Wednesday, 27 February 2013

REVIEW: Aliens: Colonial Marines (PC)

Aliens: Colonial Marines is a bad game. Don't buy it. I feel the need to preface my review with this statement, lest anyone accidentally interpret something in my review as 'praise' and rush off to buy the game. I wanted this game to be good. I really did. I'm a huge Aliens fan and I have enjoyed Gearbox games in the past. Even 20th Century Fox seemed to be behind this one, saying that the movie is an official part of the Aliens canon, and signing on the voices of Bishop and Hicks from the original movie. Previous Aliens related games, such as 2000's Aliens vs. Predator and 2002's Aliens vs. Predator 2 had proved that the Aliens franchise was the perfect canvas for a first person shooter. I think the fact that this game had so much going for it made the fall hurt even more.

I should have seen the warning signs. They were all right there in front of me. First, the game has been in development for an ungodly amount of time, originally being slated for the PS2 in 2001, then being scrapped and completely remade several times over before being put on indefinite hold. Just when it looked like it would never see the light of day, Gearbox picked it up, dusted it off and released it. Does this story sound familiar? It's pretty much exactly what happened with Duke Nukem Forever, and we all know how that turned out.
I've seen PS2 games that look better than this...
Second, Aliens vs. Predator 2010. You'll notice that I specifically mentioned the 2000 and 2002 versions of Aliens vs. Predator. That's because 2010 saw a new version of the game, from the same publishers behind Aliens: Colonial Marines. It was pretty awful. That's the polite way to put it.

Third, that so-bad-it's-almost-funny-but-not-quite trailer. You know the one. The writing was so cheesy and over the top that the lead writer for the game actually disowned it.

These should have been huge red flags. But, I was naive and optimistic, and went into this game with high expectations. I could almost applaud the ferocious speed at which Aliens: Colonial Marines shattered those expectations.

One of the first lines of spoken dialogue is 'We're not in Kansas anymore,' and it actually goes downhill from there, with cheesy, nonsensical, drivel being uttered by every character at every opportunity. While the lead writer can disown one crappy trailer, he can't disown the entire game. The Aliens movie had so many countless phrases that will forever stick in the minds of fans: 'Game over man!' 'They're coming out of the walls!' 'Get away from her you BITCH!' In Aliens: Colonial Marines? 'Marines don't leave marines behind!' 'Raider 6-5 will wait for you but goddammit son don't make us wait for you!'
MARINES DON'T LEAVE MARINES BEHIND!
On two separate occasions, you are joined by a character who has been 'facehugged,' yet everyone seems oblivious to the consequences of this, and the game shockingly expects the player to be as well. It's kind of excusable when the first guy's chest bursts, but when it happens again and the marines are just as surprised, it's pretty lame. 'How could this happen!' O'Neal, my muscle-bound meatstick of a sidekick laments a comrade's death-by-bursting-chest. 'Well O'Neal,' I want to tell him, 'A facehugger implanted an embryo which burst out of our comrade's chest. Just like what happened earlier in the game.'

The worst part is all the work they put into the character that everyone playing at home knows is going to shoot baby alien worms out of their chest at some point in the near future. Here's a free tip about writing characters: If we know the character is going to die, we won't give a shit about them. The writing is both laughable and terrible, so let's move past that and look at what else is terrible in this game.

The first ten minutes of this game are actually not so terrible. It slowly builds up the tension before revealing the first Alien you have to kill, and follows it up with a section of fast-paced run-and-gun segments that are reminiscent of the Marines desperate attempt to flee the bugs in the Aliens movies. Unfortunately, there are some bugs you can't flee from. Bugs in the game. I'm talking about glitches. There are a lot of them. Aliens clip through walls, allies get stuck on terrain and bosses fail to spawn correctly, just to name a few.

I'd also like to briefly expand on is how terrible the AI for your allies are in this game. They frequently stand right in front of you, fire blindly at walls and deliberately misinform you. 'Area secure,' O'Neal will say, lowering his weapon as three Aliens claw at my face.

