The tale of the development of Aliens: Colonial Marines began over six years ago, a year removed from the release of the Xbox 360, when Sega announced that it had the rights to the classic film franchise and Gearbox was handling the development. The announcement was exciting since the company was known for the Brothers in Arms franchise and several successful ports and expansions, all of which were highly rated. Then came the delays, which were flanked by the release of other games from the development house, including the Borderlands series, another Brothers in Arms entry, and some port work for Samba de Amigo, among others. Save for the rescue work of Duke Nukem Forever, everything the studio did up to this point was well received, and with some demos of Aliens looking good, anticipation for the title grew. With the game finally boxed up and in stores, the question is how it all went so wrong.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is set after the events of "Alien 3." You play the role of Corporal Christopher Winter, a space marine who just woke up from cryogenic sleep only to be told that he needs to suit up immediately. The USS Sulaco, a ship previously seen over the planet of Fury 161, has returned to LV-426 with a distress message from Corporal Hicks. A squad of marines was sent to rescue Hicks and company, but the group never returned. While you were supposed to go in with a squad of your own, conditions were dire and the cord broke, leaving you stranded aboard the Sulaco with a few marines.
From a story perspective, the plot of most of the franchise's movies has involved unsuspecting individuals who are in danger so the Weyland-Yutani Corporation can study the Xenomorphs. Though the formula has been recycled, it works thanks to the characters and set pieces in each film. Despite being considered canon by 20th Century Fox film studio, the game plot feels very uninspired. Part of that has to do with the characters, who seem devoid of any personality. Your character is a blank slate who seems to be going through the motions. Two of your teammates were romantically involved in the past, but you only know because the game tells you. Their actions don't convey it, and neither does their dialogue.
The dialogue is generic and emotionless. Most of the lines sound like they're being read instead of acted, and some of the curses and quips sound ad-libbed with very poor results. The delivery of the dialogue also hits the wrong inflections at the wrong times. Most quiet moments are met with shouts and curses while some gunfights feature calm dialogue. It feels disjointed, and if it weren't for the fact that this is always presented in a serious manner, you'd think it was an intentional farce.
The set pieces also represent some of the weakest in the series because so few are original. The game mostly relies on events from the original "Aliens" movie to evoke emotions. Some fights are almost re-creations of the scenes from the original film. The few original turning points in the game are not that exciting because you watch them instead of experiencing them. Seeing a massive ship explode on film is one thing, but it robs the player of the possible video game experience because it's passive. With the exception of one part in the opening moments of the game, the interactive segments just aren't very exciting or memorable.
Like most Aliens video gameprojects, Aliens: Colonial Marines is a first-person shooter. All of the expected elements are there, such as your motion tracker and pulse rifle, and the environments haven't changed much. Having said that, there are some modern trappings and fan service. You have armor and a regenerative health system, but the health bar is split into three sections that prevent you from making a full recovery if you're near death. The campaign features co-op throughout, and while that means you'll almost always have AI companions, it opens up things for local co-op for two players via split-screen or four-player online co-op. There's an XP system, though it affects your online persona more than your offline one, with the addition of new weapons, skins and the ability to take on challenges, such as making it through a stage undetected. Finally, for fans, you can flesh out the story with audio logs, pick up dog tags from soldiers who died in the movie, and pick up weapons with special insignias.
From a functionality perspective alone, there is a laundry list of items that the development teams did wrong. The opening level's tutorial doesn't flow well, often giving you hints and directions on things long after you've already accomplished them. You encounter quite a few Xenomorph fights before you're given a hint of how to melee — something you've known since the first encounter with an alien, when you're prompted to push in the analog stick to bat him away. Pop-up is rather bad because it actually affects missions. Go too far from your teammates, and you'll see them teleport in like Starfleet officers from "Star Trek." In one sequence, you'll need to disable a bunch of sentry turrets, and while two are readily apparent, you need to pass one and double back to get it to appear in front of you. Places with multiple doors have a similar problem. Then there's the death sequence that lingers for far too long, and there's no real indication that you've expired until the loading screen appears. Despite the various delays the game experienced, issues like this should've been addressed long ago.
From a gameplay perspective, the biggest offender is the AI. Your allies seem to do their best at shooting nothing, getting in your way, or being punching bags for everyone else. They can't die, and they might get lucky and actually hit someone, but they're useless in most situations and a hindrance in others. While bad ally AI isn't too surprising, bad enemy AI is. Weyland-Yutani soldiers often aren't alerted to your presence unless you shoot them, and even then, some ignore their fallen comrades when hit, going about their routine as if you aren't there. The Xenomorphs lunge at you without employing any strategy. Whether they're crawling on the ground or the ceiling, their only move is to drop a few feet in front of you. The tactic is very different from their behavior in the films, and their normally acidic blood is practically benign here. There's a chance of the blood eating away at your armor, but you can generally walk over fresh corpses or hit a Xenomorph at point-blank range and be unscathed.
