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Aliens: Colonial Marines (PlayStation 3) artwork

Aliens: Colonial Marines (PlayStation 3) review

"A brutal patchwork of exaggerations, underachieving and wasted potential."

For half an hour, I suppose it could be said I was a pretty content gamer. For half an hour, I didn't know what the world was complaining about, because Aliens: Colonial Marines was great. Before things even really started, it had your roughneck marine show you, in exaggerated detail, that the weapon you would spend the majority of the game carrying was the M41A Pulse Rifle. The M41A Pulse rifle, with the underslung grenade launcher that those rascally Marines you constantly quote from the awesome film used. And it's perfect; it makes the exact same high-pitched retort when you open fire, it has the same deep red digital counter that counts down how many bullets you have left. It has the underslung grenade launcher - did I mention that? I may have - it's awesome, and it awoke in me a sense of fanboyish glee that rarely manages to break through my cynical critic exoskeleton.

Once your on-screen marine avatar, Corporal Winter, has stopped waving around the manifestation of my childhood, he boards The Sulaco, the ship that bore Ripley, Hicks and co. to LV-426, and then took the surviving crew off to ruefully star in Alien 3 after the planet was smashed with the equivalent of a thermo-nuclear blast. (Remember this bit for later - I'm foreshadowing!) Here, he finds the remains of the platoon that went in before him, all beaten to hell, and tracks around their safe, enclosed space with a motion tracker. Ba-deep, Ba-deep, goes the motion tracker as it's panned around - just like in that movie everyone loves!

I'm hardly hiding it, but the fact is, I'm a huge Aliens nerd, and this game was more or less rolled out to cash in on the chumps like me who own several editions of the movie trilogy on several forms of media because we refuse to stop throwing money at the franchise. As videogames go, though, it's a series with a hell of a lot more misses than hits, but Colonial Marines is supposed to be the big, gleaming title that changes it that. And for that first half an hour or so, I really felt it would be. Exploring the ship on your own eventually leads you to a storage area where the dead bodies of former allies are glued to the walls with some kind of secreted resin (secreted from what?!) It's in trying to cut down the only survivor that you're attacked by your first Xenomorph.

Okay, this bit's pretty underwhelming. It knocks you over, then charges at you, sprinting over the floor like it was constructed of red hot coals. Then it goes and hides in a fixed spot, making you find it with your motion tracker while it more or less hangs around and waits for you to kill it. However, later in the level, you and a marine buddy run along elevated metal boardwalks while aliens swarm out of the walls. Sometimes they blindly charge you, swinging talons and dripping acid blood, but after you put some of them down, they change tactics. They adapt. Suddenly, you'll see them skitter over the edge of the platform, only to clamber around on the underside, and pop up behind you while others act as a distraction. You'll see them in the distance, surging across the ceilings and walls trying to figure out the best way to get to you without being shot. You'll see them trying to kill you intelligently and you'll know it's time to raise your bloody game.

The next stage has no aliens in it at all. It has mercenary soldiers under corporate employ who want to stop you for the same greedy corporate reasons you always see or read about. They're rubbish, and suddenly, so is this game.

It's a big enough blow that the title only takes one sodding level to forget what its main selling point is [protip: it's the name of the sodding game], it's an even bigger one to discover just how plain retarded enemy soldiers are, even on the highest difficulty setting. They'll stand out in the open, taking random pot-shots, and sometimes, the most efficient way to deal with them is just to wander nonchalantly past them. They don't flank, they don't lay down suppressive fire, they don't do any of the things we expect of enemy AI since Half Life came along in 1998. They exist and they die; their only use being they drop ammo that will float in the air like the game's built upon a half-finished Source engine mod. Hell, it may as well be.

For all the shit I'm about to kick out of Aliens: Colonial Marines, it's worth remembering that the biggest fault is simple; it's a shoddily made title, bounced around developers so often none of them really got the chance to make anything more than the bare basics. For all the good work it does in staying as true as possible to the aesthetics of a film made nearly thirty years ago, it fails categorically at everything else. As a pure shooter, it's little more than power walking from A to B with only a few splashes of imagination being wasted in between. For all the hype, for all the advanced trailers containing remarkable footage that made the upcoming title look like a world beater, what we received instead was a brutal patchwork of exaggerations, underachieving and wasted potential.

