Before I played Aliens Colonial Marines, I did my homework.
I had a nasty bout of the flu in January and over the course of a weekend, I watched all four Alien films, as well as the prequel, Prometheus. Watching the films before playing Aliens: Colonial Marines helps you pick on subtle nods to the films layered throughout the game. But at the same time, while you come to the conclusion that you’re playing a game made by true Alien fans, you also realize it’s not very good.
While I’m more ok with the writers of Colonial Marines re-writing some of the canon of the films – especially since I thought it was a dumb idea to kill certain people at the beginning of the third film – than other critics, even I was disappointed to see the scary Xenomorph aliens who brilliantly stalked their prey in the films reduced to cannon fodder that leaps toward you throughout the game. They’ll even stupidly ignore your AI buddies to do so.
The game starts off very strong, however. You’re on the abandoned U.S.S. Sulaco hovering above LV-426. Your first encounter with an alien is scary. You can barely see it. It darts in and out of view. But you hear it. To kill it—you have to work for it. But after that encounter, Xenomorphs are so numerous the encounters start to feel stale even after a mission or two. (Luckily the single player campaign is fairly short.)
You play the game as Christopher Winter and you’ll encounter some characters from the films, as well as new ones like Bella and O’Neal. The new characters know less than the audience which can be frustrating to fans as these characters take forever to discover what we already know. But fans will probably delight in using a smart gun or marvel at the accuracy of the sounds of the motion tracker pings—even if those motion trackers are fairly useless and you’ll almost never use yours.
The only other section that I found really captured the essence of the Alien films is when my weapon was taken away from me and I had to sneak around the aliens. The ones stalking me were blind, but had incredible hearing. If I moved too quickly, they’d spot me instantly. Watching the aliens walk within a centimeter of me did scare me, even with the lights on. (My roommate Ryan will attest to my frightened screams.) Other critics have noted the sequence felt too easy and the alien enemies seemed too dumb, but for me, this captured the fear and the terror of the first Alien film in an incredible way.
If you’ve played any of the Halo games, you’ll feel right at home with the controls in Colonial Marines. A secondary fire option, available on most weapons, was quite fun, and while it seemed odd not to include regenerating health, there’s plenty of medkits and armor scattered throughout the levels.
The story builds to a natural conclusion, but many of the “twists” are ones that you’ll see coming a mile away. And the fight with the Queen at the end of the game unfortunately consists of you running and pushing buttons. Yes—you’ll never actually fire a weapon at her.
Colonial Marines does end on a cliffhanger as well, which is odd given that this story takes place in the middle of the film franchise. Unless of course the developers decide to continue messing with established canon.
I did not get a chance to sample any of the drop-in/drop-out co-op or competitive multiplayer. Some of the different multiplayer games include deathmatch, extermination and survivor. You can play as Xenomorphs or Marines.
After marathoning the Alien films, I couldn’t have been more excited to play Colonial Marines. Unfortunately, gameplay that seemed innovative five years ago and a weak story made this game the first real disappointment of 2013.
If you’re an Alien fan, however, and don’t play many shooters, you might walk away from this game happy when you see how much attention to detail is paid by the developers—they’re truly fans of this franchise. If you’re not a fan, however, it’s hard to recommend the title, especially knowing developer Gearbox is capable of so much more. (See Borderlands 2.)
Aliens: Colonial Marines is out now on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. It’ll come to the Wii U later this year.
* Disclosure: A copy of Aliens: Colonial Marines was provided by the publisher, Sega, for the purposes of this review. *