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Aliens: Colonial Marines

It doesn’t take long to tire of Aliens: Colonial Marines. An hour in and your eyes are heavy, your vision cloudy. A long, deep and seemingly overdue yawn is building. As a videogame of 2013, on the cusp of the next generation, it seems astonishingly dated. It’s difficult to imagine it being considered good in 2003. And when a game is so flawed it seems to offend even the console spinning the disc, you’re not overly eager to carry on.

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But do carry on because there comes a Moment – like a clap of thunder out the blue – that makes it all worth it. It’s a Moment (yes, worthy of capitalisation even) that’ll differ from person to person. But make no mistake, it’s there. It’s a scene – or a snippet of dialogue, or a short animation – so amateurish, so B-movie that you simply have to sit back and laugh. The laugh then catches in your throat as you think, “do games still get made like this?”

“Fails to capture the spirit of the series”My Moment comes as a short, sweet reprieve from a game I’m quickly losing patience with. Up until this point I’ve been diligently writing down my thoughts on the experience. It has to be said, the “negatives” column is swelling by the minute. For one, I’m sick of my team-mates – Ripley never had to put up with O’Neal and Bella, the two most inane cohorts in history – but more than that, I’m horrified by just how bland it all is. You cannot play contemporary videogames and find Colonial Marines an appealing looking game. Nor, as it becomes clear, can you play contemporary videogames and enjoy the way Colonial Marines unfolds, from the level design to the AI to the very sensation of firing a Pulse Rifle at the wretched Xenomorph. This may well be a love letter to Messers Scott and Cameron, but besides copying the broad brush strokes (dark narrow corridors and acid alien blood dripping from ceilings) it fails to ever capture the spirit of the series.

And then my Moment arrives. Dutifully I’m following O’Neal as he makes passage through yet another cramped corridor, O’Neal animated with the sort of stiff, wooden gait only amateur developers are still capable of. We come across Bella, a wounded team-mate. O’Neal rests a tender hand on her shoulder and points to a splattered jumble of sprites on the floor. It’s a scene that comes at a pivotal juncture in the story. And, without a hint of irony, he asks: “So is that the thing that was on your face when you woke up?”

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Of course, there are dozens of different “Moments” to choose from. Colonial Marines is simply that sort of game. For instance, you won’t forget the first time you see yourself die and a “death cam” flashes on-screen in the vein of Counter-Strike, circa 2000. Or, comically, how every time you’re tasked with cutting open a door with a blow torch, a single and unassuming phrase appears on the screen to elucidate the situation for you: “cutting.”

“Instances of idiocy abound”Worse, you have to put up with playing the game alongside your inane teammates. It’s not only Bella and O’Neal, it’s the entire Marine Corps crew. Still, let’s examine these two briefly. Much of the time they’ll follow you as if they’re re-enacting a scene from the Human Centipede. Other times they’ll simply teleport to the next crucial door, leaving you to scratch your head as to how they got there. Most annoyingly, they prove a hindrance in firefights as they stick behind cover you found first. And instances of idiocy abound. I particularly enjoyed the time O’Neal tossed a grenade at a Xenomporh, ignoring the fact that there was an aeroplane behind it liable to take splash damage.

Don’t think you can sidestep the inane AI by playing the campaign co-operatively either. Oh no, Colonial Marines isn’t having that. For some reason, enlisting the help of friends simply bumps up the numbers. You’d expect them to take the place of Bella or O’Neal, or one of the others. But no, they take on an avatar all of their own. So if you fancy navigating the cramped corridors of the S.S. Sulaco with a bloated brigade, just remember this: he who finds space to shoot first will fare best.

Fans of the Alien franchise will no doubt label Colonial Marines “official canon” because it features Bishop, as voiced by Lance Henriksen, and revisits locations from the films. But scratch away the Hollywood connection and you discover a repository of half-baked ideas and lazy game design. Colonial Marines has been in development a great number of years and it all too often shows.

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Developer Gearbox has a chequered past, having added the dubious Duke Nukem Forever to its CV. Not content to have already rustled life into one fetid corpse, they’ve gone about resuscitating this one too. The resulting game unashamedly trades on the name of the Alien franchise. This is the very definition of a shameless cash-cow. Anyone of sound mind must steer clear.

2 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2010.

Gentle persuasion

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