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Aliens: Colonial Marines single-player review: contemptuous cash-in

by Timothy J. Seppala, Feb 19, 2013 11:00am PST

Aliens: Colonial Marines has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

One would think making a decent game based off a movie so many other games have successfully aped would be easy, but, despite the pedigree of the numerous teams involved, what's in the box somehow feels half-baked after six years (or more?) in the oven. There isn't one defining fault that brings the experience down. Rather, the culmination of so many poor design choices and an overall lack of care sinks Colonial Marines well before it has a chance to gain any traction.

Anyone trying to follow up Aliens has a nigh-insurmountable task ahead of them. (Just ask Alien 3 director David Fincher.) Colonial Marines takes place two weeks after the events of Aliens and tries marrying inert firefights with a low-key, personal story of survival and rescue. It fails at every turn. Attempts to recreate iconic moments from its source material--wading through the waterlogged crawlspaces below walkways, operating a power loader--somehow fall dead flat. The latter felt like a ham-fisted attempt to create tension and urgency, but it resulted in confusion due to erratic camera movements, stiff controls, and mindless gameplay that amount to little more than button-mashing. I didn't know what I was doing or how to do it; I was just marking time before I hit the next boring corridor.

There's no atmosphere to Colonial Marines. Music cues whenever enemies are near, eliminating any sense of surprise--even abruptly cutting off as soon as foes are dispatched, sometimes mid-note. The sight of a room filled with xenomorph eggs should be enough to give anyone pause, but here it doesn't. For the most part, the eggs are little more than set dressing and often pose no threat. Scripted events determine if and when a facehugger jumps out, and even then there's no urgency in dealing with them: just mash the action button fast enough and you'll throw it into a corner. Fire a few rounds into it, rinse, repeat.

Trudging through waist-high green muck, pulse rifle drawn with nothing more than my meager flashlight beam to brighten the area I noticed I was surrounded by pale husks of xenomorphs. Were these spent molts? Some almost looked alive. A series of steady drips and drops cut through the silence as water or something else entirely fell from the pipes and grates around me. A static-filled voice came over the radio warning me to move slowly because these weren't all skeletons or carcasses, some were still alive and only responded to movement. Careful as I was to not disturb the snoring-–yes they actually snore--monsters surrounding me, I failed a few times. One of the husks got up and started walking around like a bony T-Rex holding in a fart. Good-bye, mood. I stopped moving, it stopped moving. This attempt to slow the pace and build ambiance was stripped bare by shoddy creature design and animation, a running theme throughout Colonial Marines.

Cheese-ball dialog and voice-acting sucks the wind from Colonial Marines' sails, too. Yes, Bill Paxton's Private Hudson had a few over-the-top lines in Aliens, but nothing matches the insipid delivery present here. "Shit's all explodin' an' shit!" was screamed during one firefight. "We had a thin ... a sex thing" was how one squad mate described his relationship with another while we were on our way to rescue her. Not only did this jerk me out of the experience, but these green marines go from "What was that thing coming out of his chest?!" to "These xenomorphs have acid for blood and spit it from long distances!" in no time, flat. How did this squad learn the hows and whys of xenomorph biology? We never know. This game's audience is die-hard Aliens fans and it constantly insults their intelligence.

Colonial Marines is a mess technically, too.

Sound is flat and thin, iconic weapons' barks were scaled back to pitiful whimpers. Xenomorph hisses and screams sound like an old man whistling through his dentures. Multi-channel audio is hardly taken advantage of, either. Muddy, blocky textures run rampant and overall visual design is somehow more bland and uninspired than plain oatmeal. Sure, there's some fancy lighting here and there, but all it does is highlight how bad the rest of the game looks in comparison.

A majority of modern games employ a brightness slider to adjust the end user's display in line with what the developers worked with. Colonial Marines does too, but it means next to nothing. The lion's share of the game's environments are dark corridors or they take place outdoors in the evening, but even with a well-calibrated HDTV I was fighting the game's luminance as much as I was acid-blooded death dealers. At first, it was fine. I moved the slider enough to the left to where I could barely see the colonial marines' insignia and had no problems. It wasn't long before Colonial Marines shifted from inky black shadows to washed out over-bright everything at a moment's notice robbing almost every scene of drama; it's schizophrenic. Black xenomorphs are hard to pick out of a dark room as it is, but the brightness fluctuations make it that much harder. An alien pinned me down and I had to mash the action button to throw it off, in this brief moment the game swapped from its over-bright video output to where it normally should be. As soon as I threw the bugger off me, the blown-out brightness came back. I've never seen anything like this in any game before.

Later in the brief campaign I explored the crashed ship on LV 426's surface, but the kicker is I didn't even know where I was until I saw the space jockey sitting in his cockpit. What should have been the story's highlight almost felt shoehorned in. Those few minutes inside the ship were the best part of the game, but they were rushed–there was no build up, no excitement, nothing regarding the importance of the ship--and ultimately felt inconsequential. Now that I think about it, that's the best way of describing Colonial Marines as a whole. It's hard to care about this game as a player when the developers obviously didn't care themselves.


This Aliens: Colonial Marines review was based on a retail Xbox copy of the game provided by the publisher. The game is also available for PlayStation 3 and PC.





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