Six years have come and passed since the sudden announcement of Aliens: Colonial Marines, a game enthusiastically advertised as set to fix all the wrongs of Alien 3 and answer many of the unresolved plot threads in the franchise. As a longtime fan of the films, this announcement had me filled with extreme excitement. While I did have some initial fears that A:CM would be yet another terrible film based game, a “gameplay” demo shown at the E3 2011 event quickly vanquished those thoughts and left me to craving more. However, upon release, the supposed finished product wasn’t even a work in progress compared to that E3 2011 demo but rather it was a work in regress.
Where does one possibly begin listing all the things that are wrong with this game? I suppose we may as well start with what’s positive. The sound. In almost every Aliens film, besides the great atmosphere and costume design, the sound was always a crucial part. The eerie noises creeping in from the background, the sound of a motion tracker picking up life-form(s), and even hearing the pulse rifle firing all remarkably sounds identical to it’s film counter-parts. The music is great as it builds up suspense in burst moments. Overall, pretty much every aspect of the audio design feels authentic and sounds absolutely great.
The visuals, the story and the gameplay. These are all crucial parts when it comes to developing an ideal Aliens title and, sadly, A:CM has absolutely none of it. For those who remember watching the E3 2011 demo, that version of the game had a dark vibe to it with Xeno’s lurking around every corner. It was very promising for a work in progress, however it seems that nearly everything shown was scrapped and replaced with a pile of xenomorph turds. The atmosphere feels dull and lacks any sense of isolation, defenselessness or despair. Multiple times you’ll encounter textures that appear downright incomplete, that is if they decide load at all. Almost everything (beside the Xeno’s appearance) looks muddy as if someone decided to just smear paint around without adding the in-depth details that’d make them pop better. Although I wasn’t expecting high-grade graphics from this title, the amount delivered here is on par with that of Duke Nukem, which was also a disastrous game. Someone needs to tell Gearbox that were’re living in 2013, not 2005.
Even the story is an absolute laugh, from the poorly written script down to the behavior of the Xenomorphs. The game takes place right after Alien 3 and is supposedly canon, but it’s such an incompetent disaster that you’ll yearn for the days of Alien Resurrection just to soothe your weeping fanboy soul. Every question that we thought was going to be answered was barely even touched upon and, in fact, this game leaves numerous plot details completely up in the air with no satisfactory explanation or closure. In exchange we get O’neil, possibly the worst NPC character I’ve encountered in some time. For those who hated Rico from Killzone, O’Neil is almost right up there with him, though at least Rico can aim a gun whereas O’Neil, despite constantly carrying a weapon that literally aims for you, can’t seem to hit anything. This man is practically your companion for the whole duration of the game and he’s supposed to be the guy you like, your buddy if you will. Instead he just comes off as an insufferable parody of what a “bro” should be like all while acting like an incompetent jerk-wad.
There are female characters in the game, but the role that they play is downright insulting to anyone who actually enjoyed any of the female roles in the films. It’s difficult for me to describe just how disappointed I am that in a game based on a film series which gave us some of the greatest female characters of all time in a horror or action movie, that you spend most of the game rescuing a gaggle of utterly brain dead and completely useless women. Bella, arguably the main female character, is instantly lost in the first foray onto the mysteriously abandoned USS Sulaco and must be rescued early on by O’neil and yourself. Rather than Bella just being another marine of equal value to the rest of your platoon who deserves to be rescued on the basis of being a marine, it’s quickly established that O’Neil cares about her because they slept together at some point in the past. Throughout the entire game O’Neil’s clouded judgement leads him to do anything necessary to save her, even going so far as to threaten you with being left behind to be killed by swarms of Xenomorphs if you don’t hurry up and help him rescue Bella. The other main female character Reid is every bit as disastrously useless and even detrimental to your chances of survival, but by this point that’s almost to be expected.
