No one really likes to write a bad review. They’re really rather the product they’d experienced was good, so they could tell you all about it. But there is something rathger delightful in the reading and the writing to really rip into something. Like the newly released game Aliens: Colonial Marines. Let’s take a few examples;
The combat itself is like being inside a haunted house and not playing along with the actors. What are they going to do, hit you? The aliens don’t seem to know what to do if you don’t kill them all the second you see them. They like to run around each other, only attacking human characters on occasion. You’ll sometimes find them just kind of hanging out with their heads butted up against walls. I missed a jump during one scene, and found myself in a pit with two of the new aliens that are supposed to blow up near their enemies. Instead, they just walked around me. I tried running in circles to get their attention. I shined my light at their heads. Nothing. I had to restart the game.
Colonial Marines aims low and it still misses the target, and that’s almost entirely because of the wretched game engine. Textures are muddy and blurred, with constant pop-in and v-sync tearing. Assets are reused so often that the bland levels merge into a soup of identical corridors and murky exteriors, and the character models are hilariously bad. NPCs have a constant, restless idle animation, where they jiggle and shuffle and move their arms for no reason, as if dying for a wee. If you close a door behind you, they’ll stay there, elbows poking through the walls, unable able to open it themselves. Later, they’ll magically pop into existence in front of you and carry on as if nothing happened.
And that’s before the action starts. With guns blazing, the visuals take a sharp downward turn. Defeated Aliens disappear and are replaced with crude geometric body parts that either float in the air or fly away at supersonic speed. They skitter and slide, jerk and twitch as they try to navigate walls and ceilings. Up close, encounters collapse into a swirl of incoherent polygons as the models and camera battle to the death. Both Aliens and humans run past each other, or stand next to each other, frozen. You can shoot Aliens through the apparently intangible bodies of your AI teammates and the Aliens can jump through them to get to you.
Aliens: Colonial Marines plays like a budget title from early in this console generation. The production values are underwhelming, and there’s very little game present. Those things are enough to make Colonial Marines bad. But the infuriating amount of confidence on display as Aliens: Colonial Marines systematically misses the point again and again is what really poisons the experience. The end result feels craven and exploitative of its source material and the fans that will hopefully know better.
Even that veneer is poorly implemented. Graphically the game looks awful – like a Doom 3 mod, all shiny surfaces, flat textures and static environments. Explosions look like something out of a PS2 game. The cutscenes are rendered at a resolution unfit for human consumption. And the animation of the Aliens themselves is laughable: they often run at you on two legs, looking for all the world like they want to give you a hug.
When I played it, Xbox 360 controller in hand, another member of the VideoGamer team looked on and remarked that there was always the PC version, they supposed.
It was the PC version. The actual 360 build is probably what Gorman saw on the marine cam monitors shortly before he totally broke down. (Speaking of which, it is remarkably unfinished. See the end of review for more details on that, but the short explanation is that if Ripley and co had encountered this many bugs on LV426, none of them would have made it out alive.)
I got to the end in about four hours (yes, four hours). I’m going to describe this part to you, spoiling it, because realistically you shouldn’t waste your time with Colonial Marines anyway. But, if you’re going to play the game anyway, I suggest you stop reading now.
The final boss battle is against a Xenomorph queen. Your job is to get rid of her by ejecting her out of the airlock. (Does this sound familiar?) To do that, you’ll need to turn a series of switches alongside a track, until you get to the final button. At that point, she’s supposed to stand squarely on the track so that she is pushed out into space.
It would be one thing if this battle was simply obtuse and anticlimactic. But in my game, there was a glitch of sorts that made it impossible for the structure on the track to connect with the queen, and instead what I often saw was the queen skipping in a weird animation.
So there I was, trying to eject this idiotic, hulking beast for maybe an hour and a half—in what was supposed to be a four and a half hour game at most—continually failing despite how simple it was supposed to be. Flip like, 5 switches. Make sure she’s standing in the middle of the track. Eject. Nope.
Late in Colonial Marines’ campaign you find yourself fighting through the xenomorph-haunted hallways of Hadley’s Hope accompanied by a smartgun-toting jarhead called O’Neal. He’s the model of a shooter sidekick: a bottomless well of bullets and exposition who always knows what the plot requires him to know and occasionally – just occasionally – needs you to watch his back while he hacks a door. The two of you turn a corner in time to see an anonymous marine get hoisted into a ventilation shaft by a xenomorph’s lunging tail-spike.
O’Neal gasps. “What the shit was that?”
“Well, Private.” You might wish to say. “It’s an alien. You know, from the movie Aliens. We have killed hundreds of them. Earlier I watched two of them circle you impotently, swiping at you and making those adorable little chittering noises. You turned them into paste with your smartgun, shrugging off their acid blood like it was hot apple pie filling. Besides – the same thing happened last time we were here.”
Aliens: Colonial Marines is bad. Not “so bad it’s good,” not “uneven, but with bright spots,” not “good except for awful glitches.” If it had launched in its current state alongside Doom 3 in 2004, A:CM would’ve been laughed out of the room for not even surpassing id’s graphics engine, enemy AI, acting, or missions.
The comparison is apt: Gearbox Software has dared to deliver a faithful chunk of Aliens canon, but hundreds of other games (like, you know, Doom) have already mined James Cameron’s general concept of hulking aliens and badass space marines without being tied down by of the film license.
But blaming the handicap of the Aliens brand for the game’s limited selection of enemies and weapons, not to mention an incredibly boring series of environments, gives the developers far, far too much credit. Welcome to hell.
But is there hope? Yes, at the hands of The Guardian.
See those four stars above this review? I fully expect to receive a right royal kicking in the comment section below this article for that rating. The reason being is that, if one were so inclined, one could point to several imperfections in Sega’s new shooter as evidence that it deserves a lower score – not the least of which is the legacy of the film this game purports to be a sequel to, and which is a millstone around its neck.
He’s right about the comments…
Hey Nick, just how much does a four-star review cost these days?
Sega want to post you a cheque…