Reviews// Aliens: Colonial Marines

This time it's bore.

Posted 12 Feb 2013 09:08 by
Thereís a theory that the longer a game is sat in development, the higher chance it has of being a critical failure. Two examples: Daikatana and Duke Nukem Forever. We didnít want the same to be true for Gearbox and the six-year gestation of Aliens: Colonial Marines. But, while itís not a colossal failure, it certainly deserves a place alongside Romero and 3D Realmsí stinkers.

Itís clear that the game is a development relic thatís badly showing its age. Colonial Marines is not pretty. At all. Itís quite possibly one of the worst-looking console releases this generation. Textures are shockingly low-res (and have pop-in streaming issues to boot), AI friendlies have shoddy motion capture, technical glitches and screen-tearing abounds and characters constantly get stuck in the environment.

These visuals would need tarting up six years ago, but in 2013 itís pretty disgraceful. The industry has skewed towards cinematic gaming and high-spec graphics - and Gearbox has been leaning on one of the most iconic cinematic franchises of all time. If ever a license game was made where graphical competency was a necessity, it would be Aliens.

Graphically, the game has one saving grace - lighting. Gearbox has spent a lot of time crafting a bespoke dynamic system to bathe each environment in a convincingly Cameron-esque glow. Itís so good, in fact, that at times it almost masks the horrific texture mapping and visual quality of your surroundings (although the cynic in me suspects this was the point).

As a result, there will be moments where you can truly immerse yourself in the Aliens universe and feel the atmosphere of LV-426 and Hadleyís Hope, if only for a little while. These segments in the middle of the campaign mode - including levels where you must escape from Xenomorphs unarmed, and an awesome bit with a Power Loader - represent the real high points of the Colonial Marines experience.

To get there though, you have to play through a number of opening stages that do little to engage you and almost everything to bore you. You are a member of a squadron sent out to discover what happened on the abandoned Sulaco space vessel and during your mission you encounter Xenomorphs, Weyland Yutani conspiracies and dramatic clashes of personality between your comrades.

Itís an incredibly short campaign, at around five hours long, is way too easy to complete (even on harder difficulties) and more often than not features level design that can confuse you when pressured by chasing aliens.

The gameplay itself can be somewhat fun, if not pedestrian - assuming you donít think about it all too much. Levels act as elaborate shooting galleries, where youíll be pumping lead into Xenomorphs, Facehuggers and human soldiers in equal measure. When faced with the latter, the game feels like a poor manís Call of Duty, with enemies hiding behind boxes and periodically popping up as if you were playing a game of Whack-a-Mole.

Xenos are a mixed bag. The intelligent AI promised by Gearbox simply doesnít exist. They mostly run straight towards you (mostly), and therefore headfirst into gunfire. Thatís not particularly tactical nor a faithful representation of the hunting guile of these creatures. They sometimes crawl on ceilings and walls... but they never attempt to flank you. Their attack paths largely involve taking the most direct route to you - for better or worse.

But as disappointingly straightforward as they are, the art of gunning down these suckers feels really good. At the very least, Gearbox has made the process of killing a Xeno truly cathartic - particularly if youíre low on health and are close to reloading. And thereís some pretty cool weapons on offer, including legendary film-themed guns such as Hicksí shotgun and Vasquezís smart gun.

The motion tracker is pretty cool too, acting as a minimap-on-demand, although its use has been slightly nerfed due to the fact that an audible ping can be heard to tell you that enemies are nearby, even when youíve not got the tracker equipped. It will be your best friend in the multiplayer mode, though (more on that later).

You can also unlock a challenge by using it too. Aliens: Colonial Marines has a level-up system which allows you to purchase gun upgrades, paint jobs and customisation options. While franchise loyalists may grimace, it adds a small pocket of replay value which makes working the ranks worthwhile.

Campaign mode is best tackled in co-op with friends. On your own, you are likely to scream out of boredom (and nobody will be able to hear you do that) as you plod through an uninteresting introduction, a pleasant enough middle and a clumsy ending. With three players in tow, you can distract each other long enough to make the whole ride enjoyable.

The competitive multiplayer mode is also worth your time, offering unique spins on the classic deathmatch and survival setups. Here, players are divided into a team of Colonial Marines and Xenomorphs, with each faction playing differently to one another. Victory for the Marines involves sticking together and providing safety in numbers, while Xenos work better by using the environments to their advantage and picking off lone opponents.

The most interesting mode on offer is Escape. This tasks the Marines with fulfilling a number of waypoint-based objectives in order to reach the goal alive. The aliens, naturally, have to stop them from doing that. With the right people, multiplayer can be a lot of fun, but sadly there are technical issues that get in the way to some degree.

Xenomorphs are played from a third-person perspective, and can climb almost any surface by using the left trigger. However, transitioning from one surface to another (and sometimes even clinging to a wall in general) can be a clunky affair and can wreck the fluidity of your movement - which kind of defeats the point of being a Xeno, right?

Simply put, Aliens: Colonial Marines is a decidedly average game. As a whole, it is neither disaster nor masterpiece. Itís likely (and understandable) that any negative view of the game will be exacerbated by its horrendous presentation. But underneath that is a by-the-numbers shooting experience that can be occasionally enjoyable. Provided you like shooting alien-shaped fish in a barrel.

The real disaster here lies in Gearbox Softwareís approach to the gameís development. It does make you wonder exactly what the studio has been doing for the last six years, given that it managed to push out two Borderlands titles in the same time period. For something that the developer saw as a Ďpassion projectí, the effort seen in the final product is an insult to those who have waited so long. Gearbox is capable of better and it has truly dropped the ball. A real shame.

Letís hope the Alien brand will be safer in the hands of Creative Assembly.

+ Story picks up after second level
+ Killing Aliens feels great
+ Some decent fanservice
+ Interesting multiplayer modes
+ Controls well

- Horrendous graphics, obscene technical glitches
- Six-year-old gameplay mechanics
- Campaign is too short and too easy
- Poor Alien AI
- Playing as a Xeno can be hard work

SPOnG Score: 5/10

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config 12 Feb 2013 09:31
"They mostly run straight towards you (mostly)..."

Hah! See what you did there.

Gutted to see another abortive Aliens game. As I recall, the floor-wall transitioning was abortive in AvP
ohms 12 Feb 2013 09:32
more comments below our sponsor's message
miacid 12 Feb 2013 10:31
I foresee another studio closure looming.
Shane K. Firth 12 Feb 2013 10:53
@miacid Which one though? there were so many involved in this.
Shane K. Firth 12 Feb 2013 10:54
I was having a blast at 2am... now its time to go back and finish up the campaign...
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