As a fan of both first-person shooter games and 20th Century Fox’s Aliens franchise, I had high hopes for the latest instalment in the Aliens video game series, formally known as Aliens: Colonial Marines.
Dubbed as a direct sequel to the Aliens movie, you are dropped into Colonial Marines as Corporal Christopher Winter who along with a handful of other Marines is tasked with responding to a distress call from one Corporal Hicks, one of the few remaining survivors from the LV-426 colony along with the venerable Ellen Ripley, onboard the U.S.S. Sulaco.
From that point until the last couple of missions of the game that is about all of the interaction you will have with any of the main characters from the movie, as the game’s plot is played out through your little misfit troupe of Marines as you run, jump and shoot your way from objective to objective.
Sadly those objectives are neither challenging nor interesting; 99% of them consist of pushing a button which for various inane reasons - such as activating an elevator shaft - will allow you to progress onto the next linearly-programmed portion of the game.
I don’t have anything against using elevators for required in-game transport, but when it’s the central focus of a mission it says a lot about the (lack of) game design.
In between the plethora of buttons, levers and switches to press, you will come up against a seemingly infinite supply of the alien creatures collectively known as Xenomorphs, or ‘Xenos’ as the Marines usually refer to them as.
To the developer’s credit, the Xenos actually look damned cool, and coupled with the dark, dank, claustrophobic corridors of the Sulaco, the game provides the odd heart-thumping adrenaline rush now and then, especially when playing at night in the dark with headphones on.
Pity then that the Xenos are as thick as two short planks.
Their sole strategy in trying to kill you is to scream and run straight at you, arms and teeth flailing – a far cry from the intelligent, problem-solving and near sadistic creatures which made the film series so utterly nerve racking.
To stop them, you are armed with an array of rifles, machine guns and shotguns, most of which are faithfully reproduced from the movies (the Pulse Rifle in particular sounds fantastic).
Ammo and health is recovered from or near the bodies of fallen Marines, and also conveniently pop out of killed Wayland-Yutani mercenaries (without spoiling the plot too much, the Wayland-Yutani Corporation are conducting business on LV-426 that they would prefer you kept your nose out of).
Killing Xenos and mercenaries is almost no fun at all. Firing a few shots into an enemy triggers their “ouch” animation, then firing a few more will cause them to fall over, die, and politely vanish.
Other than said animation halfway through killing something, there is almost no visual cue or feedback that an enemy is even taking damage, other than a little crosshair indicator on your screen when a bullet connects.
There is also no skill in taking down an enemy due to the liberal use of aim-assist and bullet magnetism.
Just spray enough bullets in the general direction of an enemy and it will fall down, eventually. Also – it’s 2013, why can’t the dead bodies accumulate into a satisfying pile of blood, bones and acid, instead of lazily disappearing into thin air?
The co-operative and competitive multiplayer modes suffer from the same shortcomings, although it is a nice change of pace to be able to play as a Xenomorph and climb up walls and so forth to hunt down Marines.
Aside from the linear gameplay, boring shooting mechanics and repetitive nature of the game, Colonial Marines also suffers from a fair amount of bugs.
For just one example, on numerous occasions I would turn around to see a Marine and a Xeno occupying the same space at the same time in a bizarre fusion, apparently unaware of each other until I pumped a couple of rounds into the Xeno which simultaneously jolted both characters’ memories in regards to the task at hand and would immediately start attacking each other.
Graphics-wise, some levels looked amazing and some just looked rushed, but Crysis it ain’t – my Nvidia GTX 660 Ti video card didn’t break a sweat on max settings, and I imagine it wouldn’t take very modern hardware to run the medium or low settings.
All up, the 4 or 5 hours spent completing this game felt like a chore. Despite a lot of development work being outsourced to other companies, Gearbox Software (creator of the outstanding Borderlands series) should be ashamed of how Aliens: Colonial Marines turned out.