Aliens: Colonial Marines by Gearbox Software is a First Person Shooter that attempts to capture the look and feel of James Cameron’s sci-fi masterpiece, Aliens. From canonically accurate weaponry and set-pieces to the “colorful” banter between marines, Aliens: Colonial Marines’ meticulous attention to detail permeates the experience and oozes authenticity though significant design stumbles hurt the end quality and a player’s overall level of enjoyment.
Aliens is one of the most visually distinctive movies in all of cinema history. It’s been over 25 years and it’s special effects and environments have stood the test of time. From the dreary terraformed surface of LV-426 to the gigeresque interiors of the “bug nests”, few movies have managed to capture such a stunning visual style and fewer games have done the Aliens franchise justice.
Aliens: Colonial Marines does a sufficient job at recreating the vision though falters on it’s execution.
Aliens: Colonial Marines does a sufficient job at recreating the vision though falters on it’s execution. Every area of the game feels eerily familiar as if you’ve just stumbled onto the set of the movie. While the “rugged Space Marine” archetype is almost certainly the most tired and played out theme in the FPS genre, Aliens: Colonial Marines manages to do a lot right by borrowing liberally from it’s source material providing significant fan service capturing the bravado of brave men and women who are rigorously trained bad-asses that are fairly detached about the whole thing. They perform their duty heroically yet are realistically terrified when they feel vulnerable and outmatched.
I found the witty repartee between soldiers routinely humorous. A few choice interactions include:
O’Neal: Me and Brie had a thing.
Winter: What sort of thing?
O’Neal: A sex thing. Jesus, boy scout, figure it out.
*three seconds of silence*
O’Neal: Good Talk.
Reid: No hostiles sighted. Permission to land and showcase a plethora of sick dance moves? Over.
Tools of the Trade
Most of the weapons serve their intended purpose satisfyingly with enough built in drawbacks to keep you switching them up depending upon the situation. As you progress through the game you have the ability to spend points awarded on level advancement to upgrade components of each weapon. These include things like more advanced targeting sights, alternate secondary fire modes and increased clip size. You won’t gain enough experience to level up each of the weapons in a single play through however. This is unfortunate because as soon as you start leaning towards one group of weapons most of the others fall by the wayside.
Most of the weapons serve their intended purpose satisfyingly with enough built in drawbacks to keep you switching them up depending upon the situation.
The Pulse Rifle is an average weapon in every respect. It’s sound effects are somewhat muted and don’t relay the force behind the weapon well, but as far as I can tell they were sampled directly from the movie so while muffled they felt familiar and comfortable. It’s secondary fire is a grenade launcher that is great at eliminating clustered targets.
The Pump Shotgun has ample stopping power but it’s lengthy reload can mean disaster if several xenomorphs come out of the woodwork at once. The Pump Shotgun is also equipped with a grenade launcher by default.
The Tactical Shotgun is a pleasure to use. It’s semiautomatic, which means as quickly as you can press fire is as quickly as you can empty it’s ammunition reserves. Its default secondary fire mode is an electric stun round which seems completely useless, but down the line you can augment it with more useful incendiary rounds.
The Assault Rifle is an interesting weapon with a three round burst fire mode and some limited sniping capabilities after upgrading it’s sights. Its attached flamer thrower is great at short range and it has a secondary advantage of temporarily “highlighting” xenomorphs when you engulf them in flames. This can help you track them as they slink around in the routinely dark interiors.
The SMG is inaccurate with no secondary fire mode. It is unlocked too late in the campaign to be of any real consequence.
The SM.A.R.T. Gun is a powerful weapon though only available in certain scripted sequences. When equipped your view is overlaid with a light blue interface with an auto aiming reticle which allows you to move down a hallway and automatically lock onto and blow away xenomorphs without requiring a great deal of accuracy.
The Battle Rifle is unlocked late in the campaign and is an excellent weapon. Semi automatic with a scope for deadly accuracy. Its unfortunate that you won’t get the chance to fully upgrade the weapon in a single play through.
Certain pre-order packages included a code for a S.H.A.R.P. Rifle, which fires metal spikes that embed themselves into enemies and surfaces and then explode a few seconds later. I did not find much use for this weapon, in fact, I probably only shot off a half dozen rounds throughout the entire game.
The Bugs and Baddies
The xenomorphs are quick, swarming and chaotic antagonists. They crawl along the ceilings and walls, emerge from ventilation ducts and have a knack for blending into the environment. Their attack AI is relatively straightforward. They will dart around in the shadows for a time but once they work up the courage to openly attack you they will barrel at you with total disregard. While it is fun to blow away a couple bugs in a row you rarely feel like you’re in any real danger and most deaths in the game are caused by pushing too far into a set piece battle before your NPC partners can help with dispatching enemies. Your teammate’s life is limitless and at times it was laughable to watch them absorb endless abuse.
To Aliens: Colonial Marines’ credit as your progress through the campaign your mind begins to play tricks on you. Every hanging bundle of wire at first glance looks like a serrated scorpion tail and every shadowy corner threatens to conceal an acid blooded foe.
Another form of the xenomorph you will encounter is the Lurker. These inky black aliens strike like ninjas. They attack with quick and deadly precision then retreat back into the darkness. When Lurkers are about you feel the urge to back yourself into a corner just to eliminate at least one angle these tricky beasts can attack from.
The final creepy alien variant of note is the blind kamikaze unit known as a Boiler. They skulk around in the dark sewers and are introduced at a time when your weapons have been stripped away from you and you’re feeling powerless.
…your mind begins to play tricks on you. Every hanging bundle of wire at first glance looks like a serrated scorpion tail
Navigating the damp bowels beneath the colony while blind walking explosives patrol had a very creepy feel to it which reminded me of the creatures in Amnesia. They shamble about like broken toys until they sense their prey and suddenly metamorphosize into bloodthirsty and ravenous hunters.
You will also encounter, though rarely except for the final segment of the game, human enemies in the form of Weyland-Yutani (the franchise’s resident evil corporation) mercenaries. They are a welcome addition to the game as they add a much needed variety to the combat. Instead of leaping out of the shadows and bearing down on you like rabid animals they coordinate with each other in adequate though fairly predictable attack patterns.
What Doesn’t Work
The Motion Tracker, a handheld radar device, is faithfully reproduced but is unfortunately a rather underwhelming inclusion. For many years, onscreen radars have been a staple of the genre. Having to equip an item to gain an ability that has become standard fare in many other games in the genre felt like a step backwards.
To the developer’s credit, it does feel like a nod to Doom 3′s flashlight (pre-BFG edition), where having a utility item equipped makes shooting impossible. It lends a sense of light equipment management to the game but it’s implementation is more an inconvenience than anything else.
…unfortunately the Power Loader feels like a rock-em sock-em robot.
The iconic Power Loader also makes two appearances in the game, but only in brief stints. In each instance it really doesn’t feel natural. The first time you control the yellow hulking construct you literally walk it down a hall and press a button to pry open a door before abandoning it. Your second encounter with it attempts to recreate the vicious battle between Ripley and the Alien Queen at the climax of the film, unfortunately the Power Loader feels like a rock-em sock-em robot. You win the battle by simply spamming the attack buttons and eventually after a few canned attack animations you tear your foe apart.
Oversights and Inconsistencies
From a technical standpoint, texture quality is an issue. The game looks much better in action than screenshots are able to convey but in comparison to other equivalent modern Triple A developed FPS games, Aliens: Colonial Marines falls short.
The game looks much better in action than screenshots are able to convey but in comparison to other…games, Aliens: Colonial Marines falls short.
While writing this review I started looking at the hundreds of 1920×1080 screenshots I took and noticed how they failed to capture the immersive quality of it’s atmosphere.
Many players have reported serious graphical and frame rate issues. I didn’t experience any significant technical issues myself. In fact, I was impressed by how smoothly the game ran throughout my playthrough. I appear to be in the minority.
Aliens: Colonial Marines suffers from repetitive objectives throughout the campaign. Most of the game consists of moving from point A to point B gunning down the enemies placed between those two points. Although that is hardly out of character for an FPS game, when dealing with a franchise of this magnitude created by a Triple A developer, you just expect more compelling motivations.
Your fellow marines’ AI is woefully underdeveloped. You will clear a room of aliens only to have O’Neal scream: “Look above you!” or
when a teammate lags behind they will magically teleport to your location (as in halfway inside you) which I’m sorry to report was the source of most of the “jump scares” I experienced in the game rather than anything that was intentional.
The story is also very bare bones with a few notable inconsistencies, chief among them being the eventual explanation for how the U.S.S. Sulaco, which was last seen orbiting the prison planet of Fiorina ‘Fury’ 161 in Alien 3, had managed to return to LV-426.
Gearbox’s level of involvement in the development of Aliens: Colonial Marines is dubious.
There also seems to be some missing exposition in the dialog between characters. When one character, Brie, is introduced she explains that the “face hugger thing” that was attached to her when she woke up was now dead and that she feels fine. We all know what that means. Then as things start bursting out of other soldier’s chests nobody seems to make the connection until suddenly every character magically appears fully aware of the one gestating inside Brie without ever having discussed it amongst themselves.
