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-m?ch? 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 clich?. 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?”
4. There Is a Distinct Lack of Aliens in Aliens
As we saw in the film, the xenomorph is essentially nature’s (or the engineers) perfect killing machine. It kills you when it’s born; it kills you when it’s alive; hell, this badass can kill you when it’s dead. While the marines in the Aliens film were able to kill some of the creatures, they were quickly overrun and decimated. Now that being said, why was there the need to shoehorn in another bad guy in the form of Weyland-Yutani forces? And why are they harder to kill than the most evil killing machine in the universe?
I could see a point where they could be useful. They make for great alien cannon fodder and could explain how the Sulaco got back to LV-426. You could have a cutscene showing them getting torn to shreds by the xenomorphs or see evidence of their encounters by having facehugged W-Y guys give bloody birth, or seeing bodies on the floor. Making them harder to kill than the aliens is a bitch slap to the legacy of the monster and takes the focus away from the main character, which should be the aliens!
3. The Glitch Mob
There have been many reviews thus far that complain about the quality of the graphics in Aliens: CM, and it is a valid issue. The visuals in the game are a mixed bag ranging from fair to extremely dated. While the game has been in development for six years, the graphics, particularly of the characters look like they were the first thing done for the game. Are they six years old? I can get past that, though; a game is NOT all about the graphics. The thing is, there are so many graphical glitches, it gets hard to take the game seriously.
In the future according to Aliens, epilepsy must be cured, because there sure are a lot of friggin’ strobe lights. Of course, the game tries to replicate that, but often times, particularly when not looking at the light source directly, it just looks like a crazy pallet flash for a second or two. That may not sound like much, but that is the least irritating glitch in the game. Weyland-Yutani must have developed the oscillation overthruster and mounted it on their guns, because they seem to be able to stick their weapons through solid matter and shoot at you, not to mention walk through walls. Shooting an enemy above you can have interesting physical results, as more than once I’ve witnessed dead aliens dangling from their tails and W-Y soldiers looking like they are attached to the ceiling via gravity boots. Get too far ahead of your teammates and they will just flash into existence right in front of you, Q-Style. Most laughable, while waiting for an elevator, I swear O’Neil was dancing Gangnam Style while waiting for me to catch up.
There are noticeable flaws in the sound design as well. I was forced to turn on subtitles, as the background noise was often louder than the characters talking. As bad ass as it was to hear the sounds of the pulse rifles at first, by the end of the game they were an annoyance at best.
Certain sections of the game had to be reloaded because my crack team of NPC’s were stuck behind an object and couldn’t figure out how to walk around. It just looks and feels sloppy; certainly not worth spending $60 on.
2. Character (or Lack Thereof) Development
In the opening minutes on board the Sulaco in Aliens (the film, not the game), you, the viewers, get to immediately bond with the Marines. Granted there are a few throwaway characters like Dietrich, Wierzbowski and others, but for the most part you get to know every single one of the characters at least partially. By the time the dying starts, you actually give a shit about a lot of them, and it’s apparent on screen that they give a shit about each other. The problem with Aliens: CM is that at no point did I connect with any of the new characters in the slightest.
There are attempts to make us care or relate to the characters. The commanding officer Captain Cruz does his best to sound like he was trained right alongside Apone from the film. Instead he comes off as sounding like a Duke Nukem wannabe in uniform, even sounding like the Duke, though he was not voiced by Jon St. John. When your buddy is frantically searching for his “love” interest, he specifically describes their relationship as being purely sexual. He certainly seems determined to find his frak-buddy, even though he has specifically said he has no emotional attachment to her. Because of this, neither do you, the player.
Sadly, even when Hicks miraculously returns in the closing acts of the game, he is so poorly written and acted (his voiceover seems to have been phoned in by Michael Biehn, netting a paycheck for what seems to have been an hour’s work) that I couldn’t even care about him. I should have been excited to see him alive and to kick ass by his side, instead he just became random Marine number 36, but at least has a few lines.
