This game is mostly terrible… mostly.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is the long-awaited attempt by Gearbox (Borderlands, Duke Nukem Forever) to create a true videogame sequel to James Cameron’s film ‘Aliens’. The game took six years to be released after the original announcement, and its development has been mired in controversy, most of which is only just coming to light now. This game is disappointing, to the extent that I could imagine publisher Sega suing over it, but that’s not to say you can’t have fun!
First of all Gearbox have used the licence pretty well. Everything memorable beat from the movie is recreated in at least some way here, and fans are definitely going to be the core audience who will get much out of this game. You get to use a power loader, there’s those hardcore APCs, there’s barricades where you have to fend off waves with the help of auto-turrets (in a nod to the director’s cut), there’s also a chance to use each and every weapon used or mentioned in the film. Nearly all of these (the power loader sequence was weak) brought a smile to my face and occasionally a mixture of the gunmetal greys and blues and the screech of the pulse rifles really hit the right notes for the atmosphere of the films. Sadly this is the exception.
The biggest issue with the game is that it is a horrible, unfinished, uncared for mess. While the intention occasionally shines through, it’s devastated by the terrible Alien animations, the AI that leaves them more often than not ‘hiding’ in plain sight, the fact that they can and will clip right through other team members. You can see they struggled with variety for the combat so included a huge number of fights exclusively against human opponents, who do one of three things for their AI routine, they stand near a crate (whether it provides them cover or not is irrelevant) and occasionally shoot at you, they might throw a grenade which will land at your feet regardless of obstacles, or they will run to a bit of open space and stand there for a while. They’re not satisfying to shoot, they can take direct headshots and survive with barely a flinch, with foot-shots seemingly doing equal damage, and they never appear in any interesting ways. They’re just filler and it’s painfully obvious. Towards the end of the game there are some three-way fights but the AI is so incompetent it looks hilarious rather than engaging.
The game can look ok, there’s some DirectX10 mods out there that improve the lighting and reflections a fair bit,and some of the level design is quite striking. Sadly the engine lacks the graphical niceties that really create a tense atmosphere. There’s little dynamic lighting, hardly any fog, no strobe lighting at all which to me is a key feature of the ‘look’ of Aliens. My first memory of being truely scared by a game is catching glimpses of an Alien in a flickering light in the original Alien vs Predator, 13 years ago. In 13 years we seem to have gone backwards in terms of trying to make these things scary. All too often the enemies stand around in the light, moving awkwardly, and they look pathetic. When you shoot them they get a new texture with acid all over them, and they fall apart. They literally fall apart.
So much of the gameplay is ruined by nonsensical implementations of features, like the acid blood. It does hardly anything to you, despite it being a key feature of these monsters. The door-welding is a nice touch but you can only do it on specific doors where you have to do it. There are ‘signature’ weapons which are cool, like Ripley’s modified Pulse Rifle, but each signature weapon needs special ammo just for that gun, even though it obviously just uses the same clips as other weapons of the type.
There is fun to be had, in true Gearbox style you can play 4-player co-op, and as with any 4-player co-op game, get some friends together and it’s a blast. You can overlook the ridiculous sections because you’re laughing, and there’s even one sequence that will make you all be quiet and get pretty tense. It’s not long, particularly on co-op, with maybe 4-6 hours of gameplay depending on how quick you go through it and the difficulty, but there’s a half decent idea for a story buried under all the mundane shooting sections that’s worth taking the time to listen to.
The multiplayer is a different beast entirely, with some small levelling up aspects carried over from the main game (you can gain experience and modify weapons and attacks as well as more cosmetic options) and the chance to play as one of three types of alien. It’s still not a brilliant game but it can be a fair bit of fun, specially when you’re with a group who knows what they’re doing. Taking the AI issues away from the aliens leads to some really interesting fights as you get used to looking up more than just down corridors. As an Alien once you get over the horrible controls you have quite a lot of freedom, and stalking marines is genuinely tense and rewarding once you pick off a lone solider.
There’s a variety of different modes with the best being a kind of Left 4 Dead versus mode, with the marines having to complete objectives while the aliens just keep going. with a good team this is worth the money alone if you’re an aliens fan and the levels seem to be better designed than most of the single-player campaign.
Overall, I wouldn’t bother with this at full price, but if you can get it for less than £20 and you’re a big Aliens fan it’s probably worth it. I’d definitely go for the PC version after seeing the horrific console ports. An even better idea might be picking up the 2010 Alien Vs Predator game. The multiplayer is sadly dead now, but with some friends it’s loads of fun and the single player campaigns suddenly seem a lot better compared to this. Even though it’s three years old now, there’s a couple of screenshots below showing how well it’s holding up with its slightly more stylised graphics. Plus the aliens are much scarier.
Aliens vs Predator 2010 Screenshots