‘Aliens: Colonial Marines’ Review: Stay Frosty And Alert

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Feel that? That’s the calm before the storm. Enjoy this, because by the time March comes along, hot new games will practically be coming out of the walls. Last week was all about Dead Space 3 (here’s what Brittany thought of it), and this week we have the similarly themed Aliens: Colonial Marines. Both are the third entries in acclaimed sci-fi horror franchises that feature co-op, a delightful blend of human and alien enemies, and they even start you off in outer space before crashing your unsuspecting ass on a nearby planet about a third of the way through.

Despite being awesome, the Aliens franchise hasn’t seen much success throughout its numerous attempts to enter the realm of bit, bytes, pixels, and sprites. Oddly enough, the first three films had a combined total of nine adaptations — two for Alien, four for Aliens, and three for Alien 3. Resurrection only had one, and I’m sure that had nothing to do with it being an abysmal film. Outside of Rebellion’s AvP and a handful of handheld and mobile games, the series hasn’t had much of a presence in video games in the last decade.

That’s what makes this game so exciting. It’s the first serious attempt to create an Aliens video game in some time. Colonial Marines is being heralded as a “true” sequel to James Cameron’s Aliens. Comparing your game to a film with a legacy like the one Aliens has simmered in for the better part of two decades now is brings with it some lofty expectations. Nay, let’s call them astronomically high expectations, and ones that will come from the most critical of fan bases: the film geeks. Sega and Gearbox has kicked the ant hive, or maybe it’s a beehive, and fans will very likely tear this game apart.

Let’s start with me.

Let’s not bury the lead here: if this is a sequel to Aliens, it’s about as well crafted as the film its trying to replace. It isn’t bad by any means, but storytelling isn’t Colonial Marines’ strong suit, even though it makes a few notable efforts in that area. For example, one of the marines on your squad wakes up with a Facehugger lying dead next to her. She says her throat is sore, but it’s no big deal. Toss her a throat lozenge so we can be on our merry, you say — okay, not really. Everyone is surprised when they find out she has an alien inside her, and this ends up becoming a pretty big deal. The only problem is this exact same plot device has been used numerous times now, so it’s lost its luster.

The first three chapters take place in two spaceships that are orbiting LV-426 — that’s the name of the planet for non-Aliens nerds — your team has been dispatched to explore the seemingly abandoned U.S.S. Solaco, which naturally, has been overrun by those pesky Xenomorphs. Oh, and soldiers hired by the Weyland-Yutani corporation (again, if you’re not a huge fan of the films, think of them as the Umbrella Corporation in space). There are lots and lots of soldiers. One might even say too many soldiers.

The problem I have with fighting soldiers is it’s too obvious their only purpose is to break up the fights with the aliens. You wouldn’t see a dozen drawn out gunfights in the films, because that would have been boring, and it’s boring here. It also doesn’t help that as a shooter, Colonial Marines doesn’t control as well as you would expect from a Gearbox-developed game. Movement feels slow and unresponsive, and since you can’t take very many hits, battling Weyland’s hired guns can lead to many frustrating deaths.

The game becomes significantly more enjoyable after you’ve crash-landed on the planet, because that’s when the gunfights become more sparse and the alien fights more bountiful. It’s also where some of the game’s more memorable moments take place, including your first time using the Smart Gun, an almost Condemned 2-style chase sequence with a particularly nasty Xeno, and a deeply unsettling sewer section — possibly the only good use of sewers in a video game — that has you navigating around blind kamikaze Xenos.

Did I mention you’re unarmed over the course of those last two sections?

Colonial Marines does some really interesting things. It’s obvious the folks at Gearbox are fans of the films, because its influences are everywhere. Most of the time this is a good thing, but occasionally it can hurt the experience. Take the art style, for instance. It looks a lot like the movie. Very dark, with an abundance of blues and grays. That looks great in a film, but it grows tiring over the course of a 10-12 hour game. You’re granted an occasional visual reprieve every now and then, like when your team visits the Weyland labs to try and save the infected (impregnated?) member of your squad, but they’re few and far between.

It also struggles with some polish issues, in that it really could have benefited from more of it. There is a lot of screen tearing, stretched out textures, characters clip through and get stuck on objects in the environment, and it has one of the most bizarre rain hitting the screen effects I’ve ever seen. You know when you’re playing a game and it’s raining, so you look up to the sky and see the water slide down the screen? That happens here too, only it looks like someone’s smearing a dollop of lotion on a thin layer of saran wrap that covers your visor. It’s really weird, and it’s only the rain. If you walk under a leaky ceiling, it looks normal. No idea what’s going on there.

Visually, a little extra development time could’ve done this title some good, but aurally, it’s beautiful. The sound effects, many of which have been taken straight out of the films, sound amazing. The pulse rifle and motion tracker sound especially good, even if it’s only because of how iconic they’ve become. The voice work is also pretty great, even if I would have liked to hear more banter during some of the quieter moments. The soundtrack is one of the highlights, and we have the immensely talented Kevin Riepl to thank for that. It manages to sound an awful lot like the films while being unique to the game and it adapts to what’s going on on-screen remarkably well.

There are a few ideas that get introduced but I don’t feel like they’re ever really taken advantage of. Simple ideas like the tool you have with you at all times that can cut open or weld doors shut. It’s used a few times, but not often enough. The other fun Aliens toys like the Smart Gun and turrets you can place down to provide extra cover fire also aren’t used as well as I would have hoped. It’s a little disappointing, but at the same time, it makes the few times you do use them even more enjoyable.

