Article written by Alex C.
Published on 12/02/2013 at 09:00 AM.
It’s been years since SEGA first announced that they’d picked up the Aliens license and were working on Colonial Marines – either 12 or 7, depending on who you ask. And this week, it’s finally out.
“Hey, Hicks. Man, you look just like I feel.” Apt, perhaps, because that doesn’t look much like Hicks there at the beginning – and, well, seeing ol’ Dwayne at the beginning of the game looking more like a limp, poorly animated zombie than the bad ass soldier he is isn’t the worst part. Spoilers? Not here, but it’s safe to say that surely nobody actually expects Colonial Marines to be canon by the end of it.
There’s some seriously twisted imagination to be witnessed in SEGA’s latest shooter – the plot jumps around like an uncontrolled Call of Duty clone on far too much caffeine, sure, but the presence of some significant plot twists only serve to make Aliens fans squirm with disgust, not delight.
In fact, despite Aliens being the ‘action’ one of the series, Colonial Marines seems happy enough to dispense with all but the bare minimal of anything else in order to get its badly placed, gung-ho mentality across to the player. It’s so in your face that it’s not really about action after the first few levels: it’s more about mindless attrition and stubborn repetitiveness, legions of xenomorphs constantly flooding your location.
It’s reasonable to state that the creatures in Aliens were never the scariest, either – Giger’s wonderfully phallic, smooth, stealthy killing machine butchered into ridged pack-hunters for little more than the sake of it. But in Colonial Marines there’s not a single moment where the player need be scared of what should be a devastatingly dangerous foe – the standard Aliens simply dash to wherever you’re standing with barely any resemblance to AI and need only a blast of the (impeccable sounding) Pulse Rifle to stop them in their tracks.
And sure, the motion detector is handled brilliantly – it looks and sounds exactly like it should – but it’s largely pointless. There’s an (optional) on-screen indicator that appears whenever Aliens are due to appear, and your eagle-eyed teammates will always pick them out in the far distance before you even get the hint that you might have to shoot some bullets.
And then there’re the freaky, invented breeds, like the rhino-shaped thing that runs to your location and soaks up a stunning amount of ammo, or the daft, blind drones that explode in a puff of acid whenever they hear a loud noise, do absolutely nothing to further the atmosphere. In fact, the latter type populate just one isolated area of the game that could have otherwise have been a wonderfully tense, dark trip through a lethal section unarmed. Instead, it’s a simple creep stop push a button interlude that’s immediately forgettable.
They don’t hunt in groups. They won’t flank you. They won’t ever surprise you and they’ll rarely outnumber you and your squad, which varies in size throughout the game but normally hinges around a loosely ‘acted’ bunch of USMC bumbling from one objective to another repeating the same canned animation every time they turn a corner.
They’re even not dangerous up close and personal. You can always melee them away assuming they’re not behind you, with a visual prompt to do so reinforcing the fact that giving a xenomorph a smack in the face is plenty enough to stun them so you can whip out a weapon.
Your buddies are just as bad as the Aliens, too. Invulnerable to teeth and acid, they’ll fire blindly into boxes, stand out in the open like a magnet to the xenomorphs and wait patiently at key points so you always know which door to take. And that’s when they’re ignoring mortal danger to discuss circumventing orders (“We don’t leave Marines behind!”) and shouting wildly for absolutely no reason when they should really be sneaking around in silence.
Of course, the game is intended to partly act as a generous slice of fan service, and largely the game succeeds on that angle. The guns are superbly done, there are stacks of subtle references (“They mostly come out at night”) to the first two films, and the locations are largely great to see and explore – the game does try to pack in almost everything we’ve seen from Scott and Cameron even though they do feel a little forced (and close to each other) occasionally. Seeing parts of Hadley’s Hope in considerable detail is most appreciated.
But it’s here the plot, which attempts to be a catch-all of sorts, falls apart. Too much is retrospectively added in, too much feels like the developers assuming the player won’t notice the gaping plot holes and the player is constantly rushed from area to area before, in most cases, having to backtrack through them at a later date. Across the game’s eleven levels Colonial Marine does manage to test your patience somewhat.
Visually it’s somewhat poor, too. The Xbox 360 version has considerable tearing throughout, switches between 60 frames per second and speeds much lower constantly, has major texture issues (they’re low resolution, and come with a fair amount of pop-in) and the lighting is often rudimentary and flat.
Aliens vanish in an ugly green cloud when dispatched and the aliasing is so bad in places it’s hard to make out the middle distance. The screenshots provided for the game aren’t representative of the console version at all.
Animation suffers too, the Aliens dart and leap around like crickets when they’re not shuffling awkwardly, and the humans look like wooden puppets being dragged about.
Close up, it looks like something from the beginning of this generation, not the end, and after all the delays that’s all the more disappointing.
And yet, for all its faults, there’s something within Colonial Marines that still manages to connect. Perhaps it’s the lore, in which the game sits mostly consistently. Perhaps it’s the fact that Gearbox have found a way to get the player back onto Acheron and onto to the exact same metal grates that Ripley and friends busied along merely weeks prior. Perhaps it’s just the sound of that Pulse Rifle, which never seems to get old. The campaign isn’t great, that much is true, but it does occasionally shows sparks of intelligence and originality that means it’s impossible to feel too hard done by.
