Developer: Gearbox Interactive/TimeGate Studios
Release Date: 12 February 2013
Price: £39.99 (Steam)
So the best of the 80's is upon us once more; the Xenomorphs have
returned and the Colonial Marines have dusted off the pulse rifles to
have a second crack at them.
I'm a big Aliens fan (almost as much
as Xeno) and I've always loved the idea of playing the Colonial Marines
kicking ass on LV426, it's always been great fun in the past in AvP 1
and 2 and even AVP 3 did a passable job (though substandard compared to
previous games) of splattering acid on exposed forearms and faces so
hopes for A:CM are riding high for an excellent experience that adds to
the canon and reminds us fans why we loved the movie in the first place.
Developer Gearbox have delivered polarising experiences in the past,
with Borderlands being the gaming equivalent of Marmite and Duke Nukem
Forever taking a giant shit on the foreheads of the paying public so
already there's some apprehension about how they would handle A:CM but
they gave everyone a reassuring smile and nod and said “We're fans too.
We'll treat it with respect.” and all but the most sceptical of us
Onwards, then, we delve into the big black aboard
our non-Conestoga class starship and jam our pens into the goopy melted
edges of Aliens: Colonial Marines to find out whether or not we should
pucker up for the facehuggers or save the last bullet for ourselves.
Gameplay can be difficult to quantify because everyone has their own
tastes and preferences when it comes to character handling or mouse
sensitivity but the gameplay here is just so bland that there's very
very little to say. This is not a good sign, and that's a recurring
theme that's going to keep chomping at the edges throughout.
You've got your standard first-person shooter controls; run/walk,
sprint, mouselook, WASD (or the arrow keys if you're a weirdo), and
mouse sensitivity sliders and a simple rebind menu to get the controls
just how you like them. It's all very by the numbers and the menus are
probably the only place this isn't a bad thing.
you can aim down the sights or fire off the hip, though the former feels
completely useless as all the weapons (even the semi-auto sniper-like
Battle Rifle) has some amount of spread that makes the ironsights and
various optics all but useless. Infact, the sighting systems available
through the weapon unlocks/customization menu are all useless save for
the red dot laser sight which still isn't ideal.
While we're on
the topic of unlocks; they're pretty sparse too. Each weapon typically
has 3-5 categories such as underbarrel, accessory one and two, skin and
special. Some of the attachments are genuinely useful, such as the
larger magazines but the majority of them feel like the kind of pretend
attachments that you'd find in a knockoff airsoft store rather than
genuine military gear – case in point the lengthened barrel attachment
which purportedly increases accuracy in rifles and decreases spread. The
only spread I can speculate they might be meaning is sandwich spread
because it certainly does nothing in game terms.
You've also got
the obligatory stealth segment where you creep past blind irradiated
cancer ridden (presumably) aliens who explode all over anything that
makes so much as a peep, ping, splash, hiss or rattle. Good job the game
limits your movement speed and gives you precise instructions for when
one gets wind of you. There is zero risk, zero tension and zero
enjoyment to be had throughout the forced stealth section but that's
nothing new for gaming in general.
What's left then is bland
corridor shootery against what amounts to pop-up targets. Sometimes
they'll turn corners, pop out of vents, the floor/ceiling or any other
utterly black orifice to be found littered throughout the generic grey
and brown (Unreal Engine here, more on that later) environments and a
motion tracker that seems to function only sporadically. It's functional
as a shooter but that's like saying a toaster is functional at making a
pizza (no, not a pizza pocket) and AI team mates are far too eager to
hog all the kills to the point where it is entirely feasible to walk
through levels without firing a shot (as someone already has on
A:CM runs on a
modified Unreal Engine (I believe Gearbox were calling it the Red
Engine, but it's basically just UE3 with a new lighting renderer) which
means brown and grey absolutely everywhere. “But Whiskey!” I hear you
cry, “We're on a spaceship and an unforgiving apocalyptic planet that
was all grey in the movie too!” To which I say touche good sir/maam
(delete as appropriate) but that's no excuse for the terribly low
resolution textures, wooden character models, lighting effects that'd be
at home in Quake 2 and whooshy wind lines that resemble the lines that
often follow tumbleweed in cartoons.
