In 2008, Sega and Gearbox Software announced that they obtained the rights to develop a game based on the movie franchise, Alien, which was set to be major project for the company and would finally be the chance for fans to see just what could happen when a premier studio takes on the series. Now, after numerous delays and countless questions regarding its production status, Aliens: Colonial Marines is finally here, and only one question remains to be asked – What the hell happened?
From the outset, Aliens: Colonial Marines (ACM) has noticeable problems with textures, animation and sound that become increasingly more problematic as you progress. The overall tone for ACM is reliant on its ability to engross the player in the environment, where you feel trapped between the monsters hunting you and the endless vacuum of space. But, as textures fail to load in a timely manner, or not at all, and characters’ lips don’t even try to match the words coming out of their mouth, you are constantly reminded that you are playing a game that would barely pass as a launch title in 2006.
Breaking immersion even further are the problems surrounding clipping problems of all characters and enemies within the game, as they seem to have very little understanding of the word ‘solid’. Enemies will walk through your comrades (who fire only if the mood strikes them) to leap at you, meaning that when you shoot this oncoming monster, they will again decide whether or not to interact with your bullets. There seem to be so few animations in the game that it can do little more than show you a red X and add green blood to signify contact when you are actually connecting with shots. Clipping issues continue to be a problem as your allies tend to get stuck on uneven terrain, causing them float above the ground, making it impossible to proceed in certain sections of the game unless you restart from a checkpoint.
Fans of the series will be glad to know that ACM does use a number of sound effects from the movies, the most prevalent being, of course, the iconic pulse rifle burst. Past that, the sound effects throughout the game seem to add little to the experience, as even the pulse rifle sounds hallow, giving the player little weight in the environment. Luckily the music within the game follows normal trends of using big score pieces to add drama to situations, but cuts out intermittently, removing any sense of tension that could have been built through its orchestral sound.
Getting past the graphical and auditory issues, gameplay is the one aspect that can make or break a game, regardless of glitches and poor design – sadly, this is where ACM fares the worst. The basic premise behind the alien creature is its ability to attack at an instant from almost any location, never giving its prey a chance to prepare. ACM goes to great efforts to notify you when an alien is nearby, and when they aren’t. This is mostly caused by the innate sensor that beeps when anything in the area is hostile, letting you know when you are perfectly safe to play with inventory, or when you are supposed to be scared – to a far greater degree (and therefore less frightening degree) than the sensor in the films. Secondly, this is ruined by AI failing to load into either enemy mercenaries or Aliens, as scenes designed to surprise you are spoiled when the alien behind the door forgets his line when you open it, letting you take a coffee break before you dispatch the confused foe.
This issue of loading becomes a continuous problem from beginning to end, as the game seems to take cues from drawn out sequences of time that fail to build tension. The game is, for the most part, broken down into a series of rooms that have doors you can open, and those you cannot. While trying to do the simple action of opening a door, you get the impression you are in a hotel lobby waiting for your elevator, as the game will take an exuberant amount of time to allow you access to the next untimely door. Whether this is to allow the next environment to be loaded in, or simply because you have to wait for your team to get in position every time, really does not matter, as you will be asleep before it gets that far.
At its core, ACM is a first person shooter that relies on its shooting mechanics to drive the story forward, but due to a number of unreasonable flaws the game becomes more of a chore than an adventure. Whether you are shooting a pulse rifle, assault rifle, or an SMG, the game forces you to shoot an obscene amount of times before you are able to connect where you are targeting. I do not know if the main character has Parkinson’s, or if he just drinks too much Mountain Dew, but the amount of barrel sway mixed with the poor accuracy of the guns makes it agonizing to hit anything past 10 yards. This is something that I had hoped to be able to remedy through the game’s weapon upgrade system, but the features available for upgrade consist of swapping out scopes or changing your underbarrel, none of which fix the problem.
The most beneficial part of using a movie license to build a game off of is that you are given a wealth of history and lore to work off of. ACM could have been a great way to tell a new or expanded story, but it simply drives the plot forward with little more than sad attempts at drama, where bad voice overs and animations become laughable in moments of sadness. Moving forward throughout the game, you will spend a significant amount of time fighting off mercenaries instead the much more volatile alien creature, with little reason for their presence. Most of the story is pieced together by audio logs, that require you to stand around listening to them, instead of progressing the story in a more natural state. By the end, you are still fairly unsure as to what you just did, but are thankful that it is over.
Online multiplayer fares pretty much of the same way that the main game does, as it still uses the same faulty mechanics to move the characters around. This becomes more apparent when trying to use an alien to walk along the walls, and it seems your character is hovering over the rock instead of touching it, causing control issues. Which becomes a problem as you attempt to stalk your prey, only to battle the game’s physics engine instead of the armed marine around you.
Reading through this you might think that ACM really has no redeeming qualities, and you would probably be correct. Other than the fact that it is using the Alien IP, the game fails to bring any tension even in the simplest of ways, as it trips over its own feet at every step. It feels like a rushed product in almost every aspect of its design, and for something that could have been so great, it is now little more than a black mark on Gearbox Software’s track record. I could not recommend this title to anyone, even to fans of the series, but those of you who are still on the fence regarding ACM, come on down, save your money and time.