Aliens: Colonial Marines Review — Not A Substantial Dollar Value

 

There’s an iconic scene in James Cameron’s near-perfect 1986 film Aliens. The aliens attack a battery of sentry guns in a narrow hallway. The director cuts between shots of the guns firing, shots of his actors’ faces, full of impotent horror, and shots of the guns’ rapidly depleting ammo counter. The carnage in the hallway only appears in brief flashes, a few frames at a time. The scene is cut that way for a reason; Cameron knew the audience would share the characters’ uncertainty and fear about what exactly was happening down there. And whatever they imagined, it would be more frightening and thrilling than anything he could depict.

Aliens: Colonial Marines is an entire game about what happens in that hallway — about what Cameron didn’t show. Quite literally, it is about being in a confined space and emptying bullets into alien skulls at point-blank range. But it is also about a group of developers attempting to recreate Aliens on PC’s and consoles, and getting it very, very wrong.

Aliens: Colonial Marines
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), XBOX 360, Playstation 3, Wii U
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: SEGA
Released: February 12, 2013
MSRP: $59.99

We all love the movie. Especially the people at Gearbox Software, Nerve Software, TimeGate Studios, and Demiurge studios, who collaborated on the game. They know the name of Ripley’s cat, and the number of rounds left in the last sentry gun when the aliens stop their assault.

Maybe they love it too much. Hypnotized by the siren song of the pulse rifle in their headphones, busied hiding easter eggs for sharp-eyed fellow fans, Gearbox and its collaborators created a reverent, dull retread. Every single character in the game is an inferior version of someone you remember from Aliens, from the growly drill sergeant to the sassy pilot to Lance Henriksen cashing a check and reprising his role as Bishop. Vasquez, so memorable in the film for her androgyny and aggression, is replaced by Bella, who sports a midriff-baring top and a single line of eye-black that makes her look like Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes. Sigourney Weaver’s sublime Ripley, the heart and moral center of Aliens, is excised here in favor of player character Corporal Christopher Winter, an empty shell with no identifying traits except a proficiency at following orders and shooting things until dead.

Maybe the task proved harder than it first appeared. Developers have been milking the martial clamor of Aliens‘ first hour for so long that they’ve forgotten how ruthlessly it gets undercut, how Bill Paxton’s quavering boasts turn to tears. Cameron describes the movie as an allegory for the Vietnam War; as my Game Front colleague Phil Hornshaw points out, Aliens is really about a group of video game heroes — the Colonial Marines — getting their asses kicked. The game’s response to this problem is to double down on the hoo-ah bravado and water down the aliens.

H.R. Giger’s iconic design is a work of genius — unmistakable, uncanny, and unpleasant to be around. But Aliens: Colonial Marines throws so many hundreds of xenomorphs at you that they become boring and then, even worse, ridiculous. Despite the claws, fangs, and acid blood, the game’s marines are barely fazed, and mostly act as if they’ve been fighting the beasts since boot camp.

A few elements prove successful. The art direction is eerie and authentic: hallways rent by acid and violence, fetid alien hives, and the jagged landscape of LV-426. Bathed in blue, lit only by flashing warning lights or the planet’s incessant lightning, the surroundings evoke the film. The sound design, dominated by the motion tracker’s insistent, ascending beeps, helps turn the screw. These are all traditional video-game strengths, however. Any developer should be able to use the inherent advantages of a First-Person Shooter to muster a few scary “they’re coming out of the goddamn walls” moments. In Aliens: Colonial Marines, these are over early, and the beep of the motion tracker begins to signal “you’re going the right direction,” and not “terrifying, imminent death.”

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10 Comments on Aliens: Colonial Marines Review — Not A Substantial Dollar Value

monotoy

On February 14, 2013 at 1:35 pm

wow, wasn’t aware of the videogamer vid … what a shocker, lol

beema

On February 14, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Wonderfully-written and thoughtful review! Thanks!

Besk

On February 14, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Considering this game was supposed to release back in 2001, Gearbox did a smashing job picking the project up and working with what they had. Personally I loved it, buy you have your opinion and I have mine. I dont agree with your review but I respect you for your views and reviewing it how you see it.

The Defenestrator

On February 14, 2013 at 4:54 pm

I’ve never played a full $60 retail game this glitchy, buggy and broken. No hyperbole at all.

When I try to talk about it, I feel myself slipping into a version of Rutger Hauer’s Blade Runner monologue: “I’ve seen aliens… walking upright like they have something long shoved in their hindquarters… just floating in air… never touching the ground. I’ve seen bits of bloody aliens spinning and dancing in circles in mid-air. I’ve seen aliens, hanging from a wall by their tail, dead but never disappearing. I’ve seen friends, partners, stuck halfway into the ground… unable to move until we mercilessly executed them so they could respawn. I’ve seen a woman put her hand clean through her lover’s chest to reassure him… collision detection being that janky. I’ve seen a man brought back from death because… I dunno… clones or something. It was never explained. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”

Kill me now.

Ben Richardson

On February 14, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Glittering C-Beams are said to be available in the forthcoming Tannenhauser Gate DLC.

Goner

On February 15, 2013 at 4:27 am

As many i was expecting munch from that game…sadly it’s gonna be for the,next time.
@ The Def , thanks you make my laugh today.

Wesker1984

On February 15, 2013 at 8:38 pm

This game is pure BEEP. And for an Aliens fan like me this piece of BEEP is almost an insult.

Willy Wiper

On February 16, 2013 at 7:53 am

My only surprise is that ‘lol’ hasn’t rushed to the game’s defence and called people ‘entitled’ and ‘whiny’ for expecting a finished game for the money they pay for it. That’s what happens when you have all your things bought for you by your mother. No respect for consumer ethics.

The games sucks balls. Even the usually sycophantic, luvvy-duvvy mainstream outlets are treating this for what it is.

Tiagonal

On February 16, 2013 at 9:18 pm

So… you guys have checked the Aliens Colonial Marines Total Conversion for Doom 2? It nails so many things… here: youtube.com/watch?v=_qbH_J7Od4M&list=LLBcGpDy0XY98udi3XgZ_ZLA

m1go

On February 19, 2013 at 2:19 pm

You hit the nail right on the head with this review, although I personally think you were being too generous with the final score. I can’t believe I paid $60 for this garbage. In fact, I’m shocked and appalled that Gearbox/Sega/whoever else had a hand in all of this would put out such an ugly, buggy, joyless excuse for a game at that price. They’re no worse than “Wey Yu” in my books.