Developer: Gearbox Software
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Release Date: February 12 2013
ESRB: M for Mature
A retail copy of the game was supplied by the publisher for review. This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
What's the definition of an unplayable game? "Unplayable" should obviously be taken to mean that the product cannot be played. In the case of Gearbox's Aliens: Colonial Marines, plenty of criticisms spring to mind, many of them negative. But unlike the spectators who watched me complete the game or those I played the game with, the world "unplayable" didn't cross my mind.
I was fortunate enough to never have encountered game-breaking glitches, and though I was on autopilot for the entirety of the game, the lack of challenge wasn't cause for me to abandon it. I soldiered on, despite the multiple (at least seven) tweets of "I'm sorry" when my Raptr client tweeted my game activity. For the record, there's nothing more condescending than the insincere condolences of those who see you playing a "bad" game, thinking you're being forced or that you're too stupid to know anything else.
This entry in the world of Alien games (mostly subpar) was especially rancid, but wholly playable. Bland, disjointed, and mediocre? You bet. But nothing different than what you might find in the bargain bin. What makes this game different is that we had every right to think it would be spectacular. And it fails spectacularly at what it set out to accomplish.
The vitriol spewn at Colonial Marines by my partners is not all undeserved, though it mainly stemmed from the massive amount of hype generated by Gearbox for Colonial Marines as the new "go-to" Aliens title. To recognize any part of the half-baked plot as Aliens canon or any piece of the game as better than slapped together with minimal effort is ludicrous: it's clear it needed much more time in the oven. But amidst a sea of uninspiring gunplay, nonsensical plot revelations, and the most braindead xenomorphs I've ever come face to face with, there were some interesting moments as well -- decent voice acting, easter eggs for Aliens fans, and even a bit of dark humor. There just weren't enough shining moments to declare it a victory.
Divulging the plot details isn't really necessary in order for you to understand what kind of game this is - you'll be able to pick apart every single bit of strangeness siphoned in by the writers, and it's frankly more frustrating than anything else. Considering the many bizarre twists near the end of the game, it's best to think of Colonial Marines as a "what-if" scenario with familiar characters and locations. Reading into it any further is disappointing. The things that do occur on the journey will draw criticism and questions, so be prepared to be scratching your head when you come in contact with someone you thought long gone.
Other than these snippets which will cause you to question the motives of the Colonial Marines writers, your only objective in-game is to shoot. Shoot some more. Shoot Xenomorphs 'til they're dead. Shoot Facehuggers 'til they're dead. Walk around with a squad member until they're inevitably dead. It's very cut-and-dry. But even taking aim at enemies doesn't have much weight to it. Whether attacking Wey-Yu forces or aliens, there's no real "kick" when you land a hit, leading you to wonder if you're even doing any damage until they randomly fall down dead.
Guns, even though they're meant to mimic the sound effects from the movies, carry the most grating noise I think I've heard in a first-person shooter. It's supposed to be emulating the pulse rifle, but instead it sounds like the sad whine of a dying gun. It's most unpleasant. The arsenal of weapons you'll pick up (some attached to characters from the Aliens mythos) is lackluster as well, and none of them feel particularly powerful until you try out a flamethrower. Even then, it's pretty yawn-worthy.
Level design is lackluster and lazy as well, though the first couple of areas were worth it just to stare out at the wreckage and the same setpieces seen in the movies. Time spent wandering around earlier levels with a fleeting sense of childlike wonder quickly dissipated into annoyance as the last chain of four to five levels looked and felt exactly the same. They melted into one another like a goopy mess, much like the objectives themselves, which hardly varied beyond "open this door," "pull this switch," and "kill X amount of aliens." It creates a sort of monotonous symphony, one without variance or different sounds to keep it afloat. In many ways, it's just going through the motions of what an FPS should be with little regard for polishing its myriad aspects and more focus on keeping its head above water rather than refining unacceptable traits.
What interesting moments I did glean from the game were creeping through egg-infested areas where you needed to simply stop moving for aliens to not attack you. It wasn't horrifying, but it did instill a quick sense of dread that I appreciated. Since the motion tracker wasn't exactly necessary throughout the meat of the game, this was one part that felt distinctly more Alien-like and thus as if more attention had been paid to it. These times were, of course, few and far between, and did little to create an engaging atmosphere every step of the way. Most of the time I was bored, listless, and ready to advance the plot. I moved forward, I shot things, and the level was completed. And looking back on it now, that's what I've done in every shooter -- even my favorites. But this particular one didn't really provide anything truly memorable except its shoddy visuals, sloppy multiplayer, and bizarre "canon" that did little to answer the questions I had.
In short, Aliens: Colonial Marines is an exercise in the same slog we've been seeing for years. It just did things in a less appealing and acceptable manner. Coupled with strange design decisions, the fluff accompanied by its marketing campaign, and ludicrous amounts of buzz, it had so much to live up to. It did not.
It's playable. And that's about all you can say about it.
+ Motion trackers, power loaders, and other Alien setpieces
+ Decent voice acting
+ Occasionally interesting bits (but not often)
- Muddy, horrible graphics
- Samey levels
- Samey levels (what? we didn't think you'd notice)
- Boring objectives
Overall Score: 3.0 (out of 10)
Aliens: Colonial Marines fails miserably at instilling any sense of fear or adventure into its extremely short campaign. It's a shooter. That's about it.