“I don't know if you've played Duke Nukem Forever. It's awesome.”
-Randy Pitchford, 13 July 2012
In order to talk in context about what Aliens: Colonial Marines is and isn't, it's important to pay close attention to that quote above. The amazing thing about it is not just that Pitchford was talking up a game his studio had a hand in. That would be somewhat reasonable if it was still early in development and he was referencing game ideas that were in the process of being fleshed out. No, Randy Pitchford said that a full year after the games release, when we all knew full well that DNF is absolute garbage. When arguably Pitchford himself knew that DNF is absolute garbage...or at least we hope he does.
Aliens: Colonial Marines rode in on the highest expectations because it was thought to come from good stock; the development prowess of Gearbox Software. It was shown to press using an elaborate and impressive demo that showcased “next generation lighting” and an adherence to Aliens canon. Randy Pitchford spoke in loving soliloquies about his adoration for the Aliens franchise, ensuring us that it was in good hands. He implored that he had taken that delicate baby named Aliens, found it a safe home, wrapped it in golden linens and even hired the spirit of Pavarotti himself to sing it to sleep each night.
There is absolutely no other way to put it other than to say that it was all a lie. The game we saw in the demos and in ads is nowhere to be found on the final disk. There is no 'next generation lighting', the canon has been trashed, and Pavarotti hasn't sung in years. Aliens: Colonial Marines is a sham. It is Snake Oil that might as well be sold from the back of a wagon by a silver tongued swindler with a bad suit and a handlebar mustache.
Things go wrong fast when you begin Colonial Marines. The game opens with a cut scene showcasing some of the worst screen tearing I've seen this generation, animations that make characters look like animatronic robots at the local Chuck-E-Cheese, and a heavy a dose of ultra-masculine 'Hoorah' that creates the starting point for a game filled with testosterone laced bravado devoid of depth of character or narrative.
The 'next generation lighting' is absolutely nowhere to be found. World objects do not cast their own shadows (making the lighting in console versions of F.E.A.R. already vastly superior) and dynamic light is used sparingly, if at all. In fact, using your flashlight only serves to make the world look worse since it has a tendency to wash out the already low-res textures rather than illuminate them. You would think in a game like Aliens, one that should thrive in a stew of atmosphere, lighting would be high on the list of technical concerns. Rather, lighting in Colonial Marines seems like an afterthought...and with it any atmosphere the game might have had has been sucked out into the vacuum of space.
And I wasn't kidding about the low-res textures. Some are reminiscent of original Xbox games in a very literal sense. Others either pop into the world late or not at all. Computer consoles can be a blur of smudged colors and the ending of one chapter features an exploding ship made up of textureless blocks floating through space.
The aforementioned poor animations don't help things at all. Aliens skitter and skate around until they eventually find a pathway to you, your AI partners will flicker in and out of movements when they try to interact with the world, and often times dialogue will be running as characters stand there with closed mouths. Obviously communicating with you telepathically. It's especially hilarious when Aliens find it appropriate to stand and do a Tarzan chest bump before coming at you and then, after striking, back off and do it again. You know, to give you a fighting chance I suppose.
To say that Aliens: Colonial Marines is an ugly game would be doing it too much service. In this age of gaming it is a vacuous hole, a dark blot upon an industry that prides itself on technical prowess. Next to last gen games like Doom 3, Colonial Marines is akin to a blubbering caveman trying with all his might to bang two rocks together. And not even to make a spark to create fire...just to bang them together, because he found some rocks.
Story-wise Colonial Marines is a disaster of the highest order. Yes, it does destroy Alien's canon with the frivolity of an invading army having a go at their enemies' Constitution. But it does something even worse than that. Colonial Marines, the supposed “sequel to Aliens” as Randy Pitchford put it, completely misses the point of what Aliens was actually about.
