Aliens: Colonial Marines Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
The story in Aliens: Colonial Marines is based off of and directly follows the events of the second film in the series: Aliens. A group of Marines aboard the USS Sephora respond to a distress call from Corporal Hicks of the USS Sulaco from the planet LV-426. Upon boarding the ship, however, the marines are attacked by both Wayland-Yutani troops and a vicious alien lifeform: the Xenomorph. What originally started as a rescue mission quickly turns into a fight for their own survival, as everything that could go wrong, does go wrong. You eventually find yourself on the planet’s surface. With not much more than his pulse rifle and motion track, our protagonist Corporal Winter has to muster every ounce of strength and skill he can to fight this new foreign enemy, or else risk having one burst forth from his chest.
During this horrifying adventure, players will visit several iconic locations from the films that have been very accurately reproduced, giving this new chapter in the saga a very nostalgic fee. While I can’t give away specific locations and the events attached to them, as that would be spoiling your fun, fans of the series will be very giddy and excited when they realize where they are and what has previously happened in the room – from a simple, “hey, I remember that short scene” to “oh my god, that’s where that happened!” If you love your Alien stuff, you’re definitely in for a treat with Colonial Marines.
While, for the most part, the title’s narrative fits well within the franchise’s established timeline, there are several issues with it. For starters, it’s severely under-written – the tale is divided into ten chapters, each taking about 30-45 minutes to get through (for a short total play time of about 5-6 hours), with a few CG cutscenes before or after you complete your objectives. Where the problem lies, though, is where there aren’t any cutscenes between chapters; this causes each mission to feel cut away from the last, as though you accidentally skipped a scene that was never actually there. Certain parts have events happen behind the scenes and just throw you right into the action, making you stop and go, “Wait, am I missing something?” Add this in with the fact that the script is very barebones, full of simple ‘go here because we need to’ orders, and players will be scratching their heads for a lot of the game.
On top of this, the title’s writers have openly changed the outcome of certain events in the film series, or otherwise forgot to take certain outcomes into consideration. Unfortunately, I can’t say much more than that, as to give any specific examples would be giving major plot spoilers, but certain parts of the narrative feel like they were only written as an excuse to bring back a character or feature certain locations – and have their reason for doing so explained basically as ‘just because’. There are even a few massive game changer scenes which directly alter aspects of certain films, leaving several plot holes and questions which are almost literally answered with: don’t worry about it. Now, I’m not a die-hard Alien fan, but having generally enjoyed the movies, I was personally quite disappointed and offended by certain aspects and changes to the story – which will have all the true fans up in arms. Overall, once the credits roll with this one, you’re going to be left very unsatisfied, confused, and, quite possibly, angry – feelings that are not resolved by multiple playthroughs.
If you’re hoping that the issues in narrative will be compensated for by having great gameplay, you’re going to be somewhat disappointed, as action in Colonial Marines feels almost as old as Alien 3. When it comes to the basics, the title is a first-person shooter that feels a lot like Doom 3: BFG Edition mixed with Call of Duty and Halo. Like in any military shooter, players follow out orders from their superior officer, shooting their way through hordes of humans and Xenomorphs alike. Players can expect the usual run, duck, look down sights, and shoot from titles like CoD, except wrapped in an Aliens-themed package with an older-feeling health and armour set up similar to that in the original Halo. As you take damage, your combat armour will take the blow first, with your health being affected once it’s depleted. Once your armour is gone, you need to find more lying around to replenish it. As for your health, the bar is divided into three pieces, and will regenerate as long as said piece isn’t depleted. Don’t get too used to the regeneration though, because if you kill an alien in close proximity, you will get splashed by its acidic blood, halting your recovery – a very accurate mechanic. Should you take on more fire than you like, you may also find health packs around levels to fill that back up as well.
Although the base play feels like you’re replaying Doom 3, there are a few redeeming qualities that make the game feel very authentic to the genre. For starters, the weapons you find around are near perfect replicas of the ones used by characters from the films, meaning you get to wield an actual Pulse Rifle with underslung grenade launcher – and even one of the massive Smart Guns! What’s more, most of these weapons are upgradeable, meaning you can take that base rifle and slap a reflex sight and silencer on it, as well as swap out that grenade launcher for a shotgun, and even paint some badass flames on it. All of these customization options can be done on the fly, too, so if you make a bad setup, you don’t need to wait for the next crafting bench or anything like that.
