Game Review: ALIENS Colonial Marines
Reviewed on: PS3
Minor spoilers follow.
In the future, space travel will be so normal that mining corporations will send workers out to collect minerals from far off planets, and terraformers will journey to every desolate rock in the galaxy to set up their machines of planetary development. We call em shake-n-bake colonies.
ALIENS Colonial Marines is the latest of many games to utilise the truly excellent ALIEN universe. Created by Ridley Scott, perfected by James Cameron and then run into the ground by every writer and director since, the franchise has seen better days. The recent Aliens Versus Predator game went some distance to fix the bad blood caused by the unrelated films of the same name, and while we all had high hopes for Prometheus, which personally I loved, and didn’t find confusing at all, it seems my opinion is in the majority and most found it a perplexing, overly glossy mess.
For me the ALIEN series peaked with the 1986 sequel, which is why I was so enamoured with the idea of Colonial Marines as a true sequel to that film; a video game continuation of a franchise I love and a movie that’s been in my top five since the day I saw it. Set seventeen weeks after ALIENS, it tells the story of a group of marines brought to LV426 in response to the SOS sent by Colonel Hicks at the end of the film. Why is the Sulaco back in orbit around LV426? What happened to her in the time since Ripley, Hicks and Newt were jettisoned to Fury 161? What’s going on on the planetoid below? You’ll have to play the game to find out and it really is an enjoyable, and faithful narrative.
The Good Stuff
The game begins on the Sulaco, with a company of marines (and player) awoken from cryo and sent to the abandoned ship to assist the previous waves, who have encountered heavy resistance. Parts of the ship are open to space, and the parts that aren’t are crawling with Xenomorphs, who run and crawl along the walls of the ship in truly alien fashion.
The Sulaco looks and feels like it did in the film, and this is no surprise as the environmental artists were working from the original production designs. This isn’t just a franchise spin-off: ALIENS Colonial Marines is considered by 20th Century Fox to be an official sequel to the movies and so it has a lot to live up to. The corridors are claustrophobic, and the rooms look used and damaged by previous battles. The cargo bay has some familiar sights, including the air lock door Ellen Ripley blasted the Xenomorph Queen out of in the movie’s finale – nothing is mentioned, but the design is immediately recognisable.
The surface of LV426 and Hadley’s Hope are equally perfect with both environments leaping from the film to the game flawlessly. Rain spatters the screen, as rock formations tower above you and fire rains down from the sky. In the distance, the glowing remains of the detonated nuclear reactor serve as a grim reminder of the fate of the first batch of marines to enter this facility. Inside, lights flare from the walls and the rooms are heavily damaged by firefights. It’s all rendered in beautiful HD, and often could be taken for a film screenshot.
The game’s cinematics are superb, and have a fidelity similar to the movies. In one I just watched, aliens swarmed over a room and in a close up on the face of one Xenomorph you could see each drip of saliva, the growl a slow rumble that reaches a hiss with the gaping jaws of the beast wide open.
The Xenos themselves are frantic, and quite scary when they rush you in large numbers. They come from literally all directions, in waves, and can be difficult to see in darkened places, or against the hive-materia of their nests. There’s the occasional Facehugger, which flies at you from a nearby egg – I recommend destroying eggs before you get too close – and these two are fast, and in your face if you’ll excuse the pun.
Another hint; most doors can be closed behind you. Do it. It’ll slow down the Xenos.
The game not only looks like Aliens, but it feels like it too. The sounds are film accurate – from the click and ping of the motion detector, to the fire of the pulse rifle, to the scream of the Xenomorphs. Everything feels like a continuation of the films, helped greatly by the voices of Lance Henriksen and Michael Biehn as Bishop (every ship has one, it seems) and Hicks respectively.
Walking through the corridors of the Sulaco, the motion detector in hand, spinning in circles to follow the ping of an unseen creature, the music slowly building as you step over broken metal and downed soldiers, only to have an alien burst from the wall before you and snap at your face. You fire, acid spits down over your body and your skin hisses and pops, your vision reddening. The beast is away, you try to follow it but amongst the twists and turns of the hive-material you lose it quickly. With your motion detector out again you follow it; is it there, hiding against the walls? Perhaps it’s in the vent. You fire a burst of ammunition, only to be knocked forward as the monster attacks from behind – it was on the ceiling all along.
The motion detector holds status as a separate device, one that can be used at will and which I turn to often at the slightest hint of unease. Sadly, you cannot have it and a gun out together, you can either see where enemies are or kill them but not both. The flashlight is helpful as most of the game is as dark as expected and thankfully the batteries are (at least on normal) endless.
But it’s not all perfect.
The Not So Great Stuff
Your comrades-in-arms are some of the dumbest people I have ever encountered in a game. They fire plenty of ammo, but never seem to hit anything. Sometimes they wander away, and you are left to find them through the warren of corridors in order to know the direction your next objective.