The script itself is so badly written that it’s sometimes almost physically difficult to sit there and watch the poorly done FMV quality cut-scenes. Not to mention that a central plot twist is a complete insult to every Alien fan out there who has any manner of critical thinking skills and a sense of series continuity. ** MAJOR SPOILER HERE** Turns out that one of the main characters of Aliens, specifically a marine, managed to survive the previous film and the events of Alien 3 and is alive and well. Naturally this sort of miraculous survival in the face of nearly impossible and cloudy circumstances deserves a thorough and thoughtful explanation right? We need to know how he managed to survive. Why was there a Xenomorph egg on the Sulaco at the beginning of Alien 3? Did Weyland-Yutani plan it all out from start to finish? Well here’s the only answer we get for our time and suspension of disbelief: “It’s a long story”. The only opportunity in the entire game that could have potentially redeemed a huge part of its disjointed story and they decided to take an extreme short-cut by brushing an explanation aside like that? Ugh, my head hurts.
The gameplay only makes things worse. For Marines it’s slow, and not the type of slowness that people see with Killzone or Battlefield, but the type of slowness that makes it feel like a light weight soldier is carrying about 100 pounds of extra weight on his back. Many times in the co-op campaign players would respawn with no primary weapons, while other times they would randomly clip through objects or spawn poorly and be entirely unable to move. The Aliens default controls are also annoying and feature random camera clipping, hit markers that just seem really inconsistent and a climbing system that borders on broken at times. Though switching from the toggle wall climb control scheme to the transition style does make things marginally better. However, more often than not, the game feels extremely laffy with random ping drops for maximum rage inducing alien and marine teleportation. There’s split-screen support but it’s only for the co-op campaign, so no offline vs.
One big issue that you’ll hear from a lot of players with the multiplayer has to do with the balance issues between the two playable species, the aliens and marines. It’s no surprise to see these sorts of issues popping up but, personally, I feel that the game is almost as balanced as it could be. Xeno’s are meant to be totally overpowering with their attacks in melee range, but have low health overall. While Marines the marines aren’t exactly mobile tanks, their strength lies in numbers and their ability to engage targets effectively at virtually any range be it with sniper rifles or shotguns. If you’re alone your death is all but assured if you can’t manage to regroup with your allies. Xeno’s are also meant to travel in packs, something that is made far easier for them than for the marines given their movement speed and ability to see one another from across the map, which may be why quite a few players think them to be over powered as they are trampled by continuous assaults. Visiting the official forums you can see threads espousing “Xenos ARE OP” and “Marines ARE OP”. I will say some tweaking is probably needed in the long run but, in my time with the game, whether playing marine or alien my group and I tended to win virtually every match we played in due to excellent coordination and teamwork.
The multiplayer challenges which give you extra XP and unlockables make absolutely no sense insofar as the order in which they are given. You’ll progress through challenge after challenge (you only get 3 at a time and must complete one to move on to the next) only to come across one that seems almost brokenly difficult as if it were a near final task, only to complete it and continue on to do other challenges that are ridiculously, almost patronizingly easy. It’s almost as if the developers gave no thought to the order in which they were placed, leaving the whole system feeling extremely disjointed and wonky. Overall the multiplayer can be enjoyable if you’re a diehard Aliens fan who has been waiting for a “Predatorless” multiplayer experience to sink your inner mouth into and you can manage to play it with a buddy you hate enough to convince into buying A:CM. If you’re not an Aliens fan though, for the love of all that is holy please STAY AWAY.
That sentiment pretty much defines A:CM through and through. If you’re the sort of fan who would barely bat an eyelash at buying a $400 pulse rifle to mount on his wall then you’ll probably manage to find some tiny kernel of enjoyment in the game that will make your horrible purchase worthwhile despite the near masochistic levels of self-hate required to power through the rest of the drudgery. However, if you’re not one of those sorts of people, this game has literally no redeemable value save for the $5 you might get from Gamestop if you turn it in now before prices drop even further.
To everyone out there who barely knows what the Aliens franchise is or was ever about and thought that this might be a great Gearbox game in the vein of Borderlands, you’ve been warned. To my fellow Alien fans out there, I can’t lie to you about your chances, but… you have my sympathies.