Aliens: Colonial Marines
Aliens: Colonial Marines has been a long time coming. After suffering through development hell for a number of years and eventually cancellation, Gearbox Software leaped into action and took the reins to finally see this troubled product through to completion. A few years and numerous delays later it’s finally available to play, aping the similar path Duke Nukem: Forever took to release. Unfortunately, however, the similarities between the two games don’t end there; the lengthy development culminating in another disappointment that, unlike DNF, is bereft of any creativity or redeeming qualities. It’s been a tough road to get here, but Colonial Marines is a bad game no matter how you look at it.
Taking place shortly after the events of James Cameron’s Aliens, you’re part of a crack team of Colonial Marines sent to investigate just what the hell happened on the Sulaco and LV-426. If you don’t know what these things are this probably isn’t the game for you. If you are a fan of the movies you’ll recognise plenty of familiar locations, weapons and so on, but the atrocious dialogue and nonsensical narrative disrupt any fond memories you may harbour – it would probably be best if you went in completely oblivious. Needless to say, it doesn’t take long before xenomorphs are bursting out of every nook and cranny, intent on pulling your face off. Hearing the M41A pulse rifle clatter off its signature sound is certainly appealing, but once the shooting starts there’s little enjoyment to be found from the bland combat.
Weapons are inaccurate and lack the desired punch, and enemies are bullet sponges who refuse to react to shotgun casings colliding with their skulls. Where’s the satisfaction in shooting non-compliant foes? With the press of a button you can pull up the infamous motion sensor, detecting nearby enemies with an ominous ping. But its function is barely there. Try to use it on a room you haven’t yet entered and it fails to detect anything, but open the door and it springs to life as enemies spawn in to existence. The AI doesn’t help matters either. When they’re not broken and stuck clipping into the environment they run in straight lines – predictable and easy to dispose of; hardly the kind of threat that requires a motion sensor.
The aliens don’t even hang around for too long. Human combatants take up the bulk of the experience, their AI no better than the mindless creatures you were fighting previously. Half the time they don’t even react to you, even after you’ve shot them. And why do you open fire as soon as you see them? Because they have guns, I guess.
When Colonial Marines isn’t being an over-elaborate game of whack-a-mole or a banal corridor shooter, variation comes in the form of opening doors and pressing switches, or defending friendly AI while they open doors and press switches. There are numerous doors of different shapes and sizes, and some have to be opened with a welder, while the switches are sometimes just one button or maybe an entire keyboard. Variety. These button-pressing animations are often lengthy too, leaving you vulnerable to attack because your AI companions have no interest in helping you. They’re far more interested in teleporting than anything else; not because they’re too far behind and need to catch up, but because they can’t be bothered to walk three feet through a doorway. In fact, the one time you want them to teleport is when you’re waiting on an elevator, but instead they decide to take a painfully slow walk over to you. It’s jarring.
They’ll get in your way ad nauseum but you can simply shoot through them so it’s of little issue. But then you discover the aliens can do the same and it saps you out of the experience time and time again. Nothing is tactile; nothing seems real. There’s a weightlessness to everything and a lack of feedback that only reinforces a deplorable paucity of quality.
The one time it deviates from the norm is when it throws a stealth section at you, finally attempting to generate a smidgen of tension. But the enemy animation is so laughably bad that any sense of dread is immediately lost. Despite its lengthy development time Colonial Marines is unfinished. The visuals are incredibly flat and underwhelming, from the lighting and environments to the awful character models and primitive explosions. Level design usually amounts to a few square rooms and a couple of corridors. It feels like a ten-year old shooter that has been given an HD re-release with scarcely an incremental update – and it wouldn’t have been good ten years ago either. There’s just a lack of polish that seeps out of every pore. It’s bankrupt of innovation and creativity, offering the most vapid gaming experience imaginable.
Once the campaign comes to an end after a merciful four hours there’s also a multiplayer component that offers a lone bright spark. Past the misguided and clumsy additions of Team Deathmatch and an Extermination mode are Escape and Survivor. In Escape a team of human soldiers must reach a set destination while player-controlled aliens try to stop them, while Survivor locks human soldiers in an area and tasks them with surviving an alien onslaught for as long as possible. Both will earn unfavourable, yet warranted comparisons to Left 4 Dead, but there’s some brief enjoyment to be gleaned from both, even if the alien controls are less than ideal. It should be noted that 2010’s Aliens vs Predator handled similar thrills with a tad more accomplishment, so it’s hardly recommendable.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that the only reason Colonial Marines made it this far is because it bears the Aliens name. It’s a hackneyed product, consumed by multiple technical issues and an appalling collection of design faults throughout. You can commend Gearbox for reviving these fallen games and bringing them to the light of day, but at some point the diminishing returns must be far too great. It’s tempting to support a game that’s been through struggles and survived out the other side, especially when it carries a popular name, but Aliens: Colonial Marines should have remained vaporware.