Similarly, enemy AI is overly aggressive at times, with dozens of Xenomorphs coming at you at once. At a distance, they aren’t so bad but with the poor melee controls (see below) once they are upon you you are, pretty much, fucked.
The controls and other game systems
Melee is controlled with the thumbstick, as has become standard these days, but it’s not the click and bash system of Halo or COD. To use the melee effectively you must time it right, and this will send the enemy stumbling back, ever so briefly stunned. A wonderful system, should you ever be able to time it right – otherwise you’re just hitting the air with your elbow.
Aiming feels spongey too; I have my sensitivity all the way down, and even then the gun is hard to aim correctly. At even two-thirds sensitivity, the reticle flies wildly around the screen at the slightest touch. This can make tracking an enemy, or even something as simple as opening a door incredibly difficult.
I mention opening a door because the hit targets for interactions are impossibly precise. Opening doors, picking up health, ammo or armour is all controlled by the press of a single button – however to do any of these things you needn’t simply be in the vicinity of the object. No, you need to be looking directly at it. Should you need, or want to pick up some health, ammo or armour during a firefight this means taking your eyes off the enemy and moving the unwieldy reticle to the very exact place the object lies before hitting the collect button.
Then there is the limited information given to the player in regards to playing the damn game. There are no waypoints, just glowing environment objects (even when said object is on the other side of the map) and I was already most of the way through the Sulaco missions before I discovered I could hold down the triangle button (the PS3’s select weapon key) and bring up a sub-menu of weapons available to me. I kept unlocking things, and there is a section in the pause menu where the player can arrange their loadouts – but there’s no way there to equip any of the weapons. So I’m struggling through the game with the starting weapons, because I was never told I could hold the button down (none of the other buttons do anything when you hold them) to access the weapon select radial. It’s a feature, a fundamental one, that was completely hidden from me.
Likewise, it wasn’t until an hour into the game that it finally decided to tell me how to select a grenade, which is oddly listed as “select tactical” in the controls screen. Once again, if you hold down the weapon select, you can pick from all the available weapons and grenades to find what you like – including unlocked weapons like firebomb grenades (which I unlocked but couldn’t use) and Ripley’s Assault Rifle (which is a special item I apparently found but was never told about).
I’d also like to know where is my flamethrower? The DLC that came with the limited edition gives me access to Ripley’s Flamethrower but it doesn’t appear in my weapons list because why would it? Turns out what is called ‘Ripley’s Flamethrower in the DLC is called Ripley’s Assault Rifle in the game. I guess the Gearbox company motto is ‘fuck consistency’?
The whole system is very poorly managed.
The hit boxes
You won’t be getting many headshots in this game, largely because there don’t seem to be any head detection b0xes. Or arms. Or legs. Just ‘enemy’, one smallish area that hovers somewhere between the neck and the knees and which must be hit an inordinate number of times to be effective.
Enemies don’t seem to have a set number of hit points; you just fire until they collapse, which could be a lot or very slightly less depending on which enemy it is – even amongst enemies of the same type. Ammo is sparse, and the game encourages you to ‘control your fire with tight bursts’ but since the enemy targeting is so poor, the controls feel like wading through mud and there are often dozens of these things on screen at once most of the time all you can do is spray your fire wildly into a room and hope for the best.
This is true of human enemies too. You can shoot an enemy assailant three times in the head with no effect, or send a whole round into them with the same, dissatisfying result. Then sometimes they can be behind a crate, you happen to clip their elbow with a single round and they collapse in a heap. It’s all so unpredictable.
The models and the textures
Every fallen soldier in this game is the exact same dude. There are a few named characters with faces and voice actors, but aside from that every dead marine you see is the same model, and not even a very good one. Instead of modelling a dead marine, and posing him or her accordingly, it’s just a basic character model, complete with blank expression, often dropped into place. Many of them just lay on their back, facing upwards, eyes open but no different to the person you just spoke to. It feels rushed.
By the same token, some textures are amazing – particularly the hive-material which looks slick and glossy, while other textures become truly awful at even a modest distance. This in addition to clipping errors, where enemies load within, or move through, walls makes for some interesting times.
There are a lot of issues with this title. While the story and the aesthetics feel very, amazingly ALIEN, the game part of the game is sadly quite poor.
I’m enjoying ALIENS Colonial Marines and it’s worth a play if you are a fan of the movies but by no means is this game flawless.
There are control issues, modelling issues, targeting issues and texture issues. The atmosphere is superbly ALIEN, but it’s let down by the game aspects of the game being thoroughly phoned in. It can be incredibly frustrating and the difficulties never feel like the result of something I have done, instead being just another broken facet of the game, to which there is no protection.
 an update, because this JUST happened. I was being shot, repeatedly, despite being able to see no enemies. I had already taken down the room of assailants and was perplexed as to where one could be hiding. Turned out, after much searching, that the enemy had spawned within the wall, with only one hand and his knee protruding amongst the cluttered wall design (not badly cluttered, just how such things are in the ALIEN universe, with pipes and control panels and such) and while I couldn’t see him at all, he was still able to shoot me.