Review: Aliens: Colonial Marines

Aliens First Image

You have been separated from your unit. You have no weapons. As you walk through the sewers, you do your best to not make a sound, as some of the alien husks around you are actually alive and would be attracted to it. The problem is no matter how carefully you tread, it is impossible to not make any noise when traversing ankle-deep water.

One of the husks near you starts moving. You come to a complete stop, doing your best to keep an eye on it without moving so as not to attract attention. You know you will not survive if it attacks.

Moments like these are what makes Aliens: Colonial Marines feel like a game that fits this exalted franchise. The question is are there enough of them to separate this title from the myriad of other sci-fi shooters, or is this game just another failed attempt to bring this license to the gaming space?

30 Second Review

(+) Recreates environment well

(+) Some really great moments in the campaign

(+) Interesting multiplayer

(-) Much of the campaign is lackluster

(-) Few people playing multiplayer

(-) Leaves you wondering what might have been

 

Welcome Back to LV-426

Aliens: Colonial Marines takes place between the events of Aliens and Alien 3. Some 17 weeks after the events of the second movie, the USS Sephora receives a distress call from Hicks on the USS Solaco stating that he, Ripley, Newt and what is left of Bishop are the only survivors of the team sent to LV-426. The Sephora is sent to investigate what happened, and the first sign things are not as they appear is the fact the ship has been found in orbit over the fabled planet when it had last been reported to be in orbit over another planet entirely. You play as Corporal Winter, a marine sent in to find out what happened to the first set of marines sent over to investigate the Solaco.

You can probably guess what happens from there. The Solaco has been overrun by xenomorphs, and the previous units sent in to examine the ship have been either wiped out or are fighting for their lives. On top of that, a group of mercenaries hired by the Weyland-Yutani corporation is fighting back against both marines and aliens, leading to a costly battle which forces the remaining marines to head to the surface of LV-426. This predicament gives you as the player an excuse to travel the familiar hallways of Hadley’s Hope, the once thriving colony that has been overrun by alien infestation. What follows is a more or less by-the-numbers storyline, with just enough fan-service to make those of us who grew up on these films happy without being overly campy. As you progress further throughout the game, you will find yourself in increasingly more difficult and dire circumstances, culminating in a final showdown that is unfortunately a bit of a letdown, especially considering whom you are facing.

Always nice to see a familiar... um... set of legs.

Always nice to see a familiar… um… set of legs.

I know I am making the story sound very plain, and in many ways it is. There are moments, however, where it really shines. When you come upon the sentry guns used by the marines in Aliens, your partner makes a reverent remark about how it must have been one heck of a last stand. At other points, you and your fellow marines show the effects of being under the stress of both a previously unknown enemy and group of guns-for-hire who have no intention of taking any prisoners. You will find yourself walking through corridors slowly, constantly checking your motion tracker to try to get a handle on just where your next assailant will be attacking. The tension of these moments fits right in line with the greater Aliens universe, but they are not as prevalent as a fan of the series would like.

On the positive side, Gearbox truly went out of its way to recreate the familiar settings in the movie. As you progress through Hadley’s Hope and beyond, you will feel like you are on LV-426. This setting helps immerse you in the game and the story, even when said story becomes rather predictable. The biggest problem with this recreation is the overall level of graphics do not show the same time and care. They are mediocre at best, and that was with all the options turned up on my PC.

