I don’t think anybody should buy Aliens: Colonial Marines. I don’t think anybody should play it. I don’t think it is worthy of anyone’s time, least of all anyone who has any sort of love for James Cameron’s seminal and influential action-thriller. Aliens: Colonial Marines is a bad game that has seemingly been punted out the door with the full knowledge that it isn’t going to please anyone… at all.
If I could leave my review there, I would – but I suppose if one is going to savage a game, which is nowhere near as enjoyable as some might suspect it is, then one owes its makers a reasonable level of explanation. By way of a touch of context, Colonial Marines was originally announced in the PS2 days before being quietly cancelled and the rights to the Alien franchise transferring to Sega; the game was then resurrected a half-dozen years ago with the promise of squad tactics and the careful guidance of developer Gearbox, a developer with a solid track record (in more recent times, responsible for the well-regarded Borderlands and its sequel). Over the years, Colonial Marines went through periods of silence before reappearing, ghost-like, at various trade shows and industry events. Demos were shown, trailers were presented, and by and large it appeared to all concerned that Gearbox was on track to deliver a remarkably faithful adaptation of a beloved movie, delivering not only on the nostalgic promise of having the opportunity to explore the environments and scenarios of the film first-hand, but also on the tense, atmospheric action that originally attracted cinema-goers. Dark tunnels… the blip of the motion-tracker… the sudden screech of a xenomorph as it descended from the shadows… the ensuing scream of the pulse rifle; everything seemed to be on track. Gearbox had boasted of their script and premise, which sees a group of colonial marines return to planet LV-426 to find out just what the heck happened after Sigourney Weaver called the xenomorph queen a bitch and jettisoned her from the airlock. Gearbox boasted that 20th Century Fox had given the green-light to the script. The game was to be canonical, the unofficial sequel that people had wanted and expected in lieu of the grim nihilism of Fincher’s Alien 3. Colonial Marines, while never appearing revolutionary or innovative, appeared to boast all of the potential in the world, to be a satisfying genre-piece that appealed to fans of first-person shooters and movie geeks alike.
Sadly, Colonial Marines bears all the sophistication and execution of a shovelware licensed shooter that would have been shrugged off in the early years of the PS2, before there was any real competition in the genre in the console-space. As a shooter, Colonial Marines is basically functional. Despite some hilarious bugs, pulling the trigger generally results in bullets being fired at enemies. When you push a button to open a door, the door generally opens. There are levels, optional upgrades for the weaponry, and even a couple of (awful) boss encounters. Colonial Marines is certainly a game that can be played from beginning to end, and on occasion, when everything comes together, you might even have a bit of fun… but this is unlikely. Things begin promisingly, with the tinkling of James Horner’s iconic, stirring score before swelling into bombastic militaristic chords over the main titles. Eagle-eyed players may even spot the names of Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen (who portrayed Hicks and Bishop, respectively, in the film. I think I said: “oh, neat”, prompting a strange glare from my wife) in the opening credits and begin imagining all the creative ways in which the game may play with the film’s legacy and iconography.
After a shoddy and incomprehensible cut-scene introduces you to the cluster of anonymous, cardboard cut-outs comprising your squad, the game begins proper and you take your first steps into the Sulaco (the ship from the film – geeze, watch the movie already – it’s fantastic). It was at this point that I knew something had gone very wrong over at Gearbox. The metallic hallways which gleamed and shone under dynamic, atmospheric lighting effects in all of the pre-release media that I had seen appeared bland and sterile*. The character models skittered around like crabs. I suddenly realised that I wasn’t playing a game from 2013. I was playing a shambolic, Frankenstein’s monster that had been injected with life from a corpse state and had dragged itself to store shelves under the threat of litigation and the pressure of Sega’s quarterly financials. Still, I imagined that even a troubled, rushed game might still offer some enjoyment. After all, this was Aliens, and a shooter, and I like both of those things. Even if it wasn’t a polished, technical marvel, I thought I might derive a modicum of enjoyment from it, at least on a base level. After all, how could it not be fun to shoot xenomorphs with a pulse rifle? Sadly, it didn’t take me too long to figure out the answer to my question. The aliens in Colonial Marines are skittish, poorly-animated zombies that run right at you and fall in a heap after a few bullets; there is no evidence of their intelligence or menace, no feeling of dread engendered. The game’s core conflict, the concept of pitting well-armed soldiers against an overwhelming horde of intelligent apex predators, is lost in the jumble. On the basis of this fundamental failure, you could argue that Colonial Marines has no real reason to exist. And you’d be right.
Even if the combat was unsatisfying, I strangely held out hope that the game’s story would give me some insights into the fiction, perhaps with a few nods or call-backs to scenes that I enjoyed in the film. I got the latter, and indeed, Colonial Marines seems hellbent on jamming in and recreating (poorly) every memorable scene or scenario from the film. Power-loader battle? Yep. A confrontation with an alien queen? You betcha! But it all feels like exactly what it is: a hollow facsimile without regard for the pacing or atmosphere that made the film (and many videogames, like Dead Space and its sequels) so exciting. Next to its genre contemporaries, experiencing the set-pieces in Colonial Marines are akin to watching a Youtube video of a child playing with his action figures. The script is, somehow, even worse, not solely for its murky plotting and awful dialogue, but for its sheer lack of respect for the source material. Characters who have perished in the series’ cinematic fiction are (almost without explanation) resurrected for the sake of fan-service, simultaneously worsening an already poor game and diminishing its incredible source material. From now on, whenever I watch Aliens I will inevitably associate it with the events of Colonial Marines, and that is something of a tragedy.
A few days after I had recovered from playing the single-player game, which mercifully only takes four or five hours, I tentatively dipped my toes into the game’s multiplayer modes, hoping that, amongst all of the slap-dash, piecemeal outsourcing that had constituted the game’s development, the multiplayer modes were designed by a team who cared. I played a few minutes as a xenomorph in a team deathmatch scenario, and then realised that all of the opposing team’s players, being the marines, had powered up as a result of them gaining experience points during the campaign. Accordingly, I was immediately outmatched and blasted into oblivion before I could turn on my clawed heels and flee. I ran around for a few minutes longer, climbing up walls and leaping into the distance. I laughed out loud a couple of times when I managed to sneak up on a marine and take him out from behind. For a moment, I almost enjoyed myself, but then I realised that just about any other multiplayer shooter on the market would be more enjoyable, better-looking, and still have an active player-base within two weeks. I was just done with Colonial Marines.
This game isn’t for you. If you like first-person shooters, you have plenty of fantastic options. If you like Aliens, then I recommend playing 2010′s Aliens v Predator, which while mediocre, was and is still better than Colonial Marines in that it conveys some of the tension and excitement of the source material and one gets the feeling that its creators had a semblance of respect for the material. Not an ounce of passion is evident in Colonial Marines. Gearbox doesn’t seem to have cared about it all, and in that context, why should players? If ever there was a game that offered nothing for anyone, Colonial Marines is it. Forget the Gothic mystery or bio-mechanical menace of the xenomorph – it isn’t here at all. This game feels like a contractual obligation, a cynical licensed product that should never have been released in such a state. Don’t buy it, don’t play it, and don’t think about its existence any more than you need to.
Game over, indeed.
*Author’s Note: The screenshots used in this review were obtained from Sega Australia’s official site and, in the author’s opinion, do not accurately represent the visuals of the PlayStation 3 version of the game that formed the basis of this review.
Michael Biehn got paid | James Horner's score rocks
Absolutely everything else