It's safe to say that when game developers take on a beloved franchise such as the Alien property, they have to know that expectations will be high. With the notorious track record of movie tie-in games, it had to have taken balls of solid rock for Gearbox to take on a project that was sure to attract the ire of fanboys around the globe.
The track record of Gearbox is slightly spotted in recent years. While they have hit home runs with the Borderlands series, they are also responsible for one of the most highly anticipated piles of meh in recent years: Duke Nukem Forever. With six years spent in development and an amazing demo in 2011, Aliens: Colonial Marines should have been a new addition to their list of victories. Instead, it has landed right next to the Duke on the heaping pile of mediocrity.
To be clear, Aliens: Colonial Marines is not a terrible game. There are some moments of tension, some great references to the movie series, and a multiplayer that has some potential. Instead, the game straddles the line between mediocrity and failure, made worse by the universe it attempts to play in. Like with Duke, Gearbox got to take a swing at a franchise that was beloved and hit a foul ball, and here are nine reasons why. Just a fair warning, I'm about to spoil the entire game. That being said, read on because you won't be missing much.
9. Retcon Anyone?
Ok, so anyone who gets facehugged is going to die a horrible death by having an alien burst out of their chest. We know that. But the aliens can't be surgically removed because their placenta is like cancer? Umm, I know it wasn't the best of movies, but I seem to remember Ripley having her own baby queen surgically removed from her cloned chest in Alien Resurrection. Granted, this took place far into the future, but at no point in the film did they mention having to deal with alien cancer. They cut momma alien out and decided on a whim to sow Ripley back up (which still kind of bugs me; why not let the queen have a natural birth?), allowing for the rest of the movie.
The fact is, it's a cheap plot device in this game, trying to find a reason to care about the character of Bella and attempt to play on our heart strings by showing how her death was inevitable and all your work thus far has been for naught. Why even have that scene to begin with? Why not have the thing burst out of her chest minutes before arriving at the "hospital"? Any don't even get me started on how the thing not only claws its way out of her ribcage, but also through what is obviously papier-mâché body armor in an instant.
Another glairing inconsistency is the acid blood, which is significantly weaker than in the film series. While it only occasionally inflicts damage to your player, it never effects the environment. For a liquid that could melt through multiple decks of the Nostromo, here it's about as potent as cold piss.
8. Control, Control! You Must Learn Control
I typically play most games on a PC so transitioning to an Xbox 360 might be skewing my perception here, but controlling your Marine is kind of a headache. Aiming using a hip fired weapon like a shotgun is simple and seems ok, but going for some of the in-game goals like scoring headshots with a pistol is downright masochistic. There is absolutely no precision, particularly when aiming down the scope at long distance enemies, which gives way for the point and spray method of lead delivery. This makes the basic Pulse Rifle one of the best weapons in the game since you can use bonuses to increase the amount of ammo per magazine. Often times I've found myself emptying entire sixty round clips trying to take out a single bug. Granted I was playing the game on Hardened difficulty after hearing so many reviews of how easy the normal mode was, but it shouldn't be that difficult to hit an eight foot tall monster.
That being said, some of the most entertaining sequences in the game involved the Smart Gun, which auto targets your prey. Seemingly endless amounts of xenomorphs met their acidic bloody end at white hot barrel of my smart gun, and I had a hell of a time doing it. It was one of the few times in the game when I felt like a Goddamn Sexual Tyrannosaurus...oh wait, that's a different movie.
I also don't quite understand why they made you press the X button every time you wanted to pick something up. I can understand why you would want a button to interact with the environment, and I could see that with finding hidden objects like the Legendary Weapons or dog tags, but if I'm in the middle of a fire fight and run dangerously low on ammo, making me look directly at the ammo and press X just makes the process frustrating, and often deadly.
The lack of polish to the controls just add frustration and takes away some of the fun, until driving a Colonial Marine becomes unfortunately about as fun as taking an express elevator to Hell...going down.
7. Don't Ban Guns, Ban Airlocks
Let's do a recap of the Alien franchise:
Alien: Creature blown out of airlock.
Aliens: Alien queen blown out of airlock.
Alien3: Alien covered in molten lead and quickly cooled, causing it to explode.
Alien Resurrection: Ripley's Alien/Human baby sucked out of a window that happens to be placed on an airlock.
Fearful that fans would be displeased by the glaring omission of any airlocking of aliens, the developers decided to fix that for the final battle. You get to go mano e mano with an alien queen, working on a cargo bay that has a massive hull breach (not quite sure how you are going to survive all of that whole venting of all O2/horrendous suction/massive decompression thing that science taught me), trying to kick her ass out using a cargo launcher. With so much potential here, you would think the developers would take a second to be creative, but instead they just fell back to the cliché. They should have just nuked the site from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.
6. Lack of Intelligence, Artificial or Otherwise
Let's be clear: the aliens in this game have only one directive: kill the fuck out of you. That being said, all realism is quickly tossed aside whenever the aliens show up. They generally make a beeline directly towards you, ignoring just about every other Marine in their path. This would be a good thing for your survival except for the fact that your fellow soldiers apparently went to the Cobra School of Marksmanship.
The NPC primary role in the game is to open doors that are locked and get in your way. They accomplish number one occasionally; number two constantly. To make matters worse, your fellow soldiers, unless scripted to die, are completely invulnerable to any attack on them. Aside from throwing realism aside, they cause other problems in that they are considered physical objects in the game. Normally this isn't an issue, but if they walk in front of you while firing, they will stop your bullets, or worse, if you fire a rocket launcher, will cause it to detonate, blowing you to fucking Broadway. And if there is one thing your fellow soldiers are good at, it's walking directly in front of your line of fire.
5. Call of Duty: Colonial Marines
My wife was able to figure out one of the flaws with Aliens: Colonial Marines after having witnessed me playing for only five minutes. Her question to me: "Which Call Of Duty is this?"
Love it or hate it, the Call of Duty franchise has become the juggernaut upon which all shooter developers based their success or failure on. Any why not? The franchise seems to utilize the Madden Principle (Release a new version every year) and makes money hand over fist for it. The thing is, Gearbox seems to have gone out of their way to make Aliens a title for the Call of Duty fanbase.
The game plays like a Call of Duty game. You have some sort of build up, an intense action sequence, followed by more build up. Insert, thrust, repeat. The idea of earning experience points to unlock new weapon add-ons is ridiculous enough in CoD, but is absolutely ludicrous here. Plus, they completely forgot the most important weapon accessory in the entire Alien universe: Duct Tape.
The Call of Duty concept just doesn't fit in with the Aliens universe. The game should be a proper mesh of the FPS and Survival Horror genres, and instead Gearbox has replaced Nazis and terrorists with xenomorphs and Weyland-Yutani militants.
Aliens: CM: "Hey Call of Duty. Have you ever been mistaken for a frightening survival horror game?"
CoD: "No...Have you?"