Aliens: Colonial Marines Review
How can Gearbox go from Borderlands 2 to Aliens: Colonial Marines? What happened?
At its very core Aliens: Colonial Marines misinterprets Cameron’s ‘Vietnam movie in space’, shows little regard to the innovations of the FPS genre and just down right walks all over the Aliens canon to such a degree that fans of the film will have a hard time comprehending just what Gearbox were thinking.
And that’s the real question that many will come away with after playing through Aliens: Colonial Marines; how can Gearbox go from Borderlands 2 to this? The answer comes within seconds of the credits beginning as Colonial Marines is announced as a ‘Gearbox presents’ title and a list of other, lesser, studios is reeled off underneath it.
Aliens: Colonial Marines doesn’t really feel like a Gearbox game in the same sense that Borderlands 2 is. Billing itself as the official sequel to Cameron’s film, Colonial Marines’ story is Fox sanctioned and now an integral part of the Weyland-Yutani, Ridley-Xenomorph and Prometheus-Engineer story and it goes out of its way to throw a spanner in the works.
Though Ridley Scott’s Prometheus provides only tangible links to the original Alien series, Colonial Marines attempts to join the sagas together in the clumsy manner that many videogame licences have attempted over the years.
The story isn’t clever, it’s not subtle and adds nothing other than planet-sized plot holes that are explained away with a wave of the hand as merely ‘long stories’ too lengthy to explain within the game itself.
The Alien series has seen its fair share of diluting as games, movies, books and comics have all taken a slice of the first two movies and attempted to spin-off in entirely new directions, Aliens Vs Predator being the obvious and worse culprit. Gearbox had the opportunity to reset and re-engage with Colonial Marines and deliver a game that for many had always been in the back of their minds.
But that simply isn’t the case. The awkward plot could be ignored if Aliens: Colonial Marines’ gameplay captured the frantic survival horror action that Cameron’s movie so perfectly envisages. It’s clear within minutes of the game beginning that Gearbox hasn’t found a satisfactory way to merge horror, action and squad-based gameplay together in Colonial Marines, despite the licence appearing to be the perfect fit for it.
Whether it’s because Aliens has been continual referenced in games since its release – be it in Halo, Borderlands or literally every sci-fi FPS ever – Colonial Marines fails to balance Xenomorph scares with its below average standard military combat. Gameplay here never rises above mediocre.
What’s immediately obvious is just how overpowered the player is. Even playing alone on the hardest difficulty level, Aliens: Colonial Marines is a walk in the park. Neither the human or alien enemies prove to be anything more than bullet sponges with the most basic AI and it’s such a shame.
Over the years we’ve become accustomed to Giger’s Xenomorph failing to embody the same primal terror it so clearly imbues in the films and we’re now completely accepting that a rifle butt to the face of one of these creatures is enough to fend them off – which is totally incorrect if the movies are to be believed.
Combat lacks the tension needed and largely provided for by the Xenomorph resulting instead to one note spray and pray encounters.
Cameron’s Aliens might not have had quite the same majesty of Ridley’s original, but they still managed to decimate the marines silly enough to wander into Hadley’s Hope.
Gearbox attempts to inject some life into things by providing different types of Xenomorphs – Spitters, Crushers and other zombie-like Aliens that explode if you get too close – but these all manage to upset the series verisimilitude as well as fail to provide satisfying gameplay.
There’s no concession to horror or tension in Aliens: Colonial Marines. It isn’t enough to just re-create Cameron’s sets and hope the memories of the film are able to carry players through. Forcing you to lift up the iconic motion tracker to hunt down threats is an interesting way to instil tension and remain in touch with the film, but like much of the Aliens nostalgia references, it’s under utilised.
Aliens: Colonial Marines never goes beyond simply providing it as an option. It doesn’t give the player any reason to use their motion tracker and when enemies rarely surprise you, you’ll quickly forget that it’s even there.
It simply isn’t fun fighting Xenomorphs and it certainly isn’t very scary. Though Gearbox does create a reasonably tight close quarters FPS experience, it also continually places enemies out of the reach of your weapons or in the human’s case, behind cover. Nowhere is it more evident that Gearbox didn’t know how to merge the Aliens fan service with a competent FPS than in the forced ways to asks players to engage with the Weyland-Yutani mercenaries.
It’s also surprising to see that much of what Gearbox touted as Colonial Marines’ innovative gameplay, the co-op Left 4 Dead-styled gameplay, the ‘last stand’ setpieces that require players to weld doors and setup turrets, is practically none existent.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is a basic FPS with corridors, be they small interiors or large exteriors that do little but funnel streams of easy to dispatch enemies at you.
The Alien architecture can at times look impressive, but it’s probably because the rest of the game is poorly realised visually it’s just the contrast tricking our eyes.
And that’s what’s most disappointing; Gearbox has shown it has a fundamental understanding of the FPS genre and how to exploit it to get great results, but Aliens: Colonial Marines’ gameplay couldn’t be further from something like Borderlands 2.
Even the inclusion of XP and weapon upgrades fail to give your guns a real tactical advantages and even manage to change the classic appearance of the weapons removing the nostalgia value entirely.
It’s clear that over Aliens: Colonial Marines’ lengthy development process the original vision for the game has been lost. Levels and gameplay events shown at preview stage have been removed and with an ending that rushes to the finish line without thinking twice, it’s obvious that elements of the game have been left on the cutting room floor.
What’s left, though competent enough to provide a distracting FPS experience, is bland and technically rough around the edges. Screen tearing, texture pop-in and a visual style that only ever really does a good job at capturing the alien environments and nothing else, so much here misses the mark.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is a colossal missed opportunity.
Version Tested: Xbox 360