Aliens: Colonial Marines
Developer: Gearbox Software
Genre: first-person shooter
Release Date: 02/12/2013
When a property gets licensed, usually the first reaction of gamers everywhere is to groan as our first experience is that the game is going to be almost a total bust, mediocre at best, and on rare occasions we’ll get a gem out of it like Transformers: War For Cyberton or Batman: Arkham City. Sega licensed the Aliens franchise awhile back and Gearbox eventually ended up with the task of developing what would be considered a sequel of sorts to Aliens and Alien 3 but set far before Alien Resurrection. Some of the key things have made it into the game, some of the details they’ve included are indeed amazing, but when it comes to driving a story in the campaign things get glossed over a bit, and the multiplayer, once I got mine working, isn’t as much fun as it could be, but still delivers. So while we didn’t necessarily get a gem, we didn’t get a full on dud either. Let’s take a look.
The game breaks down into two sections, the campaign that can be played co-op or solo and then your versus section where all the multiplayer mayhem is centered. You can play this game two ways in the campaign, alone or with some friends. Either way works, but honestly it might be more fun with some friends and the difficulty kicked up a notch. The story picks up with you as a Marine just getting pulled out of cryo. The other squad on the Saphora has already been up and around and gone missing on the Sulaco, the ship from Aliens and you’re docked to it. It’s ended up back in orbit over LV-426, the planet that the eggs were discovered in the first film and where all the action takes place in the second. No one knows why as the squad that went in first has basically been either wiped out or has gone silent. Your squad was roused from cryo and you’re being fast-tracked into service to get over to the Sulaco and find out what’s going on.
Now I can kind of get around the fact that in every film they’ve shown to date it takes hours to really wake up from cryo. Even in Aliens the Marines spent time getting chow and up to speed. Waiting so damned long to wake the second squad makes little sense as they’ll be groggy as hell. Course, maybe that’s why things fall apart so quickly. It seems the Xenomorphs are alive and well on the Sulaco and have taken over a good chunk of the lower sections of the ship. You manage to secure someone from a wall, which if you’re paying attention, there’s a facehugger at his feet and he’s been out awhile, so he’s not going to end well. The Marine decides to go out in a blaze, while he’s in the umbilical, with you, and fires off a grenade leaving you to try to make your way back on board the Sulaco before you get sucked into space.
You’re left with little choice but to try and secure the Sulaco only now it’s firing on your ship. Weyland-Yutani’s weapons division has apparently stepped up their program and have taken a page from Burke and are using live subjects and started on the Sulaco. There’s a small mercenary force you have to work your way through to try and get to the bridge to secure it, but it wouldn’t be an Aliens story if everything went according to plan. Things fall apart, literally, and you end up having to evac the Sulaco as it’s starting to break up in the atmosphere and end up planet-side. Now remember what Bishop said in the film about the area being a cloud of vapor the size of Nebraska? Well he may have over-stepped a bit as there is quite a remarkable amount of damage but quite a bit of the structures are still there. At this point it’s a turn to try and survive and figure out what Weyland-Yutani is up to as you fight your way through the aliens and the mercenary troops to try and get answers and maybe even some payback.
It’s a passable story. It feels far too hobbled together, and honestly there’s a bit of badly paced, what I could term, fan-ficiton involved, especially when a certain character shows up who we know is dead from events in the third film. The explanation given is pretty much non-existent other than to say it’s complicated, but like Bishop, he’s more there to give the story it’s Aliens street cred than anything else and ends up putting even bigger plot holes into an already thin sheet of story-telling ice. We might have been served a better story if they’d dropped the whole idea of fitting it all in with Aliens and Alien 3 and just simply set the whole thing after on another planet with another shake-and-bake colony that Weyland-Yutani was screwing with which was a common theme in the Dark Horse Comics and those worked beautifully.
