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

Aliens: Colonial Marines has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. That pretty much says it all.

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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.

From The Chatty

  • reply
    February 19, 2013 11:00 AM

    Timothy J. Seppala posted a new article, Aliens: Colonial Marines single-player review: contemptuous cash-in.

    Aliens: Colonial Marines has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. That pretty much says it all.

    • reply
      February 19, 2013 11:01 AM

      To be fair, I'm still slogging through it, and it's not THAT bad.

      It's not that good, but it's certainly not DNF or Daikatana, FFS.

      • reply
        February 19, 2013 11:11 AM

        Is it about as 'meh' as the last AvP game?

        • reply
          February 19, 2013 11:24 AM

          What was so 'meh' about the last AvP game?

          • reply
            February 19, 2013 11:48 AM

            Somebody post Poor Yurik's YouTube video of AVP 2010 gameplay at the "eliminate aliens ehile waiting for elevator" stage, on the hardest difficulty. That was intense; it felt like a proper Aliens scene.

        • reply
          February 19, 2013 11:50 AM

          It's so much worse than the last game.

        • reply
          February 19, 2013 12:42 PM

          As an FPS is pretty good, as an Aliens game, it's pretty bad.

          The atmosphere and the sound are GREAT. I mean, it's hard to do the sound wrong when you're going straight from the movie, but they've done some clever things for the environment. I've actually jumped a few times.

          The pacing is mediocre. I understand they're trying to build up suspense, but I should feel like I'm pressured the entire time. Sometimes I found myself kind wandering around and not quite knowing what the hell I'm supposed to be doing, so I start REALLY looking at models and textures and... I shouldn't do that. Ya know and with those textures... I don't think anyone else should either. ;D

          The AI is absolutely horrible. If the Aliens aren't doing incredibly awful things, my fire team is... hey anyone remember Daikatana? Like that. (Scripted events are pretty tight, but once the game isn't shoving you along on rails... it gets bad.)

          So really as a whole, get it, but wait til it's discounted on steam during the "RANDY PITCHFORD IS A SCAM ARTIST" sale sure to come around in a few months.

          Best part though is Lance Henriksen. Hiring him was the best decision they made for this project.

          • rms
            reply
            February 19, 2013 3:01 PM

            I'm getting this at the first big sale; bet I'll enjoy it. Recall all the Rage hatred, outcry and furor on release? At $10 and patched it was issue-free and quite decent.

            • reply
              February 19, 2013 4:17 PM

              Right and the funny thing is, eventually these are the games that end up becoming "cult classics".

              Really my advice for gearbox right now is quietly release a patch, maybe reward the loyal fans with some sort of awesome DLC, and then wait a few years and try again.

              Or fire Randy.

              • reply
                February 19, 2013 4:18 PM

                Okay that was mean and I apologize. He doesn't deserve to be fired. But he really needs to just stop talking so much.

                • reply
                  February 19, 2013 8:59 PM

                  No. You were right. Fire him. He either A) Knowingly deceived the public with his shit eating grin hype, or B) Totally mismanaged this to the point where he seriously didn't know it was this awful.

                  Either case would justify his walking papers for me.

      • reply
        February 19, 2013 11:16 AM

        It's worst then Duke Nukem Forever... Congrats on that!

        • reply
          February 19, 2013 12:34 PM

          Bullshit. DNF is the third worst game ever made.

        • reply
          February 19, 2013 7:07 PM

          Not even close.

          I was so, so, so disappointed by DNF.

          At least A:CM has coop to make it somewhat redeemable.

        • reply
          February 19, 2013 9:24 PM

          Oh so it's not that bad then and the internet is just hating on it for sport? Check.

          • reply
            February 20, 2013 7:30 AM

            They're hating on it because they feel ripped off by Randy. And they have a right to. But their anger is misplaced and they're taking it out on the game.

      • reply
        February 19, 2013 11:44 AM

        Everything I hear about this game makes it worse than DNF so far...

      • reply
        February 19, 2013 11:59 AM

        I concur. I am definitely glad I didn't pay full price, but my expectations were low going in and I mostly enjoyed it for what it was. I actually thought it ended fairly well, and the engine isn't THAT ugly. The worst part about the game is the horrible AI, but it certainly doesn't deserve the extremely low ratings it's getting. It's a 5-6 out of 10.

