Aliens: Colonial Marines Review
Aliens: Colonial Marines has had a really rocky, difficult development that's manifested in numerous delays. We didn't know much more, but recently it's come out that TimeGate Studios put in significant work on the game, possibly exceeding that amount of time that Gearbox Software had to work on it - or at least the campaign - and the unfortunate result is that Gearbox is now presiding over the release of a mess of a game for the second time in three years. With the case of Duke Nukem Forever, it was Gearbox's love for the franchise and desire to get that game released after what could have been 13 years of wasted development almost getting flushed down the toilet, but there's less of a story here with Aliens: Colonial Marines. I've got no idea what happened with publisher Sega or whether Gearbox is somehow guilty of diverting crucial resources away from finishing this game, but it's been more than six years since Gearbox announced they were working on an Aliens game, and sadly, the final result is really only worth your time and money only if both you love competitive multiplayer and simply have to have anything Aliens-related.
Let's start with the campaign. It starts out set on the Sulaco after the events of the 1986 movie Aliens and is intended to serve as a true sequel that starts shortly after the movie ends. After an initially impressive show of technology on PC, we get to an exciting and tense first meeting with the aliens, and, well, that's the last moment I truly enjoyed with the campaign. Simply put, it all goes downhill after that. Silly enemy animations, the most basic FPS run-and-gun action seen in a while, and a near complete lack of story make playing this game feel like a chore. With how broken some of the cutscenes, animations, and AI are, sometimes you'll wonder how this game ever got released in the condition it's in.
There might have been some kind of nostalgia for Aliens you could dig up to try and justify spending fifty bucks on Colonial Marines, but this game is desperately trying to be the cool kid, recreating environments and scenes from the movie without forging a path of its own. The marines' entire vocabulary consists of the most stereotypical Space Marine jargon you can think of, while the menace of the Weyland-Yutani corporation and its attempts to exploit the Xenomorphs is never explored or expanded in any interesting way. Fighting Xenomorphs is awkward and strange, and you'll often see your marine buddies standing directly inside the models of the aliens, not even noticing each other - and the bright green acid-blood that each alien explodes with reminds me of first person shooters from a decade (or more) ago. And when human enemies show up to fight you, things don't improve.
There's no real villain to speak of, and after an hour of this game awkwardly trying to recreate Aliens in a stilted, frustrating shooting-gallery style, the player will likely lose hope that anything interesting or truly unique happens and might start wondering if it's worth bothering to continue - and if he does press on, he finds out that he should have listened to his instincts. The campaign is derivative, often far too boring than anything with the Aliens name on it deserves to be, and in the end it doesn't really even cater to fans of this classic 80s action flick. Let's just say that campaign starts on a fairly high note and just falls apart immediately, never to come back together. (And where there is an online cooperative mode, the single player game needs to be good to make any kind of cooperative experience worth bothering with. It's not.)
Instead, I'd rather talk about the competitive multiplayer mode, where Gearbox was actually pretty successful. This mode pits aliens versus the marines in asymmetric battles where players that better use the advantages given to them will win nearly every time. The aliens can, as you probably expect, run along walls and ceilings, spitting acid and dropping down to surprise the marines, and the human players' firepower can quickly take out any alien that dares to stand in one place for too long. Early on, many alien players haven't really understood what to do, running around between rooms, on the floor and out in the light, as if they themselves were the marines. But when you get a player who actually has played as a Xenomorph in a past game, one who knows how to use ducts and ceilings to surprise his opponents, it's a thing of beauty.
There is one interesting thing that Gearbox did when designing the entire game, which is the way you level up a marine no matter what game mode you're actually in, and you get to improve your marine's firepower in substantial ways with new weapons and attachments. Sure, it copies from Call of Duty and Battlefield, but I found that it fits well with the Aliens theme. Anything you gain can be taken into all modes, which is a nice touch - especially considering just how different the modes are.
Gearbox did make a pretty full-featured PC version, which looks and plays like the the most polished port in both offline and online modes - even if that still means that makes it only moderately unpolished rather than straight-up amateurish at times like it does on consoles. The lighting engine looks nice on a solid gaming PC and there are a good range of control and detail options, but a useful PC port of a frustrating, often un-fun game doesn't really help redeem it. The real tragedy is when good multiplatform games get iffy ports; when it's the other way around, it just feels like wasted effort.
Aliens: Colonial Marines certainly offers a wealth of reverence of the movie it's aping, but the efforts by TimeGate and Gearbox Software seem misguided and tone-deaf - and that's not even considering the wooden gunplay, often-broken cutscenes and terrible AI. The versus online modes fare better, but buying this game for that alone - even if you love Aliens - is a dodgy proposition, especially at the PC version's full price of fifty bucks. If you simply have to have everything Aliens-related, then wait for Colonial Marines to go into the virtual bargain bin, especially since by then more people online will know how to play as the Xenomorphs more effectively. I just hope there are still enough players online by the time that the price comes down, though.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a downloaded retail version of the game provided by Valve over Steam.