Weapon power is also a problem. None of the guns feel very powerful, and the drawbacks are plenty. Aside from the pulse rifle and the shotgun, just about every other weapon is only found once with no refillable ammo. You may find some joy in wielding a flamethrower or smart gun, but once you run out of ammo, you'll never see those weapons again, forcing you to rely on an underpowered pulse rifle and a shotgun that varies wildly in strength regardless of the distance from the target. Grenades also feel very underpowered, as enemies have enough power to continue fighting after being hit by a blast. You can't do the same thing, since their grenade blasts and weapon hits are apparently more devastating.
There isn't much in the campaign that's really redeeming. The absent AI and the variable weapon strength give the game a first-person shooter feel from the beginning of the PS2 generation. That feeling is reinforced by the constant backtracking needed to complete tasks, some of which are absurd since you'll traverse the same hallways multiple times to trigger different enemy attacks and invasions. Those who enjoy the throwback to those mechanics might find this enjoyable, but most fans will be astounded at the lack of variety and dated mechanics. The only exception to this rule is in a sneaking level, where you're robbed of your weapons and must skulk around in silence so you don't alert blind aliens that explode when they detect danger. Otherwise, this is as straightforward and unexciting as it can get.
Those who are overly disappointed with the single-player campaign will find some solace in the multiplayer, though not much. All of the available modes are team-based, with one side playing exclusively as the marines while the other side is solely Xenomorphs. Team Deathmatch has both sides fighting it out until a score limit is reached. Survival tasks the marines with surviving until time expires while respawning Xenomorphs take them out. Extermination has the marines destroying alien egg sacs, and Escape has them traversing a map and hitting objectives. Interestingly, while the marines don't have a class system, the Xenomorphs do. The Soldier is the basic variety while the Lurker has the pounce ability. The Spitter has a projectile attack of acid spit. Later on, you'll find the Crusher, the tank variety, and the self-detonating Boiler.
Technically, multiplayer does a few things right. Despite the critical lashing the game has received, it hasn't been difficult to find an online match. Lag is also nonexistent, even when joining with a mediocre connection speed. There's a level progression system, split into Xenomorph and marine factions, and a number of things can be customized, such as ammo clip size and faster melee attacks.
The problem with multiplayer is in the balance. In addition to being the only ones with a projectile-based attack system, the marines have plenty of advantages to ensure a win. Their armor and health are higher than in the single-player game, and since you carry over any leveling and weapons from the single-player game, those who persevered emerge with a considerable online advantage. By contrast, the Xenomorphs are just as fragile as they are in the campaign, and when coupled with their strictly melee-based system, they're no match for the marines. The Spitter class could even the field, but the projectile fires so slowly that you'll only get in a shot or two before dying. Team Deathmatch really makes this imbalance readily apparent, as you can fare better in the other modes, which don't rely on kills. Unless you're always paired up with exceptionally great Xenomorph players against incredibly incompetent marines, expect to go through a viciously unpleasant grind until you can buy abilities to improve the odds.
There are a few things that were done right in the graphics department. The claustrophobic metal hallways look good, as does the LV-426's exterior. Some of the weapon details and the texture work on your fellow marines, such as their armor markings and tattoos, look quite nice. Even though the frame rate isn't stable, it remains in a playable state. Get past that, though, and the graphics are a mess. Screen-tearing occurs on a near-constant basis, and environmental textures and some enemy textures never load correctly. Some pieces of the environment have seams so wide that you'll stand in a windowless hallway but manage to see outside the ship. Though the game is meant to be dark, some areas are too dark to see anything, and the light balancing leaves much to be desired. The human character models look fine until you get to the faces and their dead eyes. Animations have poor transitions, and death animations are canned as opposed to the dynamic ones we're accustomed to seeing in other titles. This would have been considered decent earlier in this console generation, but now, when development teams should have mastered the hardware, it's simply poor.
Things fare a little better when it comes to the audio. The casting isn't too bad, especially with guys like Lance Henriksen and Michael Biehn reprising their roles. The effects are authentic, and the music mimics the movie score very well. What breaks the game is the way it all comes together. The music frequently plays at the wrong times. You could have an especially tense situation without music to back it up, or music plays to indicate that something big is about to happen, but nothing out of the ordinary occurs at all. Worse yet, serene music played while you were being assaulted on all sides by Xenomorphs and soldiers. The vocal inflections also suffer from the same issue, where your compatriots are calm and collected during a fight but shouting at the top of their lungs when moving from one empty room to another. It works, but there are plenty of areas where improvement was desperately needed.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is both disappointing and sad. The plot plays out like a bad fan-made film with unintentionally bad acting and ties to familiar things because it didn't have any original ideas. The gameplay feels dated and out of step with the evolution of the shooter. Bugs are rampant throughout the title, and the game lacks a level of polish that was expected during the first year of this console generation. There's a sliver of hope in the multiplayer modes, but it's difficult for players to want to give it a shot. While a few gamers will squeeze some fun from this title, most players shouldn't bother with this title unless they've played every other game in every other genre and still have time to kill and a few bucks to spare for a rental.
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