One of the important things in the movie was how quickly the bravado was sapped from the marines. Wiseass Hudson was all full of piss and vinegar until he got his first look at a xenomorph, when he quickly became one of the most cowardly in the group. At no point did I feel that the disposable marines in the game ever got their situation, particularly in the beginning. They are in a floating tin can, trapped with a metric shit-ton of aliens who want nothing more than to eat them or face-rape them, and they are still treating the encounter like it was another day on the farm. One of the few moments I actually found myself giving a shit about the characters was when, in my explorations, I found the body of Ultimate Badass Private Hudson, his face contorted in pain as a result of having an alien burst out of his chest. Game over my friend, game over…
1. Captain Obvious and Major Oblivious, Freelance Writers
The people most likely to play Aliens: CM are fans of the Alien films. However, the game seems to have been written for a thirteen year old who snuck downstairs at night to play his dad’s game, interested only in its M rating. Almost all tension is removed from the game, because the game loves to spell things out for you in crayon. When you encounter Bella, O’Neil’s frak-buddy, she specifically tells you that she woke up gagging on a dead facehugger dick. So for thirteen year old Billy, that means a surprise later in the game (if he didn’t get the idea of the chestburster in the beginning). For the rest of us though, it just means another character that is going to die, only by giving birth to a bouncing baby xenomorph.
Conversely, the game has plot holes large enough to fit the Prometheus through. During the briefing, Captain Cruz states that the Sulaco returned to LV-426. When asked by the apparently only intelligent person in the marines why the ship was there instead of Fury 161, she is promptly told to stop asking stupid intelligent questions and to go back in the kitchen and make him some pie. Are you kidding? That Lieutenant should be a fucking General! Sadly, that specific question is never answered, leaving only Lieutenant Reid and the rest of the frakking world to wonder how the ship got there.
The thing that drove me the most nuts with the storytelling came towards the end. When asked how he survived when he was ripped to pieces in the crash on Fury 161, Hicks tells you it’s a long story and not another goddamn word about it. TELL THE FUCKING STORY!!!! MAKE ME READ IT IF YOU DON’T WANT TO PAY FOR THE VOICEOVER. HOW THE FUCK WAS HICKS BACK ON LV-426 WHEN HE WAS LAST SEEN WITH PIPES AND SHIT PROTRUDING THROUGH HIS DEAD ASS? FUCK!!!!!!!!! Pardon the momentary lapse of reason; I’ve had nightmares about this game, and not because the game is frightening.
I really wanted to like this game but I just can’t. It’s not terrible, but it’s also not particularly fun, with the glitches and issues above taking away from that limited amount of fun. When the game got something right, like Smart Gun combat, I felt a smile start to creep up on my face, but it was quickly dashed away, usually by a character opening their mouth or some horrendous glitch that killed any and all suspension of disbelief. Had the game kicked up the suspense, paid more attention to the stars of the game (the aliens), and tried to be more Dead Space and less Call Of Duty, I think they could have had a better product. Of course, some quality control would have helped as well, and there are a ton of indie games these days that feel like they have more production quality and attention to detail than Aliens: CM.
It’s tragic really; the ending of the game leaves it open for a sequel, and with it being the highest selling game of the year thus far, it will most likely get one, a sequel which will most likely disappoint more than the original. At the end of the day, Aliens: CM is that kid on YouTube who yells “Look at me!” before falling flat on his face. Now excuse me, I need to go play some Borderlands 2 so I can remember that Gearbox knows how to make a good game.
“My mommy always said there no monsters – no real ones, but there are.”
“Yes, there are, aren’t they? They’re called greedy game developers”
A fan of video games and science fiction from the moment he discovered his father's Atari 2600 and Star Wars, Jason Helton has been contributing to The Robot's Voice since 2011. Prior, he wrote for the UK's Den of Geek and was the producer and host of Iron Otaku Radio on XM's UPOP 29 channel. A die-hard fan of Battlestar Galactica (both old and new), Doctor Who, and pinball, you can follow him on Twitter @Razgriz1138.