Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Review: Aliens Colonial Marines

Release Date: 02/12/2013 Rating: Mature (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language)

Players: 1-2(Splitscreen co-op) 8 (online)

Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U(release date to be announced)

Platform Reviewed on: Xbox 360

Now, I was a late comer to the Aliens franchise.  I admit it.  I used to hate scary movies.  Now that that's not the case, I love what Ridley Scott did in 1979, and James Cameron expounded upon 1986.  Those movies did more for science fiction than anything else out there.  I wish I could say the same about Aliens: Colonial Marines...

Aliens: Colonial Marines is set 17 weeks after Aliens.  The Sulaco is now a derelict craft, and the Sephora, another Space Marine vessel is sent to investigate.  The marines find themselves stranded on LV-426, surrounded by Xenomorphs in every direction.  Add in mercenaries hired by Weyland-Yutani Corporation, and the whole thing becomes a vacation to hell in a hurry.  In a sense, it stays true to its source material.

Missions vary from being out in the open on LV-426, moving through corridors and service tunnels, and "last stand" battle scenarios.  There's one of these in the first scene, where one marine is hacking a console terminal while everyone else defends against the oncoming Xenos.  There's a lot of nods to source films in-game.  Marines set up a defensive position in Hadley's Hope, the colony from Aliens. They stage a gunfight with Wey-Yu mercenaries in the Origin vessel, next to the corpse under that telescope-like device.  While it's cool to see these locales and everything, it feels tacked-on, and doesn't really provide much in the way of driving the story along.  The achievements reference lines from the movies, too.  "Mostly Come Out At Night..." has you finding Newt's doll head in one of the levels.  The achievement for beating the game is the iconic phrase, "Game Over, Man!"  They're cool and all, but what does it really accomplish?  Fans will see it as a wink here, a nod there.  But it feels like the developers are trying to tell the viewer, "see what we included? Isn't this awesome?"

One of the stages is modeled after this scene

Fans will look at it and say, "sure, but why are we here?"

It wouldn't be as much of a problem if Colonial Marines wasn't supposed to be canon.  But since it's supposed to be an official part of the Aliens lore, there's a certain expectation of quality that doesn't really show up in this game.  There's expectations about storytelling, narrative, and atmosphere that are nonexistent in Colonial Marines.

As a whole, the game lacked a lot of polish.  One notable issue was in the first scene, when boarding the Sulaco.  There was a flickering light that wasn't properly projecting on the area.  It looked like the refresh lines from an old CRT television.  Enemies will shoot through cover, muzzle flashes sticking through walls and boxes.  Loading times were on par with original Playstation games.  When caught in an area that required multiple attempts, players would spend at least a third of their time waiting for the game to reload their last checkpoint.  Something like that would have been more acceptable and possibly overlooked seven or eight years ago.  But this is the Xbox 360, and Unreal Engine 3!  There are quality standards!  Problems like this shouldn't be happening in a 2013 game!

And there were glitches in the animations, too.  In the stealth level, the Xenomorphs would kneel down and go dormant for a short period of time, then they'd up and walk again.  There was no animation to go back to the standing up point. They're just, suddenly standing again.  That's the sort of mistake an entry level developer makes, not the guys who publish AAA-tier games.  And then there's the shoddy AI.  In Hadley's Hope, when I deployed the turret, I stood in a corner and watched the other marines take care of the majority of the other Xenos.  I think I only had to deal with two or three, which made a beeline straight for me.  Furthermore, during the escort mission, I ran past all the Xenos, and they basically ignored me.  I did a pacifist run in what s.hould be a first person shooter!  I'm not the only person to do this, either.  This guy did the same thing.

For as much as Gearbox Software got wrong with Colonial Marines, they did get at least a few things right.  One of the mid levels takes place in the middle of the Xenomorph hive.  Your character was captured, and needs to escape.  The entire level involves sneaking around in these sewers, moving past Xenomorph husks.  A few of them are live, and will get up and walk around, occasionally looking you right in the face before wandering away.  This was probably the only part of the game that was legitimately creepy.  Too much noise would wake up the whole hive, and they'd all come charging at you and explode in your face.  It was tense, yet too easy to read.  As long as you were crouched or put light pressure on the control stick, you got through just fine.

Dat statue...
The collector's edition of Colonial Marines doesn't feature much in the way of goodies, but what they do offer is pretty awesome.  There's an eight inch tall statue of a Xenomorph duking it out with a Space Marine in one of the yellow power loaders.  It's pretty awesome stuff.  The manufacturing quality is pretty solid, it sure doesn't feel like it's going to break any time soon.  They also throw in a blueprint of the Sephora, a mockup of the mission dossier, "graduation papers" from the space academy, and some iron-on patches.  But that statue, that's what justified the collector's edition for me.

When Aliens Vs. Predator came out in 2009, critics blasted its campaign as bland, unimaginative, and not that fun. The multiplayer, on the other hand, was the best thing about it. Colonial Marines follows this trend, and it's a good thing that it does. It's one of the few things this game has going for it. There are four multiplayer modes at the moment: Team Deathmatch, Extermination, Escape, and Survivor. Team Deathmatch is the staple of every shooter, but the other modes are where Colonial Marines truly shines.  Extermination has the marines moving to various locations around the map and holding strategic points to destroy Xenomorph eggs.  It's a refreshing take on the King of the Hill gameplay type, as the Xenomorphs aren't capturing any points, just preventing the Marines from doing so.

Escape has the marines attempting to make it past a group of Xenomorphs and reach an evacuation point.  They're reminiscent of the old escort missions from Counter-Strike or the assault missions from Unreal Tournament.  Escape favors teams who work together, and the lone gunman strategy fails miserably.  Survivor is a unique gameplay mode.  The alien team has unlimited respawns, and the Marines have only one life each.  Their goal is to hold out for as long as possible.  This will involve sealing doors, setting up barricades, and holding off against enemy assaults.  Again, teamwork is key.  It's a neat spin on the gameplay tropes that mire the shooter genre.

I really want to like Colonial Marines. I really do. There's so much that Gearbox could have done with this game. They could have done so much awesome stuff. They had the opportunity to write new Aliens canon and make their mark in a big science fiction franchise. But the multiplayer is really the only thing Colonial Marines has going for it. For the most die-hard Aliens fan, this game might be worth picking up. But even then, it will be so divisive that it'll turn into a love it or hate it type of game. For people who aren't familiar with the series, the lack of polish and numerous technical problems will be a sore spot. Then again, this tends to happen to games that get stuck in development hell. Once the price drops, it might be easier to justify.

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