Played: Aliens: Colonial Marines Multiplayer

By Brendan Caldwell on February 12th, 2013 at 10:00 am.


“It’s like Left 4 Dead,” said the journo playing beside me to the Sega man.

“Yes,” said Sega.

Yes, I thought. The problem with using Left 4 Dead as a model for your game’s multiplayer is that you inevitably invite comparison with one of the best games of the past ten years. If you don’t do things as well as your model, or if you don’t do things sufficiently differently, then you’re going to find that everyone shrugs it off as a ‘watered down version of X’ or a ‘black and white photocopy of Y’. “What are these games X and Y?” you ask. “They sound incredible.” Please, let’s not dwell on that, I was just trying to make a point.

Aliens: Colonial Marines is like Left 4 Dead in that it pits the Men against the Not-Men (But-Not-Women-Either (the Aliens)). In Escape mode the Men have to get from one end of the map to the other, pressing buttons and opening doors along the way, eventually calling for help. All the while the xenomorphs are out to stop them. In Survivor mode the marines have to hold out in one location for a number of minutes, sealing off doors and setting up turrets to make it harder for the aliens – who spawn faster as time goes on – to get at them. Oh. There is the other mode too. Deathmatch mode. The Kristen Stewart of multiplayer gaming. (There’s also at least one other mode called Extermination, that I didn’t get to taste at this press event.)


Marines are all basically the same class, although you can change their weapons, grenades and perks in the loadout screen between games. Ranking up gives you new guns while the weapon attachments and special abilities can be bought with points earned in play. Xenomorphs have a similar loadout screen, with scary abilities (flurry strike, tail-spinny-jab-thing… mostly different ways of hitting things up close) but are also divided into three main ‘castes’ – to use the language of the humble myrmecologist.

There’s the Hunter – I mean ‘Lurker’ – who can leap on people and start tearing them up. The ‘Spitter’ (sort-of Boomer) who can spit acid at folks from far away. And the ‘Soldier’ (regular Joe Zombie?) who I’m told is pretty good at Being Shot Lots. Although, honestly, I didn’t notice a big difference here. There are two rarer castes that can be ‘awakened’ for a limited time during a match. There’s a big guy that does the job of the Tank by charging in and knocking people around, and another whiteish fella who does the Boomer’s other job by vomiting acid and exploding on people. All the aliens can walk on the walls and ceilings and traverse vents or tight spaces the marines can’t get to.

As a model for multiplayer design, it all makes perfect sense. The movie at the source of all this hoo-hah was mostly about trying to get from A to B without getting Aliened, and such an objective fits into the Left 4 Dead mould pretty well. Except, like I say, models beget comparison. And where Valve’s zombie apocalypse saw hordes of NPC irritants constantly keeping players on their toes and helping the baddie team out, the alien team have no such threat with which to unsettle the marines. Likewise, the nastiness of the Boomer et al was so specialised that it felt like each class had its place. In the matches I played the overwhelming trend was for the xenomorph players to pick the Hunter – I mean ‘Lurker’ – almost all the time, the Spitter only some of the time, and the Soldier class not at all.

Meanwhile, the overwhelming trend for the marines is to shoot everything. I mean EVERYTHING. I get the feeling that the odds are stacked in the marines favour (although that might just be that as a team of vicious extraterrestrials we didn’t work very well together). The aliens are fragile and easily killed. While the soldiers are tougher than a cold Maoam. Sticking together makes them pretty unstoppable, especially when they get their hands on the big guns to be found throughout the map. The portable turret, for example, can be set up outside the alien spawning ground and shred the whole team to bits before they even get out of their slimy xenohole. And the Smart Gun. Jesus. It’s that gun from the movie. It does all the aiming for you and fires approximately 25 million bullets per second. Pick up the Smart Gun as a marine and the Hunter – I mean Lurker – becomes the hunted – shit, I mean lurked. LURKED. I picked up this gun once and I instantly murdered three of the four-strong xeno team in less than thirty seconds. And I’m a peaceable guy. I like aliens.

But I think I’ve figured out the main design difference that makes Colonial Marines that much less inviting than its Valveian inspiration. The big mistake.

None of the aliens smoke.


In the original Left 4 Dead, the Smoker is there to screw with the one thing that keeps the human team alive: their togetherness. He’s the only regular class of zombie who can displace a player. He literally rips them from the rest of team. He’s vulnerable, everyone hates being him, but he’s ludicrously important. The Tank can also displace someone, but to a far lesser extent because of his infrequency on the field. In Colonial Marines, you have a ‘Tank’ xenomorph – but he’s even more infrequent. More importantly, there’s no alien class to substitute the Smoker, one that could forcibly separate (or threaten to separate) the team. There are also no ‘lesser’ enemies to keep the marines twitchy. And as an alien you can’t choose where to spawn – so to get to a group of marines you have to gallop across the map, again and again, further and further after every putdown. It all results in a fairly lop-sided affair. Playing as a marine is fun. Playing as a xeno? Less so.