Gearbox’s level of involvement in the development of Aliens: Colonial Marines is dubious. I have never seen so many splash screens in a game start up before. Besides the expected 20th Century Fox branding and Nvidia splash screen it listed Sega, Gearbox Software, TimeGate Studios and Nerve as developers.
I enjoyed Aliens: Colonial Marines. I found combating enemies that came crawling out of the ceiling and from beneath catwalks a refreshing exercise in gun play because it tested my ability to quickly change my perspective radically from one angle to the next. It starts out strong by playing on your nostalgia but as the game progresses your goodwill may begin to wain.
The campaign is short and it’s difficult to recommend a purchase when a game like Borderlands by the same developer costs just as much and provides many more hours of entertainment while Aliens Colonial Marines can be completed in just over six hours.
If you love the films like I do, you will be delighted by the multiple references and inside jokes embedded into the experience. That may be enough to convince some die hard fans of the series to dive in but I would wait to pick this one up on sale. It will no doubt become quite a bit more affordable in the coming months. That goes doubly for the thirty dollar Day 1 DLC Season Pass that’s being offered.
It’s a fun game and although it falls well short of greatness it’s still an enjoyable experience.
BOG’s Aliens: Colonial Marines Review Score
||Why so high?
Very atmospheric with some witty banter, fun gun play, a love letter to a beloved film franchise
Why so low?
Variety of enemies and objectives is lacking, texture quality isn’t on par with modern games, story line is underdeveloped.
The Great Discrepancy
When I write a review I always play a game first and finish my write up before I look at any other reviews. In this case I was frankly stunned at the divide between my opinion and the one shared by a majority of other sites. Currently the PC version of Aliens: Colonial Marines has a Metacritic score of 47%, which I find frankly ridiculous. Duke Nukem Forever, one of, if not THE worst excuse for a Triple A title ever released is rated at 54%. There is simply no objective justification for Aliens: Colonial Marines receiving such a harsh score unless other people had played a different game than I had. Perhaps they did.
Throughout my gameplay I had no crashes, no frame rate issues and only a few minor AI hiccups. If I were to describe the performance of the game I would rate it as “buttery smooth” while the rest of the internet seems to report the game is a broken mess. This isn’t without precedence.
I was shocked by how many people complained about serious issues with the Fallout games while over the course of my 200 hours of play in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas I only suffered a single crash. I use an ATI video card, thus I am in the minority when it comes to hardware specifications. While a vast majority of games are optimized for Nvida cards, once in awhile a game will come along that either through failure on the part of the developer or hardware driver issues a game will function better on one person’s configuration of hardware over another.
Aliens: Colonial Marines isn’t a great game but it’s certainly a vastly superior product in comparison to the steaming pile that was Duke Nukem Forever. When trying to determine a fair score for Aliens: Colonial Marines I agonized over the ramifications. How do I stay true to my experience with the game when a vast majority of reviewers and players felt betrayed and enraged by it?
I eventually settled on asking myself this question: “If my Mom asked me how I felt about the game, and prefaced it with ‘Now tell me the truth-’ what would I tell her?”
themy truth is Aliens: Colonial Marines was a fun game that I played and enjoyed for six hours and will probably never play again. Except for the bias in it’s favor caused by my love for the property it was based upon it’s an average game in almost all respects. I certainly don’t agree with scores like 4.5 because to me a score that low could only be justified if the game in question gave you an STD and as soon as you put the disc in the drive your computer started on fire.
…a score that low could only be justified if the game in question gave you an STD and as soon as you put the disc in the drive your computer started on fire.
If you had issues with getting the game to run, my heart goes out to you. Had someone come to me in October 2011 and told me how impressed they were with RAGE’s stability, graphical fidelity and fluidity I would have called them an idiot because that game was simply broken at launch. I suspect that is what’s happening in the case of Aliens: Colonial Marines.
Sometimes games just work better for some people than others and their initial performance (whether fairly or not) makes a permanent impact on a person’s perception. A month later when I finally got RAGE to run at the promised 60fps and the textures weren’t low resolution and loading right in front of my eyes my opinion was already firmly established and the damage had been done. I felt betrayed by iD Software for creating such a mediocre experience when I had been such a loyal fan for so many years, so I can understand why people who have been eagerly anticipating this game for the better part of a decade may have felt cheated out of what they were promised.
But that’s no excuse to be spiteful.
Aliens: Colonial Marines Demo vs Final Product
Videogamer.com has released a side-by-side comparison of the “demo” footage of Aliens: Colonial Marines and the final product. The difference is very disturbing to say the least.
Someone has already made a mod to increase the contrast and up the blue values of the game to make it more visually in line with what was seen in the demo and the color palette of the Aliens movie. I haven’t tried it so I can not say whether it is an improvement or not.