At this point, what can be said about Gearbox and Sega’s Aliens: Colonial Marines that hasn’t already been said. Since reviews have been pouring in, they’ve all haven been for the most part negative with some citing reports of internal development problems and an overall neglect of the project. Sega blames Gearbox, Gearbox blames Sega, and in the end the only real losers here are the fans of the franchise.
As a reviewer, this was easily most the challenging critique that I’ve done considering what I already knew about the “shit show” — for lack of a better term — that was going on behind the scenes. But I did my best to channel all of that out and I continued to proceed with low expectations in hopes that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. So how did it play out? Read on to find out.
The game’s story, for the most part, does its best to fill in a couple of plot holes left by the second film in the Aliens franchise. You play as a Lt. Winter, a soldier in the — you guess it…Colonial Marines, whose team is in charge of recovering what is left from abandoned airship the U.S.S. Sulaco, and find out what happened to those who were on board.
Through that process — and in typical video game fashion — you discover that there’s much more to this mysterious ship previously than thought, and what happens next catapults you on into the 11 missions that make up the game’s campaign.
Along the way, the game transitions itself into a rescue mission, as one of your comrades finds herself infected by a Xenos face-hugger. It then becomes a race against time as the game tries to make you care about saving your infected teammate. But, even during its attempts at creating endearing moments, the game’s dialogue falls incredibly flat, and all that comes through is: “Hoorah, no man left behind, something-something” or other.
In terms of level design, the game is the epitome of a train-wreck. Levels are very lazily laid out with two thirds of the game spent barreling through what feels like endless corridors that are set up like hedge mazes designed more to frustrate than anything else. Navigating the corridors wouldn’t have been as much of an issue if the game managed to, at the very least, somewhat guide you towards your objective. Instead, the game chooses to have the player try to figure out where they need to be to progress the story, which makes the game’s environment one giant guessing game.
Friendly A.I. doesn’t exactly help to make the situation any better. One would assume that in a game where you’re not being fed any breadcrumbs by the developers that perhaps they would use your friendly A.I. buddies to help navigate the way. Instead, your partners disappear and reappear without notice, give you barely any hints of direction you need to go, and just when you think you’re about to make progress in an area they fail to load their next move. Seriously, at certain points I was stuck in limbo, and when I had to depend on another character to open a door, on more than one occasion I had to reload my last checkpoint.
Enemy A.I. doesn’t fair too much better. For starters, Xenomorph enemies look and act nothing like they did when we were shown the game at E3 over two years ago. They are stiff, poorly animated, and glitchy. I can’t even count on two hands how many times I encountered one that was either stuck in mid-animation or never even began to move at all.
The game also features humanoid enemies which are private military contractors hired by the Weyland Corporation; enemies which are even worse than the Xenomorphs. What makes Weyland’s PMCs so bad is that they all look exactly the same. Sure, every so often you’ll encounter one with more firepower and armor, but for the most part you’d be hard pressed to tell any of them apart. And, when you have situations when you’re fighting a group of them, it seems like you’re taking down a bunch of mindless storm troopers.
Running and gunning through the game’s campaign should normally take the average shooter player around eight hours to complete. The key word here is “normally.” You see, A:CM relies on no one’s favorite design technique of cheap deaths and, to top it off, they couple it with enemies who were all apparently sharpshooters in a past life.
Instead of challenging the player by being a smart shooter it cheapens the experience by taking the easy road. I’m certain it helps to add to the game’s total play time, but it makes the game feel more like a chore than anything else. If I wasn’t playing this game for a review, I would have given up on this one at more than one point. Feeling challenged is one thing, but feeling cheated is a completely different story.
The game does feature drop in an drop out co-op, however good luck finding anyone else who wants to suffer with you (on the PS3 at least). I left my group set to open and think I had one person connect for about 10 minutes during my entire play-through. Competitive multi-player is also on the menu, but, having played it at every gaming trade and consumer show of the last three years, the wow factor simply wasn’t there. There’s especially no real “hook” that will lure competitive shooter players from their online titles of choice.
I think it’s easy to see where this review is headed. When it comes to putting together these kinds of critiques, I feel that I need to emphasize that being vitriol for the sake of being vitriol is certainly not the intent. But Aliens: Colonial Marines is so bad that even writing this review for it is making my blood boil. We’re talking about a game, that, at face value, had so much going for it. However, at the end of the day, even if you have an amazing back story and license to work with, sometimes even that much is not enough.
A couple of weeks ago Kotaku reported that Sega producers wanted Aliens: Colonial Marines to feel like Call of Duty. Unfortunately, it does a better job of emulating Duke Nukem Forever than anything else.