Aliens: Colonial Marines review

Posted: February 14, 2013 by ryanlecocq in Reviews



Unless you’re living in a cave, you’ve probably seen some of the bad press this game is getting.  While some of it is well deserved, some of it confirms something I’ve accused professional journalists of before.  I think what we have here is a plain example of people not finishing a game before they review it.  While it’s true that Colonial Marines is not the game I had hoped for, it got better as I went through the single player campaign.  This game unfortunately commits a sin seldom seen, where the beginning is the worst part of the game.  The first three levels not only look like they were designed 6 or 7 years ago when this game started development, but they also showcase the worst of the game’s problems.  If you want to enjoy this game as an Aliens fan and get to all the great fanservice, you unfortunately have to slog through 3 or 4 levels that suffer from worse “development hell” than even Duke Nukem Forever.  I just wanted to get that out there as the very first thing you read and what appears in the blurb.

There are basically two ways to approach this game: as a shooter fan or as an Aliens fan.  If you are a shooter fan, everything you’ve heard about this game is basically true.  Yes, it does get better as it goes and feature a great weekend or two worth of multiplayer content, but compared to say, Halo 4, it’s does not hold up under any comparison.  So you can stop right here and not bother reading my independent review in addition to any more mainstream ones you have already read.  If you are an Aliens fan, let me tell you the one thing you really want to know:  Yes, you will get the series canon fanservice you so desperately want… eventually.

Because this is a review, professional or not, I have to at least describe the gameplay.  Yes, you’ve probably heard it well put in every form of fecal metaphor at this point, but I’ll do my best to provide something new.  This game actually isn’t that bad.  It has two humongous flaws though, that immediately present themselves at their worst in the early missions.  That is the AI of your companions and the pathfinding AI of the Aliens.  Your marines behave pretty much like the ones in the movie; as in they leap into combat yelling at the top of their lungs, completely unlike real military personnel.  In a video game, this means they spend most of their time gleefully leaping into your line of fire as the early levels take place in narrow corridors.  The Aliens on the other hand, just cannot handle the bad level design of the Sulaco.  They have this hilarious habit of leaping around to different perches in a circle or figure 8 pattern when confused.  They also have a habit of standing there in a stupor for a few seconds when they pounce and the target steps out of range.  They do this a lot in the horribly designed corridors and cargo bays of the Sulaco.  Just to venture a guess, I would say that Gearbox was forced to retrofit the entire engine when they came back from the Borderlands games to finish this one.  In the process the Alien AI didn’t work very well with the older levels and they just didn’t get around to fixing it.  Just a guess, but when you see them leaping about LV-426 much like Skags in Skag Gully and it actually feels like a decent Gearbox game, it paints a clear picture.  It just looks like there was little cohesion in the multiple stages and multiple developers of this game and at the end they just went smush and slapped them all together.

Another thing you may have heard is that Colonial Marines is pretty conservative in it’s gameplay features.  Yep, that’s true.  It’s the standard set of level-ups and customizable weapons.  You shoot, sprint, crouch and zoom much like you do in the most popular shooters of the day.  If Brice writes his own review, I’m sure he’ll complain that his beloved baseball slide is not in the game.  If you didn’t pre-order the game, you will have to look around a bit for the Legendary Weapons belonging to the marines from the movie.  Besides the audio logs, that’s about it besides killing Xenos and Wey-Yuts.

As the game progresses, not only the gameplay, but the plot improves as well.  At first I was worried that this game was just going to be a retread of what Rebellion’s pretty darn good AVP series had already done before.  Though in part that’s unavoidable as the AVP games have already taken their pick of the locations in which this game mostly takes place, this game has a few aces up it’s sleeve.  The first of which is the participation of many of the original cast.  Right from the start you see a mayday video recording by Hicks and another Bishop model voiced by Lance Henricksen, but many of the other characters appear or are referenced in some way.  Another is a plot twist that (although a bit of a stretch) made that 8 year old Aliens fanboy inside me jump up and down and scream with glee (actually all of me did).  This is the part which absolutely convinces me that certain journalists did not finish the game.  When a certain scene happens, if you loved Aliens, this game just gained like 14 points on the 1-10 rating scale.  If you hated the game anyway or were too jaded to accept it, then shame on you for letting your child self die.  If you’ve ever seen the movie Sidekicks where the Seaquest dolphin kid is obsessed with Chuck Norris, there’s a scene where he has this epic daytime hallucination in class.  The last 2 hours of this game were that for me on a constant basis.  Not only do you get to walk around all the sets and climb all over them like you wanted to as a child, but you do it accompanied by the real actors from the movie.  As a fan, I am incapable of giving this game the 4-5/10 that seems so popular.  I dare any Aliens fan to play the single-player campaign from start to finish and do so.

