Aliens: Colonial Marines (ACM) was developed by Gearbox Software, the creators of the popular Borderlands franchise. When I first heard this news, I was thrilled. I was very happy to hear that one of my favorite franchises was in the capable hands of Gearbox. Then, I read that the game had been in development since 2008, that the milestone money from ACM was (allegedly) funneled into the first Borderlands game, and that previous gameplay trailers had been falsely created to fool those invested in the games creation. Still, I kept faith in the game and quickly got my copy after its release. Sadly, ACM strays away from Bordlerlands-level of quality and falls closer to a Duke Nukem: Forever-level of disappointment.
Aliens: Colonial Marines takes place seventeen weeks after the events of the film, Aliens. It puts you in the boots of Corporal Winter, part of a marine force sent to investigate the distress call from the USS Sulaco. After finding a big, nasty case of Xenomorph infection on the ship, the marines escape onto the planet of LV-426. The plot quickly changes from a rescue mission, into a frantic series of the characters running around. The characters run to the ruins of Hadley’s Hope, then run to a Weyland-Yutani research facility, then back to Hadley’s Hope, etc. The plot doesn’t evolve much more than fighting your way from place to place, occasionally throwing in some character drama along the way.
The gameplay of ACM is comparable to any generic First-Person Shooter, with a healthy dose of clunkiness. The beginning of the game is much closer to a survival-horror genre, but it quickly changes into an all-out bloodbath. You’ll have plenty of chances to defend certain areas against hordes of aliens, as well as make “Gauntlet Runs” through infested territories. One nice change in gameplay is the ability to pull out your motion detector on the fly, giving you the upper-hand on the Xenomorphs. With their ability to come out of vents, crawl on walls or ceilings, and blend in with the environment, the enemies can be tough to find. Sadly, this really only comes into play on the higher difficulties. Otherwise, the Xenos attack in painfully predictable patterns that are all too easy to defend against.
The weapons in the game were much more detailed and enjoyable than I had been expecting, allowing players to customize nearly every part of their preferred weapons. Not only are the iconic weapons reintroduced, such as the Pulse Rifle and Flamethrower, but they have added in a plethora of other Aliens-themed weapons. I was afraid of this, at first, but as I unlocked these original weapons, I found them to fit right into the Colonial Marines arsenal. They have added in a few new Assault Rifles, a Sub-Machine Gun, and Shotguns, all of which become useful in the varying situations you encounter. The customization was what really kept me happy through the game; players are able to add: scopes, under-barrel grenade launchers and shotguns, laser sights, extended magazines, and much more. This customization is, not only a fun way of mixing up your combat and gameplay, but a useful tool to allow progression through the game’s campaign. One of the best parts of this is that while you unlock many different features for your weapons in the single player, all of your progress will also apply to the multiplayer. This means that you no longer have to grind out games, just to unlock a certain weapon or attachment! I feel that this is a wonderful innovation in the tired mechanic of unlocking weapons in multiplayer.
You are paired with several AI teammates throughout the game, with the added bonus of 4-player co-op. The co-op is drop-in, so gathering games becomes a quick and easy to set up. Unfortunately, having multiple players in the game has no effect on the campaign, other than letting you all play together. The first player will take on the role of Corporal Winter, while the remaining players are nameless and unrecognized. While you might think that having an AI team would be beneficial for proceeding through the story in single player, the AI teammates do little to assist. There’s no clipping in ACM, so the AI will often times block doorways and hallways . If the AI wasn’t so goddamned stupid, it wouldn’t be a problem.
Sadly, ACM has some of the worst AI I have seen in a modern game. Not only are the teammates ridiculous, but the enemy AI is worse. There were countless times where I would be running from a group of Xenomorphs down a hallway, when they would stop chasing me and start walking into walls. It seems that without a direct line of sight, the enemies simply assume that you have vanished and proceed to spin in circles. The Alien franchise created such a terrifying and deadly enemy with the Xenomorphs, that this game doesn’t do justice for the brilliant monsters. It’s similar to the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park, with them hunting in packs and surrounding the characters. The Xenos should have been hunting the players in ACM, instead of moseying about like blind puppies.
