A lot has been said and written since Sega’s’ Aliens: Colonial Marines was released on the crest of a wave of major potential (thanks to the property), and unfortunately for the developers, most of it seems to have been largely negative.
But does Aliens: Colonial Marines really deserve the hate?
Well, not exactly. Colonial Marines seems to have been unfairly judged because of what it could have been rather than what it actually is. Yes, after seven years, and with the weight of the Aliens franchise behind it, it should have been great, and instead we have something that is largely inconsistent and painfully disappointing, but there is still some fun to be had.
The multiplayer is great fun, the action is occasionally as engaging as we were always lead to believe it would be by the early trailers and art, and the story is actually not horrible by any means. We follow a team of marines sent on a search and rescue mission to discover the fate of the USS Sulaco – the ship that initially houses Ripley, Newt, Bishop and Hicks after Aliens, before ejecting them into space at the start of Alien 3 – where, typically, they discover some slimy black nasties.
It’s a simple and effective set up – Aliens always worked when humans were either hunting, or being hunted by their acid-blooded foes. We all want to be stalked and to turn the tables on the xenormorphs, and to its credit, that is exactly what Gearbox have tried to provide in Colonial Marines.
The environments the developers have created for the game are astonishing at times, and prove a fertile hunting ground for the events of the story to play out, but rather unfortunately, the execution of the animations and AI just don’t match the environmentals.
The opening cinematics are clunky and poorly polished, and throughout the game, human and alien animations are problematic, leading, rather unthinkably to an alien foe that is occasionally slow and ponderous, rather than slick and ferocious. And that seems to be the major problem with the game – it misinterprets the fundamental appeal of the source in accidentally taming the villains and blunting the scares.
It all feels like Gearbox tried to make an excellent game, but had neither the expertise nor the technology to execute it properly, which has all been complicated by accusations of bait and switch advertising of superior game footage that never actually went into the game. There are some admirable elements, like the level design in particular, and some good attempts at creating an authentic Alien franchise experience, but too many gamers have clearly been turned off by the AI problems.
But when you abandon the campaign and head into multiplayer, those problems disappear, and Colonial Marines begins to show more of the quality we all wanted from the game. The mode is fairly generous, with 4 player co-operative and retro-feeling split-screen 2 player gameplay, and the promise of more DLC to broaden it even more.
There are still some problems, with similarly clunky animations, but it’s a lot better than the campaign, and there is something irresistible about playing as the xeno hordes against a human enemy, even if the alien characteristics are a little odd at times.
All in all, the game is merely a missed opportunity – which is perhaps why so many people have stopped playing since launch – but it’s far from the worst game ever released. It’s just got some issues, some of them quite severe, and it should have been an awful lot better.
It’s more AVP: Requiem than Aliens, but there is still a good deal of disposable fun to be had, particularly online.
After this and Duke Nukem Forever, you have to think Gearbox need to spend a little more time in the finish of so-called “franchise games”, rather than pushing out lacklustre games with huge potential that fail to hit the mark. And if it’s true they did indeed take money meant for this and put it all into Borderlands 2 (which was vastly superior,) questions really have to be answered.
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Aliens: Colonial Marines is out now.
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