Sega’s third stab at bringing the Alien franchise into gaming was the most highly anticipated to date. Aliens: Colonial Marines had most of the odds working in their favor. A nice release window with other sci-fi shooters being few and far between, a high profile movie franchise with a cult following to base the game on and big name developers Gearbox Software (still revelling in Borderlands 2 success) slapping their god-like touch on the game. Even with all of this, A:CM has still released under a colossal umbrella of skepticism, mainly due to their previous outing; Aliens vs. Predator. Fans of both sci-fi shooters and Alien alike were hoping that this became the pinnacle of Alien games thus far. On paper it was most definitely in the cards for it to be just that, but did it deliver on the anticipation?
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This game puts you in the shoes of a top of the line United States Colonial Marine by the name of Christopher Winter. He leads a group of his fellow marines on a mission to investigate the U.S.S. Sulaco and the disappearance of it’s crew. As you can imagine, things go sour when they encounter the alien race known as Xenomorphs and as they fight for survival, they begin unfolding the truth behind what has happened in regards to the space vessel. The concept of this game, from what I just described, would appear to have a mountain of potential. But while the game’s plot may sound as if it’s on the verge of being spellbinding, the fashion in which it is delivered in is immensely unfavorable.
Aliens: Colonial Marines provides an incredibly bland narrative, with lifeless characters that you have to struggle deeply to give a single care about. The game lacks a sense of urgency and conflict and the plot line that is in place is difficult to follow due to being overshadowed by the game’s plethora of gameplay errors (which I will touch base on in a bit). I appreciate the game’s attempt to expand on the Alien’s story and give the colonial marines the spotlight on this run, but overall there is nothing compelling about the plot.
For folks who have never viewed the Alien movie and are not fans of the franchise, it will be hard to impossible to know what’s going on in the game. A:CM relies way too much on knowing the entire Alien back story and this prevents any possibilities of providing a superb experience for players new to the Alien universe. There is a shit ton of fan service in the game, from the inclusion of some of the movies characters to references to the movie being made via audio transmissions that you discover in computers set in the environment. But with all of the fan service, there is absolutely nothing else plot wise to be excited about.
A shining reason for the game’s anti-climatic story is the underdevelopment of the characters. A:CM never gives you any back story or takes any time to build on the game’s cast. From the beginning to the end, you feel like you’re playing as a military grunt and nothing more. I became highly confused at one point during the game when two of the characters got into a verbal spat with one another. You would’ve thought tension between the two of them had been high for some reason. But A:CM never builds you up to this moment; it simply threw it in.That’s exactly what happened for the entirety of the game as a matter of fact. There are no relationships built amongst the characters nor any descriptive views into the minds or thinking processes of the characters. Just a lot of moments that hold zero meaning due to the omission of the aforementioned.
You don’t feel purpose when playing through A:CM and with the linearity of the game and how the plot was delivered, you couldn’t help but feel as if they wanted you to feel purpose. If this was meant to be an arcade shooter and just that, I’d imagine they would have have taken a way more passive approach to telling the story. Perhaps let you play through the game with a created character instead of Chris Winter. Hell when you die in the game, your custom online character appears to be the one dying instead of Winter. An apparent glitch, for sure, but one that sucks you right out of the story line. We’ll save the glitches for another time (See Gameplay section).
I didn’t expect Ridley Scott-like excellence, especially with this game being on a different medium from movies, but I did expect a solid story with depth being told within the Alien universe. A:CM, unfortunately, fails to deliver in that aspect.
A:CM is a fast paced, arcade style FPS and fans of other first person shooters will have no problem picking up and playing. Controls are tight and responsive and the first-person shooting mechanics introduced by Call Of Duty that have become a standard in this generation of the genre are present and functioning quite smoothly. Your normal trigger aiming, left analog sprinting, face button jumping and etc. are all available and completely configurable for those who’d rather have their own button scheme. My only issue with the controls is the inclusion of the weapon wheel and how it is implemented into the control scheme. The only way you can equip different primary weapons, secondary weapons, or side arms is if you hold down the quick weapon change button and navigate a separate “weapon wheel-ish” menu that doesn’t halt the gameplay. There is no other way to do this as pausing the game to equip different weapons is impossible. This is a very minor flaw however, and overall the controls are as solid as any other shooter out there.
One of the games biggest mis-steps has to be the horrendous A.I. When playing A:CM, there’s one simple rule you need to know in order to get through the game with minimum difficulty: If you’re not controlling it, it’s stupid. Enemies and NPCs are a horrible issue in this game and a big reason why I was unable to immerse myself into the games environment while playing. NPCs that fight by your side throughout the game have no balance. They either mow down all of the enemies leaving you with nothing to kill for your enjoyment or they decide to ignore the battle taking place before them altogether and leave the fate of the squad on your shoulders. This doesn’t help the fact that they also appear to be invisible to the enemies most of the time. Meaning no matter how many NPCs may be around you, somehow all of the enemies feel the need to engage you and only you. I cannot count how many times the Xenomorphs would run right by my ally NPCs (who were shooting at them) as if they didn’t exist and attack just me with the rest of their swarm.
