So, how can I describe my feelings on Aliens: Colonial Marines? Do any of you remember those shape sorter toys from childhood? Well, think of it with this scenario: you're telling a child that they can fit a square block into a triangle hole, but the more and more the child fails to do so and the more and more you try to convince them that it is possible, eventually the child will learn they were taken for a fool and look on at you with disapproval. That is how I feel about Aliens: Colonial Marines. I am certain that many of you will agree with me on this in that Aliens: Colonial Marines is a colossal failure on many levels.
I'm not going to dance around the obvious. This game was one of my most anticipated games for 2013. I'm seeing the presentation at E3 and I was impressed with it. I'm seeing all of the features that will come with it and my anticipation only grew. Then release day came and so did the below average to failing reviews. That is when I did two things. One, that twenty dollars I had for it on reserve went to other games of my choosing. Two, I decided to try out the game anyway (rented of course) to see exactly what happened so I can share my experience with everyone here.
The first thing that everyone wanted to play through first was the single player campaign. This game is considered canon for the Alien franchise. So gamers and us Aliens fans wanted to see how this game would contribute to the franchise. What's more is that it was supposed to be an emotionally driving, yet intensely based survival horror experience. Did we get that here? I can reinforce my answer with a resounding, "No."
The single player experience is undeniably the weakest element of Aliens: Colonial Marines next to the graphics, but I will get to that in a second. The story can be boring and the ending is disappointing. If anything, it's lackluster and barren of any real gripping emotion and terror, the characters are forgettable and have no discernible identities, and the whole story lasts only six hours. The whole single player campaign, the one thing we were being led to believe was going to be this fantastic story was only six hours long. It might be seven hours when you play on the highest difficulty, which I would stress if you want a challenge.
Most of it feels dragged out. There are moments and sections in the game that have really good ideas, like having to navigate your way through an alien hive undetected from these blind xenomorphs that are prone to sound, but the main game outweighs the good ideas. This is coupled with the fact that most of the time you're barely fighting xenomorphs.
Instead, a new enemy introduced are gun wielding private military contractors from Weyland-Yutani. Most of the time it feels more like Call of Duty in space. It is mind boggling that you are fighting humans more often than the xenomorphs. Don't get me wrong, I think that there is potential here with having Weyland-Yutani be the antagonists, but they shouldn't be the main threat. Xenomorphs are practically cast aside, which is evident with their stupid AI and less than stellar animations.
Which, of course, brings me to the graphics. The graphics in Aliens: Colonial Marines can be laughable to downright pathetic. Character models look dated and the cutscenes that have them in there are just awkward. I will always be the first to tell you that graphics are not what make a game great, but that they should at least be polished and presentable. The graphics do not accomplish that here. There are many graphical issues that need to be addressed.
Bugs, glitches, screen tearing, texture loading, and weak environmental collision are all present here. You can find xenomorphs getting stuck in tight corners or between checkpoints where they want to attack but can't because you're in a safe zone. You can find yourself somehow getting stuck at doors or seeing your marine AI practically do nothing while xenomorphs attack. Screen tearing is not all that prevalent in the PS3 version, but when it does occur it's very noticeable. I actually hear that the Xbox 360 version suffers greatly from screen tearing. Texture loading is downright terrible as walls and floors in the environment can take time to load up or not load at all. Finally, environmental collision can be hilarious as you walk through your teammates or your teammates walk through walls or xenomorphs casually rush over debris.
Ultimately, the graphics hurt the overall atmosphere that this game should have as an Aliens tie-in. The mix of light and dark do not compliment each other indoors. Big, open areas and backgrounds are far better looking and really nice. Xenomorphs are the worst victims with their stiff movements which come off as humorous, but unnatural. The E3 demo we saw in 2011 is absent here. The humor, terror, and atmosphere shown in that demo are gone. It's a shame that the demo was more impressive than the final product.
Sound is the most acceptable factor here. The weapons sound authentic and xenomorphs sound exactly how they should with their screeching and hissing. Voice acting, on the other hand, is sub-par. Lance Henrickson is the only exception because his performance as Bishop is always welcome. The music is pretty much spot on. It's really nice to have the musical tone here.