Probably the most impressive mechanic in the entire game, however, would be the motion track. Fans will remember this little godsend from Aliens, and it works exactly as it did in the movies. With the press of a button, players bring up their Motion Tracker in their left hand, which will show a 180 degree scan around them, revealing any nearby allies, enemies, and objectives. While using this, you will feel just like a true Colonial Marine and it will be a truly invaluable tool across both single- and multiplayer (but more on the latter later).
Players won’t get too into the role, however, as one of the title’s many glitches will pull them out of it pretty quickly. Some bugs are quite minor and harmless, like shakey leg animations from allies when standing still, that occasional random hopping/falling while on an elevator, or medkits or ammo randomly popping out of the ground like a bouncing betty. Some glitches, though, can actually really break the game and ruin the atmosphere completely. I’ll give two examples, the first being very early in the game. I was sent to find some of my team who left the room a few minutes prior to check out another facility. Although they supposed to be in another building altogether, they were actually standing in the hallway that I was supposed to leave out of, standing in a corner and just staring at it blankly – apparently, they never disappeared like they were supposed to. After about five minutes of bashing and shooting them, saying “they’re right freaking there” aloud, I decided to follow my other squadmate, who ran right past them to check out the other location, where they actually were. These kinds of moments happen a lot more than I would have liked, stomping on the title’s believability and immersion like it was a big bug beneath your boot.
There are a couple of other bugs and design flaws, unfortunately, which further bring down play – and in one case, stop it completely. Within Colonial Marines, there are a few doors that cannot be opened by the player, only by your squad mates. On occasion, the AI that is scripted to unlock the door for you will get caught in an invisible trap and will stop in place. This prevents the gamer from moving forward until the AI unsticks itself, or more likely, until the player loads the last checkpoint. This personally happened to me four times throughout the campaign. Another frequent occurrence, though less hampering, is teleportation. Every once in a while, when you come to a new checkpoint, your allies will teleport right in front of you in a flash of blue light. While at times a mechanic like this is a necessity when you leave your mates behind, it will happen when they’re right beside you, and they’ll appear right in front of you – creating a supernatural feel that destroys the sci-fi one.
On top of these bug issues, the enemy AI are considerably stupid in their actions. Aliens will disregard their predator nature established in the films for more of a Zerg Rush tactic – swarming you in a head-on charge. The problem created by this is twofold, and both problems are down to difficulty. First, if you play on easy, you’ll simply blast through your enemies as though they were harmless teddy bears. However, up the difficulty and you’ll be a shredded mess of body parts, and your bullets seem to bounce off the unstoppable onslaught of Xenomorphs. Depressingly, there is no good in-between difficulty, forcing gamers to choose the lesser of two evils between ridiculously simple and painfully hard.
Thankfully, the online multiplayer is a big saving grace for the title, featuring four alien vs. human game modes: Deathmatch, Extermination, Escape, and Survivor. Regardless of the action mode, the base mechanics are the same: one side has gamers playing as humans (where all campaign mechanics including the Motion Tracker carry through), and the other takes control of the Xenomorphs. Alien players have the choice between three classes: the Spitter, Soldier, and Lurker, each with its own traits and abilities. Spitters are designed to stay back and launch acid; Lurkers have the ability to use powerful pounces similar to Hunters from Left 4 Dead; and Soldiers are just your basic, speedy Xenomorphs, designed to get in close and quick to deal rapid damage. Each class has basic attacks, as well as the ability to cling to and climb ceilings and walls, and their own stylized fatality grabs. Regardless of gametype, though, there are two rounds with each team taking a turn at each species. While you may start as the Xenomorphs, you will get your own chance to beat the opposite team’s score as a human – preventing you from coincidentally playing only as one of the two every time you go to play and keeping a degree of fairness.
