I wanted to like Aliens: Colonial Marines,
I really, really did, because I was excited to hear that we would be getting a new Alien game. I love Alien; I love the franchise, the Xenomorph, and Sigourney Weaver.
I never got a chance to play any of the games that came before Aliens: Colonial Marines. I thought this would be a great starting point. Before getting to the main menu, my ears were treated to a soundtrack that is very inspired of James Horner’s work from Aliens. I was getting a little excited. From the main menu we see that A: CM has four player co-op, much like Borderlands, as well as a multiplayer. I was optimistic and eager to start this game, little did I know what was in store for me.
Colonial Marines begins with a distress call from Corporal Hicks, calling all marines to come to the Sulaco, the military ship that brought Ripley and her friends to the alien infested planet. Of course he gets a response 17 weeks later in the form of a whole ship full of marines who I imagined were going to be the Aliens’ buffet.
My initial expectations of playing an Alien game for the first time were pretty high; I felt that a solid tension was slowly building as I crossed the umbilical to the Sulaco. Even though the visuals were really outdated and very limited, coupled with awful lighting and some sort of blue haze, I was still looking forward to how fighting the Xenomorphs would work. In the movies they are portrayed as crafty and intelligent. The tension built as I explored the cocooned Sulaco, my heartbeat sensor clicking away, pinging as an alien scuttled into the ceiling. This sequence was quickly followed by a long animation of cutting down a cocooned soldier, and I was just waiting for a Xenomorph to interrupt me. Sure enough one climbed down from its hiding place to greet the business end of my pulse rifle.
“TENSION BUILT AS I EXPLORED THE COCOONED SULACO”
I aimed down my sight and squeezed off a burst of bullets cutting the alien down to a pool of acid. All the tension flew out the window in that second. I noticed that aiming down the sights was a toggle, quickly jumping to the options screen revealed that it was going to be stuck that way.
I sighed inwardly and pressed on; following the soldier who insisted that we find the flight recorder. We traveled deeper into the Sulaco, encountering more and more Xenomorphs.
It was around this time that I realized these were not the fearsome creatures I had come to respect, but instead spindly, well-lit aliens that just crawled on the walls but ended up running on two legs straight for me. There is nothing special about their attack pattern, they don’t group up, and they just swarm me, running straight into my hail of hot lead.
It’s not much farther into the game that we actually stop fighting the Xenomorphs and just degrade into fighting people. Boring people who just magically show up around chapter 3; I suppose they just popped out of the woodwork after being completely oblivious to the military cruiser that showed up at their front door.
“THESE WERE NOT THE FEARSOME CREATURES I HAD COME TO RESPECT”
It turns out that they are hired goons for Weyland Yutani, the mysterious company that’s behind the franchise, and is responsible for sending Ripley back to LV-426. Just like the alien, the soldiers are more bullet fodder.
They’re just more annoying to deal with because they shoot back, and blend in with the scenery because they’re so bland. I’m nitpicking at this point, but could they have picked a more ambiguous game over screen?
The game only spans a total of eleven missions, and you won’t be playing for more than 6 hours. There really isn’t much to say about the levels, you move from one end to the other killing anything in your way. Actually scratch that, you can run through some of the levels, the Xenomorphs won’t mind, they forget about you if you run past, because their AI is just terrible. There is one notable level that genuinely had me on the edge of my seat. You get cocooned but manage to break free, and it turns out you lost your weapons so you have to avoid Xenomorphs while meeting up with your partner. The game did set a good atmosphere, and there were some startling moments when Xenomorphs would pop down from the ceiling only to slink back and ignore me. Shortly afterwards you have to crawl through the sewers avoiding the still living husks of the aliens.
