The Alien movies directed by Ridley Scott are some of the most revered science fiction horror movies of all time and their fanbase is pretty rabid about their love for the series. The property also seems like it would be perfect for the realm of gaming. As for that, there have been a number of games based off the Alien franchise and some have been good, some have been bad, but none of these were as anticipated as Aliens: Colonial Marines. Six years in the making, Gearbox developed, and a story that is actually canon in the movies, there was no reason for a fan not to be hyped for this release. The pre-release demos only served to hype fans up more with how impressive the game in progress was looking. It looked like something that was worthy of the Aliens name. Finally it was released and the response? Well, for this player, the end product amazed me. It amazed me at how bad something that looked so good could go so horribly, horribly wrong.
The mechanics of Aliens: Colonial Marines are very easy to describe. If you have ever played a Call of Duty game before you will have a pretty solid handle on the controls. The only real difference is the removal of the alternative grenade button for a motion tracker, a motion tracker that does not work at all. Unless the enemy is visible (practically in front or above/ below you) they will generally not show up at all on the device. You gain experience from killing enemies and you are granted weapons at different intervals for reaching a particular level. You are also capable of modifying your weapons. Why anyone would want a red dot sight, a silencer, and a black/ red paint scheme on a Pulse Rifle is beyond me, but the option is there.
The story is… well, supposedly it’s there and supposedly canon. Taking place after the third Alien movie you play as Corporal Chris Winters. You and other members of your crew, let us just call them meat shields, respond to the distress signal that was put out by the USS Sephora that is in orbit around the planet LV-426 at the end of Alien 3. Wait… no, that’s not right. The planet Sephora was orbiting was Fiorina 161 at the end of Alien 3. Now you see what the player is in for; the story is a mess, it feels extremely disjointed, and is out right confusing because some of the lore is completely wrong. The in game call backs to the events in the other movies (including Prometheus) are okay, such as Hick’s shotgun and some of the anesthetics of the environments but that does not make up for the story feeling as if it was inconsequential to the game. As for the tone, mood, and sense of horror that the movie provide; it is completely lost on this game. It is as if the game developers said “Suspense? What's that? Does it mean more aliens?! HERE HAVE MORE ALIENS! While you're at it, have some WY mercs as well. DAKKA DAKKA DAKKA DAKKA!!!!" The voice acting, at times, feels forced but overall is okay.
The graphics are, much like the rest of this game, disappointing. The engine feels as if it was made a generation ago and in comparison to the “Vertical Slice” demo that people were given in the past, it is a complete and total lie. The textures show up blocky and low res, the movements are jagged and jerky, and the environment has bad pop-in problems along with some flicking image issues. Not to mention that the Xenomorphs are ugly and not in the horrifying sense but in the way of “What is this giant block of polygons crawling toward me doing?” The designs of the environments stick very close to the Alien anesthetic and bring a nice flare to the otherwise unimpressive settings.
The gameplay of A:CM is meh at best and downright painful at its worst. Sensitivity problems abound with the aiming and movement speed of the characters and the hitboxes are some of the worst I have ever encountered in a modern generation shooter. There were times that I was about forty paces away from an explosive and I still managed to get hit by it or five to ten paces from a Xeno’s acid blood and my armor level dropped like a rock. Consistently plagued with problems through the span of the campaign, the weapons felt as if they had no weight, A.I. is blissfully inept and will often get in your way and block progress by blocking doors or somehow getting themselves killed. Special mention goes to the lasersight on the Pulse Rifle as it the laser is off to the left but the reticle magically centers itself. The multiplayer is probably one of the better parts of the game as it is better to share misery with friends. The competitive has the same problems with gunplay as the main story but nothing matches how bad co-op managed to be. When you start up multiplayer you would think that you and your friends would take the place of the partner characters that are already present in the story. Nope, throw that out the window because you are playing as extra characters that are there in addition to the partners that are already present. This cluster grouping is very troublesome and there are times when the A.I manages to make things even worse.
The fans deserved better than this. Alien is a revered franchise and was a landmark for the sci-fi horror genre. Gearbox released this in a state that disservices both the fans and their own company’s reputation for putting out solid games. This game is broken, not in the sense that it is unplayable (though close) but in the way of not being sutable for even the most hardcore Alien fan. The shout out and references are nothing but a far cry to the other series of games that actually did the license justice: The PC Aliens vs Predator games. One of the most memorable moments of this game is extremely inspired by a sequence in Aliens vs Predator 2. Gearbox had the opportunity to do great things here and the original demo that they showed at multiple events built faith that they were on the right track but the end product is pathetic, shallow, and one of the worst cash-ins of a license franchise in recent memory.