Once you’re done bumming around with the campaign, in versus you have a few options to choose from. In any of them you’re going to have to play as both the xenos and the Marines while the opposing group tries to kill you. That way everyone gets to be both sides during a single match. It more or less works. You’ve got Team Deatchmatch which is a pretty self-explanatory five-on-five set-up, Extermination which is also five-on-five but the Marines have objectives to try and win while the Xenos try and stop them, Escape is a four-on-four affair where the Marines try to escape through a linear map over fifteen minutes and whoever gets the farthest as Marines wins, and finally Survivor where when you die as a Marine you’re dead and the Aliens just keep on coming and whoever survives the longest wins. It’s a good set of multiplayer to screw around with but it’s also fairly basic stuff you’ve seen elsewhere with a different set of skins and abilities.
Visually on the PC version you’re not going to be seeing too much different from the console versions, other than it looking a bit cleaner and with slightly better textures and load in. That’s mainly because the developer decided to not turn on anything related to direct X 10 or 11, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as Mass Effect 3 looks great on PC and it’s not heading into that territory either. The problem is it doesn’t capitalize on what is actually available visually for the settings they’ve chosen to run it on. It’s all lighting effects and special effects from four or five years ago which kind of dates the game a bit. Modders have already swooped in to try and salvage it, creating a mod that makes the game look visually far more like the demo we’d seen before the game had come out. There really isn’t any good reason this game doesn’t have all the bells and whistles to it to make it stand out visually from the console version. At this point in the ball game of console life, the PC version of a game should blow the console one out of the water visually, or at least be capable of doing so. Here, not so much. The other thing with this is you can almost tell it’s the first time they’ve tried to tell a story using actual cutscenes or were incredibly rushed on them. The characters don’t move all that great and facial animations and expressions are almost non-existent. This doesn’t help tell the story at all and in several sequences just about killed it for me.
The voice actors do a decent enough job bringing the characters to life with the so-so dialogue. It doesn’t help that the visual performances do nothing to assist the voice actors job of bringing the character to life, so the Marines end up coming across almost as wooden as Bishop at times even though the vocal performances don’t hold up to that. The aliens themselves sounds very much like they do in the films with a few exceptions. The facehuggers had some kind of weird chirp to them while they were scrambling around the other side of the room before they attack you. It was very strange, and while we’d never heard them before I didn’t think that was quite the noise they’d have made. The weapons and gear all make the familiar sounds from the Aliens film. Anyone who’s seen them will take comfort in the familiar firing sound of the pulse rifle as it belts away. The new weapons they have fit not only visually but within the same sound avenue as well making them all seem like they came from the same military and supply.
Controls are about what you’d expect from a first-person shooter. I’ve alternated through the whole game and online using a 360 controller and my mouse and keyboard. I’ve had pretty decent success with both against the AI in the campaign and real players online so I haven’t felt the need to go into twitch mode too often with the mouse and keyboard. That really only works all that well with the Marines portion online anyway as the Xeno’s are all close range. Everything is fairly responsive, and honestly, if an alien has you from behind you’re not very likely to be able to swing around and shoot them using either method before you drop dead, so I picked something I could lean back on the couch and curse at people without getting all up on my laptop.
As a Marine you’ve got a few options to you and you can change your loadouts to include differing weaponry. You’ll always have a primary, a secondary, and a sidearm for weapons as well as a tactical weapon, usually a grenade but there are mines and firebombs as well. Your primary and secondary slots are pretty open in that you can select any weapon you’ve acquired into these slots. Meaning if you have a pulse rifle in one, you could select a legendary pulse rifle to slot in your secondary. Grabbing a differing weapon is preferable so you can change out as needed. While the pulse rifle is decent, you may want a shotgun, you know, for close encounters. One of the better additions is to change out specific components on the weapons as you unlock them by leveling up, giving you access to and under action shotgun instead of the grenade launcher if you prefer, increasing ammo capacity in the clips, better sights for targeting, and so on. There are weapon pick-ups scattered around the various maps including the Smart gun that Vasquez used in the film, a flamethrower, a rocket launcher, and a sentry gun which we really only saw in action in the films in the extended cut of Aliens.