“THERE IS ONE NOTABLE LEVEL THAT GENUINELY HAD ME ON THE EDGE OF MY SEAT”
At first it was creepy, but the problem was the level overstayed its welcome, not to mention on multiple occasions the alien walking around bumped into me, hissed at me, and moved on. It just dropped all pretense of any stealth or danger. On two occasions you’ll be required to operate the power loaders, the first time only to open a door, and I remember wanting to fight off waves of aliens in that bad boy. Later on I got my wish, and I immediately regretted it. Swinging the power loader arms feels real clumsy, and landing a hit on the big bad alien can happen off screen, not to mention the alien can just grab you at almost any given time and can even counter you, but it just happens, there’s no indication at all.
Combat is very clunky and simple, so simple it can be hard to tell that I’m even taking damage. As Xenomorphs have acidic blood, which leads you to take some bleed damage if you kill one any more than 5 feet in front of you. Kind of hard to avoid that if they constantly swarm you. Switching weapons is done on the directional pad, up, down, triangle, and Y will switch between your two main two handed weapons, while left brings up your grenades, and right pulls put your INFINITE HANDGUN. You know I thought this game was going to try and scare me, but since I have a weapon on my person that has an infinite amount of bullets; I’m not very intimidated by the Aliens, am I?
Not to mention the rest of your armory is strapped to your back, hold triangle/Y and you bring up your weapon wheel, allowing you to switch weapons on the fly. Frankly I didn’t have much use of it though; I enjoyed the sound effects of the pulse rifle too much and was actually content with holding Hicks’ shotgun, not to mention I never ran out of ammo to make me use anything else.
One of the collectibles within the game are “Legendary Guns”, these are weapons that were popularized by a character from Aliens, such as Vasquez’s pistol, or as mentioned earlier, Hicks’ shotgun. Alongside collectible weapons are dog tags of other notable characters from the Alien universe.
Aesthetically, the game feels like the movie it’s trying to work off of, from the environments to the weapons and sound effects. The development team put time and effort into recreating some pivotal moments from the movie, such as where Ripley fought the Queen alien, the turrets in the hall, and even tossing Newt’s doll into the sewer level for you to find.
These references are all well and good, and they’re utilizing what the movie left for them. But the problem is that they’re riding so heavily on the movie that when their original content shows up, it flops so quickly it didn’t even have a chance.
“THE GAME CONTRADICTS THE FILMS MULTIPLE TIMES”
Additionally, the game contradicts the films multiple times, namely by saying that an alien embryo can’t be removed from the chest without killing the host (but it happened in Alien Resurrection), and when they bring a character back to life.
It’s unfortunate that we also have to sit through the ridiculously common cliché of one character getting an impregnated chest cavity with an alien and denying it; a cliché that litters almost every single film of the Alien franchise.
It breaks no new ground, in fact the story just stumbles around blindly in the dark, and it’s just one six hour long incoherent mess.
Dialogue isn’t any better, most of the time it’s just angry military jargon being shouted at from one character to the other. It’s not like there aren’t any good lines though, there’s certainly some levity to the game. But the marines have this motto that got under my skin, “Oorah to ashes”. They would say it at the drop of a hat, it’s just plain silly.
The final boss battle has been set up by not only the movie but by the mid-point of the game where we find that there is another alien queen. The fight begins and it turns out to be a game of cat and mouse, all you have to do to win is stay behind the big containers that create a semi-circle separating you from the alien queen. All she does is stumble around hopelessly trying to grab you with her short tiny arms. When she has her back turned you just have to run out and pull a bunch of levers and then you save the day.
In fact it’s a lot like the boss fight from Resident Evil: Code Veronica that takes place in the back of the airplane between Claire and the Tyrant, in fact it is the exact same fight, but A: CM is just less intimidating.
Aliens: Colonial Marines was a big letdown for all Alien fans and gamers alike.
Poor gameplay and an awful story really drove this experience into the ground. The references to the film just make me want to stop playing and watch the much more superior movie. At the end of the day it’s a game that rides entirely on both the Gearbox name and a movie over twenty years old.