving Xenos to crawl on walls and cave structures with linear paths and right angles being their only means of conveyance. The fault doesn’t stop here either, given that Xenos and enemy soldiers tread many fixed paths and, quite often, became “confused” as to what to do and simply stop in the middle of an open battlefield.
The HUD is peculiar, and deserves mention. Though it shifts with player movement, it’s very, very minimal and quite dull in its small, blue lettering and insignificant overlay. Still, it works, but interacting with environmental objects can be a pain. Ammunition and shield reserves have visual identification in the HUD, but collectibles and machinery buttons all require the aiming reticle to be placed exactly over them in order to interact. In other games, there’s usually some leeway so players don’t have to meticulously put extra effort towards picking up ammo, collectibles, and interacting with plot devices. This game requires players to work too hard for what’s blatantly pointed out and what’s well-hidden in plain sight.
After running through the dull and nonchalant story, you won’t find much solace in multiplayer. The core premise is to pit Xenomorphs against Marines, which, in theory, sounds perfect. Instead, maps are disorganized, and matches tend to favor the Marines, since the developers didn’t really allow any sort of balance between the melee abilities of the Xenomorphs and the Marine’s vast array of guns. Each game mode has teams taking turns using both Marines and Xenomorphs, and this seems to be the only balancing act; maps are a graphical mess and designed such that the Marine side can bottleneck the Aliens and win every time. It really takes bad Marine players or an act of god to win as Xenomorphs. Beyond this unique match-up, all of the expected modes are here, including Team Deathmatch and a mode called Escape, where Marines have to move across each map to reach a final objective.
The only point to booting up multiplayer is the actual use of weapons, which feature surprisingly realistic aiming mechanisms. I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me that this was the only part of the game that Gearbox actually developed, leaving the bulk of duties with Nerve Software, TimeGate Studios, and Demiurge Studios. A cooperative online mode rounds out the experience, and two friends who both own the game can play together and experience that which is Aliens: Colonial Marines. Here’s hoping that having a buddy along eases the pain.
On paper, Aliens: Colonial Marines has everything that a gamer could want: shooting, aliens, action sequences, multiplayer, and even replay value through collectibles and the three difficulty levels. However, considering all of the technical and development crimes that the team behind this game committed, it’s safe to say that Sigourney Weaver herself couldn’t have saved this game from failure. The biggest achievement of this title is that it works as a shooter, but the gameplay, plot, visuals, and audio don’t do justice to anyone or anything. The multiplayer lessens the experience even further by providing a simplistic experience that only deters players from playing more than one round. It’s really hard to believe that Gearbox was involved with this title at all.