Most of the time as a Marine you’re on the ground moving around taking out bugs, and in the campaign sometimes humans. You can’t cut through every door you find but there is that option sometimes as well as sealing the door behind you. Most of the time you go into a room to clear it out. Very little time is actually spent holding a position. In the multiplayer matches where you have to take an objective you simply have to hold that spot for 15 seconds which doesn’t sound like much, but against a skilled alien player, that’s asking a lot. Stepping out of the area resets the counter entirely if no other Marines are helping to take the position. The Marines actually work better in multiplayer when they move as a unit and surprisingly, most people get that and tend to stick together. A good group of Marine players can be almost unstoppable depending on terrain and whether they’re on the move or bunkered down. Of course that’s why the Aliens get options too.
The Xenomorph comes in three basic varieties at the start, the Soldier, the Spitter and the Lurker. The Soldier is based off the design from Aliens, good at close range and can take some punishment before going down. The Spitter is a new faster and leaner killer that spits acid from range but because of the glowing acid sacks isn’t very good at stealth. The Lurker is based off the original design from Alien and has some camouflage abilities but isn’t as tough as the Soldier and has some speed. There are two classes players can unlock in a map, the Crusher, which is like a giant triceratops styled Xeno that can barrel around a map almost indestructible and then there’s the Boiler, which is one of the original aliens that survived the destruction of the processor and will explode rather spectacularly killing nearby Marines. Both the Crusher and Boiler you find on the map and can activate them after a set amount of time has passed during a multiplayer match.
Much like the Marines, the Xenomorphs have different abilities available to them to toughen up their base class and change out abilities like you’d swap out one of the weapon mods. These can be anything from a harder out body to a regenerating one to more speed or to be less detectable to a motion tracker. All the Xenos have a kind of radar vision that lets them see the other Xeno’s and nearby humans making it easier for them to get around to take a human from their flanks as opposed to head on. Going at most Marine groups head on is suicidal. Xenos can climb on walls and ceilings and moving in from behind is preferable. They also have an insta-kill attack but you have to be really close to pull that one off.
Both Marines and Xeno’s have experience points you earn by simply playing in matches that increases your level and opens up new access to mods and equipment and even customization. Marines have the typical armor and paint jobs while Xenos can change their coloring or head shape’s a bit. Some unlocks require a challenge completion to trigger. The challenges can be as simple as killing twenty wall crawling Xenos or winning a type of game match. You also get experience for completing these as well. The non-xeno challenges, leveling and unlocks can all be acquired simply by running the Marine through the campaign as you’ll get points for doing them there as well which can lead to big gaps between your Xeno and Marine levels. I’d just resigned my Marine to having a lot more levels than my alien and called it good.
The gameplay between the two isn’t too bad. It’s pretty generic for a first-person shooter and works decently in an Aliens game. I think my only real complaint is that the Aliens are all in third-person while the humans are in first. It’s a little jarring. Also the aliens wall climb ability is easy to trigger simply hitting a button but when you’re actually on the wall, getting to other surfaces can be problematic and scaling the side of a container to get on the roof will often leave you dropping down the side of the container instead of hopping on top of it. Much like the rest of the game it could have used some refining. It’s not great but it’s not terrible.
The inclusion of the multiplayer will probably keep me coming back to this game. There is DLC coming for it, and it’s multiplayer modes and yes you’ll have to pay for them, which I don’t like as you’ll more than likely have to have those as the player base shifts over to them leaving the regular modes wanting for the rest of us. There are a nice set of difficulties and even with a guide I missed the collectibles and at least one legendary weapon which was annoying. I have a feeling though if you’re meh on the multiplayer and aren’t that fond of the campaign, you’ll end up not coming back to this game. As it is I see this as one of those games I pull up once in awhile when I want to fire off a pulse rifle and then put it away for a few months in between.