O'Neal! Behind you! Ahh, forget it.
After ten minutes, the illusion fades, and you realise how incredibly wonky the weapons and the attacking aliens are. At one point, I shot two Aliens at the same range with the same shotgun. One of them dropped dead instantly. The other took three more shots to kill. The Aliens' wounded and dying animations are so similar that it's hard to tell how much damage you are actually doing. Rather than sneaking up to you, leaping at your face, or running like a wolf on steroids as they did in the movies, the Aliens of Colonial Marines seem to do this kind of slow, non-threatening slither-walk towards you, performing an occasional hilariously animated, hugely telegraphed leap, only to escape, never to attack. They feel like big lumbering apes, rather than the swarming insects that they are associated with.

You have a motion tracker, but it quickly becomes useless as you realise that it only scans aliens that have actually 'spawned', and by the time they have spawned you can physically see them. With your eyes. It gets worse when you realise that a majority of the time, you can just run away. Get to the next checkpoint and all the Aliens chasing you instantly vanish.
I'm not normally a graphics snob but my God. This looks straight out of Doom 3.
But hey, at least at this point we are marines fighting Aliens. About an hour in to the game, it makes the absolutely absurd decision to introduce human enemies. I should have seen it coming from all the chest high-walls scattered around the complex. 'Why would I need all of this cover' I scoffed, 'Aliens can only attack in melee range!' In all of a single cut scene the game degenerates from a story about the most hardened space marines in the galaxy fighting tooth and nail against a race of aliens specifically evolved to be the perfect warriors, to 'call of duty but with pulse rifles'. 

You'll fight waves of human opponents in the same way every god damn cover-based FPS works. Enter a room. Enemies enter from the opposite side. Take cover behind chest-high walls. Wait for enemies to pop their heads out of their own cover before shooting them in the face. Go to the next room. Repeat. It's boring, it's lame, and it makes zero sense. 'Hey, there are about a thousand giant acid-spitting face-raping aliens running around on our ship killing all of our buddies. Let's shoot at the marines that came to help us because GOVERNMENT COVER-UP ' How much is Weyland-Yutani paying these mercenaries to make them continue their mission despite the fact that their spaceship is literally falling to pieces around them?
Weren't there supposed to be Aliens in this game?
The game design is so bad it's actually a little entertaining. Let me give you an example. In one level, you are presented with the trademark Aliens flamethrower. It's a 'limited use' weapon, meaning that it only has one clip of ammo, and if you switch to another weapon, you drop it. The next several dozen rooms are filled with ranged human opponents. The game gives you a limited-use short-range weapon to fight long-ranged opponents. I'm assuming that at one point, the rooms had Aliens in them, so the flamethrower made sense. When they cut the Aliens and replaced them with dudes, no-one stopped to ask "should we get rid of this now useless flamethrower?"

The game runs fairly smoothly on my computer, but that's probably due to the fact that it looks like an Xbox 360 launch title, at best. Character and weapon animations suck, you can count the polygons on the character models, and everything has that trademark Unreal engine 'shine' that I thought we had left behind with Bioshock 2.
Oh, here's one. Looks like he's having a bad day. No, that's just the terrible lighting effects.
Ok. Praise. Here we go. I can do this. Despite my statement at the start of this review, I can actually offer praise to a couple things in this game. First: no regenerating health. It actually adds a lot to the tension. Remember that one of the core themes of the Aliens franchise is 'holding out for rescue' and you'll see how having regenerating health could nullify that.

The XP and weapon upgrade system is also pretty cool. You can collect a whole bunch of weapons from the movies, which include 'legendary weapons' such as Ripley's ultimate-badass rifle-duct-taped-to-a-flamethrower. You can then purchase upgrades for your favourite weapons by spending XP points that you earn from completing a level or performing a challenge. It's neat. But not worth buying the game for. Not even close.
The weapon upgrade system is the cherry atop the shit-sundae that is Aliens: Colonial Marines.
The game has a few multiplayer modes. The first is co-op, where up to four people can be disappointed at the same time. The rest are competitive modes, including team death match and survivor. I only have one word to say to the multiplayer. After being punched in the gut with the unbearable singleplayer campaign, I just flat out refused to play the competitive multiplayer. It might be the greatest thing ever. It might justify the price of the game. I don't care. I'm done with you, Aliens: Colonial Marines. Leave me alone. Go play your own multiplayer.

Verdict: Friends don't let friends buy Aliens: Colonial Marines

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