Frankly, if the myriad developers put as much effort into actually developing as they have done trying to shift the blame onto each other, then we probably would have the game they point-blank tried to trick us into believing would be released. Spend a few more awful levels slugging through cardboard human enemies, and you'll wind up in the smoking crater of LV-426. Remember that expert foreshadowing I supplied earlier? The punchline is that, apparently, suffering a huge thermonuclear explosion causes only light property damage resulting in a few holes and the odd roof in disrepair. This sets the scene for, frankly, some God awful writing; impregnated marines are flippantly casual or moronically ignorant about their grizzly fate. A soldier buddy rescued from a room full of dead facehuggers and opened eggs gets a small Alien foetus bursting through his rib cage in the very first act of the game, yet everyone still acts in shock and awe about how Xenomorphs reproduce. Another marine mentions how she had a spider thingy on her face when she woke up, but announces that it was dead, so no one sees any issue with this.

Possibly the worst angle the game inexpertly handles is in the resurrection of Hicks. I'd avoid talking directly about it in fear of spoilers had the game not fallen over itself to credit and advertise Michael Biehn rekindling his character. In the previous canon, he dies in Alien 3 when his life pod crashes on Fury-161. Except, no - that was someone else and Hicks was just ambling around LV-426 instead. Despite the fact it had exploded, apparently, and is still riddled with homicidal hunter-killers. When the question of whose remains were found in Hick's life pod, he offers that it's a long story, and they don't have time to go into it. Everyone accepts this because it's completely plausible that there was a magical extra survivor just chilling in a darkened corner until they needed to take a nap in an already occupied life pod. Then it's never mentioned again.

It's so ludicrous, that I half expected to see other long dead marines pop up inexplicably. Perhaps to find a melty-faced Drake still waging war, or for Hudson to rappel down the side of a building with a knowing nod and a grin. I was a little put back, then, when I found PFC Hudson does make an appearance of sorts. A million miles away from the moronic human guards, you find yourself unarmed and deep within enemy territory, in a den of mutated Aliens, who have lost their sight. They make up for this downfall by charging at any sudden spikes of sounds and exploding into a fatal cloud of acid blood. Here, in flooded basements long taken over by the enemy, you creep through stalking monsters, distracting them by tripping steam pipes, and hoping like hell they don't hear you. Should you manage to sneak your way through, you emerge in a room of cocooned corpses. One belonging to Warren Hudson. In a crazy attempt to stick with realistic canon, he's quite dead.

That level is creepy and atmospheric; keeping you on edge by promising a quick and messy death should you slip up or get cocky. I'd like to continue to praise the work put into the Xenomorpgh AI but, let's face it, [noisespike-goto-charge!] isn't the most elegant opposition pattern you'll find in an enemy opponent. I wanted to believe the group tactics I have revelled in on the first stage would continue into the game when the planet opens up into less claustrophobic confines, but they don't ever really possess that level of cunning again. Aliens do little but adopt the same silly running-on-hot-floor poise, and charge at you recklessly. Concerned, I replayed the first stage that once so held me and found them aliens doing the exact same thing they had on my first playthrough. Here's the kicker; every bit of predatory brilliance, every time they skitter under the floor or emerge from ceiling vents to drop on your head, it's a pre-programmed set piece. Left to their own devices, they only have one plan of attack; flail limbs>charge.

Through lack of care and sheer indifference, almost everything Aliens: Colonial Marines touches crumbles into triviality. The flame units and smart guns that were equipable weapons in 1996's Alien Trilogy are stingily doled out for special occasions only, and the cache of new firearms you can unlock throughout the game are effortlessly outclassed by the starting combo of pulse rifle/stock shotgun. The game makes a big deal about how you can wield metal doors closed, then allows you to do this a sum total of once in a meaningful fashion. The motion tracker looks and sounds ace, but its usefulness is limited at best, and feels like it was just thrown in for fanservice rather than to serve a function. The multiplayer kinda works, because it manages to sidestep the wonky Ai by transferring Alien cunning to actual players, but online games are buggy and clumsy. I've lost count of how many times I've managed to pounce on and pin a marine to the floor with an Alien lurker, only for him to freeze solid, not able to slash away at its quarry like it should, and pinning the two in infinite inactivity until a marine player blasts me off. Or how climbing walls sometimes merges you with them. Or how my marine, while holding a defendable point, once fell through the floor into the room below which just happened to be swarming with Aliens suddenly pleased at the prospect of an easy kill literally falling into their lap.

If I was happy for half an hour, it was because I was able to give Aliens: Colonial Marines the benefit of the doubt; to assume that it all going to work out in the end. I was quickly proven wrong in what I suspect will become the new video gaming benchmark in just how hard you can drop the ball.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (April 20, 2013)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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