|Platform Win, 360, PS3, Wii U|
|Developer Gearbox Software|
|Release Date 02/12/2013|
Aliens: Colonial Marines has been the topic of a number of bold promises from Gearbox Software.
Gearbox has maintained that it understands what made Aliens what it is. Gearbox has even gone so far as to say that the new story beats in Colonial Marines would make Alien 3 — notoriously compromised via a troubled production process — a better film.
Aliens: Colonial Marines does none of that. Gearbox has shepherded out a game that fails to grasp the functional core of the series. Instead, Colonial Marines is a boring, tension-free shooter with no weight and no kick, and Gearbox's incomprehensible story decisions and revisionist pen compromise the films it's based upon.
If you're not more than casually familiar with Aliens, Colonial Marines is never going to make much sense
Set around four months after the end of Aliens and Alien 3, Aliens: Colonial Marines opens on a shot of the troop transport spacecraft USS Sulaco. A new platoon of "ultimate badasses" aboard the USS Sephora is responding to the distress call sent out by an ill-fated rescue expedition to the Hadley's Hope colony on the moon Acheron — also known as LV-426. When the Sephora and her crew investigate, a conspiracy unravels and destroys both ships. The crew crash lands on the ruined surface of LV-426 still somehow teeming with xenomorphs, and the only way off is through the mercenary forces of the conglomerate Weyland-Yutani.
If none of that makes much sense, you're likely not more than casually familiar with Aliens, and I've got bad news: Aliens: Colonial Marines is never going to make much more sense. For the audience that knows the story of Ellen Ripley's return to LV-426, Aliens: Colonial Marines' four to five hours of campaign is achingly predictable. It draws heavily from a playbook that's been mined repeatedly over the course of five films (counting last year's Prometheus) and dozens of games tied to the Aliens franchise.
Even if you're not directly familiar with the source material, Aliens has been so influential to modern sci-fi — particularly sci-fi video games — that Colonial Marines feels like it's stealing artlessly from just about everything out there. In fact, I'm pretty sure I can only remember Colonial Marines' story because it so blindly follows a predictable plot diagram established by other stories. (continued below)
Where are the screens?
Ordinarily, a review would include numerous high-resolution images of the game in question as provided by the publisher. While these screens are often sharper or higher-resolution than the 720p imagery that most players will see on consoles, they nevertheless are usually indicative of the overall visual makeup of the game in question.
However, as Reviews Editor, I could not in good conscience use assets distributed by Sega and Gearbox over the press cycle for Aliens: Colonial Marines. They bear little resemblance to the maxed-out PC version I played for this review.
I've included a few comparison shots below from Gearbox's 2012 walkthrough video of the game and the same area as it appears in the final, retail release on PC.
Gearbox can't be bothered to explain a major, fundamental change to the fiction of Aliens and Alien 3
Colonial Marines isn't satisfied with borrowing, though. Rather than work around existing fiction that most licensed games follow, Gearbox has instead taken it upon itself to play the part of revisionist. Aliens: Colonial Marines actively rewrites the film canon, and they do it in the most hackneyed way possible: by bringing back the dead.
The Alien films aren't averse to reviving the dead, but even Alien: Resurrection provided a plot-driven, logical motivation for doing so. Colonial Marines can't manage even the thinnest justifications for its actions — the character in question isn't a plot device. It's a fifth wheel on a car that doesn't have a working engine. I couldn't tell if Gearbox didn't know how to provide a functional explanation for the revival or didn't care to — said character literally brushes off this specific question by insisting they don't want to talk about it.
To reiterate: Gearbox couldn't be bothered to explain a major, fundamental change to the fiction of Aliens and Alien 3. It's a fumbled, crass, wasted and pointless attempt at fan service that only serves to make everything it touches worse by virtue of its existence. It's there just because.
This lack of follow-through besets Aliens: Colonial Marines from every angle. The legendary motion tracker from Aliens is present but serves next to no purpose during the campaign, because the aliens follow predictable patterns and run straight for you almost all of the time. As far as I could tell, the aliens' deadly acid blood makes a mess but doesn't cause any harm to the player. There are thematic and stylistic nods to Aliens that don't go anywhere. They're just checking off the list of "Stuff that should probably be in an Aliens game."
"In light of its narrative and fictional blunders, it's almost easy to miss the lazy level design and underdeveloped mechanics that would otherwise relegate Aliens: Colonial Marines to licensed game limbo."
In light of its narrative and fictional blunders, it's almost easy to miss the lazy level design and underdeveloped mechanics that would otherwise relegate Aliens: Colonial Marines to licensed game limbo. Weapons feel weak — there's almost no real feedback from targets when you shoot them, and enemies soak up bullets. The aliens mainly hurl themselves forward — they shuffle over terrain and often get stuck on scenery. On more than one occasion, I watched an alien turn and hide behind a crate, an activity which I assure you serves to defang any sense of menace there. There's no sense of threat present, save from badly designed "setpiece" moments with poorly defined objectives.
Even multiplayer feels slapped together. There are some good ideas involving survival modes and asymmetric versus matches pitting humans against aliens. The weapon upgrade system that seems so out of place in the campaign — which allows red-dot sights and other Shooter 101 additions to your arsenal — makes more sense here. But Aliens: Colonial Marines' underlying mechanical failures make basic combat, whether as a marine or an alien, a chore.
And co-op is the nail in Aliens: Colonial Marines coffin, surprisingly enough. While it's always more fun to suffer with friends serving as a peanut gallery to take the edge off just how bad a game Colonial Marines is, everyone will need a strong stomach to see things through. Colonial Marines' netcode led to some bizarre player-teleporting and incomprehensible voice-chat, and extended sequences are almost broken in co-op, leading to more frustration than camaraderie.
Aliens: Colonial Marines feels craven and exploitative of its source material
Aliens: Colonial Marines plays like a budget title from early in this console generation. The production values are underwhelming, and there's very little game present. Those things are enough to make Colonial Marines bad. But the infuriating amount of confidence on display as Aliens: Colonial Marines systematically misses the point again and again is what really poisons the experience. The end result feels craven and exploitative of its source material and the fans that will hopefully know better.
Aliens: Colonial Marines was reviewed using pre-release PC code provided by Sega. You can find more information about Polygon's ethics policy here.About Polygon's Reviews