Review: Aliens: Colonial Marines is a bad movie reference

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Aliens: Colonial Marines is a trainwreck. There’s no other way to describe it; the PC version is an outdated, buggy mess. The game makes a decent first impression, starting off with a bang as you board the now-abandoned U.S.S. Sulaco in search of survivors, but it doesn’t take long to realize that all you’re really doing is running from switch to switch, occasionally shooting an enemy or two. And trust me, there are a whole lot of switches.

Between those switches you're likely to run afoul of an inexcusably unrelenting mess of technical bugs, and if that isn't enough to deter you from plowing through waves of bland xenomorph enemies, the unreliable checkpoint system that forces you into a repetitive dance with the latter five or ten minutes of every fight certainly will be. Checkpoints feel more like a bullet point crossed off the developer to-do list rather than anything that's actually useful to the player. You’ll have plenty of time to groan over them while you're sent backwards in time over and over again until you can finally figure out how to play nice with the game’s broken and unbalanced rules.

Floating Xenomorphs? ALRIGHT!

Despite the rest of the game, the story can’t be that bad, right? Wrong. At no point does the story in Aliens: Colonial Marines feel connected to its namesake in any way, even when referencing direct events from the films. This game captures none of the tension or dread that permeates Cameron's Aliens, which is doubly disappointing in light of how fiercely the Aliens franchise was brandished as a marketing ploy prior to release.

There’s even a point where a character from the film appears, but it feels shallow and self-serving, a blatant reminder to the player that the stories are somehow connected. The game's finale doesn’t do the story any favors either, as it builds up to a "climactic" battle that essentially won by hitting a series of switches until a cutscene can take over. It's perfect, a terribly apropos ending to a game which boils down to a series of switch hunts.

This offense is only multiplied if you pay attention to the dialogue between characters, with lines like, “S**t’s blowing up and s**t” and, “We had a thing....a sex thing.” Frankly, it doesn’t get any better than that. The entire story is an attempt to get you to care about characters that just aren’t very likable from start to finish.

"Be careful, they'll explode!" No, they actually won't.

None of this can compare to the travesty that is the prerendered cutscenes. They're overly serious and fail to match the rest of the game tonally or visually;whereas the lion's share of Aliens: Colonial Marines looks as colorful as an alien colony can be, the cutscenes are dark, grey, and generally muddy. It’s almost as if they were created separately from the actual game, written to fill in the story. It’s visually jarring to look at them, even if they only capstone missions and are a few minutes long at most.

The AI performance is simiarly lacking, which is doubly disappointing in a game that relies heavily on having your computer-controlled squadmates by your side. They’ll barrel straight to the checkpoint every single time, even if you aren’t exactly sure where to go or what to do. One mission in particular comes to mind; I had to drop everything while fighting off a swarm of enemies to rescue a trapped marine. Meanwhile, my squadmates that typically follow me around like lost puppies were just standing at the door leading to the next checkpoint, waiting for me to finish up the mission and meet them. It's injurious, and the fact that they need their shooting hands held on lower difficulties is an added insult, even when the enemies are just two feet from their face. Don’t worry though, they’re indestructible and can take as much damage as they need to figure that whole scenario out.

Hey guys, just hanging out and waiting for this wall to open.

Frustrating AI isn't limited to just human marines. Xenomorphs seem to face walls more often than they do their enemies. They walk into corners, get caught on geometry, and generally have no clue what they’re supposed to do until they can find a way to charge you in a straight line.

Of course they'll still manage to kill you, thanks to their ability to clip and attack through almost every surface. Take, for instance, the enraged (and therefore larger) xenomorph that charged after me as I sealed doors to block his path. Without fail, instead of smashing into the sealed barrier he walked right through the wall and killed me.

A game like this can't be scary. The closest you'll get are jump-inducing scares that you can see coming from a mile away, across a cargo hangar. Worse, it’s all too easy to stumble upon a pitch-black room that serves no purpose outside of spawning endless enemies. You can't even enter these rooms; they're blocked by one of the game's biggest recurring issues: invisible walls. They kill any illusion that the environments are vast and expansive and reminds players that they’re playing a game that doesn’t want them to explore. This is amplified by the game’s inability to keep up with the player. Later in the game there’s a sequence where giant boulders fall and block your path, but if you get there too quickly and the animation hasn’t triggered, you’ll see right through a giant hole in the bottom of the level. Blank space. 

As usual, playing with friends makes anything better, even Aliens: Colonial Marines. Cooperative play is pretty seamless since you always have squadmates with you, but once you swap computer-controlled squadmates for real players, the game doesn’t scale accordingly, making it all too easy to roll through an entire mission without any serious danger.

This also applies to the multiplayer modes, which seem heavily focused toward Marine-dominated play as maps are often packed with health and armor packs. You have four different multiplayer modes (Team Deathmatch, Extermination, Escape, and Survivor), and while each has a unique goal in mind, it all boils down to the same thing: Xenos vs Marines. Varying the player count in Survivor and Escape modes makes things interesting, but it’s clear that a solo xenomorph is fairly powerless. You need a pack of them to do real damage, but its usually only 4v4 or 5v5, and that often doesn't work when it requires an entire team of xenomorphs to kill one marine. Team Deathmatch is more competitive than the other modes because it’s fair to both sides: there isn’t a ton of armor or health lying around, and without team objectives the game plays much more quickly. Unfortunately, it just can’t save the rest of the game.

Aliens: Colonial Marines is a broken, visually unsettling game that spent too long in development and yet somehow feels half-baked. It took me four or five hours to complete, yet still managed to overstay its welcome. For a game hyped as the first foray into videogames as canonical sequels to films, Aliens: Colonial Marines sets the bar dangerously low.

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