It starts off badly, and doesn’t end with much grace (with some odd sentiments being banded around during the closing sections) but there are a couple of levels that show glimmers of hope, elements that – if the rest of the game were up to the same standard – might make a much better game. And whilst the presence of hostile humans throughout is little more than a chore (and poorly introduced) one mission hints at a darker enemy, peeling a little of the protective cover from the Weyland Yutani corporation that we rarely see in the movies.
Colonial Marines’ single player is based on a dated engine, features a shoddy, threadbare storyline and enemies that simply don’t live up to expectation. Better with mates in co-op, but still far from the peak of what the genre can offer.
But then, of course, there’s the multiplayer, and whilst there’s potential here, it’s about the same all round. The biggest problem with previous Aliens games has been the Aliens, playing as an acid blooded xenomorph that can crawl on the ceiling has proven awkward to control. Well, here controlling everyone’s favourite face-melters is just as much fun as playing the titular Colonial Marines online, in fact it’s actually more fun to play as the bad guys.
The game offers a few modes. Team Deathmatch is played in tightly designed maps with plenty of wide spaces for the marines to attack from afar mixed with confined corridors from which the Aliens can launch surprise attacks.
Another game mode is ‘Escape’ in which the marines must reach an evac point whilst under attack from the Aliens. It’s not a straight dash to the exit, there are a number of objectives along the way including doors to unlock and lifts to use. These objectives also serve as supply drops for the Marines – these are invaluable as the Marines have very limited health and can only respawn at objectives.
Playing as the Marines you have to work as a team, if you all run off gun-ho then it will be game over in seconds. The team must work their way slowly to the next waypoint constantly under attack from the Aliens from all directions. It is incredibly tense and claustrophobic as you really don’t know where and when the attack may happen and you have to watch not only your back, but everyone else’s as well.
If a Marine is attacked for a prolonged period then they will go down and the others have a limited time to find and revive their team mate. If they do not, then it’s game over man, game over. Sorry.
Actually it’s not quite game over, if your teammates can reach the next objective then any downed players will respawn but the chances of them actually doing so with only three Marines are pretty slim. Teamwork is the only way to reach the evac, assign someone to take point and another player to cover the rear from surprise attacks and never, ever leave anyone behind.
If the Marines successfully reach the evac point and survive one final wave of Aliens, or if the Aliens manage to wipe out all of the Marines then the game resets and everyone swaps sides, those playing the humans now become xenomorphs. Before spawning you can choose which type of Alien you wish to play, a fast agile creature with a vicious slash attack, a spitter that can melt faces from a distance or a pouncer who can target the Marines from a vantage point and leap down in a surprise attack.
Anyone who tries to play as the Aliens by using the same tactics as they would in any other multiplayer game is in for a nasty surprise: you will lose, and lose badly. The Aliens themselves are, just as they are in the movie, rather susceptible to gunfire. A couple of shots and they will be a pool of acid on the floor so trying to run up to the Marines will result in death. Instead you have to play tactically and hunt the marines, springing surprise attacks from bottlenecks or hiding high up the ceiling, waiting for your prey to walk underneath. Team play is just as important as it is when playing the humans and we found it was best to target one marine and try and take him out, then creep back into the shadows and wait for his teammate to try and revive and attack once more.
As the Marines get closer to their objective then the re-spawn time for the Aliens decreases, this means the battle starts off as a tense, wary creep through corridors and ends in a wide open space with frantic attacks from all sides.
As with the single player, online both the Marines and Aliens can be leveled up, the Marines get better weapons and armour and the Aliens can gain new abilities including the delightful prospect of exploding in a shower of acid when killed.
The Escape mode is fun because it feels just like the movie, it’s tense and twitchy but I am wary as to how long the game can keep up the suspense. After just a few games we were learning the best places for the Aliens to hide and be waiting to attack and once you know where they are then the tension is bound to decrease.
Niggles aside, Aliens: Colonial Marines multiplayer is perfectly acceptable. Much like the Tomb Raider multiplayer I don’t think it brings anything particularly original to the table but it is a solid, enjoyable enough diversion with the added bonus of being wrapped in the sights and sounds of one of the best films ever made.
It feels like we’ve been waiting for this forever, and whilst Gearbox have indeed failed to live up to the lofty expectations that Aliens fans had hoped for, the game itself as a shooter simply doesn’t measure up amongst the games it attempts to ape. Sadly, it’s hardly top tier, with the weighty Aliens lore the only thing that saves it from being something approaching a disaster. It’s probably worth a run through for fans of the series who will get plenty out of the locations and fan service, but sadly, after all the anticipation, it’s also best experienced as a rental.
Notes: review copy (Xbox 360) supplied by the publisher. Due to time limitations, we were unable to fully test multiplayer on the console, so the multiplayer portion of this review was written by Tuffcub based on the findings at a recent press event, where high end PCs were used.
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