Next to the horrendous A.I. is a pile of detrimental glitches. The enemies have the tendency to freeze in place, almost as if they are lagging out of an online game, making them easy targets to get by. This is bearable until the enemies decide to start freezing in places where you cannot accessibly kill them. The NPC’s won’t move up by your side unless you clear the area of all enemies and without the NPC’s moving up, you are unable to progress through to the next area of the game. So when an enemy is frozen behind a wall, door or in an area you cannot seem to find them, you have no choice but to restart at the last checkpoint because the NPCs are not going to move up without the area being clear.
Speaking of the NPCs, there are times when they make vocal call outs like “up there” or “behind us”, minutes after you’ve already cleared an area. Thus putting you on edge in fear of more enemies to singling you out, when truthfully they’ve already been eradicated and the NPC is simply trolling you. Between the confusion and frequently having to restart checkpoints, it’s very tough to wrap yourself into this game. I’ve never been the type of person who considered glitches in games to be complete deal breakers. There’s solid proof that games can get away with having bugs and still be satisfying to players (look at Fallout 3, Skyrim, Dead Island). But these things take away from the overall enjoyment of the games story and environment.
The campaign does offer 4 player drop-in/drop-out cooperative online play so some of the NPC issues are eradicated when doing that. You can also hop onto the game’s multiplayer component, which allows for up to 12 players to do battle in four different competitive modes. There are customizable loadouts and appearances in the game and you get to play as either a male or female marine, or three different classes of Xenomorph. As players rank up, they unlock items like extra attachments to weapons and new customization items. There’s definitely fun to be had in the game’s multiplayer. Survivor mode is definitely a hidden gem within the game, which is a 4v4 mode where the Marine team is forced to survive waves of Xenomorphs until time is up. The multiplayer mode didn’t rid of the sour taste the campaign gave me, nor is it deep enough to warrant a $60 purchase, but it is by far the most pleasurable component that the game offers. Perhaps A:CM would have been better of raising the scale on the multiplayer and making that their main focus.
There are elements of the game that look fantastic; like when you’re cutting open metallic doors with your saw and seeing all of the sparks fly. But in the grand scheme of A:CM, the game is too inconsistent with visualsto be considered polished. When you’re up close to a dispatched Xenomorph, they look frightening because of the immense detail that is put into them. But any other time, they look like messy black clouds with tails and teeth.
The environments are very dull and uninteresting to look at. The structures are predictable, untouched and recycled too many times throughout the game. You’ll notice this instantly when walking through the U.S.S. Sulaco and seeing every room look nearly the same. As we are ending this generation of gaming, it baffles me to see a game with the production window this game had, look as unfinished as it does. I’m not sure if it was in the developer’s artistic direction to put a lot more detail into some areas of the game than others, but when the contrast between the detailed areas and detail lacking areas is so substantial, it stands out like a sore thumb and makes grasping the full experience of the game even more difficult.
The game’s music and sound are great and fit the profile of the Alien franchise perfectly. Everything from the shriek of the Xenomorphs to the “clickity” sound of the pulse rifle was spot on. I wish the developers would’ve used the score to accentuate the pace of the game a little more than they did. At times there is complete silence when there should be an epic tune overlaying the actions in which are taking place.
Even the voice acting in this game is very good. Mind you, the script and the dialogue on this game are flat out atrocious, so anyone who can deliver such convincingly is earning their paycheck. I say that because the lines being delivered in the game are so bad that it might outshine the fashion in which they are delivered in. Overall, while this game has an average at best showing in the audio category, the graphics are too inconsistent and that prevents players from really feeling like they are battling in the Alien universe as opposed to a bunch of pre designed and unfinished areas with none of the grim vibrance of Alien franchise.
Imagine owning a book on tape where the speaker mumbled and spoke the literature in a sense to where it was completely unlistenable. If this book on tape were to exist, Aliens: Colonial Marines is the video game equivalent of that book. The idea, the story, the characters and everything you need is there, but the delivery of those things made this near unbearable. The campaign can possibly be fun if played with friends and the multiplayer component adds a drop of life into the game. But neither warrant a $60 price tag and can save players from the fact that this game feels unfinished and is plagued with issues to make that apparent.
With what probably is the most disappointing game that has hit so far this year, one has to wonder how much longer Sega will try to keep the Alien game franchise alive. If they do, they should definitely consider finding a new team to build the game and leave Gearbox to their other, more studious projects like Borderlands. Because if the next Alien game continues the same trend of the last two, we may have on our hands a possible contender for worst game of all time. As a fan of the Alien movies, I would find that highly unfortunate.
If you’re a die hard (and I mean DIE HARD) fan of the Alien movies, it wouldn’t hurt too badly to give this game a rent and cringe through the awful campaign once for a chance to check out the cool fan services throughout the game. But if you’re not a die hard fan or just out for a solid multiplayer game, look elsewhere because this is definitely a game you can PASS ON.
But that’s just my opinion! Make sure you make your voice heard and rate the game. Also feel free to leave feedback in the comments as well!