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Aliens: Colonial Marines
Graphics: 4.1
Gameplay: 3.3
Sound: 4.3
Control: 3.9
Replay Value: 3
Rating: 3.7

It has been a long time since I laughed this hard when playing a game. I’m not referring to the kind of laughter that arises from genuine mirth, nor am I referring to the kind of laughter that makes one feel all warm and toasty inside. I’m talking about the sardonically tinged sort of laughter, the kind that explodes from your mouth due to bitter consternation masquerading as a normal reaction to comedy. Aliens: Colonial Marines is beyond disappointment; it’s just a colossal mess. It’s technically terrible, the story is a joke, and the gameplay is tedious and boring.

Upon first seeing media for this title, I wasn’t overly impressed. Few were, in fact. But unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that the actual game looks even worse than those unimpressive video peeks. The animations are clumsy and stiff; they’re unrealistic and jerky and even spasmodic. The detailing is okay in some areas, while other times you’re convinced you’re playing a game that could’ve ran on last-generation hardware. As for the special effects, the one area of an Aliens game that I expected to shine, they’re just plain mediocre. I’d like to say something good about the cut-scenes but I can’t, so…

The best part of the game can be found in the audio category, as there is some decent voice acting. Recognizable names like Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen (familiar to “Aliens” aficionados) lead a solid cast and despite the terrible writing, they manage to give us good performances. The rest of the sound is ridiculous. Shooting my rifle is the first thing that made me laugh; it’s like I’m firing off a big pop-gun inside a tin can. In general, the effects are either subpar or even distorted, as the balancing is atrocious. The soundtrack is also comical; it reminds me of those goofy scores from yesteryear that do nothing to enhance our immersion.

Now, considering that Colonial Marines is a first-person shooter, one would likely assume that it can’t be too awful. I mean, developers have pretty well mastered that genre this generation; it’s immensely popular and for the most part, the blueprint is well known. It’s a simple, proven formula. Even if you’re not planning to produce a masterpiece, it shouldn’t be that difficult to produce an entertaining – albeit underwhelming – FPS that remains fun to play for fans of the genre (and in this case, fans of the movies). Yet somehow, Gearbox and TimeGate couldn’t even nail down the basics.

My first crushing disappointment came when I faced my first alien. I believe I said out loud— “Oh no.” Then when it died and another came, I said— “…well, sh**.” Thing is, despite the laughter that would soon follow, I don’t enjoy playing bad games. It’s just depressing. The aliens do offer a significant challenge, but only because they’re really fast and, unbeknownst to me at first, they’ve mastered the art of teleportation. That’s the only word I can use to describe what happens when they leap toward you. You see it jump and then magically, it’s on your face. At first I thought it was a glitch. Then I realized it was just the way things were…and I was sad.

Your allies are all right. They’re not terrible, as they will kill aliens so they’re not necessarily incompetent. The problem is that they’re usually late to the party. Aliens will start to come and only after they’ve been swarming for a second or two will your buddy start to fire. The aliens attack completely at random, too; some will simply sprint right past your ally to come at you, as if your partner doesn’t even exist. That’s extra fun when three or more aliens converge on you all at once. Given their leap/teleportation ability, you probably won’t survive.

But that’s okay. Because when you die, you can watch the alien(s) hovering over your carcass for a good ten seconds before the game starts to reload. And when you get back to the action, you start to realize that even when the gunplay works, it’s still just a tedious, boring shooting gallery. You really only shoot aliens and even though a few bosses are mildly interesting, you basically do the same thing over and over and over. Granted, the astute could make such claims against most FPSs but in this case, it’s all the more exaggerated. Checkpoints are quite far apart, too, so that’s another added annoyance that I really didn’t need.

And what genius designed the item pick-up mechanic? It’s basically what you see in Borderlands, in that you have to look at a piece of equipment or ammo set and hit a button. However, there is no “pick up all” feature and having to stop and carefully aim at a piece of ammo to pick it up really interrupts the fast-paced nature of this game. Obviously, you can just wait until everything is dead before you go after more health or ammo, but wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to implement a normal FPS pick-up system? You know, just run over something and you get it? Did the developers think this method was…I don’t know…fancier, or something? Whatever, it doesn’t work.

The story is sophomoric and uninteresting and the dialogue is full of clichés and awful one-liners. There are some mildly funny lines that almost hit the mark thanks to competent acting, but that’s an easily forgettable bright spot. The campaign won’t take anyone longer than five or six hours (if that) and at no point does the adventure feel anything more than predictable and repetitive. And you know, I don’t even mind shooting galleries here and there (‘cough’ Serious Sam ‘cough’) but the game has to at least function correctly. If you can’t even get a shooter to look and feel right, then don’t bother mucking up an iconic film franchise.

Then there’s the multiplayer, which is only slightly better than the campaign. It can be fun to play co-op with friends (provided they don’t mind playing an extremely mediocre shooter), but it has serious flaws. Playing as an alien, for instance, seems fruitless and the control is far too loose and unreliable. You’ve got a few modes in which you shoot just about anything that moves, and that’s about it. With so many enjoyable and diverse multiplayer experiences out there now, I can’t see any reason to recommend this one unless you’ve got friends who are absolute “Aliens” junkies. And even then, I’d be wary of foisting this on them.

Aliens: Colonial Marines has little to nothing in the way of redeeming value. It’s bad enough to make you laugh – like me – or cringe continually. The technical elements are beyond outdated and the game is glitchy and poorly constructed, the AI is borderline brain-dead, the story and characters are lame, and the repetitiveness and predictability of the campaign is mind-numbing. The control is okay, I guess, and a few of the voice performances are fine, but that’s where my praise ends. I could say something like “wait for a price drop” but I’d rather just say “avoid at all costs.”

It’s just safer for you, the consumer.

The Good: Some effective voice acting. Decent control.

The Bad: Outdated and critically flawed technical aspects. Animations are jerky and erratic. Plot, dialogue and characters are beyond lame. Repetitive, uninteresting gameplay. Unreliable AI. Multiplayer is uninspired and badly balanced.

The Ugly: “Oh look, another alien to shoot. …and I really, really don’t give a sh**.”

2/12/2013   Ben Dutka