Sometimes your favorite band breaks up. Then ten years down the road they get talked into doing a reunion show. Which sounds like a great idea. At first. I mean who doesn't want the chance to sing along with all of the hits surrounded by fans as rabidly devoted as you are? Then you get to the show..
Everyone looks a little haggard. Maybe a bit bloated and draggy. They don't sound as tight as they used to. Maybe multiple divorces, bankruptcy, and a jaunt to rehab have taken their toll. In other words, they're showing their age. No longer the immortal rock gods they once were, they seem almost..feeble.
Developer: Gearbox Software
Release date: Feb. 12
Aliens: Colonial Marines is that band. You still know every word to every song, but baby, you're looking a little rough around the edges. And maybe that's to be expected from a title that's been wallowing in developmental purgatory for the better part of seven years. Sega purchased the rights to the Aliens franchise from 20th Century Fox way back in 2006, and the title has been in a sort of perma- delay ever since. Which is a crime. Think about it. Has there ever been a franchise more suited to being turned into an epic sci-fi video game dynasty? Me thinks no. Sadly, Aliens: Colonial Marines is not the harbinger of that new dawn.
JAMES CAMERON, WE MISS YOU
The story for Colonial Marines takes place chronologically after the third Aliens film, but narratively after the second. You are the rescue party that Hicks, Ripley, and the rest of the U.S.S. Sulaco crew called for. You arrive as part of a Marine contingent aboard the U.S.S. Sephora looking for your brothers in arms, and hopefully the answer to the distress call that brought you here. What you do find is an abandoned ship and more questions than answers. Oh, you also find a game that appears to have been developed for the N64. Seriously, the graphics in this game are straight up bad. Like, barely this gen bad. Animation on the character models are at best glitchy and at worst unresponsive. After the first few hours I was just happy that the lips and the words coming out of them were syncing up. Textures throughout the game look and feel rushed, slapped together, and at times really dated. A few instances of my weapon magically disappearing out of my hands, or my AI squad mates phasing into walls followed me throughout the game.
What I can say is that Gearbox has done an amazing job of curating the nostalgia that will be the biggest draw for this title. An attention to detail to the universe James Cameron created can be found at every turn. Weapons, gear, vehicles, sound effects, and setting are all meticulously researched and implemented. Legendary weapons left behind from characters in the second film add another layer of welcome nostalgia. Hicks' shotgun and Gorman's pistol are easily found and definitely put a smirk on my face when I got my hands on them. Voice acting from the likes of Lance Henriksen and Michael Biehn, reprising their roles as Bishop and Hicks respectively, add another welcome level of distraction. Aliens mythology devotees will find a heroic amount of fan service in the game and that softens the otherwise unpolished edges.
THEY'RE COMING OUT OF THE GODDAMN WALLS
I could not wait to get my face chewed off. Seriously, has there ever been a more deadly and perfect movie villain than the faceless, nameless hordes of Xenos? Imagine my surprise when my first encounter with some of the Xeno soldiers left me feeling a worrisome combination of deflated and invincible. I was expecting to be eviscerated at every turn and then have my skin melted off with acidic blood. What I got was unimaginative AI that ran in a straight line directly into the barrel of my pulse rifle. Where was the menacing 'perfect predator' that was waiting to pounce from the shadows? He's certainly not scaring the shit out of me. Oh, he's right there. Sort of just taking his time. Guess I'll just put a couple rounds in him and watch him explode like a water balloon filled with some harmless green shit. That's right, the acid that splashes from downed enemies is pretty much all cosmetic. The Xenos are plentiful, but it hardly ever seems like I was about to be overrun. Even if they got too close, I could execute a push-back that buys you a few seconds. Which, again, disappointed me. I'm going to go hand to hand with a liquid death machine?
Speaking of death machines: my pulse rifle, while perfectly recreated with a red digital ammo counter, seemed like it had no heft to it. No oomph. My bullets felt like they had no weight to them and left behind no visible damage to walls and the environment. When faced with human mercenaries working for the evil Weyland Yutani Corporation, my weapon had all of the stopping power of a poorly wadded up bit of Play-Doh. Not a good sign when human AI combatants come off as more durable than their Xeno counterparts.
There is some variation to be found in the Xeno bestiary. Spitters, Lurkers, Boilers, and Soldiers spice up your combat encounters to varying degrees, but ultimately, all go down pretty easily with a couple shotgun rounds. A challenge system is in place that forces you to switch up weapons and tactics to help you gain XP and level up. These challenges range from killing two enemies with one grenade or tracking multiple targets with your motion sensor. Cool, but the inclusion seems like an effort to contemporize an otherwise dated feeling shooter.
A FIELD TRIP IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN
After the first few opening levels of running and gunning aboard the Sephora and the Sulaco, the game moves to the surface of LV-426 and Hadley's Hope. This is the terraforming colony from the 1986 film and where most of the action takes place. Unfortunately, most of the action consists of linear, on rails go to point A, blow up point B type of hand holding. You are rarely left by yourself and mission objectives are very clearly highlighted. Almost embarrassingly so. With the exception of a sewer level, where you are unarmed and have to escape a colony of blind exploding Xenos, the campaign seems like more of a group outing than a solo adventure.
Obviously your means of transport is destroyed and you are now trapped on the planet's surface. The rest of the single player campaign is spent trying to figure out how to get off planet and defeating the Weyalnd Yutani Corporation. The iconic power loader is used in a boss battle, but again there's no fluidity and the animation on both your loader and the boss just looks stiff and cardboard-y. It's too little too late and the lack of power loader in the game is almost criminal.
WE'RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER
One of the biggest draws of this title is going to be the multiplayer. Players will be able to choose to battle as the bro-tense Marine or nature's perfect killing machine. Good to know that multiplayer saved this game from a much, much worse score. Of the four offered multiplayer modes, Escape was probably the most enjoyable. There's an obligatory Death Match included, but it's exactly as uninspired as most of the campaign. Re-spawning is quick, the battles heated, and new matches move along at a decent clip. The Spitter Xeno is the only one with a ranged attack if you plan on changing up your tactics during matches.
Escape is an objecitve based game mode where your squad of Marines have to...well, escape. You'll be tasked with fighting your way across the map wasting Xenos along the way. If you play as the aliens, you'll be charged with picking off Marines and hindering their process. The Xenos and the Marines seem fairly well balanced in a pack mentality sort of way. Sticking together as either class will ensure long term survival. You're kind of a chump by yourself. There are other game modes: Survival and Extermination, which are pretty self explanatory. Survival is a last man standing romp and Extermination is a 5 on 5 race to wipe out alien egg pods. XP is carried over from the campaign to multiplayer, so any goodies you manage to unlock you get to bring to the party. The XP grind and leveling system is actually pretty addictive and one of the biggest redeeming qualities of the overall experience. Multiplayer feels like it was well thought out and may just be what saves this game from the multi-faceted jaws of defeat.
YOU HUG ME, I HUG YOUR FACE
It's impressive that Aliens: Colonial Marines can be a product that's been delayed as much as it has and still feel unfinished. In all honesty the campaign is a bummer on a bunch of different levels. I feel like Gearbox took the time to create a world that got the details spot on, but taking a step back it all seems a lackluster mess of mediocre shortcomings. The saving graces are all shouldered by the nostalgia factor. The reliance on voice actors and sentimental set pieces gloss over an otherwise generic feeling sci-fi shooter. The multiplayer is going to be the big draw; it has to be. Running around the walls and ceilings as the Xeno is something that is undeniably awesome. I found myself hissing at my televsion with my shirt off more than once. I play video games bare chested, you don't?
The multiplayer was by far the most accomplished and engaging component of the title. Spitting and tearing apart Marines from the ceiling almost makes up for a borderline catastrophic campaign. When playing as the Xenos, the atmosphere of the original film can finally be felt. Unfortunately, at that point you've been too busy shaking the flavor of bland out of your mouth. The whole experience operates like a museum set piece. Painstakingly curated and manicured, but I'm not allowed to touch anything cool. If this had been any other property, the score for this would have been much, much lower. The online experience will help this title limp to moderate success. This game is going to be one for only the most devoted of die hard fans.