Note: We have opted not to use the provided screenshots from the publisher, as they are not representative of our time with Aliens: Colonial Marines.
There are a lot of questions surrounding Gearbox’s Aliens: Colonial Marines. The footage I saw at PAX East, which is nearly identical in scope to the earliest moments of the single player campaign, looked fantastic. The lighting was atmospheric, the sound was crisp and there were a number of effects, like cracking glass, that simply never made it to the final version. The game I played for review was muddy, grainy and subpar for even the earliest titles of this generation.
The campaign does a disservice to the Aliens universe, and this is after considering the travesty that was Alien 3 and the confusion inherent in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. The weaponry feels anaemic, legendary equipment that is should take the same ammunition as standard counterparts can’t be easily resupplied and Xenomorphs have been reduced from cunning and vicious to brain dead player-seeking missiles. Fighting humans is absurdly frustrating as there is no cover system, though the game seems to be under the mistaken impression that one exists. The mercenaries gunning for you are laser-focused and deal heavy damage quickly. Put simply, fighting Xenomorphs isn’t as tense or enjoyable as it should be, and the human encounters could only politely be called boring.
I could spend this entire review rattling off absurdities I encountered in the game, but I’ll just give you a few to set the stage. The walls and objects that serve as set dressing appear painted on. This reminded me of older games in which it was clear which objects could be involved in player interaction. It was always that one locker that stood out from across the room, or the door that actually wasn’t part of the wall decal. I am shocked that in 2013 those long-discarded artifacts have made a return. Worse, those decals are reused over and over throughout the Sulaco (the ship featured in James Cameron’s film, Aliens). How many lockers does Corporal Hicks need? His name was on a few, all of which were close by one another.
The first time I encountered auto-turrets, I was able to consistently make one appear and disappear just by approaching it from different angles. Animations are simply missing, leading to confusion with spoken lines. And as for the source material, there seem to have been conscious decisions to ignore it. Xenomorphs have acid blood that is known to eat through deck plating and keep on going. Get some of that splashed on you while playing though, and its as if nothing has happened. Gearbox has completely obliterated one of the few key events of Alien 3 and goes so far as to insult players by identifying the explanation as a story for another time or some such nonsense.
The writing, typically a category in which Gearbox excels, is terrible. The titular Colonial Marines are practically nonchalant at the appearance of a hostile alien species that they are encountering for the first time. At the same time, they seem to have an overwhelming amount of knowledge about the Xenomorphs. Early on, an ally calls out a “lurker” as if he has seen one before. The primary antagonist is introduced moments before the end of the game, and the motivations for progressing from one objective to the next are only barely discernible. The whole affair comes off as sloppy and insulting.
As players progress through the campaign, experience points are earned for killing foes and completing one of three tasks currently available. This bonus objective format will seem familiar to anyone who has played Jetpack Joyride or Temple Run. These work well in endless runners, but seem out of place in a single-player first person shooter campaign. They do, however, award significant experience bonuses, and unlock tokens earned at each level can be used to customize the rifles, shotguns and sidearms with new scopes, under-barrell attachments and more. These are also carried over to the multiplayer human-vs-xenomorph mode, though you’ll need to level your alien profile up independently.
After finishing with the single-player campaign, I looked forward to climbing into the slimy skin of an alien. Instead of satisfaction, I was met with even more disappointment. The objective-based matches like Extermination and Escape are poor mimicry of Left 4 Dead’s engaging competitive play. The three different types of alien are all weak and, worse, control terribly. The view is pulled back into third-person, but climbing on walls and ceilings is disorienting, not to mention the frequent stutters while trying to adhere to a perpendicular surface. Targeting is a nightmare, as it was never clear just how close I needed to be to connect with my claws or tail. Playing as an the universe’s deadliest killing machine should be more fun. Instead of feeling powerful, I was left with helplessness. The multiplayer does not redeem the horrendous single-player campaign, it simply adds insult to injury.
I would be doing potential players a disservice if I called the visual aspects of this game anything more complimentary than bland and dated. The textures are muddy (when they actually appear), the screen tearing is impossible not to notice, character models are oddly proportioned, the lighting is only barely dynamic and the atmosphere created when the elements come together is humdrum. The sound is a mixed bag, with limp voice acting (even from Lance Henrikson) and music that never seems to match the events on-screen. The soundtrack is inconsistent, and reloading after a death often yielded a completely different soundscape. The backing tracks were quiet when they should have been thunderous and loud when the action was dialed back.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is a mess. It doesn’t reflect well on Gearbox (or the three other studios that helped with the development), Sega or the source material. The worst part isn’t that this is a terrible game. It’s that the supposed “actual gameplay” footage we were shown in the year leading up to release doesn’t match the final version. In fact, even the PC version running at maximum settings does not look as good as the guided demo I saw at PAX East 2012, a full 11 months prior to release. My peers have already weighed in extensively on the deceit inherent in this incident, and Jim Sterling’s latest “Jimquisition” episode is something you should take the time to watch. As for me, I’ll be glad to never think about this title again, and if you haven’t already purchased it, save yourself the money, even if it lands in the bargain bin.
Here’s the Rundown:
+ You can play as a Xenomorph in multiplayer
+ Customizable weapons
– Bugs, glitches and the muddiest textures this side of LV426
– Brain dead aliens and terribly boring human opponents
– Rewrites Aliens lore, but doesn’t commit to actually explaining the changes
– Terrible writing from a studio that is known for its aptitude in that area
1 (RIP) to 4 are varying degrees of a bad game. A 1 (RIP) being a game you would actually pay money to not play, and a 4 is something that just fails to reach even the not-so-lofty level of “mediocre.”
Aliens: Colonial Marines was developed by Gearbox Software, TimeGate Studios, Nerve Software and Demiurge Studios. It was published by Sega and released on February 12, 2013. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.