Review : Aliens: Colonial Marines

Aliens: Colonial Marines is like a trip to a natural history museum. It’s empty and nostalgic, meticulous and dated. More importantly, it’s hands-off. Like a museum, Colonial Marines is at its best when you’re admiring the view. Aliens: Colonial Marines is a disappointing exercise in bland corridor shooting, dragged down by laughable dialogue and cooperative play that makes the game worse than when you adventure on your own. Colonial Marines is unremarkable in every conceivable way: it’s far too easy, generally devoid of tension, and lacking in the variety it so desperately needed. It occasionally lets you peek at the game that could have been, allowing its rare scraps of unsettling atmosphere to seep into your bones.Aliens isn’t just one of the best horror films ever made, it’s an iconic cultural touchstone and one of the only sequels to ever improve on its (already brilliant) source material.

As Corporal Christopher Winter, you join other marines on a rescue mission to infiltrate the U.S.S. Sulaco, thus initiating your post-Aliens journey through a number of storied areas from the franchise, such as the Sulaco and Hadley’s Hope. Several strained confrontations between key characters temporarily raise the narrative stakes; when anger comes to the forefront, you get a glimpse into the loyalty that bonds the marines.During the five-hour long campaign you’ll be dragged through a wholly uninteresting story that you’re expected to care about through nostalgic pressure alone. You’ll be given objectives like “plant thing on thing” or “push button in place” as you gun your way from one uninteresting encounter to the next.You don’t ever feel like you’re actually in danger. You don’t ever feel overwhelmed. In fact, over the course of its six hour campaign the game never gets even remotely close to replicating the genuine feelings of fear and dread that simmer throughout James Cameron’s cinematic classic, simply because its xenomorphic enemies are so mindless.It actually feels like a product out of time; one of those scrappy FPS games mid-tier publishers could boot out between Triple-A titles back in the day, when Metacritic didn’t exist and a studio wasn’t shut down if the game they made failed to sell a bajillion copies.

It’s a tiny example of an instance where the game sells its own story short in order to resemble the movie it is attempting to succeed. It’s not the only example. Not by a long, long way.Some cut-scenes look horrible; in some instances, contour lines and facial details pop in an out and break the spell of the story completely.Its campaign plot picks up some seventeen weeks after the disastrous events that occurred at LV-426, with a new squad of marines sent in to explore the abandoned Sulaco spaceship and the remains of Hadley’s Hope.But by the end of the first chapter you’ll have iced so many xenomorphs that they may as well be ants pouring out of an anthill. The game’s shoddy AI doesn’t help much, either.The game is remarkably light on variety. A couple of battles masquerade as boss fights, but they require no strategy and are just as easy and thrill-less as the rest. The four- to five-hour campaign has no thrust to it; it feels the same from beginning to end, and the finale just drops with a thud. And by being so easy and predictable, the game lets down the license. There’s little suspense, nothing to absorb you or spur your curiosity.

All of this feeds back into the profile they’ll be able to take into the multiplayer mode and gifts them points they can use to unlock augmentations for their weapons.You push forward carefully, occasionally forced to remain still lest you draw a xenomorph’s attention with the sound of your sloshing. A creature–or several–might stride right up to you, stare you down, and then return to a resting state before you are safe to continue.It’s a shame, though, that these modes are so buggy–you’ll leap at an enemy as a xenomorph and get stuck in an animation, or spawn with the first-person camera sticking out of the wrong side of your character’s head.There’s never a feeling of being outwitted or outmanoeuvred, just outraged that you’ve sat down to take on some deadly xenos in one of sci-fi’s most iconic settings and somehow ended up in the equivalent of a clunky, coin-operated shooting gallery.The developers have absolutely nailed the look and feel of the James Cameron film; each environment – be it aboard the deserted Sulaco space cruiser or the dilapidated colony Hadley’s Hope on the rain-and-windswept LV-426 – could slot comfortably into the Aliens universe.

Aliens: Colonial Marines couldn’t be more of a themepark ride if it spat out a polaroid at the end. For a sense of what that picture might look like, take a look at the blank stares on the faces of the game’s eponymous marines as they gun down yet another xeno, or the placid gurn of a man allegedly experiencing alien-baby-plus-sternum related trauma.Even better, they vary the level design significantly to make use of the game’s choking atmosphere and prevent everything from becoming one-note.These particular xenos – ‘boilers’ – are one of the few new species created for the game, and you kill them by quietly switching on power generators that cause them to throw a hissy fit and explode with rage (literally).Survivor mode hits similar notes, with four marines trying to simply stay alive for the allotted time before the xenomorph team can slaughter them. The other modes–Team Deathmatch and a capture-the-node variation called Extermination–are more mundane. No matter which mode you choose, however, you can’t escape Colonial Marines’ sloppier elements.

 

Verdict

Aliens: Colonial Marines is deeply underwhelming. Neither staged carefully enough to be scary nor dynamic enough to be exciting, it succeeds only where other players are capable of breathing life into it. It’s not perfect and its visual issues hold it back from unqualified greatness, but Aliens Colonial Marines is consistently fun to play throughout. It’s also the first game in ages to elicit a cry of genuine shock from yours truly the first time a face-hugger came surging towards the screen