The Aliens franchise has been steadily terrifying its way through generations of fans since 1986, when Ripley first encountered the acid-blooded, nightmare-inducing Xenomorph. With Aliens vs Predator getting a game rendition, it was about time that someone took on the mammoth task of bringing the horror of Aliens to consoles, and Gearbox seemed more than eager to be that team. It should have been a good thing. Unfortunately Aliens: Colonial Marines hasn’t turned out quite the way Aliens fans had hoped it would, decimating hopeful gamers across the world. But it isn’t all bad! VGU played Aliens: Colonial Marines on the Xbox 360 so keep reading to find out why it’s not all doom and gloom.
While it’s pretty awesome that Aliens: Colonial Marines returns to LV-426 (more specifically Hadley’s Hope) after Ripley, Newt and Hicks escaped, the game seems to be missing a giant fundamental aspect that makes it an Alien game. The story appears to be a direct sequel of the movie; with a second platoon of soldiers sent to check on the first lot (didn’t they learn anything the first time?) Corporal Christopher Winter (your character) is sent to investigate the U.S.S Sulaco, which has mysteriously reappeared over LV-426. Things quickly go to hell after finding a Marine who woke up in the Xeno nest next to a dead Facehugger. You already know what is going to happen and you’re just playing out the forced action until ‘BOOM’ – a chestburster appears and you’re trapped on the Sulaco once more. This appears to be a vast problem with this game: the action is pretty predictable, to the point where you can pretty much guess where the Xenos are going to appear from (the different colour vents really don’t help, it makes it stand out too much) and anyone who has played a shooter before knows when something is building up to a confrontation.
Without revealing too many spoilers, the Xenomorphs really don’t play a huge part in the game, which is strange considering it is meant to be a part of the Aliens franchise. Very quickly there are less Xenos to kill and more humans who work for the Weyland Yutani corporation (what a surprise, these guys ALSO want to kill you) and the game suddenly becomes a bog-standard shooter. You point, let rip a burst of bullets, rip through their armour and then dance on their corpses. The Xenos return a bit more when you make your way to Hadley’s Hope, even bringing in a new selection of lovely horrors for you to rip apart such as Xenos that can spit acid from a great distance and giant brutes of creatures with an impenetrable exoskeleton. It would have been nice to see more of the Xenos and a little less of the Weyland goons, since the glistening black nightmarish creatures are the whole point behind any Aliens game. Walking down a dark corridor and knowing that somewhere, whether it be that vent or under your feet, a creature with acidic blood and the capability to kill you in seconds is lurking is much more terrifying than walking down a corridor knowing you’re about to face a bunch of people.
This kind of ties in with the main thing Aliens: Colonial Marines seems to be missing: the fear element. Apart from one particular level (and people who have played the game will probably know what part this is) the game is a very set shooter that is highly predictable. In old Alien games, the beeping of the Motion Tracker used to send you into a flurry of panic – where is it coming from, how far away, do I have enough ammo, why am I even here?! Now it seems like an excuse to get one of your many weapons out, check your clip and get ready to smear some Xenos across the four walls. While you are still encouraged to conserve your ammo and you are still going to keep a paranoid check on how much health and armour you have left, the fact that you get armour and have other marines following you most of the time eliminates most of the fear of something bad happening. Granted they may be dumb as bricks at time, but having others to watch your back calms you down considerably. One level in particular, however, really takes you back to the old days when you had to play Aliens with the lights on. For a particular level you are stranded with no weapons, no armour, nothing. And to make things worse, you’re surrounded by Xenos, but a new breed: these monsters are blind but have highly effective hearing. That’s not even the scary part. To complete this mission you need to make your way through the corridors without making a single noise, and these Xenos will periodically walk around, stopping in specific places. While it’s incredibly easy to figure out their pattern and when they will move, your heart still skips when one walks right up to you and brushes past you. It skips once again when you’re creeping past and one suddenly twitches and hitches its breathing. The best part about these Xenomorphs though is what they do when they hear a noise: they explode. It gives you a pretty good reason to be very wary, and it’s an almost nostalgic feeling of fear, giving a really good tribute to the old games. Sadly though, one level cannot make up for the rest of the game, which is 11 missions long of getting from point A to point B, opening and sealing doors along the way.
The new creepy blind Alien certainly has your heart racing!
