Review: Aliens: Colonial Marines (PS3)
Title: Aliens: Colonial Marines
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (6.4 GB)
Release Date: February 12, 2013
ESRB Rating: M
Aliens: Colonial Marines is also available on Xbox 360 and PC.
The PlayStation 3 version was used for this review.
It happened again. I let myself get too excited about a game, only to be disappointed after the game’s release. By now you have heard from every avenue that contains the term “video game” in its coverage that Aliens: Colonial Marines did not deliver. In fact, the xeno-hole goes much deeper than that, and the story of Colonial Marines doesn’t just end with bad reviews across the board, unfortunately. But that’s not for this review to judge or discuss.
While I will not approach this review as an apologist for this titanic fiasco of letdown, I would like to approach it as an Aliens fan. The reason for this, is that I have seen enough fans of the series asking the question, “But will an Aliens fan be a bit more forgiving and appreciate the nods and connections to my favorite movies?” The answer is a complicated “maybe.” While I will score this game what it truly deserves as a game, I will try to answer that question for anyone on the fence, who may want to try the game because of the connection to Aliens, but is afraid of paying for something that folks have unanimously decided was a disaster of a game. Thus, the score is for gamers, while the text is for hard-core Aliens fans, like me. Warning: you can still be a fan of these movies and hate this game.
Since Colonial Marines takes place after the events of Aliens, but before Alien 3 and Resurrection, the developers have made it a point to recreate a story that fits snug between those movies. This goes beyond the narrative of the game. Revisiting Hadley’s Hope will reward the observant player with nods to the movie Aliens, down to busted ceiling panels that were used by the pesky xenomorphs to sneak up on our favorite marines. I did notice that the research center was missing the “cracked” observation tube for the face hugger that was released on Ripley (unless I missed it on my play through), but if you visit the room where she and Rebecca fended off the planted hugger, you will notice the same placement of furniture, and the nod to the struggle that took place in that same room in the film, again minus the broken window that allowed Hicks to enter the room and help Ripley (This one I did double-check). There are even some nods to Prometheus, but since you’re only reading this in order to decide whether or not this game is for you, I’ll leave some of those things to your discovery. The Aliens movie nods are a bit more obvious.
The story of Colonial Marines places you in the shoes of Winters, one in a group of colonial marines sent into the Sulaco to discover why, after 17 weeks, the ship has return to the orbit of LV-426, when it was initially reported to have been destroyed over Fury-161. Naturally the mission does not go as smoothly as planned, and your team is thrown into a war with “multiple factions.” Yes, Colonial Marines doesn’t just pit you against the xenomorphs. There are other elements at work here, and your team is about to discover how much the events following Aliens tie into the rest of the series (love it or not).
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 309 of the podcast.
It’s a first person shooter. Nothing you haven’t seen before. As a fan of sci-fi shooters (not so much earth-based ones), I really can’t say much about the gameplay here that will make you feel like you haven’t played this game before. Other shooters have made strides in providing cover mechanics. Aliens: Colonial Marines is a standard affair. Run and gun, but not so carelessly. The enemies can be brutal, and the Xenos are relentless. And don’t you dare kill them, point blank. While your health regenerates when you are out of battle, your armor does not.
The difference here comes in the enemies you fight. I have played Resistance, Killzone, Gears, and Halo, and while they provide a much tighter gaming experience, the xenomorph, even in this poorly-executed game, is a fun enemy to battle. They don’t take cover. They don’t shoot back. They don’t even talk smack. They’re fast, and they hide. They crawl in from under platform you are standing on and surprise you with vicious attacks. And their horrific death-screams are both satisfying and nostalgic to hear. The gameplay here is not going to win any awards, but fighting an enemy like the Aliens is something that the other shooters that I have played will not provide: a very small, yet potentially positive, element, even if it’s one of a few. I didn’t really notice anything broken with the game through the entire 5-6 hour campaign (yeah, it’s short). I’d like to mention that this game’s campaign does another thing that’s relatively unique, particularly for someone like me, who doesn’t like to just jump into online competitive as a complete newb. Playing through the campaign levels your character and grants you weapons and upgrades that you can take with you into the multiplayer world. I like this feature, in that I feel that the campaign actually presents some value, and isn’t just a tack-on to the multiplayer game.