Of course, we are told that being an Alien is purposefully hard. The idea is to stalk and prowl around the gunmen, to lurch at them when they are vulnerable. To use the environment to creep around. Sadly, the environment is almost as annoying an enemy as these walking shellfish men. I mean, as cool as it is to walk on walls, getting stuck on a simple corner that the map designer never intended you to traverse, or glitchily leaping halfway across the map instead of pouncing on your quarry, isn’t really very Aliens. It might get more fun with time and patience. Getting more practice as a xeno could give a good team a lot more kicks. But how many more kicks? We just don’t know.

Admittedly, I also don’t know how much Gearbox and Sega are pushing the multiplayer component as a selling point to the six-years-in-the-making Aliens: Colonial Marines (longer if you count the abandoned PlayStation 2 game of the same title, left behind by another company). It could be that the single-player or co-op campaign is the focus. But that’s barely relevant. As we all know, the videogame industry is ruled by bromocracy and competitive multiplayer must be analysed in its own sphere. It is the way things have been done for generations. And after a brief analysis of the multiplayer of Aliens: Colonial Marines I can tell you, with a most serious authority, that, yes, it is like Left 4 Dead.

We’ll have a full Wot I Think of Aliens later this week.

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63 Comments »

  1. PoulWrist says:

    I love Maoams.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      And I love Kristen Stewart’s acting. It’s minimalistic and very well suited for the characters she’s starred as. And I adore her pale, sharp-chiseled face. And the rest too. *sweeet*

  2. MrFred says:

    “tougher than a cold Maoam”

    The best simile I’ve ever read.

  3. f1x says:

    I was thinking about playing this one, but I’m a bit worried because reviews for the game have been quite negative so far,
    not like I let reviews scores rule my gaming life, but when scores are low… alarms are ringing

    anyone played it already and can drop some thoughts about the game?

    • Ernesto25 says:

      Where’s the score on this review?

      • f1x says:

        Nowhere, I know, I’m not new to RPS

        The thing is after reading this I went to other websites to check what the reviewers were thinking about the game, only to find a lot of under 50 scores

        • Ernesto25 says:

          Ah just seemed ironic that you posted it on a site that doesn’t give a score.

          • f1x says:

            I understand,

            Actually I like that RPS doesnt use a score system, thats why I come here often, but, still I like to check other sites and see what they are giving in terms of numbers, specially for games that I’m inclined to buy, to get all the information in both formats: scores and written reviews

            and the thing here is this game is getting awful scores and the written parts of the reviews are not too positive either

    • Necroscope says:

      PCGamer gave it a grand total of 48%, like an alien with a hint of turkey

    • Beartastic says:

      It is garbage.

      Some games get low review scores despite incredible playability, simply because they’re not everyone’s cup of tea.

      This game should be practically everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s so amazingly poorly made that it’s hard to give it more than a few minutes. It’s an unpolished train-wreck of a game.

      It’s hard to quite get across how clumsy and dated it feels, except to say it’s like a mod with decent art but two years from a really playable release.

  4. Nick says:

    The campaign is fucking awful so far. Also the pulse rifle has the wrong clip size… I mean whats the point of aping the movie if you are going to change something hugely iconic from it for some stupid balance reason that could easily be fixed a dozen other ways.

    Basically the multiplayer needs AI aliens to be any good. Sadly can’t reccomend anyone gets this till its hugely reduced in price or overhauled with patches, the former of which is likely to happen a lot sooner.

    • Ernesto25 says:

      Did you play the last AVP was it worse than that?

      • PoulWrist says:

        Being worse than that is gonna be a tough pony to ride.

        • Ernesto25 says:

          To be honest i was confused by why people even thought this would be good given most movie franchise crossover games are usually pretty poor.

          • TheMick says:

            This, and doubly so with the aliens franchise. after the latest game (Rebellion right?) my faith in one day seeing a quality alien, predator, or avp game is all but lost.

            I should have known the second I heard gearbox mess up the smartgun sound.

          • grundus says:

            Did you ever play AvP2? That was a great game. Like, so good. Even though the only thing I really remember about it was playing the Alien campaign, starting off as a Facehugger, then Chestbursting out of your victim and spending the next couple of levels growing up. It was great. IT WAS GREAT.

          • Ultra Superior says:

            I liked it too. It was good and it had genuinely scary moments, albeit in different type of horror than the predecessor.

