STAFF REVIEW of Aliens: Colonial Marines (Xbox 360)

Thursday, February 14, 2013.
by Brent Roberts

Aliens: Colonial Marines Box art Let us ask you a question. Is it better to try and expand on a series that was iconic in inception but deteriorated as it progressed, or is it better to leave well enough alone and reminisce about the amazing experiences and emotions we felt right from the beginning? The subject in question are the Aliens movies, and while the series started strong it has evolved into what some would call "cash cows" where the movie studio knows that people will buy a ticket just because it includes the infamous Xenomorphs.

This trend has also infected the video game world by spawning very few successful game entries. This was a question that Gearbox had to answer and the result of their toil is the newly released Aliens: Colonial Marines. Having seen Sega and Gearbox debut this game back at E3 2011 we were initially taken back by the amount of effort that was poured into recreating much of the horror and excitement that we all know and loved from the original movies. So much effort has taken place that the story of Aliens: Colonial Marines is officially regarded as cannon for the Aliens series. So is Aliens: Colonial Marines a purebred masterpiece of horror and suspense, or is it just another notch on the belt of already released mediocre Aliens games? Let's find out.

Set in the near future after the classic James Cameron movie Aliens, you play the role of Corporal Winter sent in to investigate a distress signal picked up from the U.S.S. Sulaco which is found to be in orbit over LV-426. Just like in horror movies, nothing ever goes according to plan and soon you find yourself neck deep in acid filled Xenomorphs which seem to be crawling out from every direction possible. While this may start the game off on a positive note, regretfully this is about the brightest summary we can give. Yes unfortunately even with a console that has lasted all these years, there are no developments that can accurately portray the same level of quality we experienced in the movie Alien and Aliens. They say in space no one can hear you scream, but unfortunately for fans of the Aliens series, when you play this game everyone will hear your heart breaking. Not because some Xenomorph drives its tail through your torso, but because you rapidly realize that there was so much potential for this game and so much effort to try and recreate the experience, and a vast majority of it fails to live up to the mark. Hear us out on this.

On paper, Aliens: Colonial Marines gives us a glimpse of greatness. Proper settings such as LV-426, U.S.S. Sulaco, Hadly's Hope and more that tie right into the movies allow us to be transported back into the glory years of the Aliens series. The iconic Xenomorphs return and this is the first time that new types of Aliens such as the Crusher and Boiler are also included in the Aliens series. There are even classic characters that we all know from the Aliens movies that make their presence known in the game so a great sense of familiarity is injected right from the start. When you combine these three factors (on paper) you find you have a solid foundation to build something truly great, which perplexed all of us when we found ourselves scratching our heads saying, this game was delayed why again? Originally Aliens: Colonial Marines suffered the drawbacks of delays and while few welcomed the multiple delays a vast majority of the gaming world held their breath just a little longer as we collectively hoped that we would get to experience a truly brilliant adaptation of an iconic piece of film come to interactive life. Then we were hit with a punch in the gut and our fantasy filled hopes came crashing down like a Xenomorph dropping from above.

To allow gamers more focus on the game itself and not fumbling around with complex gameplay, Gearbox has included a very streamlined control system that allows for on the move, quick access to different weapons, navigation and more. Gearbox has also included innovations such as four player co-op campaign, and various forms of multiplayer. While these innovations do allow for an increased enjoyable experience, you can't help but be detracted by the game's AI system. Now on the front side we are told that there is an advanced AI system that will send Xenomorphs flanking around in strategic movements to increase the difficulty in hitting them. What we actually get is a predetermined path that all Xenomorphs take and with proper angle of controlled fire, Aliens: Colonial Marines takes the random scariness element out of play and thus ultimately removes one of the greatest elements that Alien and Aliens had going for it; the element of surprise and shock.

It almost becomes a matter of finding out the pattern, dying, and then starting over knowing where everything is coming from and killing it. This tends to turn the game into something very tedious instead of something to be enjoyed. When you combine the fact that you will go down many different hallways that look exactly the same, and you will do this multiple times, you really get the feeling of "now why again do I have to go back here for a fifth time?" These imperfections definitely make a significant negative impact, especially when you remove one of the key qualities that made the Alien and Aliens movies such masterpieces.

If the pain of this has become unbearable, it's perfectly ok. We couldn't believe how our dreams and aspirations for this game to be phenomenal have been shattered so severely. Unfortunately, the pain though doesn't stop there. The graphics of Aliens: Colonial Marines look fantastic in still photos; however, as you play through the game, you will find the graphics to fill you with an overwhelmingly large feeling of disappointment. There have been games released within the last two years that have blinded us with unimaginable beauty and when you're thinking of the Xenomorphs, the potential that was there feels squandered and in some instances completely disregarded in total.

While the graphics may be a kick in the junk, Aliens: Colonial Marines gets some serious help in the audio department. Infamous sounds from weapons such as the flamethrower, assault rifle, shotgun and more all return from their original use in the movies. Even the infamous motion tracker beep is done straight from the movies so you get the feeling that Gearbox tried very hard in the audio department, and when you factor in some of the original actors provide the voices for their character in the game, you see that the sounds themselves were meticulously integrated to really help immerse you back into the nightmare in space.

Outside of the story mode, Gearbox has included some various forms of multiplayer. Some of the modes are variants of classic gametypes such as Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and more and with support for 12 people, you can create some incredibly intense firefights. Both through the story and multiplayer you can rank your soldier up by completion of in game tasks and commendations, which in turn will grant him access to various weapons and weapon upgrades. This multiplayer innovation is going to be where the bulk of your time is spent, especially when you get to know the movement patterns and insertion points of the oncoming computer AI Xenomorphs from the story mode. As your character progresses in multiplayer you will quickly see that the addition of human controlled Xenomorphs do allow for that blin-out-of-you moments.

So does Aliens: Colonial Marines pull off a herculean feat of heroism and provide a fantastic Aliens experience? Heartbreakingly no, and instead it is court marshaled and sent packing with a permanent and undeniable list of blemishes. It is absolutely devastating that a game with so much potential will go through multiple delays, only to produce a product that is lackluster and full of disappointment. We cannot stress enough how badly we wanted this game to be a masterful work of interactive art, a game that would capture our minds and scare every fiber of our souls. We wished for a game that provided a beautiful visual spectrum with every step and instead we get graphics that feel like you have taken a time warp back to the beginning years of the Xbox 360.

For those who are diehard fans of the Aliens series and love the Xenomorphs as much as we do, we feel your pain. If Aliens: Colonial Marines was done in a way that delivered the game we all hoped for, then without question it would be fantastic and contender for game of the year, but instead for Gearbox, it's game over man. Game over.

Overall: 6.5 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.5 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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