“Game over, man! Game over!”
There’s no doubt about it, Aliens: Colonial Marines has had a difficult development cycle. After six years (or half a Duke Nukem game’s gestation period’s worth) of troubled development and delays Sega and Gearbox Software’s take on the Aliens franchise has finally arrived, but has the long wait been worth it, or is Colonial Marines nothing but a chestburster primed to violently eject itself from your console and into the garbage bin? Read on and find out.
Aliens: Colonial Marines puts you in the combat boots of United States Colonial Marines Corporal Christopher Winter, a member of the USCM’s elite Search and Rescue Team that has been dispatched to investigate a distress call from the Conestoga-class starship the U.S.S. Sulaco, which has mysteriously vanished from orbit around Fiorina-161 and reappeared orbiting LV-426 (the setting of Aliens). Of course, the rescue operation doesn’t go quite as planned when the team discovers the ship has been overrun by a Xenomorph infestation, and if that wasn’t enough, an entire army of paid Weyland-Yutani mercenaries stand between you and your objective, ready to defend the evil corporation’s secrets with their lives. Now it’s up to Winter and his small squad of Colonial Marines rescue their comrades and fight for survival against the most efficient killing machines in the universe.
First thing’s first- if you’re expecting thrills and chills that rival those offered by the chilling James Cameron films the game draws its inspiration from, stay frosty Marines, cause you’re not going to find them here. Aliens: Colonial Marines is your typical corridor-based, first-person shooter in every sense of the word. Gameplay largely consists of navigating your way through derelict spaceships, abandoned labs, and the rocky crags of Alien-infested planets as you run and gun your way through the game’s chapters. While exploring the dreary environments you’re almost always flanked by a squad of fellow Marines, but don’t mistake Aliens: Colonial Marines for a squad-based tactical shooter, in the crowded FPS genre, it’s about as mindless as they come. Enemies typically have very little regard for their own well-being, and will conveniently rush right into your iron sights for easy kills. This habit isn’t just a side-effect of the Xenomorph’s aggressive rush tactics, the game’s human adversaries are also keen on rushing into the hellfire of your smart gun, or content to simply stand still and fire at you from the open, bullets be damned. To be fair, occasionally an enemy alien will leap great distances to flank your squad of marines, but in the most narrow and straightforward arenas you’ll be battling in, your foes will simply follow the same script of running head-long into oblivion, effectively squandering any chance at creating tension within the game and instead creating the atmosphere of an extraterrestrial carnival shooting gallery.
That’s not to say that the brain-dead AI is the only thing that will be keeping you from becoming immersed in the world of Colonial Marines. Right from the moment you start the game, it’s impossible not to notice that Aliens: CM has been in development since early in this console generation. The game simply looks and feels very much like a fossil of a bygone era in gaming, and other times even as old as the Engineers themselves. Don’t believe me? Just try watching some of the game’s cinematics without laughing, or crying. I dare you. Dated cut scenes aside, the game itself is a mixed bag. Some environments feature some decent looking shadow and lighting effects, however, far too much of the world is littered with fuzzy textures, lackluster particle effects, and texture maps that never seem to load on time. While graphics aren’t everything, it’s impossible not to notice how dated Aliens: CM looks when compared to its contemporaries. At least the game sounds good though, with a haunting soundtrack that feels lifted from the films themselves, and weapons effects that sound nice and punchy, even if a few of the weapons themselves actually feel like they lack any real power.
Speaking of power, killing Xenomorphs and progressing through the story earns you upgrade points which can be spent to outfit your weapons with a variety of scopes, attachments, and sub-weapons. These range from grenade launchers, electrified shotgun slugs, and flamethrowers allowing you to turn even your most basic weapon into a veritable Swiss Army knife of alien killing justice.
Taking the Bug Hunt Online
Aliens: Colonial Marines offers a variety of multiplayer modes for any soldiers looking to team up with their friends to go bug hunting. The entire campaign mode can be played with 4 players, however, things quickly become hectic the more players you add into the mix, as the game’s claustrophobic environments make playing with a full squad a constant battle of jockeying for position in tight corridors to get a shot off. The experience is greatly improved when experienced with just two players, and can actually be pretty enjoyable with the difficulty ratcheted up a bit. In fact, co-op is probably the highlight of the entire Aliens: CM experience. Fending off an advancing wave of Xenomorphs with a friend can be very satisfying, and bringing a friend along for the ride helps alleviate the occasional frustration of getting swarmed from behind that can happen in some of the game’s more chaotic encounters. Also, there’s a stealth segment that takes place about halfway through the main campaign where you’re being pursued by a very powerful alien. Sneaking through the ventilation shafts and rushing to weld doors shut to keep your raging pursuer at by while your teammate frantically works to cut open the next door is exhilarating in cooperative mode and is one of the game’s highlight moments. It’s times like this where you can see the promise that lies deep in Aliens: Colonial Marines that unfortunately goes unrealized for most of the experience.
In addition to cooperative play, Aliens: CM offers a variety of asymmetric multiplayer modes pitting aliens with varying abilities and marines against each other to see who the dominant species really is. The four game types, team deathmatch, evacuation, extermination, and survival are all takes on familiar multiplayer formulas with the exception of evacuation, which tasks marines with escaping a facility while their Xenomorph pursuers attempt to systematically eliminate them before they can reach the exit and claim victory. The fact you can choose between three different alien species with varying abilities is nice, but at the time of this writing the Xenos themselves handle awkwardly, and the marine forces seem a touch overpowered compared to their otherworldly adversaries. Overall, the multiplayer component has its moments, but don’t expect it to replace your nightly sessions with your FPS of choice anytime soon.
Lost in Space
Aliens: Colonial Marines is a disappointing example of what happens when a title spends too long in development limbo. While you can tell the developers had the best intentions, slathering the game in a thick coating of fan service, good intentions can’t change the fact that every facet of the game’s design feels years behind its contemporaries. There is fun to be had in the game’s cooperative campaign, but it’s more difficult to overlook the game’s flaws when played alone. And the asymmetric adversarial multiplayer is a novel idea, but it simply isn’t all that exciting. If you’re starved for a new first-person shooter and really feel like blasting some otherworldly abominations to bits, wait a few months until this alien menace invades the bargain bin.
Final Verdict: 2/5
Available on: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC ; Publisher: Sega ; Developer: Gearbox Software ; Released: February 12th, 2013 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Aliens: Colonial Marines purchased by Hey Poor Player.