Also, the Xenos only account for a portion of the enemies fought in ACM, leaving a good chunk of fighting to Weyland-Yutani mercenaries. This is one of the biggest problems in this game, it’s called, “ALIENS: Colonial Marines“, not, “Colonial Marines: The Big Mercenary Pain in your Ass“. Only a few missions are dedicated to surviving the Xeno scourge, with the majority of gameplay blending the two enemy types or only having mercs. This game isn’t Call of Duty, it shouldn’t have had such a focus on fighting other soldiers, simply because the controls aren’t made for it. Say what you will about Call of Duty, but they know how to emulate soldiers fighting each other. ACM doesn’t have that benefit, which makes having shoot-outs with the mercs annoying and monotonous.
There are a few things that ACM did right, believe it or not. They were able to recreate the feeling of being in the Alien universe, using many of the same sounds and visuals from the movies. The Motion Tracker has that beautiful static and click that we all know and love, the Pulse Rifle has the iconic firing sound, and the Xenos sound exactly the same from the movies. Not only are the sounds perfect, but the layout and look of the USS Sulaco and Hadley’s Hope are almost room-for-room identical to Aliens. You can tell that there was plenty of attention payed to the faithful recreation of the scenery. While this game creates a wonderful Aliens atmosphere, it is drowned out by having to actually play the game.
There are countless Easter Eggs and nods to Aliens, all of which are very welcome. While you can find certain scenes or logs that explain the backstory of the film, but the best eggs to find are the “Legendary Weapons”. ACM lets you find six weapons that are from the original film, such as: Hudson’s Pulse Rifle, Vasquez’s Smart Gun, and Frost’s Flamethrower. While these weapons are similar to the standard versions, they often have the benefit of added damage or unique firing modes. These weapons become more of a matter of pride, giving the player an opportunity to exact some revenge on the Xenos with Hicks’ trusty Shotgun. Obviously, these cute nods and jabs towards the film don’t make up for the core gameplay and flaws, but they are a nice addition to those willing to pay attention or are dedicated fans of the franchise.
The multiplayer only has a few different modes, with basics like Team Deathmatch and Gauntlet Runs. I wasn’t initially too impressed by the multiplayer, but I gave it some more time and found it to be a pretty fun facet of the game. One team takes on the boots of the Colonial Marines, while the other team puts on their Xeno fangs. The Marines handle the exact same as it is in the campaign, but the Xenos are a little more complicated to control. There is certainly a learning curve to handling the creatures, but practice can make you into a lean, mean, marine-killing machine. There is a leveling system in place for both sides, giving you the opportunity to gain new abilities and attacks to apply in matches. The Xeno side of leveling can only occur in multiplayer, so gaining XP can be a grind. Luckily, the multiplayer is well-balanced and one of the better aspects of ACM.
The achievements in ACM are a standard hodgepodge of campaign achievements, missable events, and some multiplayer. Yes, multiplayer achievements do suck, but the multiplayer is fairly enjoyable. It’s not such a horrible task, when you can have some fun while you’re doing it. With a single playthrough and mopping up a few missables, I was able to net 570/1,000 points. If I kept playing the game and dedicated some time to getting the achievements, this would be a (relatively) painless completion. Also, there is plenty of DLC scheduled for this title, so it’s an easy estimate that you could net up to 1,750 out of ACM.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is nowhere near perfect, not even close to finished. There are countless flaws that total up to a frustrating few hours of gaming. For some reason, I still enjoyed myself. I loved the atmosphere of the game and how well it blended the Aliens feeling into a video game. Maybe I was just wearing blinders out of sheer joy of playing a game in the Aliens franchise, but I had a smile while playing the campaign. Still, I can’t ignore the glaring faults of ACM. There are so many things that Gearbox (and who knows who else) put into this poor game, that it has turned into a Frankenstein’s Monster of nostalgia and frustration. I can’t recommend buying this game, but you may want to give it a rent if you are a fan of the Alien franchise…just be prepared for the worst.
I give Aliens: Colonial Marines 2.5 “Smartguns” out of 5
By Blake Edwards