One side note: I have seen several reviews bashing the story for going against cannon. I have a few comments I would like to make in regards to that. If you don’t want any spoilers, you might want to skip these bullet points:

SPOILER ALERT

  • This is a game by fans of the series (Gearbox): Why is that relevant, you may ask? Well, many fans of the Aliens series absolutely hated the fact Hicks was killed off at the beginning of Alien 3. Bringing him back is a good thing in my opinion.
  • A reason for his survival is given: The reasons given is that he was awakened from cryo sleep as the only surviving military person on the ship when Weylund-Yutani forces took it over, and someone else’s body was ejected in his cryo tube. Sure, it is a bit far-fetched, but it is an explanation none the less.
  • YOU GET TO RESCUE ONE OF THE BEST CHARACTERS IN THE MOVIE: When I found towards the end of the game I was being sent to rescue a marine who was being held by the mercenaries, I got excited. Why wouldn’t I? I was going to rescue Hicks! The fact you not only rescue him but he then joins your fight against both the aliens and the mercenaries was one of the high points in the game for me. I am more than willing to let the slight deviation from cannon slide for the sake of having that experience. Heck, I would have been fine with the game pretending Alien 3 never occurred, allowing me to run across both Ripley and Newt.

I do not understand the furor over the inclusion of Hicks in the game. To me, this was a nice nod to fans of the second movie, giving you a chance to interact with one of its best characters. Even better is the fact they got Micheal Biehn to revive the role.

END SPOILERS

All in all, the story is enjoyable. While it will not win any awards, it contains enough nods to the series to make this fan appreciative of the work Gearbox put into the game. 

An Inconsistent Fight

The gameplay of Aliens: Colonial Marines is much like the story: decent, but not really impressive. The guns all have the right sound, but shooting never really feels quite correct, especially when using sighted weapons. I remember a sequence early on where I was trying to shoot a mercenary from a distance with a scoped battle rifle, only to find what I thought would have been the centering point of the scope to not be that accurate. Issues like this tended to make certain encounters frustrating, at least until I learned to compensate.

As you progress through the game, you gain experience both for killing enemies and completing certain objectives. Some of these objectives make sense within the confines of the game, such as shooting a certain number of aliens while they are on the walls/ceilings or waiting to the last second to shotgun blast a charging alien. Others, like getting a certain number of headshots with a service pistol or melee killing five enemies in a single chapter, feel rather tacked on, and as you can only have three active challenges at a time, having one you cannot complete easily (or without playing multiplayer, as was the case for a major part of the campaign for me) can be a bit annoying. Once you gain enough XP to rank up, you gain a token to use to unlock upgrades on your weapons, and upgrading them can give you a major advantage both in the campaign and the multiplayer.

Loved finding legendary weapons like Hicks' Shotgun.

Loved finding legendary weapons like Hicks’ Shotgun.

That’s right, the ranks you gain in the campaign carry over to the multiplayer. Before you get too excited, however, it only affects your marine ranks. You still have to start out with your alien ranks at level 1. More on that later in this review.

The AI in Aliens: Colonial Marines is inconsistent at best. Your fellow marines generally do a  good job of killing enemies and assisting you, though they can sometimes get caught in areas or animations which make them rather unhelpful. Enemy AI sometimes reacts very well, with mercenaries working to flank you and aliens darting around just outside your direct line of fire. Other times, mercenaries will stand right out in the open to shoot at you, and aliens will practically line up to charge directly into your line of sight. As the player, you will find yourself wishing enemies would choose one tactic or the other; bouncing between the two can be infuriating.

Still, there are some things Gearbox got right. Few things feel as rewarding as blowing an alien away with a shotgun at close range, but that leaves you vulnerable to their acid blood. Health and armor do not regenerate, but there are enough of both scattered throughout the level to keep the difficulty from spiking too severely. The power loader, when you get to use it, handles like it should: a lumbering machine meant to lift cargo, not fight aliens. There are also the legendary weapons you can find throughout the game, including Hicks’ shotgun, a weapon I found myself equipping as my secondary weapon for “close encounters”.

I played through the campaign alone the first time because I wanted to experience the story without the interruptions of another player. I was excited to try the coop afterward until I discovered everyone playing is playing as Winters, similar to how Treyarch handled the coop in Call of Duty: World at War. While this mode may be fun if you can find three friends to play with you, it was not worth playing through the campaign this way with randoms.

Colonial Marines provides a  decent if not great story and good but not great gameplay. All in all, you have an enjoyable campaign that does not quite live up to the mark a true fan would love it to hit, but at times it does really shine. This just leaves the multiplayer.