That aside, it’s time to tackle the other snarling saber-toothed tiger in the room: the graphics.  Once again, I think development hell is to blame here as well.  While it’s true that (much more on consoles) this game looks nothing like the videos or tech demos, it gets better as it goes along.  What I see is something that was never fully compiled and optimized while it was in it’s long development and had to be pretty much neutered to run on a wide range of PCs and consoles.  Just like everything else in the game, it goes from about the quality of an early Xbox 360 shooter, to roughly comparable to other multiplatform games of the time by the time the credits roll.  It still has the same basic DirectX 9 effects and low-resolution textures throughout, but clearly for the later levels. the developers working on it were much more familiar with recent multiplatform shooters (probably Gearbox).  So what this means is that after you’ve gotten through those awful initial missions, there actually starts to be some eye candy too.  I stopped several times, even on the Xbox version, to gawk at the beautifully recreated film sets later in the game.  Not only did they have far better textures than early levels, but some areas were downright HUGE.  I’m just going to spoil it since they’ve shown the interior in screenshots and say that you get to stand on the ground outside the derelict spacecraft.  After you kill the baddies, you can just stand there and stare at it to your heart’s content, it is just as effing gigantic as it looked in the movies.  Many other iconic scenes offer the same.

The music is just a giant remix of themes from the movies with a few added bridges and samples.  ‘Nuff said.

The multiplayer made one very shameful but strategically brilliant move.  They tacked on a mode at the last minute that perfectly puts Left 4 Dead’s excellent formula around the Aliens franchise.  It’s a match made in heaven.  There are a couple of other modes which were clearly what they were going to offer before they came up with that bright idea, but the Escape mode is the star.  As you would imagine, the marines are trying to evac and the aliens are trying to stop them.  Just like good ol’ L-fer-D the aliens have different classes which specialize in different ways to halt the marine squad’s progress.  Yeah, it’s a game you’ve played before, but it’s also arguably a game that the Alien franchise invented.  It’s difficult to not see the influence of the hectic chase scenes in Aliens in many parts of the Left 4 Dead games.  Regardless of who’s chicken is laying who’s egg, it fits like a glove.  Alien players will have all sorts of interesting strategies to divide and conquer the marines.  Marines will generally be forced to stick together and advance slowly if they are against players of any skill.  The resulting gameplay dynamic is pretty much the scene in Aliens when they first enter the reactor.  It’s glorious fun, but as there are only two maps available so far and neither is any where near as long as an L4D level, it’s mostly a lark.

The problem that confronts the more traditional, score-focused modes is the marine arsenal.  Legendary weapons especially being available in multiplayer was a huge mistake that I hope has been patched out by the time you read this.  Any level 1 player who has pre-ordered the game has Hick’s shotgun, which pretty much turns anything at very short range to oatmeal.  Considering it takes the Aliens quite a few levels to unlock such an effortless 1-hit kill, this game effectively recreates the “n00b tube.”  The multiplayer can still be a lot of fun as an alien, but it can be frustrating when low-level players on the opposite team have overpowered weapons without unlocking them and you have only a few short and midrange attacks.  Once you get past the first few levels, no amount of weaponry makes the gameplay unfair as the aliens start to get some ridiculous abilities of their own.  Assuming this game even has enough sales to have a high-ranked game, it will be pure madness and chaos, I guarantee.  Like Unreal Tournament 04 madness and chaos.

I’ll conclude this review just how I started it.  If you’re not an Aliens fan, steer your money away from this game.  If you have spent every day since the first time you saw Aliens wanting a REAL sequel, you have just found your favorite teddy bear in the attic.  This is sixty dollars you will never miss or wish you had back in your pocket.  Any one of the fanboy watercooler moments in the last half of this game is worth the sticker price to a fan.  Hell, if you have the PC version and the settings maxed, the guy who owns the original cast of the “space jockey” now has nothing you haven’t had.  He spent millions and you still got to climb on it anyway.  Since I fall in category number two, this once I am going to have to beat down every journalistic standard I normally adhere to.  This game does not deserve this score by science, but this is how my heart felt.

For Aliens fans: 8/10

As a video game: 6/10

  1. Cryio's Qax says:

    Since this game is terrible, I probably won’t go buy it. But I still intend to play it. So tell me. This thing patched up, modded and with the .ini tweaked, is it at least kind of fun?

    I like shooting aliens (not this universe specific ones) and I’m ok with decent shooting mechanics as long it’s not boring as a brick.

    Should I play this ?

    • ryanlecocq says:

      Now that this game is no longer new, I feel okay sharing the spoilers that explain the score I gave this game.

      For the last third of the game you are accompanied constantly by Bishop and Hicks (who is somehow alive). It’s still not a good game, but the fanboy in me like this so much that I couldn’t help but be entertained.

      As a kid, when I saw Alien 3, I hated it and wished there was a real sequel to Aliens. In my 8 year old mind, this is about what I imagined. So I more enjoyed it for giving a long overdue reward to my child self rather than for being a good video game.

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