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The Game Effect Review

Aliens: Colonial Marines Review

A blight on the scorched face of a franchise

By Daniel Jones on 2/14/2013
When Gearbox set out to make a canonical video game sequel to the revered James Cameron sci-fi masterpiece Aliens, I imagine the team started with the best of intentions. The pre-release promotions certainly tried to emphasize how much respect the team has for the franchise. So it's a shame to report that while the final product is certainly filled with reverence for the film it's based on, the overall package is shoddy at best and an insult to the series at worst.

Oorah to Ashes

 Aliens: Colonial Marines is the worst kind of video game. It's a licensed product done so poorly that it looks like a silly toy when held against the standards of the film it's based on. It is a Call of Duty clone in space, but with production values straight out of 2004 and a story that wouldn't even pass for decent fan-fiction. The game leads players by the hand as they visit Hadley's Hope, The USS Sulaco and even a certain derelict space jockey ship. In between, you'll reenact scenes like the chest-bursting scene and the power loader fight, but with much less gravitas and tension. If the Aliens franchise is a pretty girl, then this game is a fat old pervert that reached under her skirt, stole her panties, and now parades around in them, expecting nobody to notice.

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One positive thing I can say about Aliens: Colonial Marines is that it oozes with respect and admiration for its source material. LV-426 holds some fantastic vistas that look straight out of the films, and the little details such as names on dog tags and the (admittedly dated) technological designs are spot-on. The problem is that the environments and color palette are so limited that the repetitive gunfights against xenomorphs and the occasional human only become more repetitious as you slog through dozens of similarly dark, oozy corridors.

It's Very Pretty Bishop, But What Are We Looking For?

The repetition would be forgivable if your reasons for trudging through this broken down Universal Studios ride were at all compelling. Instead, the plot is a jumbled mess of cliched character tropes, conspiracy theories and laughably bad dialogue. You play as Sergeant Winter, one of the titular marines sent in to investigate the distress signal sent out by the crew of the Sulaco. Obviously, things go south rather quickly. In fact, things go south so quickly that the sense of build up is completely lost. Which is only further compounded by the fact that these marines seem to be oddly unfazed by what are supposed to be terrifying monsters.

That is to say that the whole experience is horrifyingly un-scary. Any chance of a jump scare is erased when your motion tracker beep telegraphs the xenomorph threat seconds ahead of time. This game can't even execute a simple jump scare. For crying out loud, Journey has jump scares! Journey! A game where literally nothing can kill you, made me more on-edge than Aliens: Colonial Marines. One of the most potentially intense moments in the game -- an unarmed stealth trek through xeno-infested sewers -- is completely ruined when you see the new species of xeno up close. If you haven't seen these blind, constipated monstrosities on YouTube yet, just wait. I have a feeling this will become a meme of "Arrow to the knee" proportions.

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Such as in that instance, Aliens: Colonial Marines is filled with moments of squandered potential. Being chased by a massive xeno through a canyon or holding down the fort at Hadley's Hope are standouts. The sound is another high mark, with sound effects and the orchestral score ripped straight from the film. All that potential is wasted, however by myriad issues including terrible AI, pervasive screen tearing (at least on Xbox 360) and ridiculously underwhelming weaponry. The only time I enjoyed firing a gun in the campaign was a far too brief stint with the auto-aiming smart gun. The other weapons were unsatisfying beyond belief as the aliens scampered around unpredictably and often appeared out of nowhere to attack me from behind. Not to mention that human enemies are dead-eyes even when firing through low cover. Not blind firing mind you -- no these guys have magic bullets that can often shoot right through concrete.

Game Over Man! Game Over!

So the campaign is a mess, and the poor artificial intelligence is one of the main reasons. So one would expect the multiplayer to alleviate that with humans taking over the roles of both marines and xenomorphs. And it does... sort of. The humans vs. aliens versus modes are a step up from the campaign for the simple fact that they actually contain gameplay rather than boring hand holding exercises. Escape mode is the highlight; racing through a map with a squad of marines as player-controlled xenos chase you down, is as intense and fun as you'd expect. However, playing as the xenos -- while somewhat unique -- is a frustrating battle with odd camera angles and awkward controls.

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Like the campaign, multi-player is filled with unrealized potential. Controlling xenomorphs could have been a lot more exciting; the weapons are still under-powered and the levels are generally uninspired and mundane. Left 4 Dead, this is not. The killstreaks are interesting enough with humans earning a smart gun and talented xenos upgrading into a hulking xeno-lion (a Tricerotops-looking monstrosity that is invulnerable head-on). And upgrading weapons persistently across single-player and multi-player is a nice touch, but the additions don't make any of the weapons more fun to use.

Overall Impression

For every good idea that Aliens: Colonial Marines contains, its execution makes twice as many blunders, leaving the overall package frustratingly mediocre. For a game with such high pedigree and a seven year gestation period, I expected much better. Aiming for a "Call of Duty in space" feel isn't the problem here. It's that the game is so mediocre, it can't even hit that low benchmark. Fans of the franchise might enjoy the guided tour through series lore, but that hollow feeling is fleeting. Reverence for source material means nothing if you don't do anything interesting with it. Aliens: Colonial Marines is a failed experiment that never should have been taken out of cryo sleep.

This game was reviewed on Xbox 360. A copy of the product was provided by Sega. 
The Good
  • Reverence for the source material
  • Enjoyable multiplayer
The Bad
  • Terrible dialogue and story
  • Graphics are far below par
  • Does nothing original or risky with the property
5.5
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Alien117 on March 28, 2013
I think the games is great but has a bad ending. so work on that
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