The best thing about the campaign is that it can be played with up to four people. That ought to make those gunfights more bearable. Like F.E.A.R. 3, everything you do in the campaign is scored and ranks your Marine career, which in turn unlocks new customization and load-out options for the multiplayer.

The character customization isn’t exclusive to those of you who want to focus on your career as a colonial marine. It also extends to the Xenomorphs, and I have to say, I was very surprised to see the depth of customization in both categories, but especially so with the Xenomorphs. Your options include the Soldiers, which are your basic Xenos, the more agile and tough to shoot Lurkers, and the acid-firing Spitters. They represent a taste of what you’ll have to fight in the campaign, but there’s even more variety there.

After spending some time with the multiplayer over its various modes, I learned that I am awful at each and every one of them. Team Deathmatch was particularly brutal, as I died 5-6 times for each kill I achieved. In Extermination, the marines have to defend a point from the Xenos — think of it as this game’s equivalent to King of the Hill. I was pretty bad at that too. I did a little better at Escape, where the marines are tasked with escaping a map, but I can attribute that to all the time I spent in Left 4 Dead. The last mode is Survivor, and it’s essentially a wave survival mode. I’ll admit I’m a little burned out on those.

The bar might have been set pretty low, but that doesn’t keep Colonial Marines from bounding over it like a slimy, alien Gazelle. It’s incredibly successful as an Aliens game, but less so in continuing the story of the films in an interesting way. It does some fine work there too, but if you go into this looking for a continuation of the films I’m afraid you may leave disappointed.

The Final Word: While not without its flaws, Aliens: Colonial Marines is a wild and gory thrill ride that should satisfy anyone looking for the hot marine-on-Xenomorph action that only Aliens can deliver.

This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Aliens: Colonial Marines, which was provided by the publisher.

  • ThunderDragoon

    Good enough. I’ll be getting this.

  • joesey

    thanks for the review i can’t wait to own this 1

  • Chazz

    Kinda negged I missed out on getting the fancy collector’s edition. But with any look when I do snag a copy some of these issues will be patched out.

    As for the rain on the visor maybe that was their attempt at making the planet seem more alien, which is logical and the dripping from ceilings could be from busted cooling pipes hence why it looks normal? Just a theory.

    • Chazz

      with any luck* as it were.

  • Daniel

    It’s a bad game, don’t listen to this review. If you want a good alien game, play AVP2. It’s as good as we’re going to get.

  • divisionbell

    Didn’t LV-426 get destroyed at the end of Aliens?

  • MrDisgusting

    I’m already selling my copy. It’s fun for the Aliens fan, like me, but it’s pretty crappy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000031803851 Gavin Dobbs

    Adam… you know I appreciate your stuff and what you have to say… but I can’t agree with this review. Here’s mine.

    So first and foremost I have been excited about this game ever since a solid release date was announced. I’ve made my fiance watch all the Alien films (including Prometheus) with me for about the third time as a couple, preordered well before Christmas (Collectors Edition), and didn’t watch any of the gameplay reviews.

    Well this morning hit and I started reading the Metacritic reviews and I got scared, so I cancelled my preorder and obtained the game through other means.

    It was crap. Literally to the point where after thirty minutes I was bored and decided to go back to beating Dead Space 3 on Co-Op.

    The biggest problem I have with this game is that while the world looks decent enough, the character models, HUD, and consoles look somehow worse than the 2010 AvP reboot. When I went in and played with the settings I found why, this game is somehow only released on DirectX 9 with no mention of 11 anywhere.

    I figure what the hell, not every game can be Crysis, so I push further.

    The next thing I notice is that there is absolutely no sense of weight in this game. Every gun feels like a kid’s BB gun. In today’s day and age this is really unacceptable for a shooter. After all, look at Far Cry 3… that game sells the bow aspect of the game primarily because of the physics and weight put behind each shot. But there is no sense of human movement to the runnings of the Marine either. You just seem to glide, like no one turned off no clip.

    These are the complaints which turned me off. I can’t even vouch for the negative comments I’ve heard regarding the multiplayer or the story, because, as I said, technically this game is well beyond the times. It’s almost like the Sci-Fi version of the DNF hassle released last year by the same publisher.

    • Adam Dodd

      I appreciate your opinion! I totally agree with you that the characters look pretty bad and several of the guns don’t feel particularly satisfying. No one should go by my opinion alone, because in the end it amounts to your own personal taste. I didn’t love this game, but I had fun with it and there were some really memorable moments.

  • Se_7_eN

    I hope you got paid for this review Adam… As a game designer I don’t say this often, but this game fucking sucks.

    • Adam Dodd

      Oof, if Sega paid me for what amounts to a 7, I don’t think they got their money’s worth.

  • doomtrain

    the game is awesome , got my collectors edition yesterday .
    the specular lighting system that the game has in place is seriously good and creates some very alienesque atmosphere ,god knows how they got it to work so well on a console , not sure i have ever seen it on a console game before???
    i play ps3 with the flashlight off , if you play this game with it on it kinda removes the tone ………. THANKYOU gearbox/sega for an awesome and very true Aliens experience ,.
    great review , one of the more ”honest” ones out there.

  • Ultrazilla

    I’m having a blast with this game…love it. Haters gonna hate.

  • Daddy-the-Baddy

    Ok I waited to play this before commenting. Let’s be clear this isn’t a great game.It is however a really fun ride. The graphics are glitchy, espescially in the beggining chapters. But it seems to get better as the game progresses.This game could have used more time to tighten it up but It isn’t the pile of crap most people say it is. Aliens fans will be happy revisiting the areas from the movie. Adam I agree with this review, it wasn’t great but had some really cool moments.