          • Ckarasu says:

            I’m going to be honest here, and I know I might get flak for this opinion, but I liked AvP2010. Sure, it was rough around the edges, but I felt that the patches fixed a decent amount on the multiplayer end. While not perfectly balanced, the three classes were able to compete with each other at enough of a level where it wasn’t completely unfair. I’ve seen aliens, predators, and marines win deathmatches, with some being particularly close. I had fun, is what I’m saying. That said, the campaign was bad.

      • Nick says:

        No I didn’t play the latest AvP, but it is outshined in every way by the first AvP Marine campaign, including visual atmosphere, which is pretty sad. The aliens are hangstrung to a hilarious effect, they can move reasonably fast on walls but when they get up to you they just stop and seem to have a little think, then act a bit confused and stand upright and walk slowly toward you more often than not.

        And the scale of some props makes it feel like a mod/TC or something like the drop ship where the end of Aliens happened there is no room in the middle of it for anyone to actually sit (you can tell as the ramp is down..), it just feels so amatuerish as to be embarassing.

        Not to mention the utterly stupid plot that seperates you from your ship – guy heading back to it ahead of you via ambilical, chest burster comes out of him and… he takes out a fucking grenade and sets it off in his hand. I mean, what the actual fuck?

        • Ernesto25 says:

          Now i just want to buy/ watch a lets play of it but i’m still not sure why people were expecting alot of this game in the first place but it sounds pretty poor :/.

          • Nick says:

            Oh, I wasn’t expecting it to be amazing, just competent with a passable but cliche ridden single player. But its really just bad.

          • Hoaxfish says:

            Watching let’s plays or just reading reviews gives a very strong understanding of just how crap this is. Sites that would normally muffle criticisms are coming out with examples of just how crap it is along with low low scores, and the let’s plays basically can’t avoid showing how bad the script/AI is.

        • vedder says:

          “but it is outshined in every way by the first AvP Marine campaign, including visual atmosphere, which is pretty sad”

          that is pretty sad, as that was a 1993 SNES game, or do you mean the 1994 Jaguar game?

          • Nick says:

            Yes yes, very clever, the first AvP game on PC as is pretty fucking obvious.

          • grundus says:

            Are we talking Aliens versus Predator (1999, re-released in 2010) or Aliens vs. Predator (2010)? I’m honestly not being a smart arse, it’s not our fault there have been so many of the damn things.

          • HothMonster says:

            AvP 1999 is the good one. AvP 2010 is meh, but the multiplayer was still fun.

      • KenTWOu says:

        AvP 2010 > ACM :(

  5. gravity_spoon says:

    “as cool as it is to walk on walls, getting stuck on a simple corner that the map designer never intended you to traverse, or glitchily leaping halfway across the map instead of pouncing on your quarry” Typical GBX workmanship. I’ve said so time and again. They had that problem in BL1, didn’t fix it in BL2 and now it carries here as well. They can give tributes to fans all they want, doesnt help if the games they release are a fucking mess and never get fixed properly. Atleast they have the public sympathy because of all those PR stunts……I mean eulogies. Right ?

  6. ShineyBlueShoes says:

    I can see the appeal in this sort of L4D mode done right but at least from reading about it I don’t understand why they went this direction as the cornerstone of the MP. With the 2000 Alien vs Predator what made the game so amazing and intense in MP was the asymmetrical imbalance of the races pitted against each other. Part of that is the fragility of the marines and the panic the environment breeds as the aliens stalk them. This is core to what makes the franchise so special.

    L4D on the other hand is more about strong humans fighting a large but individually weak horde that shouldn’t be able to overcome the humans under most circumstances. By placing this situational mechanic onto the Aliens franchise it flips the Aliens dynamic on it’s head and sounds like it loses that magic. I just would have rather seen Gearbox take the L4D framework and then find a way to adapt that to terror of being a fragile meat sack being stalked in the dark by the perfect killing machine knowing that you’re going to die in those cold dark halls.

  7. Nethlem says:

    Wait.. so there are no AI controlled Xenos around to slow down/distract the Marine team?
    So it’s not even like Left 4 Dead, it’s like a worse version of Left 4 Dead?

    Tbh i looked somewhat forward to this, but not having any AI on the Xeno side makes this feel a whole lot less “cool”…

  8. Nick says:

    Worst part is I think they are releasing AI coopy sort of mode later as DLC.

  9. TomA says:

    Just confirms my suspicions really, I think most people have been dubious about everything from their past work to the choice of preview media. A mate of mine saw it advertised on TV the other day and said “I hope it’s like the first AVP marine singleplayer, I can’t wait to play that!” I didn’t want to ruin his day but as a result I’ve probably ruined one anyway if he forks out for this only to realise it’s a load of tripe. But hey I might be wrong, will hang on for the SP reviews to pop up.