They’ve tried to give a decent balance between a story and multiplayer and I think that they managed that. The xenos aren’t incredibly over-powered over the Marines and vice-versa, but in the right hands and with a good team working together either side can look and feel unstoppable and beginning players are going to get frustrated, because to be honest, the matchmaking system is terrible. I’m consistently facing enemy teams in multiplayer made up of what can best be described as veteran players while we have a bunch of lower level new players on my team and we are constantly getting whipped. We put up a good fight, but I’ve noticed even when it cycles back and makes new teams it puts the top two vets on the same team consistently and just cycles around the lower players which is incredibly annoying. For the content and the fact you can at least mod the visuals to make it prettier, I’d actually say hold off on this one. It’s too much a standard shooter with a coat of Aliens paint on it. This is one of those ones you want to wait for the Steam sales to pick up if you’re on the fence on it.
As many people have pointed out before, there’s older games, far older games, that have done the same thing this game is trying to do. Sure they’ve hit a few interesting beats story-wise, but let’s face it, there’s nothing truly ground-breakingly original about a game based on a franchise that peaked in 1986. As far as addictiveness goes, the game is pretty easy to get into as it follows many of the standard first-person shooter standards. I’ve spent a good chunk of time playing it and don’t know where the time went, which is a good sign even when I was annoyed at the direction of the story or my inability to connect to the multiplayer. I do think that even though people are lam-basting it, there is an appeal to get a decent Aliens experience in hand, which is probably why it still hit the top of the sales charts in the UK even after other reviews started lambasting it everywhere else. It’s not a terrible game, it’s just a very standard game and not the mind-blowing experience we were promised. It’s at worst mediocre and when everything is working and buzzing along like it should it’s a helluva lot of fun.
I’ve had a few technical issues with the game. No I don’t have all these errors with the AI or any missing animations, my gun always recoils when I fire, Aliens never sat in one spot waiting to be killed. Everything on my version of the game has always worked, not as well as advertised, but it did the job. Bear in mind the following issues I’m about to describe I wiped out after deleting my local copy and downloading the six gigabyte install of the game all over again. I’ve had issues where the game wouldn’t load. Like I get to the Sega logo and it just stops dead. Then I had issues with multiplayer that perplexed Sega’s tech support so much they sent me to the Steam forums looking for help, which was no help. Basically I could see people connecting and getting ready to play multiplayer, but the second it kicked over to the game lobby where you select your loadouts or alien class I’d get dropped instantly with an error message. My game was up to date, my router worked fine with everything else I’ve got. I tried everything. Finally did a complete new install and it started working. So something glitched when I first got the game, but just not enough to kill my Campaign experience. So there’s that.
I do like the game even though I’m kind of tearing it down, and not because everyone else tore it down. It does have issues, and it’s not the one we saw the demo of. It’s a bit rougher. It does however, work. It’s not great, it’s not terrible, but it is functional, and it has some really decent things going on through all the furor surrounding it. Am I going to get the other multiplayer modes? That’s a decent question. I mentioned earlier if you had doubts that you should wait for a sale for this version of it, and I do mean that but I mean that with any game. If I’d not gotten a review copy I might have been more upset about it. Enough to go ranting on the forums about it? No not even close. The game isn’t that awful. It’s just ok. I can live with an ok game from a license instead of a smoldering pile any day of the week. There are some issues that I don’t think more development time would have fixed on the game. Honestly I would have questioned the direction of the story early on and neatly excised it from past events to let it stand on its own, much like the comics have done over the year. It would have made for a more compelling story and actually made for better story-telling and let us get to know the in-game characters as more than talking heads that move the plot. As much as Aliens was about Marines with guns, the characters in the film felt like there was a real history behind each of them. You don’t get that here, and that’s the real shame.
Short Attention Span Summary
Aliens: Colonial Marines isn’t the worst game of the year, but it’s far from the best. It’s an ok use of the Aliens license built off what most would deem a generic first-person shooter with some decent window dressing and a halfway decent Xenomorph playability tacked on for multiplayer. The story feels like fan-fiction struggling to find a way to wedge all its plot holes into the main film franchise while disregarding some key events in the films almost out of hand. The multiplayer, when it’s working, plays pretty decently, but as more DLC comes out I could see the population splitting between those with and those without and declining pretty rapidly. If you’re on the fence about the game after reading the review, hold off for a sale if you wanted to pick it up. There are other Aliens games out there that might scratch that itch a bit better than this one.
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