It’s too bad no one ever got around to finishing this game, because it might have actually been pretty good.
Available for PS3(reviewed) XBox 360 and PC. Rated M for Mature
The Alien films are one of the most influential franchises in science fiction, and although the movies themselves have suffered from the law of diminishing returns (Ridley Scott’s brilliant but divisive Prometheus excepted) the Xenomorphs are forever a part of sci-fi pop culture. Unfortunately, the video games based on the series have, historically, been quite terrible. But Colonial Marines was poised to put an end to that. First announced back in 2006, Gearbox Software’s Colonial Marines has been in development for what seems like forever. Which makes it all the more unbelievable that the game came out half-finished at best.
The first thing you will likely notice about Colonial Marines is how terrible it looks. Made with the nearly decade-old Unreal Engine 3, the game looks terrible even by comparison to other games that use the aging platform. Games like Devil May Cry and Gearbox’s own Borderlands games use their unique art style to make up for the technical shortcomings of of the Unreal engine, but Colonial marines does nothing of the sort. Colours are bland, textures are muddy and character models are atrocious. Colonial Marines supposedly uses its own proprietary renderer(ominously called the Red Ring engine) but the shadows and lighting are as bad as any Unreal 3 created game you’ve ever seen. At their very best, the graphics look like something from the start of this console generation. At their worst, they legitimately look like something from the last one.
Colonial Marines was made without much reverence for the Alien franchise, even if it seems to offer up fan service at every turn. Sure you can visit the locales of the films, collect weapons that once belonged to characters and the pulse rifle has that unique and unforgettable sound that it did in the movies. But these aren’t the things that made Aliens what it was. The tension, the pacing, the terror… these are the things that ingrained Aliens permanently into our collective psyches, and Colonial Marines has none of these things. The Xenomorphs are anything but scary, and don’t pose much of a threat at all. Instead of the dangerous hunter-killers we we know and love, we are treated to ridiculous cannon fodder that rush headlong into your waiting bullets. The only challenge comes from the sheer number of Xenomorphs that the game throws at you, one after another. It’s worth noting that in the original film, there was only a single alien that took out an entire ship worth of humans, but suddenly they are mindless, green-blooded zombies that wander the corridors of Hadley’s Hope, waiting for you to put a couple of bullets in their chest. Their complete lack of intelligence is painful to watch. They are incapable of doing much else besides rush forward without any thought to self preservation. Or, as often as not, they’ll just sort of wander around on a catwalk or climb up a wall, seemingly forgetting about you entirely.
The technical shortcomings of the game extend far beyond the graphics and The Xeno behavior though. Your squad mates are even more braindead than the Xenos, often deciding to just stop and stare at the floor for a while. They frequently yell out things like “room cleared!” even as we are in the middle of a firefight. Sometimes they’ll start shooting out a window or through a wall at some distant enemy that may or may not exist. At one point my squad member rushed past me to a closed door, then proceeded to do what can only be described as “the chicken dance” for almost a minute until I opened the door for her. In actuality, the sometimes hilarious glitches may be the most enjoyable part of the game. Xenos randomly teleport around the room or phase in and out of existence They clip through walls and floors and get stuck inside level geometry. Character models sometimes disappear entirely. Once I had to complete a level without a gun(at least not one you could see) and twice I had to deal with a marine squad mate who had no head. The rest of the character was there, he just happened to not have a head. Classic.
The story, which is apparently officially sanctioned as canon by 20th Century Fox, is nothing to get excited about. It’s easy to make it canon if nothing of any importance happens. The characters are forgettable and the awful writing doesn’t help endear them to you at all. The ending is also a let-down, obviously setting up further DLC, rather than providing a satisfying conclusion.
Weapons are kind of important in a first-person shooter, but here Colonial Marines once again comes up short. There are only a handful weapons to choose from and most of them aren’t unique enough to even qualify as a different weapon. There might be 4 or 5 variations of an assault rifle, but it doesn’t really matter which one you use. There are some weapon customization options, but even they don’t significantly increase the weapon variety. Firefights with human enemies are even easier than the fights with the Xenomorphs, thanks to their AI being as dumb as your own squad mates, and the fact that you have a number of magical long-range shotguns that can take anyone down from across the room. There’s no cover mechanic at all, other than pressing the “crouch” button, which I think is a little old-fashioned, but ultimately it isn’t like you need to worry about taking cover anyway.
There is a brief attempt at ratcheting up the tension about halfway though with an ill-advised stealth mission that sees you stripped of weapons and having to make your way past dozens of Xenos using only your guile and the world’s weakest flashlight. Unfortunately, even this brief attempt at matching the series’ hallmark feel falls flat. Most of the Xenos you meet are of a strange new species that explode when you make a loud noise, so the level consists mainly of you turning on water pumps(or something) to make a loud enough noise that the Xenos rush to it and then explode. It’s completely ludicrous, and the awful explosion animation of the aliens makes it that much worse.
Multiplayer is the core of a first-person shooter experience for many gamers, but they won’t find anything to like here either. Playing as Xenos is awkward and annoying. Walking on walls and over railings is technically possible, but never seems to work quite right. Add to that the fact the marines are drastically overpowered compared to the Xenos, and playing as an alien isn’t a whole pile of fun. You might be able to wring some fun out of the horde mode or the escape-from-the-aliens survival mode, but both are severely limited by a lack of content. If you want any kind of real multiplayer experience you’ll have to pay for the DLC which will be coming soon, I’m sure. But I doubt very many people will still be playing this by the time it does, and if you’ve already sunk $60 into Colonial Marines, I seriously doubt you’ll want to give Sega another 15 for the first batch of downloadable content.
Aliens: Colonial Marines tries very hard to hit the bullet-points of what an Aliens game should have in terms of content, but unfortunately it completely misses the mark when it comes to matching the series’ overall feel. And on top of that, its a dull shooter with comically terrible technical issues.