Heading into Aliens: Colonial Marines, I was sure of two things: the Alien film franchise is one of the best sci-fi classics and it has never had a proper video game tie-in. Plenty have tried to replicate the experience in the form of a video game, but they have failed countless times. For some reason, developers and publishers can't seem to get it right. Having now played Aliens: Colonial Marines, I still remain sure of those two things, though I'll admit that Gearbox has had one of the better attempts.
Upon firing the game up, I immediately felt that the guys at Gearbox really care about the Alien franchise. From the overall presentation to the lighting and music, Aliens: Colonial Marines offers that authentic Alien experience. These guys are fans, and they have no intention of ruining the franchise.
I think we can all agree that the big problem in the films is the transition from Aliens to Alien 3. You simply can not go from the all-out action of Aliens to what was presented to us in Alien 3. Oftentimes, when you go as big as they did in Aliens, you have to follow it up with something bigger. Unfortunately, Gearbox's aim to not only replicate the experience, but one-up the Aliens film, eventually leads to the game falling flat.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is designed as a true sequel to Aliens. Taking place after the events of the second film, a new squad of Colonial Marines are sent as part of a search and rescue mission to investigate the U.S.S. Sulaco and locate the missing marines who were dispatched to LV-426. It certainly seems like a premise for a solid sequel, and that's because it is.
From a story standpoint, Aliens: Colonial Marines offers a similar experience to that of the film. The tone of the game matches that in Cameron's film. It's dark, it's gritty, and it's got a real sci-fi kick to it. Unfortunately, some of the characters fall flat. It's hard to fault the game for the many campy lines, as Aliens had its fair share. Unfortunately, it's not just the dialogue; the presentation of your fellow marines is lackluster. It's hard to have any sort of attachment to them because of how emotionless they appear in-game. Even during some of the more intense moments in the story, the characters are dead in the face and don't appear to have any sort of response to what's going on around them. The in-game cinematics are hardly a step up, suffering from frame rate issues and just an overall lack of visual detail.
To its credit, much of the game's faults aren't necessarily with the concept, but rather the execution. From a conceptual standpoint, Colonial Marines certainly hits the mark. As I said, Gearbox perfectly captures the tone and feel of Aliens -- at least in the beginning. There were parts at the beginning of the game where I genuinely felt as though I were playing a sequel. As I navigated the cold, narrow corridors -- motion tracker pulsing in hand -- the thought of being alone as I hunted a single xenomorph through a cocooned room had me on the edge of my seat.
But somewhere in the early middle-stages of the game -- shortly after crashing on to LV-426 -- the violence ramps up and it seems Gearbox lost their way. Opting for an even bigger sequel, the game leans on heavy encounters with enemies -- both xenomorphs and Weyland-Yutani humans. It stops playing like an Aliens film and instead resembles any other generic first-person shooter. And it's here where the game's faults begin to rear their ugly heads.
It starts with the gameplay. To put it simply, it's just not up to par. The weapon types are spot on, but combat is clunky and generic. Xenomorphs accurately scale walls and ceilings, doing a somewhat-decent job of popping out of the shadows. Unfortunately, once in the open, they are awkward in their movement and animations. Watching them run at you like a baby T-rex becomes more comical than terrifying. Not to mention, there is little reason to fear them. Even on the more difficult settings, the AI logic is flawed. There were numerous glitches in my playthroughs where a xenomorph would just stand in place and wait for me to shoot at them.
It seems that in order to compensate for the lack of intelligence, the damage has been scaled to unforgiving levels. Just a few shots from a Weyland-Yutani Corp. soldier is more likely to incapacitate you than a few swipes from a xenomorph. It not only emasculates the xenomorphs, but results in some very frustrating deaths.
It's not just the combat; the overall gameplay suffers upon landing on LV-426. It's neat to revisit the iconic locations from the Aliens film, and Gearbox should be commended for their amount of research into the backstory. However, LV-426 quickly loses its appeal when you realize every level follows the same format: you running through a linear path, firing at whatever comes your way. The game forgets its Aliens roots and instead becomes a linear, first-person shooter with some xenomorph skins. Even then, many of the encounters are with Weyland-Yutani humans. It becomes easy to forget that you are playing Aliens and not some futuristic Call of Duty. The result is a repetitive shooter void of any unique stature.
Don't get me wrong, gameplay aside, there is still plenty Aliens: Colonial Marines does right. Exploring LV-426, as limited as it may be, is still a neat experience. For fans of the franchise, revisiting these iconic locations will bring back classic memories of the movie. As I mentioned, Gearbox has done a tremendous job with researching the franchise, and it shows in the backstory you uncover through hidden laptops. Hearing Newt talk with her parents, or running into some of the weapons used by the original Colonial Marines, will surely elicit an emotional response from fans the series. Not to mention, there are quite a few twists and surprises thrown in that will likely catch you off-guard. Though I will admit, there wasn't nearly enough power loader combat sequences, and the final encounter is very disappointing.
Following the campaign, Aliens: Colonial Marines does offer a multiplayer component. While not pivotal to the core experience, it does offer some nice replay value. An interesting feature to note is that your character profile is linked between the single-player and multiplayer modes -- meaning any levels you gain in the campaign (and weapon upgrades as a result) will carry over to the multiplayer portion. While the multiplayer is a nice feature, it's also not anything you can't already find in other first-person shooters.
Aliens: Colonial Marines may not have lived up to the hype, but it's far from a bust. Fans of the film franchise will absolutely find joy in the game. After my first playthrough I immediately wanted to watch the films. With that being said, average gamers with no emotional ties to the Alien franchise might want to look elsewhere, as this sort of gameplay can be found in just about any other first-person shooter. I have no doubt that the good folks over at Gearbox are fans of the Alien franchise; it just doesn't necessarily reflect in the gameplay itself. Having said that, this certainly isn't the worst Alien game I've played.