The AI are both interesting and terrifying, and not always in the ‘I want to be scared’ way either. For starters, some of the dialogue and cutscenes are so nail-bitingly bad you want to hide behind the couch just to avoid the embarrassment. Witty one-liners such as “Any thoughts on the exploding chest issue”, while interesting, are cringe worthy in the best of situations. Scenes that should be full of emotion and fear, such as the moment you land on the planet and your team mate is informed she will die from the chestburster she’s been carrying, instead seem bland, emotionless and almost painful to watch. Anybody would be devastated to find out they may die in a matter of hours, whether they are a hardened and trained Space Marine or not. This marine simply accepts it without question and has the most matter of fact opinion on it you can imagine. As well as their speech, their actions can be just as silly. For 5 minutes a companion appeared to be stuck in a wall while Winter fended off wave after wave of Xeno. In fact, he seemed more than happy to waste the only Smart Gun they had at the time. The Xenomorphs are just as bad, walking towards you like John Wayne some moments and like Gollum the next. There are times where they will completely walk past you, seem to do a double take and then decide to try and rip your face off, and the glitches when they die can be hilarious, which really breaks the horror atmosphere Gearbox have tried to create.
Cringy banter and unexplainable actions sum up your AI team mates.
While there seem to be a lot of bad points to the game, the one part that stayed relatively true to the films is the weaponry. The first weapon you are handed is THE gun: the M41A Pulse Rifle 10 millimetre with over-and-under 30 millimetre pump action grenade launcher, straight from the movie lovingly described by Hicks. As soon as you get it, you know things are going down. And that’s not the only one you get. While you do get given an assortment of fun toys to play with (Battle Rifle, Pump Shotgun, and Flamethrower to name a few) you also get Legendary Weapons, which are six weapons placed throughout the Campaign missions. Unlike your normal weapons these cannot be customised (we’ll get on this in a second) but these can also be used in your Multiplayer Loadouts, with four of the six being usable in Campaign. These all belong to characters from Aliens, such as Hick’s Shotgun and Hudson’s Pulse Rifle, and once again it’s a nice tribute to the movies that made the game possible.
The normal weaponry is customisable in a style that is a little too close to Call of Duty for comfort. For example, by spending points you gain through levelling up you can unlock a red dot laser sight for your Pulse Rifle. You can also unlock extra attachments, so instead of having your grenade launcher you will be able to equip a flamethrower, or an under-barrel shotgun. While it is great against the Xeno hordes, it breaks the atmosphere of the game a bit when you can just go and change your loadout through the levels. For the multiplayer it’s great, but for Campaign not so much. You do this levelling up in the Campaign by collecting Dog Tags and Recordings hidden throughout the levels, which is a lot easier than it sounds: because of the linear corridor-like design of the levels, there are very few places that can be explored. You simply need to know what to look for. For a ‘horror’ game it is a little out of place, helping to take away any semblance of fear when you can just power up your guns even more.
The weapons upgrades are pretty cool, but seem out of place in the Aliens Universe.
The multiplayer experience, on the other hand, is actually quite hilarious. You have 4 modes: Team Deathmatch, Extermination, Escape and Survivor, and you are given the option of playing as a United States Colonial Marine or a Xenomorph. Once the time limit is reached you swap teams, so it makes it fair on everyone playing, and being a Xenomorph with the ability to jump on people and stab your tail through them is quite fun (probably not for the other person though). There are currently 9 maps, so there’s plenty of replayability if you enjoy killing other players (and who doesn’t enjoy that?) so the multiplayer experience, overall, isn’t as bad as the single player campaign.
Finally we get on to the graphics and sounds. The visuals aren’t bad in places, and in others they are quite terrible. Poor textures, some that just don’t even load properly and paying too much attention really brings this game down. The lighting works quite well, helping to maintain a semi-creepy atmosphere, but it’s quickly ruined when you encounter a Xenomorph with a texture that hasn’t loaded, leaving it blurry and squishy looking. Some of the environment textures are just as bad, looking either half done or rushed. It just seems to be missing the shine that Gearbox’s previous games had. The sounds, on the other hand, aren’t too bad. The weapons, both shots and reloading, stay quite close to the ones in the movie (especially the good old Pulse Rifle) and the Xenos still do the adorable squeal after you shoot them a few times. Hearing their hiss in the dark brings back memories of sitting and watching the movie in the dark, and all of the sounds work together to try and keep a semblance of scary atmosphere. Again, it’s brought down by the bad gameplay and graphics though.
The easiest thing to say with Aliens: Colonial Marines is that as a shooter game it isn’t that bad. It has the elements that make up a shooter: the repetitive gameplay where you empty clip after clip into people who should have gotten another job, you can customise your loadouts and weapons to suit your shooting tactics and you still get the semi-adrenaline thrill of killing something. However, as a game in the Aliens franchise, it’s quite poor. I’ve been a fan of Aliens for as long as I can remember, and playing this really had me pulling my hair out at certain parts. Aliens fans may want to avoid this title, or borrow it from someone else. There seems to be a lot that could have been done better with this game.