Gameplay is pretty much your standard first person shooting experience. Controls are very easy to learn and the equipment seen in the movies are well in use here. The motion tracker is very helpful when finding xenomorph locations. The weaponry is very effective, although it's very disappointing that you barely use the Smart Gun (my total time with it was five minutes). You are able to find legendary weapons that characters from Aliens had and use them. Each of them are powerful and have unique stats as opposed to the usual firearms. Other collectibles include dog tags and audio clips that reveal more of what's going on.
Xenomorphs, however, act horrendously. They blindly rush at you most of the time and rarely use the environment. It's a literal shooting gallery within a lot of corridors and rooms. How they play in multiplayer is different. Xenomorph movement and attack speed is quick and fierce. Their wall crawling can be very awkward, but it gets the job done. They have this radar vision that allows you to find marines on the battlefield. Overall, xenomorphs play okay, but they could use some work.
As it goes for the online portion of the game, it's average at best. There is nothing substantially reminiscent to Aliens as a single original mode for the multiplayer, but it can be enjoyable with what we have for now. The available game modes are Team Deathmatch, Extermination, Survivor, and Escape. A downloadable mode called Bug Hunt will be released soon, but that seems like a mode that should have been here from the start.
Anyway, there are some problems when it comes to the multiplayer. It's more so seen in Team Deathmatch than in the other modes. There are some extreme balancing issues in this particular mode. One thing that is noticeably unfair is the fact that the xenomorph team can get a Crusher type xenomorph when they meet certain requirements. The Crusher is the one that has that huge bulletproof crest. This monstrosity is a huge game changer and can cause significant damage to the marine team, while garnering many points for the xenomorph team. It's frustrating to face it when playing as a marine and boring to have it with you when you're a xenomorph.
As a marine, you will find yourself focusing on the Crusher as opposed to the small xenomorph players. This in turn allows those players to flank you and take you out. Meanwhile, the Crusher can easily anninhilate any marine in its way. It's really unfair, especially considering that marines don't get a special unit to use, but xenomorphs get two. The second unit is the Boiler xenomorph that can do a suicide run at marines and if it dies within a good proximity to the marines, it explodes in an acidic area of effect and can take out many marine players. Really the only saving grace for marines are the heavy weaponry found in the levels (including Smart Guns, flamethrowers and rocket launchers), but the xenomorphs can easily take you out as soon as you find them. It would be a miracle to take out the Crusher with those weapons.
It's not all doom and gloom for the multiplayer, though. It is very possible to win as marines in Team Deathmatch. The other modes, however, offer slightly more variety. Extermination requires the marine team to destroy egg hatcheries, while the xenomorph team has to defend them. Escape features the marines having to canvass from area to area to make it to the final checkpoint, while the xenomorph team does their best to eliminate each of them. Survivor is a mode where the marines must buckle down and defend themselves to survive the time limit, while the xenomorphs continually attack to finish off the marines.
There is customization for both marines and xenomorphs. Customization for weapons can be carried over into the single player and multiplayer, while the xenomorphs are more so just covered in multiplayer. Weapon customization is very strong and diverse. It allows you to mold your weapons the way you want (including improved accuracy, special secondary fire modes, and paint jobs). The weak part of customization are the marines and xenomorphs themselves. There is an extreme limit on making your unit unique in appearance. There are already pre-rendered head models for both species with color palette swaps for the main body. The armor for marines has a few things to add, but the level up system to get those parts can be very tedious. When I looked at the trophies, the level cap appears to be level sixty.
Needless to say, this game had no business being released. I don't know what exactly happened, but I can only hypothesize exactly what led to this. Six years in development and this is what we get? A poor narrative, terrible and lazily done graphics, and AI that's barely responsive or effective. It's clear to me that Aliens: Colonial Marines was not finished and was just rushed out the door because Sega had been investing its money in a project that was barely seeing any progress and Gearbox handed the project over to other studios so they could focus on Borderlands 2.
This is not the way to go about making a video game that is supposed to be loyal to an already established franchise. This game was supposed to be the ultimate love letter to Aliens. Instead, it turns out to be a "Dear John" letter. I'm sure no one wanted to see this game fail. I certainly didn't, but the fact remains that this was a sloppy mess. This game will remain a stain on Gearbox's record along with Duke Nukem Forever.
If there was one piece of advice I could give Gearbox, it would be this: know your limitations. Do not try to tackle more projects than you need to. If you really want to make the best iteration of a franchise, then do so by actually dedicating the time to it. Otherwise, you will upset many people and make them regret spending sixty dollars on a game that clearly does not deserve that price tag or being on the store shelves in the first place.