It has been a long time coming, but Gearbox and SEGA’s long in development first person shooter is finally out. When I say a long time, I mean December 15 2006 long. It would be another two years before we learned that the official title would be Aliens: Colonial Marines and more years still till we saw our first gameplay demonstration at E3 2011. Time has not been kind to the development of the title and after years of delays and apparent outsourcing, the game is finally here and has turned out to be a colossal trainwreck.
First thing you will notice is that the graphics look like a game from 2006. While that may be the year it was announced, you can’t release a product in 2013 that looks that dated. Aliens:CM runs off the Unreal 3 engine which means low framerates on consoles and lots of texture loading. Sure the texture issues are nothing new, and appear in homegrown games such as the Gears of War series, but they are particularly bad here. It may just be the worst example of it I have ever seen on this engine. The detail on objects fades on any surface at a remote distance and sometimes never loads at all. Character models are surprisingly basic and lip synching is pretty shoddy as well. Some of these issues can be solved with the PC version but there is no masking the crudeness of which the characters animate and are constructed. The sole bright spot would be the lighting, while not the most amazing ever seen, it still manages to come off as pretty damn good most of the time. The atmosphere and set pieces are also nicely detailed, provided of course the game decides it wants to load the damn textures.
The voice work is solid for the most part, only hampered by the mind numbingly boring script. Much of the series subtext and themes has vanished with the atmospheric processor. There really seems to be no point to the story other then to pit the classic space marines against the evil Weyland-Yutani corporation. Even that is handled pretty poorly as well. Instead of being the silent, shady suits from the films, here they are as bombastically evil as the umbrella corp. from the Resident Evil film series. The speed and size of the evil building and operations they are able to set up over the course of the games time frame is ridiculous and will probably make one chuckle at its audacity. Score wise the game actually shines as it uses many of the classic James Horner tracks, but rearranged smartly. The sound design is also a high point and the attention to detail on the guns and accessories on the Marines show a distinct attention to detail. The aliens themselves however are a mixed bag. Not all of their classic screams and squeals are represented and some of the new sounds they make might cause an eyebrow or to raise. Still the audio tends to be the one bright spot on this dark corner of the Alien universe.
After over a decade of planning and development it would appear that Gearbox somehow was unable to manage to put together a whole game and instead has split development duties of the title between itself and three other studios. The results are sadly predictable as the game delivered here feels like a jumbled and rushed to market product that spent maybe ten months in actual development. The campaign is a short stroll through the three significant areas of the Aliens films, with a couple Weyland-Yutani labs thrown in for fun. With only around ten missions it becomes even more disappointing to realize you repeat each major area at least twice. The level design is pretty poor as well. While it is true that Aliens is known for its claustrophobic corridors, that doesn’t translate well to game design. The entire game has you moving down a straight path, only to stop and shoot marauding Alien creatures or hired guns of Weyland-Yutani. Breaking off from the main path only happens at the tiniest of intervals and serves to reward you with a legendary weapon from the film. The shooting itself is derived entirely from Call of Duty with its Aim Down Sight mechanic. Even more like CoD, you rank up through a level system and can customize your guns with red dot sights, silencers, and red camo. The game does allow you to carry more then two guns at a time which is nice but you realize the game is mostly dived into shotuns and assault rifles. Special weapons such as Smart Gunes and flamethrowers are only found in levels and can only be fired for as long as there is ammo in and you don’t swap weapons while holding it. Once the ammo is depleted the weapon dispersal. As for gameplay variety, there is none sadly. Despite the game featuring dropships and APC vehicles, you never pilot any or break away from your standard on foot shooting. There is one bug ridden boss sequence in a power loader and one moment requiring you to sneak through an area unarmed, otherwise its a stop and shoot fest all the way till the mediocre ending.
Besides having no variety and a weak copy cat formula of another popular franchise with worse graphics and less then half the framerate, the biggest killer to Aliens: CM is the fact that there is no tension. The aliens and human enemies alike exhibit an astounding level of AI stupidity, the likes of which have not been seen since the easy setting on N64 shooters. Nine times out of ten human enemy tactics are to walk forward and shoot you with reckless abandon. The tenth time they may squat behind a box and wait for you to shoot them. Aliens tend to leap through the air with all the grace of a hacked Morrowind player and rush you head on until you end their existence. On top of all this are glitch after glitch after glitch. Clipping, enemies falling out of levels, enemies and NPCs hovering in the air, shoddy hit detection, etc. It is almost enough to make Ubisoft blush.
As for the multiplayer itself, it tends to fair better. Allowing for players to control marines or xenomorphs in four different modes. Escape is a personal favorite as it can add some much needed tension to organizing an escape route through a level while being hunted by aliens. However it only highlights the fact that aliens are only truly scary when being controlled by a human opponent. This tension fades away over time however as you become familiar with the levels and learn where exactly any decent human controlled alien will crawl through to attack you. Also frightfully disappointing is the small number of maps, with escape only defaulting with two to start! Other standard modes such as wave attack are being locked behind future DLC that will cost $15. With the lower framerate, reliance on larger groups of players, and disturbing lack of modes and maps, it is very safe to say that this game won’t be taking any attention away from Activision’s juggernaut or even Gearboxes own Borderlands franchise.
It is hard to know what exactly went wrong after all these years in planning and development, but it is clear that something clearly did. If I were to guess, I would say this game was not coming together after the E3 2011 showcase and SEGA was tired of waiting. A deadline was probably set and multiple developers were brought in to assemble anything they could that was playable as fast as they could. The result is a game that looks and feels like it was released six months after its announcement in 2006, rather then a carefully and meticulously crafted Aliens experience that pays reverence to the source material that Gearbox President Randy Pitchford constantly claimed it did. In the end the worst part about the game is the fact that it feels exactly like the cheap, sloppy cash in it was promised not to be.
Final Verdict: AVOID
Aliens: Colonial Marines is nowhere near the game it sets out or promises to be. It is a mediocre corridor shooter with little to no variety against swarms of braindead enemies. The glitches and bugs drag the whole experience down even further and the multiplayer aspect feels extremely parse in light of other available titles on the market. Even if you love this franchise to death, you would be better off avoiding this title and keep dreaming of the day when a truly great Aliens experience is realized, for today is not that day.