Video games have been borrowing from the Aliens franchise for a long time. Halo’s space marines are almost carbon copies of the foul-mouthed, rough and ready colonial marines from the film franchise. It’s not hard to see where the space-horror franchise Dead Space drew its inspiration from, and even Samus Aran herself was inspired by the iconic female heroine of the Aliensfranchise, Ripley. It only seems fitting then that the granddaddy of them all to get its own big budget video game. Well, Aliens: Colonial Marines is finally here, and it’s about as fun as being raped by a facehugger.
On its surface, Colonial Marines sounds promising. Picking up were Aliens left off, the game follows a group of marines sent to investigate a distress signal left by movie characters Ripley and Corporal Hicks after the events of the film. The reality is a storyline of absolute zero consequence. On top of that, rather than adding to the mythology of the franchise, it instead stomps all over the continuity of the films and doesn’t even bother to explain why.
Upon arriving in orbit over LV-426, the marines discover the U.S.S. Sulaco, the ship Ripley and Hicks flew away on at the end of Aliens and the same ship seen in an entirely different star system in Alien 3. But it’s back at the colony, for reasons never fully explained. What follows is barebones plot that only serves to let players follow in the footsteps of the Aliens film. The only problem here is that Hadley’s Hope, the main setting of the film and the primary location featured in the game, was blown sky high by a colossal nuclear explosion that could be seen from space at the end ofAlien just a few months ago. This is apparently no big deal for the writers of the game. Your marines, seemingly immune to massive levels of radiation, simply stroll on into Hadley’s Hope, finding it to look almost identical post-nuclear explosion as it did in the film.
This is all bad, but it gets worse. A reveal towards the end of the game completely eviscerates the continuity of the film series – a literal WTF moment so mind boggling that even the game’s main characters can’t comprehend it. As the baffled marines ask how this shocking plot twist came to be, they are literally told “We don’t have time to explain that right now.” And the game doesn’t ever make time. The question goes unanswered, even after the credits roll. It’s a slap in the face to fans of the films, and makes me question whether or not the games writers ever even watched the movies to begin with.
I don’t understand it either, Bishop.
Now, this could forgiven (maybe) if Colonial Marines made up for its atrocious story through stunning visuals and intense gunplay. Sadly, this isn’t the case. The game, with the exception of one mildly interesting and suspenseful stealth sequence where you are stripped of your weapons, consists of running from point A to point B, blasting everything in sight. Occasionally players will participate in what I’m assuming are supposed to be epic and intense last stand scenarios reminiscent of the film. Instead, players are treated to boring segments that involve finding a safe corner and lying on the trigger until the game tells you to move on. The previously mentioned stealth segment and two terrible boss fights are the only attempts at diversifying the gameplay.
A big problem with the core gameplay is how devoid of intelligence the game’s enemies are. As viewers and fans of the movies know well, the Alien from which the franchise gets its name is the ultimate predator. They are incredibly stealthy, have the ability to climb on walls, are covered in razor sharp spines and claws, and have that nasty second mouth thing. The Aliens featured in the game must be another breed entirely, because, aside from occasionally leaping onto a wall, these monsters from outer space are about as dumb as they come. Their only tactic is to run straight at you and hope for the best.
Colonial Marines also suffers from an extreme lack of enemy diversity. You will fight hundreds, upon hundreds of the same brain dead xenomorphs. Only twice in the game will you encounter the terrifying and grotesque facehuggers. Only twice towards the end of the game will you fight a slightly different brain dead xenomorph. Sprinkle on top one segment featuring bizarre blind, exploding aliens, and another handful of segments featuring equally brain dead human enemies in the form of Weyland-Yutani mercenaries, and you have every encounter in the game. The guns are even boring and uninteresting. I used the starting weapon, the pulse rifle, almost exclusively the whole game, finding the other weapons ineffective. Even the flamethrower, used to devastating effect at the end of Aliens, is underwhelming.
Fun fact, the game doesn’t actually look this good.
Once again, some of this could be forgiven if Gearbox delivered a dark, spooky and atmospheric setting to cover up the poor AI. Instead, we have what could easily be mistaken for an original Xbox game. Poor character animations, from the marines to the xenomorphs, take players out of the experience. Textures pop in and out almost constantly. The games lighting does little to elevate the games already dirt poor graphics. The result is an Aliens game that bears almost no resemblance to what makes the film franchise so enduring.
There is some fun to be had in the game’s co-op mode, if only because misery loves company. For fans of the film exploring familiar locations in Hadley’s Hope while discovering audio logs and the “legendary” weapons of the film’s fallen marines is fun fan service, but ultimately to call Colonial Marines a missed opportunity is an understatement. Gearbox has not only managed to contribute nothing to the Aliens franchise, but may have actually detracted from it through their sloppy and irresponsible use of the film’s continuity. Simply adapting the film would have been a better call. After the final cut scene rolled and the achievement “Game over, man!” appeared on my screen, I was relieved for all the wrong reasons. I wasn’t relieved because I had completed an eight hour long campaign of terror, suspense and blood pumping action, but because I could finally wipe the game from my memory and ignore its status as “official canon.” Game over, indeed.
NOTE: This review is based solely on the campaign and co-op experience played on the Xbox 360. I did not play multiplayer.