        • reply
          February 19, 2013 4:03 PM

          Don't you know that anything under an 8 from a review is equal to zero?

    • reply
      February 19, 2013 11:14 AM

      Enough of this game already damn.... It's not a fun game to play at all... I could hardly play it in one setting because it was such a repetitive bore. And an ending that'll really just piss you off you thinking actually wasted money on it...

      http://segabits.com/blog/2013/02/16/another-gearbox-worker-takes-to-reddit-says-segas-money-funded-the-borderlands-franchise/ And this... Stop preordering games from GearBox you're just feeding Randy's PR trolls...

    • reply
      February 19, 2013 11:56 AM

      Call it what you like, but spending six years on development automatically disqualifies ACM to be a "cash in," which is a licensed project rushed through development to literally "cash in" on fleeting fans of some entertainment product.

      • reply
        February 19, 2013 1:41 PM

        They converted some of the development funding into cash. On the way to the bank, they laughed the entire way, for maximum effect.

    • reply
      February 19, 2013 2:27 PM

      I posted my Aliens-related video here last night: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yqw1VxBpOmg

      Sooooooo disappointed in how ACM turned out.

      If you're on the fence about buying it, watch the first 2:30 of this review and you'll have all the information you need to save yourself your money and time:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGX2WE4QUw8

      ...Although the entire review is great and highly detailed and specific about the failings of the game from the perspective of a huge fan of the franchise.

      • reply
        February 19, 2013 4:06 PM

        I watched all of that Angry Joe review... I had been avoiding reviews thinking "Fuck it. I am one the biggest alien fans in all of creation, I went through 3 VHS version as a kid because I wore them out, feed me any aliens line and I'll tell you what line comes next. The is NO way I won't like this"
        But now... I'm just sad. :(

      • reply
        February 19, 2013 4:25 PM

        Everyone slags on AVP 2010, but to be fair it is a helluva lot more enjoyable (IMO) than ACM will ever be.

        Hrm, I keep forgetting "Aliens Vs Predator Classic 2000" is in my steam library... I still think that game is the best so far.

      • reply
        February 19, 2013 9:21 PM

        LOL After the ACM shit-sandwich I also reinstalled AVP 2010. I seriously had a tension headache after finishing the 1st mission. Rebellion nailed it.

        Acid blood that actually hurts - check
        99 round pulse rifle clip - check
        PERFECT Alien pathing / speed / AI - check
        Tense atmosphere & lighting - check

        I think we all owe Rebellion some credit that the initial AVP reviewers missed.

    • reply
      February 19, 2013 7:06 PM

      Whoa, that's hyperbole.

      This game is definitely not as good as it could be.

      But NO redeeming qualities whatsoever? C'mon!

    • reply
      February 20, 2013 7:43 AM

      I've only played this game for a few hours so far but I like it. It feels exactly like the game a 15 year version of me would want to play immediately leaving the theater after seeing Aliens. I think people are expecting this game to be the original Alien and Aliens rolled into 1. It is not and should not be that. This is an action game based off an action movie. Is is a great action game? No. Is it an action game that stays very close to the great action movie it is based upon? Yes.

      The motion detector alone creates more tension than any music or sfx cue in any game in recent memory. Now is that because I'm just reliving what I felt the first time I saw Aliens? Maybe but who cares. This game doesn't look great but it doesn't need to. And yes, the Alien AI isn't the best but what makes more sense: aliens rushing you and jumping in your face (just like they did Aliens) or aliens that hide and sneak around killing off marines stealthily (kind of like it did in Alien). There's a reason why it was one Alien slowly killing off the crew in the Nostromo. They weren't marines and it was a horror movie! Saying that it's stupid for aliens to rush blindly into gunfire in this game is like saying it's stupid for the aliens in Aliens to do the same thing. If you have a problem with that you'll have to take it up with James Cameron and not the makers of this game.

      Oh, and being able to close doors behind you is a great touch. This is something that is so overlooked in most games. Even if it makes no real difference, it feels like it's helping so I keep doing it. Most games today look better and get better reviews than Aliens Colonial Marines and yet I wouldn't care about closing doors behind me. Why is that?