Obviously the game is dark,
that's part and parcel with the subject matter but I can't help but
think that it's to hide the rigid animation and blocky, uninspired
textures. That's a big peeve here too because there's little details
like nameplates on lockers that are clearly readable but text on 20 inch
monitors is just nonsensical blurry blocks. Interactive keyboards have
readable keys, but the texture looks lifted from the mid 90's.
Animation isn't just rough around the edges, it feels positively canned
to the point that you'll be looking for the puppeteer in the rafters
when you see characters gesturing vaguely with a Smartgun (sans arm)
held in one hand while their other retains their Action Man/GI Joe
trigger finger death grip. I've seen Lego (no, not the games, yes the
plastic blocks) that has a wider range of emotions than characters
supposedly in pain or mortal danger.
Lip synch is pretty much
non-existent as characters appear to have a vague diamond shape that
expands and contracts between their ill-defined lips. I must however
exclude Bella (the female supporting character) that seems to have more
time spent on each lip and ass cheek than all the other characters
combined. The result is a jarring effect where some characters look like
they've just walked off the Thunderbirds set and one is an actual human
being acting like a cardboard cut-out.
Other little discrepancies
such as when you come across the C and D auto turrets in Hadleys Hope
and find that one turret has a 3 digit readout and the other a 2 digit
readout or inconsistent lighting, Xenomorphs that are firmly in the
uncanny valley (buried that is) and cutscenes made in-engine that are
less than pantomime with sock puppets rendered in the glorious
framerates and cinematic quality that the mid 1800's had to offer.
What little colour there is in the lighting (such as red and green door
lights, fires and red emergency lighting) is such a jarring difference
from the dark, grey monotony that it's less a welcome break and more of a
threat to the health of your retinas.
Oh and Xenomorphs look like they've been paintballed after you've shot them up a bit.
I have the rare pleasure of being rather familiar with the sounds of
the weapons and environments of the Aliens setting as I tend to watch
the movie at least once a month and the sounds of pulse action
air-cooled 10mm fire are irrevocably burned into my mind as one of the
single coolest things I will ever hear.
It's telling then that
with such love and familiarity of the sounds that I've spent quite some
time now mulling over just how to talk about them without resorting to
the words 'repetitive', 'grating', 'utter' and 'shit'. Truth is, I just
Voice over work seems to have been done by actors either a)
told to act as bland as a bowl of muesli or b) held at gunpoint on pain
of death for showing emotion, inflection or any kind of passion for the
roles. “You're going to die.” Bishop says with near absolute deadpan,
acceptable for an artificial person but the rest of the experience is
littered with lines like “Did he just call me Nugget back there?”
delivered without an ounce of irritation or humour, Microsoft Sam could
do better. Scenes such as chestbursters emerging are devoid of screaming
and are instead punctuated with what sounds like a monkey trying to
Weapon sounds are flat and lacking punch, the
iconic pulse rifle just about approximates the sound of the movie the
same way a cat plays piano. Environmental effects are almost entirely
lacking; there's no rushing of air in decompressing rooms, no crackle of
electricity or fire, no unrelenting wind on the surface of Acheron
(LV426 for the uninitiated). Acid sounds are also missing in action and
notably so since so much of the stuff is flying about.
music is also equally as devoid of love with the exception of one
startling point where wonderfully 80's action movie music kicks in and
it's such a bright beacon in the audio wasteland that I couldn't help
but sit up and take notice and marvel at this rare glimpse of what made
the movie (and 80's action movies in general) great. Sadly it's over
just as quickly as it started and you're dumped back into the aural
meatgrinder of blandness +1.
Predictably the Xenomorphs fare just
as badly. Their nuances are pretty much absent, the iconic clattering
sound of them running on walls and ceilings is AWOL, as are their hisses
and other little sounds. Cries of pain and vague squealing is present
but lacking that alien, almost electronically synthesized sound that it
had in the movies to such a point that the aliens may as well be paper
targets flapping in the breeze and occasionally slapping you in the
It's sad that I
have to even use phrases like 'repetitive slog through same-y corridors'
to describe the design but it's so by the numbers that it amounts to
little more than 1+1=2. I'd like to say it's because everything is
trying so darn hard to be iconically Aliens but that's simply not true.
