Gearbox delivers another game that should have been allowed to fade into obscurity.
The development cycle of Aliens: Colonial Marines has not been an easy one. Out now, it slipped its original due date by three or four years, and has been in development since at least 2006. That’s five years to make a game based one of the most beloved franchises ever, one that has already spawned a mess of other games, some fantastic (AvP2, so good!), and some not so (the last AvP, which was pretty much a mess)... and, sadly, you can feel every one of those delays in Colonial Marines.
It’s a mess, easily one of the most disappointing games of recent years.
The first sign that there’s something wrong with the game, especially on PC, is the alarmingly low res textures. In terms of graphical fidelity, the game looks – and in a lot of ways, plays – like it should have been released at least two or three years ago. Barely recognisable blobs of colour litter the floors, computer screens look indistinct and blobby, and what should be instantly recognisable areas of the Sulaco (the classic warship from Aliens) are grey messes of poor texturing and low-detail design.
Character design and textures are a little better, but here the problem isn’t cosmetic, but rather one of coding.
Many passages of the game stick you with an NPC partner, sometimes two, and they’re possibly the worst companion AI since Daikatana. They will get stuck on corners, on textures, on things that apparently only they can see. You’ll move ahead in the level, thinking you have a chance to leave them to some gory xenomorph-driven doom, but then you’ll close a door, turn around, and the bastard AI’s teleported behind you. It’s enough to make you wish for a blue-on-blue incident – sadly, you can’t shoot friendlies. Then again, your friendlies are terrible shots anyway.
The final leg on this three-legged stool of fail is the enemy AI, which does a good job of pretending to be competent, but it’s a sham that’s rather easy to see through. The xenomorphs will make a good effort of first rushing, then moving away from incoming fire, but mostly you can just stand in a spot and blaze away while they shamble about, more zombie-like at times than a fast, terrifying killing machine. Human enemies are a bit more engaging, and are at least capable of using cover, but they’re not hard to get the better of.
Other annoyances relate to the fact that no one seems to drop guns or ammo. You might be fighting five or six enemy soldiers, all with pulse rifles, and none of them drop anything. I’m sure this is for reasons of tension, but all it does is deliver a mammoth disconnect. The fact that the game actually uses an archaic armour and health system, like something out of Doom, also seems odd – but then you remember when this game likely started development.
This is all doubly enraging, as the game still manages to suck you in from time to time, based purely on the score, sound effects, and all the cool tech. When you hear a pulse rifle arc up, or the telltale purr of a lurking xenomorph, the game can be exciting – in theory. The practice rarely lives up to the promise of the IP, however.
The game starts to get better with more warm bodies. You’ll never get around the fact that it is basically half-baked at the outset, but in co-op mode in the campaign, and in multiplayer, there is evidence of real sparkle.
Multiplayer in particular, which plays like a heavily modded Left4Dead, could have been highly compelling, but the odd choice to include only two multiplayer maps makes it a moot point. As it is, this is the game’s real high point. With its class-based play, interesting mechanics revolving around sealing doors and deploying auto-guns, and some real tense moments during showdowns between player controlled xenomorphs and marines, it’s a sign of what the game could have been.
If you’re a hardcore fan of Aliens, there’s some merit to the game. Running around inside the Sulaco is fun, and getting to use/abuse the great weapons and kit designed by James Cameron is certainly a draw. But the game that these cool things are wrapped around is distinctly sub-par.