There probably weren’t as many gamers as excited as me when it was revealed a new Aliens game was in development. Despite it being pushed back regularly I was convinced Gearbox would do the franchise proud. Between positive early reports, Randy Pitchford professing his love for the source material and excited tales of hands on reports from Eurogamer last year, I was entirely convinced that with Colonial Marines we’d finally see an Aliens game that did the franchise justice.
I was completely and painfully wrong.
From the very start you realise that something is not right. As you move your character through the initial rooms one thing becomes quickly apparent; This game looks terrible. Not just terrible when put next to those regarded as the pinnacle of FPS games, such as Battlefield 3, Halo 4 and, to a lesser degree, Call Of Duty, but terrible even compared to games that appeared right at the beginning of this generation. During cut scenes the lip-syncing is off to such a degree it looks like a badly dubbed foreign movie.
I can’t remember the last time I played a game that had such serious screen tearing. It’s not a slight effect either, this is blatant that entire segments of the screen are moving at a different rate to others. Add to this some atrocious texture pop in, others that close up look murky, blurred and generally terrible, plus some of the worst lighting I’ve seen in a long time. This is a game that needs top notch lighting effects. An errant shadow from a light source should make me jump and spin round in fear of being pounced on by a Xenomorph, yet instead the game is just dark and in a few places a bit foggy.
In essence it’s the lack of fear that makes this game such a crushing disappointment. I first watched Alien as a young boy (probably much too young!) and I can still remember to this day being absolutely petrified. That fear has stayed with me ever since and every time I see the Xenomorph I get this peculiar mixture of excitement and terror. Those feelings resurfaced early in the game as I first encountered the creature, it emerging from the wall as I was distracted and knocking me to ground before scuttling away as quick as it appeared. The next minute was spent hunting it, and it hunting me, in an enclosed space with my motion tracker blipping away, before I finally brought it to the ground in a hail of bullets. This point 5 minutes into the game marked the last moment where I felt any tension.
After this Aliens Colonial Marines decides to do away with any semblance of creating an atmosphere and instead just carelessly lobs waves of easily defeated enemies at you. I specifically mention how easy it is to overcome them as the game ignores the fact that the Aliens are presented throughout the film series as nearly un-killable and reduces them to nothing more than cannon fodder that can be easily be felled with nothing more than two melee attacks.
One brief attempt at a stealth section brings nothing of the tension normally associated, and instead reduces the level to you moving very slowly through a sewer, occasionally stopping when you disturb one of the blind alien creatures until they lose interest and you can continue past.
The Alien enemies are not helped by some of the most moronic A.I. in recent years, something which also affects your teammates. In the previously mentioned stealth section the Xenomorphs can literally walk right into you, then they’ll take a detour around paying no interest in the curiously fleshly human-like figure in front of them. I lost count of the number of times that an Alien or teammate would run straight past the most obvious threat to them and instead focus on something unrelated. Occasionally they run head first into the walls and will continue to do so until they’re magically transported into the next area or, my personal favourite, they just freeze on the spot staring at each other, as if transfixed by the same thought; “What are we doing here?”
I get the impression that was what the script writers were thinking too. Colonial Marines has been called series canon and fits in between Aliens and Alien 3 yet it’s not fit to clean the acid soaked boots of either of those films. In fact Aliens vs. Predator Requiem is Oscar-worthy in comparison to what’s on offer here. The awful plot isn’t the worst element though, it’s the way that the accepted history of one character is completely changed and casually dismissed with a “but that’s another story.”
Another huge bone of contention with me is that as early as the second chapter the Alien enemies are replaced with a military army. I don’t think anyone bought this game so they could do battle with identikit hired goons from the Weyland-Yutani Corporation’s private army, we came to be terrorised by the most fearsome creature on the universe.
Nowhere else is the utter lack of care given to this game seen more than in the play death screen which is the epitome of laziness. Upon losing all your life the screen wobbles bizarrely, then quickly pans out to a lifeless corpse, all NPCs frozen to the spot, with all colour drained from the screen. No horror or terror. No shots of an alien violently killing the player, none of the gruesome brutality that you have come to expect throughout the Alien series.
A positive mention should be made of the music. The dramatic score is slightly repetitive but does add a degree of tension to the proceedings. The sound effects are also good with the weapons sounding as they should and the screeches from the aliens being as frightful as expected.
If there’s anything else positive to be drawn from this package it’s to be found in the multiplayer portion. It still looks terrible, but there’s no doubt something attractive about playing as the Xenomorph, hunting the Marines through the maps despite, almost unsurprisingly, it is nearly being ruined by technological issues. The usual team deathmatch style modes are present and correct but the real strength comes from the Escape and Survivor modes. Escape is reminiscent of Left 4 Dead, with the Marines needing to fight through the map to reach the end point with the alien enemies trying to stop them. Survivor is a barricade and hold off mode. Despite being the sole enjoyable part of this package it in no way offsets the disappointment of the rest of the game.
Serious questions should be asked of the developers. If current rumors are to be believed the entirety of the campaign was outsourced to Timegate only for Gearbox to realise, close to the point of certification (and after Borderlands 2 took up the majority of their attention and was shipped), that the game was an absolute shambles. Urgent patch up work took place yet this was the best that could be achieved. Many believed this game would be a good product based on the developer’s track record so it comes as a huge disappointment to learn that such a significant portion wasn’t under their control.
At the end of the day Aliens Colonial Marines is an embarrassment, both to the franchise and to gaming. I also find it insulting that this product ever saw light of day in its current state, as many a gamer will have pre-ordered based on the original footage which is absolutely not representative of the final product. No one likes a delayed product, especially not one as delayed as this, but I’d much prefer a lengthy delay over parting with £35 for a completely substandard product.
To put it simply; Aliens Colonial Marines is not worthy of your time or money, even if you’re a die- hard fan of the franchise.
MLG Rating: 2/10 Format: PC / PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 Release Date: 12/02/13
Disclosure: Matt Jones was lent a copy of Alien: Colonial Marines by a community member for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.