Unrealized Potential

Multiplayer for Aliens: Colonial Marines is actually pretty good. Each mode puts you in alternating roles as the aliens or marines with different objectives to achieve. The modes are:

  • Team Death Match: Two teams of up to six players each play two five minute rounds — one as a marine and one as an alien. The goal here is simple: kill the most enemies. The team with the most kills from the two rounds combined wins the match.
  • Extermination: A team of up to five marines tries to detonate bombs in certain egg-infested areas while a group of aliens tries to prevent the same. Bomb detonation is handled much as a control point battle in many FPS games would be, with the exception being the countdown continues as long as one marine remains in the designated area. Each bomb detonated scores a point for the marines. At the end of five minutes, the teams switch sides. The team who detonates the most bombs as marines wins.
  • Escape: This is a four-on-four mode similar to the campaign mode in Left 4 Dead. Marines have one life to try to progress through a level, activating different objectives to open new areas and allow them to escape within a 15 minute time limit. Aliens infinitely respawn, and it is their job to keep the marines from escaping. Fallen marines can be revived by teammates if they act fast enough. After 15 minutes or the death of the last marine, the rounds switch. The team who came closest to escaping wins.
  • Survivor: Another four-on-four mode in which a team of marines must hold out for six minutes against a group of aliens whose respawn times get shorter as the round progresses. The winner is the team to last the longest as the marines.
The motion trackers make the characteristic "thump thump" sound, wth the speed and pitch increasing as enemies approach.

The motion trackers make the characteristic “thump thump” sound, wth the speed and pitch increasing as enemies approach.

 

As you can see, you have various modes and objectives to keep most fans of multiplayer happy. You are additionally given the ability to unlock weapon add-ons and unique alien attacks, different loadout slots you can set up for the marines and three separate “classes” of aliens (a standard soldier, a spitter who spits acid and a lurker who can pounce great distances). These features are the ingredients for the makings of a good time.

Problem is the time spent in multiplayer is not as good as you might think. I already mentioned the fact that though you carry over your marine experience from the campaign, you are not given any rewards in the form of alien XP, even if you beat the game. This means I was starting out the multiplayer with a leveled up marine but a weak alien, and as you play as both in every mode, it left things feeling a little lopsided. Graphical and other glitches which I barely encountered in the campaign were also much more prevalent in the multiplayer, making it frustrating to play.

To be fair, the biggest problem with the multiplayer isn’t really Gearbox’s fault. It’s the fact very few people are playing it. Despite good sales numbers, many people have abandoned the game rather early, opting instead for some of the great multiplayer fare available from last year’s games. It was not uncommon to wait a few minutes just to find enough players to play TDM, and if you wanted to play any of the other modes, you had to wait even longer. Add to that the number of cheaters, which I fear may not be addressed by Gearbox just because of the lack of interest in the title, and I found myself not really wanting to play anymore.

What Could Have Been

When it comes down to it, Aliens: Colonial Marines is an enjoyable game. The biggest problem with it, however, is it could have been so much more. Every now and then, you get glimpses of the what could have been a truly amazing game. Scenes like the sewer sequence I mentioned at the start or the first time you come face to face with a face-hugger (yes, pun intended) really make you feel like you are in the movies, but these scenes are few and far between. What you are left with is an enjoyable but unremarkable shooter that is a nice stroll down memory lane for fans but falls short of the greatness it could have obtained.

Even with all its flaws, I really did have fun playing this game. I would love to see a sequel where they build on the good things and fixed the issues that drag it down, but after the rather negative backlash against it from game media, most of which I feel is much too harsh, I kind of doubt one will be made. If you are a fan of the movies or are able to get the game cheap just for the multiplayer, which would be a blast to play with friends, this is still a game worth playing. Aliens: Colonial Marines gets a 6.5 out of 10.

[starreview tpl=14]

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