It amazes me that with the amount of reverence Gearbox gave to the Aliens franchise before this game was released, that these mistakes could be made. But Colonial Marines is not about expanding the Aliens universe, it's about paying blind homage to things that we associate with Aliens. There are loaders because...Aliens. Newts doll is in a level because...Aliens. Colonial Marines is nothing more than a ham-fisted rendering off all things people remember about the movies but without doing much more with them than just putting them in, because...Aliens.
Aliens did a few things that are hardly done, and hardly ever done well, in American cinema. First off it was a movie that treated the sexes completely equal. In Aliens, women fight with men as Marines, they shower together because it's no big deal, they make fun of each other in equal ways (like when Hudson asks Vasquez “Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?” and she comes back with “No, have you?). There is simply no barrier between the sexes in Aliens as far as I can remember and yet in Colonial Marines the first quarter of the game is about saving a helpless female character. Thankfully, once this is accomplished she pretty much holds her own but the context of Colonial Marines, the context in which this happens, is big-dick bravado that begins hard and never once goes flaccid to let in some dynamic narrative.
And that brings us to problem number two. Yes, Aliens did begin with a lot of Marine 'Hoorah', but all that quickly vanishes once the Aliens are encountered. The point of Aliens is the destruction of that ego in the face of an unknown and unrelenting force. In fact, it is the ego and bravado of the Marines that get them into trouble in the first place, as they're quickly whittled down by the Aliens within the first few moments. Not so in Colonial Marines. Here you'll be GUNG HO the entire time as the game is awash in adolescent jingoism and badly overused militaristic catch phrases. “Stay frosty!” you'll hear as you try to find your way through badly textured hallways without using your flashlight (because remember it makes everything look worse). “We leave no Marine behind!” as you fight badly animated AI who warp from cover to cover, or simply stand there waiting for you to shoot them. Yes, the writing is as bad as the context...at least that part is consistent.
If those quotes sound familiar, they should. We usually hear them in our yearly dosage of Call of Duty and that's exactly what Colonial Marines is trying to be. Devoid of tension, Colonial Marines is a shooting gallery of the highest order. Aliens run right for you in groups leading to their easy disposal, and when fighting humans, which is roughly 3/4ths of the game, you'll be picking off enemies as they pop out of cover COD style all the way. There are also ranks, weapon unlocks, silencers for your pulse rifle (really) and weapon camo's. A complete CODification has taken place here but devoid of the fun gunplay the source material contains. Again, ham-fisted. Unnecessary.
And the game stumbles along this route for 5-6 hours until it culminates in a final boss fight that involves you hitting a few switches. This is the entire final chapter.
The much touted multiplayer doesn't fare any better. Texture and animation problems persist, Alien players are forced into 3rd person, climbing walls is a glitchy affair, and MP finds itself completely unbalanced. Aliens can be disposed of with a few shots, yet do low damage. Marines need only to stay together to win. Escape is the only MP mode that offers some enjoyment but, again, only as the Marine as Aliens are easily slaughtered for an easy victory.
So is there any positives to be found? Yes. Just one. With a group of four people over voice chat, Colonial Marines is a hilarious experience. Just not nearly in the way that Gearbox intended. With the myriad of bad animations, bugs, and people warping or falling through floors, playing Colonial Marines is like being part of a train wreck where the freight cars are filled with confetti and balloons. Or watching a badly produced B-Movie to guffaw at the piss-poor effects and stale acting. All of this shatters a bit when you realize the developers aren't in on the joke however, that you're laughing at Colonial Marines rather than with it.
But the correct response would be to not play it at all...and certainly not to buy it. Colonial Marines is an unfinished and irrevocably broken travesty hoisted upon gamers on a lie, and it should be shunned like a leper at day care. This was a great opportunity for Gearbox to prove themselves as adept in creating a dark and serious game as they are for the bright and comical. And even though other studios are listed in the credits, Gearboxs' name is on the box and full accountability rests on their shoulders. The accountability of this miserable failure of a game.
Unlike other reviewers I'm not sad. Sadness is a unproductive emotion. I'm angry. That is the correct reaction.
20-29%: Terrible - Almost no good qualities are found here.