  10. fuggles says:

    Surely the alien called “The Spitter”, which spits acid is more like L4D’s “The Spitter”…?

  11. GameCat says:

    Some part of me wants to play Alien Swarm again after reading this. God, that was probably the best co-op I ever played.
    The tension was gruesome. You have to work in a team. Attacked by parasites (facehugger like baddies) and your medic is wandering somewhere or worse – is dead – you’re fucked up.
    Aliens are fragile, but so are you and your mates. There are turrets to set and to help defend your engineer while he is unlocking door while aliens are swarming from every direction. You must conserve ammo.
    Most of my playthroughs with 2-3 friends was huge failures, but it’s that kind of game where failure is great, especialy when you’re last alive member of your team.

    Shame it have only one campaing, but at least it’s free. Just free, no pay4win or something like that.

  12. CameO73 says:

    It could be that the single-player or co-op campaign is the focus.

    Sadly, that doesn’t seem the case after reading the Polygon and Destructoid reviews. Multiplayer is the best part of A:CM, it seems.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      I’m inclined to believe neither got any real focus, but multiplayer “feels” better because they’ve “borrowed” the concept of a far better game, while singleplayer throws a weight of problems like AI and story at them.

      edit: Eurogamer has an article with the poor single-player being partially blamed on outsourcing (though Gearbox still take the blame for multiplayer)… still, it’s Gearbox as lead company.

      • grundus says:

        I wonder how much the six year development hell and Sega’s involvement has to do with it. I am a huge Borderlands 2 fan, but I can recognise that Gearbox are… How can I put this politely? A bunch of fucking amateur schoolboys* when it comes to actually coding stuff, but Sega was blamed for the mess that Alpha Protocol ended up in. I would like to know how much of the previous work Gearbox actually used for A:CM. It might’ve been nothing at all, it might’ve been loads, I don’t know but it would be interesting to know.

        * That was a joke, but still, there were some practically inexcusable SNAFUs with Borderlands 2… Such as the Legendary Hunter class mod buffing a Gunzerker skill when the Gunzerker can’t even equip it, and it took from the launch in September until this very month to fix that. Also: Invisible walls, extremely basic AI that does one of four things: Sits back and attacks you at range, charges you and either explodes or melees you, flies at you then flies away again or… Ok, one of three things.

  13. yesterdayisawadeer says:

    >What are these games X and Y?” you ask.
    Why, Mr. Caldwell I do believe that X is an economics-heavy space sim.

  14. zaript says:

    From videos I saw on YT so far, there is something wrong with aliens animation as well – they move more like dogs, rather than snakes.
    And no predators. Feel like launching AvP3 again^^

  15. DestructibleEnvironments says:

    Watch the entire length of this, and then never play the game. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8dPF8jpItCs

    The video can’t be worse than the game, so buckle up and do it.

  16. Fazer says:

    “[The Smoker} is the only regular class of zombie who can displace a player.”

    You sound like you haven’t played L4D2 or forgot about it, because the special infected that can displace the player are Smoker, Jockey and Charger. Also, calling Spitter the Boomer instead of… the Spitter.

  17. derbefrier says:

    That’s too bad I didn’t have much hope for the single player but I had hoped the multiplayer would be fun. I guess Natural Selection 2 is the closest we will get to a good aliens multipler :)

    I still can’t believe they are forcing a 3rd person perspective on the aliens that just blows my mind.

  18. Treebard says:

    Wait…nobody likes being the Smoker?

    I like being the Smoker! :(

    • Vesuvius says:

      Me too Treebard- nothing like grabbing someone off of a height, or holding them back when the rest of the team has just jumped down from a point of no return…

  19. Malibu Stacey says:

    So glad I’m going along to the “live review” of this next week at the Glasgow Film Festival. Reviewed by none other than ex-RPS Kieron Gillen & Eurogamer’s Tom Bramwell while being hosted by the legend that is Rab Florence -> http://www.glasgowfilm.org/festival/whats_on/4636_aliens_the_live_review_aliens_in_70mm

  20. jonfitt says:

    Why don’t they have a Smoker analogue? It makes total sense.
    That alien would have a longer tail and hang around in corners and vents. He would skewer/lasso to grab a marine and drag them towards their demise. If he managed to get them into a vent before anyone shot it: game over man, game over.

  21. Felixader says:

    Looks like i at least can be looking forward to an enjoyable Angry Joe Video.

  22. Beelzebud says:

    It’s been awhile since a “AAA” game was so bad that even the corporate review sites had no choice but to give it low scores.

  23. Monkeh says:

    Why does the Spitter (from A:CM) get compared to the Boomer, when there’s a Spitter in Left4Dead2..

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