Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror, Alien may have had a slow start but the sense of dread built up as every minute passed by. I found it foreboding, and terrifying in places. Seven years later, James Cameron’s sequel was much less scary but punchier in the action department. It was where most of the shooting took place. It so happens that shooting things makes good fodder for video games (Ed: Imagine that!), and Sega—with blessings from 20th Century Fox—tasked Gearbox Software (of Borderlands fame) with the fan service. A five-year development cycle later and Aliens: Colonial Marines was hatched. Is this the bug hunt you’ve been waiting for? Or is it a bad egg? My tour of duty continues after the jump.
Aliens: Colonial Marines takes place in the Aliens universe and fits in its timeline. If you’ve been keeping up with the events of Aliens, you’ll recall Ripley showing an uninvited guest the door, and setting the Sulaco on a course to Earth. I apologize if that might have been a spoiler for some but Aliens will be 26 years old this year. If you haven’t seen it yet, where have you been, in hypersleep?
The player takes on the role of Corporal Winter, a USCMC marine assigned to a search-and-rescue party. Shortly after an ejector seat issue over Fury 161, somehow the Sulaco has appeared above LV-426 again and the team is dispatched to investigate what happened to the craft and its crew. Upon boarding the Sulaco, it’s not long before the massive amounts of poop hits the fan.
It’s an eerie feeling to step on board the Sulaco and seeing half of Bishop’s body lying there on the deck. I’m actually interacting with the Aliens universe, and not just a passive watcher. That was such an exciting prospect and Gearbox included some instantly recognisable gems from Cameron’s 80s flick. The humble M41A pulse rifle features the same LED counter and sounds just as it did in the movie. I could have easily added a barrel attachment to increase its accuracy but it would spoil the sound, so I didn’t. I chose form over function because the nostalgia is strong with this one. The pulse rifle stands out for sentimental reasons, as does the shotgun for “close encounters”. But the fun stops there. While Aliens: Colonial Marines includes the standard range of rifles, SMGs, and pistols (all of which can be upgraded with more ammo, faster reload times, and shotgun attachments) they just don’t feel all that satisfying to use. I managed to get through most of the game with the trusty pulse rifle and shotgun combination.
Another wonderful throwback is the motion tracker and for the first few uses, really captures the tension felt in the movie. You can’t fire your weapon while you’re holding the motion tracker, and at times I stood there hypnotized, watching and listening to the pings of impending doom. But soon your senses become dulled to it. It’s just another sign that you’re about to be set on by the dullards that we call enemies. The Xenomorphs here seem to be bereft of any intelligence, choosing to charge straight towards you, rather than be the stealthy predatory creatures looking to skewer you from the shadows. While the Xenomorphs may have mutated, there doesn’t seem to have been many experiments in the alien laboratory. I can count the types of enemies you meet in the game *and* the boss fights on a single hand. Do the math: it’s not good news.
The lack of variety extends to the missions too. If you’re not running through a gauntlet clearing it of enemies, you’re protecting an area while something is being planted somewhere or a door is being forcibly opened. Sadly there’s nothing evolutionary about this game. A clunky stealth mechanic does make an appearance in the sewer (there’s always a sewer section isn’t there?) where one has to tread ever so lightly around the deformed “Boiler” Xenomorph who’ll attack at any signs of movement. It’s as exciting as it sounds.
What of the interaction between you and your squad mates, you ask? Will you enjoy the witty repartee like Hudson shared with Vasquez in the “Have you ever been mistaken for a man?” scene from Aliens? Sadly, the answer is ‘no’. Your AI squad mates go about doing their thing, mindlessly spouting their lines. Essentially their only benefit to you is that they can’t be killed, so you don’t have to worry about them taking friendly fire in the keister. Oh, I suppose they can also open doors, so there’s that. While we’re on that topic, it seems that in the 22nd century, some doors takes 10 to 15 seconds to open. Is the lock a futuristic Rube Goldberg machine, I wonder? Clearly there’s something wrong when I have enough time to remember such mundane actions.
The locations have been faithfully created although there isn’t much variety to them; if it’s not a military base or science lab, it’s a destroyed military base or ruined science lab. Things are amiss in the visuals department. From what I saw, it looks like the graphics took a trip back in time. Aside from the muddy textures that sometimes take a while to refresh, there are some graphical anomalies that results in your squad mates magically appearing ahead of you at any time you leave them behind. Once, I noticed Xenomorph giblets also just floating around in the air. Someone else saw an all-singing, all-dancing Xeno. I’m not one to judge a game by its graphics, but when it’s so in-your-face, it’s hard not to notice the mediocrity. Wherever the polish in the game went, it’s decidedly missing here.
Enough of the doom and gloom though. Let’s talk about the multiplayer. Aliens: Colonial Marines allows co-op in the campaign mode and a host of multiplayer modes, collectively called “Versus” because it’s the Marines against the Xenos. Common to popular multiplayer games, Aliens: Colonial Marines lets you pick a character and alter their physical appearance through all manner of camo patterns, emblems, and tattoos. Traditional loadouts allows you to choose your weapons, grenades, armour, and other traits. More upgrades are available as you gain XP and go up the ranks. The same applies to your choice of Xeno although some options obviously aren’t available. While the Marines pack heavy firepower they are grounded. The fragile Xenos rely on lunge-spit-and-ambush style attacks to ensnare their foes. They can also climb the walls. The standard TDM is ever-present, as is Extermination mode, a “king of the hill” type event where the Marines need to destroy batches of eggs while the Xenos fight to protect them. Escape mode is a rather tense affair where a team of Marines have to traverse a map, pressing switches and cutting through doors along the way, while the Xenos are tasked with stopping them. After downloading two successive patches, I connected without hassle to the servers and found players in any of the modes that I tried. The multiplayer is surprisingly solid; it almost feels like you’re playing a different game altogether. I actually had fun. I hazard to say it is the game’s strongest point.
Aliens: Colonial Marines may be Gearbox’ love letter to Aliens but from my perspective, it felt more like a one-night-stand. There might have been a bang in there somewhere but there is no connection. Without knowing the origins, newcomers to the franchise will feel detached from the story. Even for fans, there are some lingering questions about the story that are not satisfyingly explained in the game, and we’re left to assume what may have happened. And you know what they say about assumptions.
While the multiplayer might have buoyed my experience in Aliens: Colonial Marines, it’s hard to forget about the poor A.I., uninspiring gameplay, short unsatisfying campaign, and dated graphics. In the end, Aliens: Colonial Marines is less a fan service and more a disservice. To quote one of Hudson’s fatalistic lines: “Game over man, game over”.
Final score: 5 facehugging prawns out of 10.
Platforms: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox360, Wii U, PC
Age Rating: 16