What You Won’t Like
Colonial Marines is an uneven ride
You begin on the Sephora, a United States Colonial Marine rescue ship sent to find out what happened to the team from Aliens. From there, you board the Sulaco, and things quickly go wrong for you and your fellow marines: an explosion, several dead bodies, and general confusion. You have to investigate something on your motion scanner, and along the way, xenos ambush your team. The narrative is off to an OK start, but things quickly turn for the worst.
After that relatively brief encounter, Colonial Marines thrusts you into a protracted confrontation with private military contractors (PMCs) hired by the Weyland-Yutani corporation. Instead of focusing on the source material’s signature horror elements, you have to deal with a straight-up firefight that sidetracks you from the main attraction. Rebellion, to its credit, was smart with Aliens vs. Predator by saving these shooty parts for the marine campaign’s climax (with combat androids, no less!), but in Colonial Marines, battling these PMCs is mostly an annoyance and a test of patience.
Not until nearly halfway through does Gearbox finally decide to strip you of your sense of security. It’s quite a brilliant sequence (despite being built upon two tropes: a sewer level with shambling “zombie” aliens), and its use of the fear of the unknown should have launched the story.
The PMCs show up again, too. And it’s just as annoying as the first time.
A tired, hole-ridden story overly concerned with fan service
About three-quarters of the way through the campaign, you take on a mission to rescue a captured marine from the hands of Weyland-Yutani’s PMCs. This soldier’s identity isn’t a shocker. What’s surprising (and revealing) is the answer to a simple question from one of your crew: “How are you alive?” The response? Essentially, that’s a long story, and it’s not that important, anyway.
We know that Colonial Marines takes place after the events of Aliens and Alien 3. One of your people even comments on Fury 161, the prison planet where Ripley, Newt, Bishop, and Hicks from Aliens met their fates. So, those things happened. For Gearbox to not have an answer for the above question leaves a large, Nebraska-sized crater in Colonial Marines.
Even worse, Colonial Marines has nothing new to add to the now convoluted Alien series. Instead, Gearbox is mostly concerned with showing its Alien street cred. Remember that scene in Alien where Ripley pulls rank and refuses to allow a contaminated Kane aboard and risk the entire Nostromo crew? Yeah, that’s here in a slightly different form, but Gearbox skips the necessary character development that would make me care.
And this part includes one (of many) of the most painfully written lines of the entire game, where Reid, a USMC pilot, says, “If we die, it’s on you.” Um, OK? To paraphrase what Harrison Ford famously told George Lucas about his Star Wars script: Gearbox, you can write this shit, but you sure as hell can’t voice it.
Poor artificial intelligence
Pacing and narrative stumbles aside, the one thing that could redeem Colonial Marines as an entertaining “what if we could return to the Sulaco?” exercise would be a faithful re-creation of the fear and tension that the alien creature itself represents. Unfortunately, Gearbox comes up short again, with A.I. that hardly offers an interesting challenge.
Most of the time, you’ll be running through corridors as xenos come straight at you. Sometimes, you might be confined to a single room. But aside from the aforementioned security-stripping sequence, Gearbox rarely uses the art of surprise when confrontation occurs. This stands in stark contrast to Rebellion’s Aliens vs. Predator, where these monsters would routinely and convincingly burst from floor panels and ceiling air ducts, crawl along the walls, jump from point to point to avoid your line of sight, quietly and slowly stalk you unnoticed, or actually come out of the walls. Sure, the aliens in Colonial Marines try to do some of these things, too, but their janky animations betray them, and they almost always strike from plain view. The few surprises typically come from scripted moments.
The Lurker class alien is a step in the right direction, but these encounters are too few and too lenient. These xenos will stalk from the shadows, but if one gets the jump on you, you just have to mash a button as fast as possible to pull it off. Then, you have an easy opportunity to fire a hail of bullets from your pistol sidearm as it scampers away. It’s not much of a bug hunt when you can just wait for them to come to you.
Other times, aliens will inexplicably stand still while you pump them full of pulse rifle fire. Or they’ll jump from one place to another in a way that lets you easily track them. If they lunge toward you, a simple step back will mean that they always fall short. In Aliens vs. Predator, such attacks go toward and past you, which means that the creature would take a swipe and keep on running. That provides a much needed situational-awareness challenge.
The developers at Gearbox are clearly huge admirers of Aliens, but I fear that might have clouded their judgment. Colonial Marines comes off as too much fan service with few (if any) ideas of its own. It provides a tired narrative with an unsatisfactory conclusion that opens more questions than it attempts to answer. It too often tries to simply re-create memorable scenes and character interactions from the Alien films, much to its own detriment. If Colonial Marines is officially canon, as 20th Century Fox proclaims, then it only makes a bigger mess of the series than the missed opportunity of Alien: Resurrection.
Colonial Marines has also been in development since at least the twilight of 2006, when publisher Sega and Gearbox announced they had begun an Alien project together, but I can see now why Sega delayed this title and instead pushed out the much more polished Aliens vs. Predator from Rebellion in 2010. In all honesty, you’d be better to go back and dust that effort off even if only for its marine campaign.
Oh, and Aliens vs. Predator includes a proper co-op horde mode (called Survival) right out of the box. Gearbox will offer that in its upcoming Bug Hunt downloadable content, available for purchase next month.
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Aliens: Colonial Marines releases on Feb. 12 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. Gearbox will release a Wii U version at a later date. Sega provided GamesBeat with a Steam download code for the purpose of this review.