Oh my… How the hell could something with so much potential end up looking so bad? No forgiveness here, aside from the occasional moment when a xeno crawls into the light and you can see the glow bounce off its shiny head. The game genuinely looks like something from the PS2 era (a better-looking PS2 game, but that’s no excuse). I walked up to a wall that I thought simply hadn’t updated its LOD (Like the way games like Uncharted take a second to update textures when you begin a level). No such thing. That was the wall’s final close-up texture. The xenomorphs themselves don’t look so bad up close, and watching them crawl around in the darkness still inspires some chills. I hate that I wanted to boot up Killzone 3 to remind myself that better-looking games existed. Now, here is where the fan comes in. While technically the game doesn’t deliver strong visuals, the locals and attention to environments is well done. I still felt like I was walking around on LV-426, especially once you enter Hadley’s. So…Ugly graphics, great set pieces.
Finally something nice to say about the game. The music is straight out of the first two Alien movies and builds up when the action kicks in. Yes, the pulse-rifles (controlled bursts please), smart guns, and flame throwers are straight out of the movies, and they too sound familiar. Hell, I almost didn’t want to update my rifle with a silencer, because it no longer sounded loud enough. I played the entire campaign with the PlayStation Pulse headset. So every xenomorph death-scream, every gun-discharge was heard in great clarity. And it sounded great. In fact, if someone wasn’t watching, and was simply listening to this game, their mind would probably paint an amazing picture of what this game could have looked like.
I played some co-op, both local and online (just to make sure it worked). If this game is going to get your attention, it will probably be here. You have chaotic yelling between friends (involving lines like “Behind you!” “They’re on the walls!” “Shit he’s on me, someone shoot him!”), and that’s all you really need to know about that.
Team Deathmatch was actually a blast to play. One would think that playing as the xenomorph would present a huge disadvantage, but the game balances this out by making you extremely fast, able to climb on walls, and gives you melee attacks that do serious damage. One awesome session had me grouped with a few other aliens, running through air vents and surprising the poor-unsuspecting marines. Xenos can also see through walls, so you almost always know where the enemies are, while they may be right around the corner and not know you’re coming. Multiplayer also allows you to unlock different alien appendages, including some really nice head-designs. These give you different abilities, like spitting acid and dodging, etc etc. On the marine’s side, it was awesome playing along side buddies and having one guy take “tracker duty” letting us know where the xenos were hiding. Sound plays another interesting role here, because again, these are not other humans you’re fighting. Heavy breathing is heard from around the corner and you panic, only to see three player-controlled xenos coming right for you. At that point, if you’re alone, it’s too late. It was awesome hearing pulse-rifle discharge coming from the distance followed by the tell-tale alien screams. Multiplayer definitely helps this game shine a bit more.
I don’t actually hate this game. I’m not in full agreement with some of the harsh judgement out there. But I’m not blind to the fact that this could have been a much stronger game, especially considering some of the “false” images and videos we were shown early in development that promised as much. There was still some enjoyment, and I will probably continue to play online for quite some time, and maybe play through the campaign with some friends, when/if they pick up a copy. My advice to anyone who is still curious about this game, is wait for a cheap copy on Amazon or your local game store. It’s still a decent game that very much sounds and feels like Aliens, but it’s not worth your hard-earned cash in its current form. Let me put it this way. If this game had been in development for a year or so, and was released on PSN for $25-$30, it would have scored higher across the boards. But it’s been in development since the PS2 days, and cost $60 on a disc. So I’m scoring it as such.