It's trying, that's for sure, but it's not to ~be~ Aliens. More along
the lines of ~be like~ Aliens. A word to the wise – the term 'trying too
hard' only applies when you're failing. Gearbox/Timegate, you're trying
Fair warning now, I'm going to get very nerdy regarding
things from the extended lore and movies in the following paragraphs
and it may not appeal to everyone, especially casual fans of the series.
Nerd mode... Lets Rock!
The game revisits areas from the Aliens
movie, that's no secret but the very existence of these areas in the
timeline of the game is a mystery which is never explained or even
addressed beyond a flippant throwaway, cringe inducing line from a
flippant, cringe inducing character I wish had been thrown away. Case in
point is walking through the corridors of Hadleys Hope and seeing
familiar clumps of cables hanging from the ceiling and visiting rooms
from important scenes in the movie feels like walking through a museum
and it tickles that little part of the brain that induces nerdgasms but
much like a teenager tickling something else for the first time, it's
not enough to distract from the fumbling awkwardness.
aspects from the established lore are lazily ignored, or gotten just
plain wrong by developers which assured us they were huge fans who would
treat it with respect. The M41 Pulse Rifle has the wrong sights,
forgivable on the main character's rifle as it may be an updated model,
but absolutely not forgivable when you pick up Hick's Pulse Rifle.
Additionally the character's weapon doesn't even have the right ammo
capacity, either that or he's lazy when filling magazines.
easter eggs are fantastic finds such as an audio log featuring Newt's
mother while others such as Xeno eggs painted like easter eggs will make
a true fan want to punch a puppy into a bloody pulp and urinate on the
In a similar vein is the Smartgun sight (again, excusable
on the newer model, but not when you pick up Vasquez' Smargun) and
little niggling details like wrong numbers on the walls in the Sulaco
dropship bay not to mention the fact that it seems to have halved in
size in the few short weeks since Ripley was there.
enemies is lazy and uninspired to the point of being irritating and
where Gearbox have had the balls to go off on their own and create new
Xenomorphs for the canon they've done about as good a job as the toy
manufacturers (who came up with things like the killer-crab Xeno – fuck
those guys). The aforementioned blind irradiated Xenos (survivors of the
detonating atmosphere processor?) are a prime example – the new types
are gimmicky and uninteresting and you just have to wonder what made
these highly mutable apex predators don clown costumes or pretend to be
pantomime horses (I'm looking at you Rhino-Xeno-thing!).
Functional to the barest possible standard. I should leave it at that, adopting the stance the developers seem to have had.
Menus are functional but lack finesse or any kind of additional
features or extra polish. Why can't I rotate the obviously 3D model of
my character when customizing the look? WHY?
Similarly the online
functionality is bare-bones, team-select is completely absent and one of
the starting challenges is to buy a Xenomorph upgrade which is only
possible after levelling up in multiplayer, but from the single round of
team deathmatch I managed to get to actually connect I got dumped onto
the Marine team with no option to change to the understaffed Xeno side.
I really do wish I could go into more detail about the lack of
functionality but there's simply nothing there and it's hard to talk
about non-existent things (I'm not a theologian) so I'll close with one
simple statement on this topic: the devs were lazy, not 3D Realms lazy
but they've certainly tried their best to do as little as possible and
pass it off as success.
This is the part where I answer the question of whether you should buy
the game or not. I've lambasted it for well over 2400 words now and I
can't definitively say one way or the other. On one hand a huge Aliens
fan can eke out some enjoyment while simultaneously being disgusted at
the sheer absence of love. On the other hand however an average gamer,
the casual fan if you like, will take to the forums decrying 'rip off'
and 'generic' and probably demanding a refund.
So what's my advice
on the big question – to buy or not to buy? Absolutely not if you're
getting it at anything more than bargain bin price. I paid £29.99 and I
feel that's about £20-25 too much.
In closing the game isn't bad
it's just the unloved bastard child of developer parents that seemingly
had bigger eyes (complete with cartoon dollar signs) than their bellies
had the talent to do the source material justice. If you can, go play
the marine segments of AvP and AvP2 rather than Colonial Marines, you'll
be thankful you did.
Again something I hate to put a number to so I'll give it two scores.
My personal score, as a huge fan of the source material who is
overlooking the flaws: 5 out of 10. My critical review score, as a gamer
looking for quality: 2 out of 10 (would've been 1 if Sniper: Ghost
Warrior didn't exist).