Aliens: Colonial Marines
PC (reviewed), Xbox 360, PS3
In space, no one can hear you yawn.
In development for more than five years, Aliens: Colonial Marines was conceived as a video game sequel to James Cameron’s 1986 sci-fi action flick Aliens, an awesome film which still holds up today.
It sounded like a brilliant idea. Who wouldn’t want to step into the boots of a space marine, pulse rifle in one hand and motion tracker in the other, and face off against some fearsome xenomorphs? In a story that picks up where Aliens left off? And created by the same studio behind the Borderlands games?
Problem is, this game takes all the things that made Aliens great and jettisons them out the airlock. Along with any semblance of originality, terror or, for the most part, fun.
Set four months after the events of the film, the game casts players as a Colonial Marine named Winter, who is stranded on planet LV-426 – the very place where Ripley, Hicks, Hudson and the gang made their last stand against a swarm of face-gobbling xenomorphs.
And that’s where the good stuff more or less ends.
The characters, for instance, are equal parts annoying and forgettable, and the writing is genuinely laughable. How did the spaceship Sulaco (last seen drifting near the prison planet in Alien 3) get all the way back to LV-426, the setting for Aliens? We don’t know, and the game never actually explains this. Just be quiet and keep your “continuity” and “logic” out of this, OK?
Tension is virtually nonexistent, and the aliens themselves are like reskinned clones of generic video game enemies from a decade ago, rushing headlong at players instead of stalking them like the intelligent predators they’re supposed to be.
Every first-person shooter cliche in the book gets trotted out here, but none illustrates the game’s wasted potential more than a level set in the sewers below the colony of Hadley’s Hope, where most of the Aliens movie took place.
Here, a captured Winter is stripped of his weapons and must creep through tunnels populated by a new breed of xenomorph that explodes into acidic goo when it detects movement.
Um, what? What sort of natural selection allows these aliens to exist? They EXPLODE WHEN THEY HEAR NOISE. The whole premise defies logic, and the level itself is such a hoary old gaming trope – we’ve taken away your weapons, now be stealthy for the next 15 minutes! – it’s hard not to sigh.
But! But! This is also the only time in the single-player campaign’s six-hour length that I felt a smidgen of genuine fear. As these weird, white, sightless aliens did their almost comical old-man shuffle through the sewers, I’d freeze in place, praying they wouldn’t realize I was there. At one point I actually winced and turned my face away from the monitor as an alien came directly up to the spot where I was standing, recalling that iconic image from Alien 3 where Ripley is avoiding the slobbering gaze of a xeno just inches from her face.
Then I exited the sewers, retrieved my gear (conveniently stowed inside a single giant dufflebag being toted by my comrade) and got back to the task of navigating this linear, semi-interactive shooting gallery. Sometimes shooting aliens, sometimes shooting Weyland-Yutani soldiers (who, somehow, manage to be more interesting.) But other than thrill of revisiting settings from the film, nothing – absolutely nothing – felt fresh or original.
The Windows PC version of the game does fare somewhat better than its console counterparts. On the PC, the graphics are merely dated instead of glitchy, and the controls and settings are more customizable.
And while the brief single player campaign is an underwhelming slog, some of the multiplayer modes – particularly one that feels inspired by Left 4 Dead – offer a glimmer of fun.
Still, there’s very little of redeeming value in this game, and it’s as tedious and uninspired a shooter as you’re likely to play this year. What’s even more disappointing is the jaw-dropping amount of time that was invested in the game’s development, and the heartbreaking squandering of an incredible opportunity to add something to the Alien franchise.
I promised myself I wouldn’t fall into the trap of ending this screed with the obvious quote from the movie, but if Aliens: Colonial Marines can be lazy and uninspired, so can I: