The Aliens franchise has left an indelible mark on the film industry and on us. More importantly, it has influenced the development of the video game industry as well. It was a landmark series full of fantastic new ideas that had a resonating effect throughout almost all forms of media. Without it, we wouldn’t have some of gaming’s most beloved franchises like Half-Life, Metroid, Starcraft, Dead Space, Doom, and Contra, just to name a few. Needless to say, it’s a series ripe with possibility and with it comes hordes of diehard fans.
Leading up to its release, Gearbox stoked the fires of anticipation by announcing the return of many of the films’ actors. They also touted the literary strengths of Battlestar Gallactica writers Bradley Thompson and David Weddle. And above all else, they stressed the importance of staying true to the source material. So much so, that there are even tie-ins with the film Prometheus.
And what truly raised expectations amongst gamers and reviewers like us, is the fact that Aliens: Colonial Marines is surfing in the production wake of Borderlands 2, a 2012 mega-hit that even achieved an Elder’s Choice award. With all of this being said, we are grievously disappointed to announce that in almost every regard, this game is a disappointment.
But before we prattle off the laundry list of sins that ACM has committed, we feel it important to note the game does have some good qualities. For starters, the audio is, without a doubt, the game’s best feature. The musical score fits perfectly with the 1986 masterpiece, and the sound effects from the pulse rifles, smart guns, and motion detectors are captured and reused so perfectly, that it’s hard to not flash back to the first time you lived through the cinematic space survival adventure. The cast all deliver their lines with confidence, and it’s fantastic that Gearbox even brought back the iconic voice of Lance Henriksen, the actor who played Bishop.
The atmosphere, the style of clothing, and the weapons themselves all fit 1:1 with the film Aliens, and at points, you’ll feel like you’re walking on treaded ground as you discover the weapons of Marines that have fallen in service on LV-426.
With so much going for Aliens: Colonial Marines, what could possibly go wrong? Before we can even get to the gameplay, we can say with all sincerity, the writing is terrible, bringing up glaring series inconsistencies like the presence of the Sulaco.
But the gameplay is where ACM falls to pieces. Instead of mimicking games that Aliens has inspired (to reiterate, Metroid, Half-Life, Dead Space, instead it’s a poor man’s Call of Duty. A very poor man’s Call of Duty.
You will fight as many humans as you will xenomorphs, which for an Aliens game, feels wrong. The shooting mechanic is familiar, even giving you the opportunity to load out your weapons with red dot scopes and creating X hit marks when your rounds reach their intended target, but it lacks the fluidity of Call of Duty titles. Hit boxes on enemies feel inconsistent, especially on the xenomorph drones, and aiming, even with a mouse and keyboard, is imprecise—registering shots you should be making as complete misses.
We tested the game on PC and the textures in the game are all over the place. The aliens and their environments look fantastic, while commonly used objects like doors and some walls are disgustingly low resolution. Of course, there are plenty of odd bugs to be found along the way like teleporting NPCs who have a wonderful knack of running into your line of fire (ignoring their Marine training, obviously), and invisible walls in the playfield. The human character models somehow look better while playing the game, but while watching the cutscenes, the video runs at a staggeringly low FPS count and the models appear to be rendered using the Goldsource engine. The corpses suspended in the alien webbing look terrible.
The AI is the game’s most damning sin, with enough stupidity to go around for both humans and aliens. For entire levels, you can simply walk or run by a good number of alien baddies, with the exception of when presented with a last stand-type scenario. It also means that aliens will stand directly in front of your squadmates without ever being fired upon.
Dying in the game, which will happen sometimes by your own fault, other times your death is a mystery, results in one of gaming’s worst death screens. The screen goes to black and white and for several long seconds you’re forced to stare at continually animating characters who are stuck in place. It’s lazy.
The coop and multiplayer have some redeeming qualities, but the cooperative adventure is undermined by the games abysmal AI. If you happen to pick it up with a friend, make sure to set it to the highest difficulty that you both can muster—this is about the only way to insure neither of you to succomb to the game’s rampant bordom, a creature more terrifying than the aliens. And the multiplayer offers little that you can’t find in other multiplayer shooters aside from the setting and the ability to run on the walls and ceilings as a 1980s prop monster.
Certainly some things may be addressed by patching the game, the story holes may be covered in a sequel, and the game still has its merits like its sound design. The Spaceballs reference made us chuckle, but not enough to make us forget that this game costs 60 hard-earned dollars. The reality is, Gearbox doesn’t deserve to make the sequel. If this is how sloppily they’ve handled what should be a home run, why should we as consumers trust them with another game? Gearbox had the chance to turn the generic video game rule of “all franchise games are bad” on its head. But instead, they simply poured gasoline on the fire and made fools of those who preordered the Aliens: Colonial Marines. It’s sad to say it, but we mean this with all sincerity…
Name: Aliens: Colonial Marines
Tested on: PC
Available on: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3,
Developed by: Gearbox Software
Published by: Sega
Release date: February 12, 2013
Elder-Geek Score: 2 out of 5 / Don’t bother