In Deathmatch, humans and Xenomorphs square off in a simple kill-each-other battle. However, due to the nature of the aliens, the human team ends up taking a defensive stance against the creatures. While the AI makes the aliens little more than walking targets, when you give them human tactics, they are a force to be reckoned with. Both sides need to use all of their skills mixed with clever tactics, otherwise they will be crushed by the opposing team. Whoever has the most kills in total at the end of both rounds is declared the superior species.
Extermination is more of a king-of-the-hill styled match, where the human players need to activate devices to destroy collections of alien eggs, with the Xenos set to destroy them. To activate said machines, gamers need to stand within the device’s scan range – having more players in the field powers it up faster. As the aliens, players simply need to deal as much death as they can to prevent their offspring from being unborn. The team with the most egg clusters destroyed at the end of the second round is declared the winner.
Easily the highlight of the multiplayer fray is Escape, a one-sided gamemode. The Marine players need to reach an extraction point while under attack from the alien side. Along the way, the humans will need to complete different objectives to tackle obstacles in their way, such as activating elevators or cutting open sealed doors – and between each task is a safe room where gamers can regroup and resupply. If a Xeno player is able to take out a marine, said Marine is dead for the round with no option to respawn. To counter this unfair mechanic, human players will get knocked down instead of dying when their health is depleted and can still fire their pistol or be revived by another active teammate. However, you only have a few seconds before you bleed out, so action from your mates is key. To win, you simply need to escape the fastest, or kill the other team before they make it out.
Last but not least is Survivor, a gametype similar to Escape. The human team simply has to survive for as long as possible, or until the time runs out, while the Xenos attempt to destroy them – whoever survives the longest wins. As with Escape, if your health depletes, you’re knocked down until you bleed out or are revived, with no respawns at all. To keep your timer going, there are a few objectives that will give the human player some extra minutes, such as priming cargo lifts or turning on generators. If you’re looking for a good old fashioned holdout situation, this is the game mode for you.
Regardless what mode you play, be it campaign or multiplayer, you’ll be subject to some of the worst visuals available on modern consoles. Aside from the various animation glitches I mentioned earlier, Colonial Marines suffers from nearly constant texture pop and very low resolution textures. Since your characters need to get their faces right up to any objective that they’re activating, you’ll notice every little fleck and pixel in its atrocious low-res quality. On top of this, textures take a considerable time to load, with objects appearing generally as a blur until the proper skin shows itself – creating a visually annoying experience. Taking the complaint one step further is cutscenes, which are actually worse than the in-game graphics. All CG scenes are presented as though they were from a late 90’s PC title, with expressionless facial structures, worse textures, bland animation, and low frame rates – the title’s scenes are actually a great disappointment. The only saving grace for Colonial Marines is the in-game frame rate, which is fast enough to rival a Call of Duty title – meaning your game is never going to lag or slow.
Thankfully, things are a lot better for audio. Many original actors from the Alien films (whom I unfortunately can’t name as it would spoil major plot events) return to lend their voices to their returning characters, giving Colonial Marines an even greater sense of authenticity to it. In terms of soundtrack, composer Kevin Riepl (Gears of War, Crackdown 2, Resistance: Burning Skies) lends his pen using dark, heavy brass accents to create a very cinematic sound that one would expect from a movie and not a game – once again keeping that Alien feel alive and well. Only a few small issues come from sound effects, mainly in terms of gunfire. In some instances, players will fire full auto, but the sound will tend to cut out as though you took your finger off the trigger. A very small issue from an otherwise enjoyable experience, but a distracting one nonetheless.
At the end of the day, Aliens: Colonial Marines is a great experience for any fan of the Alien franchise – but it is riddled with flaws. Due to numerous distracting gameplay glitches, gritty and unpolished textures, and some unimaginative/unexplained plot holes, the whole game feels way behind its time and generally unfinished. Die-hard fans are going to love the attention paid to detail to make it feel like Aliens, but if you were to take that away, you’re left with core game disappointments on most fronts. However, the online multiplayer is definitely worth taking a look at, as it will provide many hours of Alien-themed fun. If you feel a connection to the Xenomorph race, this is probably a must-have title. Otherwise, it’s best not to let it hug your face.
Final score: 2.75 / 5.0 and a fatal alien explosion from its chest.
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