Wot I Think – Aliens: Colonial Marines Single Player

By John Walker on February 12th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

Of course you remember Aliens, right? Who could forget Danny Glover kicking ass on the Discovery One, Sarah Hamilton shouting, “That’s how they git you. They’re under the goddamned ground!” Ah, the memories. John’s spent the day ploughing through Aliens: Colonial Marines, so he can tell you wot he thinks:

As you’ve probably already heard, Aliens: Colonial Marines is terrible. Properly terrible. The sort of terrible where you see that it was apparently made by Gearbox, and decide that SEGA may have just forgotten that it wasn’t really. Making a game featuring Aliens has somehow eluded developers since around 2000, which always seems strange – the film was basically the ingredients of a game. But like trying to make an advert for sofas, it seems impossible for anyone to create anything that doesn’t make you cringe into a little ball. But wow, Colonial Marines has taken that to the next level.

Not only is it a truly dreadful addition to the Aliens canon, and only ever even trying to be a very mediocre shooter, but it’s somehow taken six years to develop a game that feels not only a decade old, but utterly falling to pieces. The textures often look like they’re from the original Unreal, character models are archaic, and animations are generally laugh-out-loud terribad. It glitches, it’s packed with bugs, it has the terrible checkpointing you’re already expecting, the weapons feel like they’re made of clingfilm, and on and on and on. And perhaps most ridiculously of all, you spend far more of your time shooting at moronic man enemies than you do at the swarms of aliens. It consistently delivers a series of wonders, whether technical idiocy or outrageously awful writing, so I want to convey that experience to you via the notes I took when alt-tabbing out of the game. Here they are in chronological order, along with some captured video of favourite moments.

  • Wow. This is a game that feels it’s okay to have someone say “You’re not in Kansas any more,” without a glimmer of irony.
  • You’re allowed to open doors in the first couple of minutes, even torch them open if they’re stuck. But fortunately an NPC comes along pretty much straight away and takes over the playing of the game for you. Reach a door before him, hit E, and he’ll walk through you to open it first.
  • You have your scanner of course. Solid blips for Xenos, hollow for allies. Except, well, it can’t scan enemies until they’ve magically spawned into existence, can it? So scanning a room before entering it provides no useful information, since they won’t be triggered into reality until you cross that threshold. And thus can jump from the ceiling onto your head, where you’re already on 1 slot of health because there aren’t any medpacks since the last checkpoint seven miles back, so they instantly kill you. THAT’S FUN.
  • “LOOK UP! LOOK UP!” shrieks O’Neal, just after I’ve killed everything in the room.
  • Aliens run toward exploding barrels rather than you, but then, they’re somehow invincible to the explosion if they’re not already stood in it when you fire. Fire first and even though there’s a good two second delay, the bang won’t hurt them at all. They know the safest place is by that exploding barrel, the cunning beasts.
  • There’s one good line in all the dialogue. A ladyvoice pilot says, “Be advised that Winter made me scratch my favourite ship, sir.” Which is then instantly ruined when a manvoice shouts, “It’s your only ship!” Yeah, because that’s where the joke was there.
  • While the PC version doesn’t feature many of the reported faults of the console release (there are no issues with framerates and tearing on the Mother Machine), there’s no attempt to make use of greater computation power (GCP). So bodies inelegantly pop out of existence seconds after falling to the ground. Edges are barely anti-aliased. And wow, everything overlaps. It’s like the land of the non-corporeal.
  • Of course, it’s the little details that make the real differences. I love, for instance, that I can pick up seven helmets in a row to improve my armour. If only it were a third-person game.
  • This writing just gets better and better. “Raiders 6-5 will wait for you, but goddammit don’t make us wait for you.” Someone not only wrote that down, but an actor willingly said it out loud.
  • “One hostile remaining!” booms a marine as we’re surrounded by six or seven aliens. I’ve a feeling I should probably stop listening to their advice.
  • There’s a sequence that’s clearly meant to elicit the sense of fear that Amnesia offers. You’re in a chamber of alien husks, but some of them are still alive. Their vision is based on sound, so if they come near you, you must stand perfectly still. Tense, right? Well, no, because it’s absolutely impossible to be scared of the alien’s ludicrous mincing dance-walk. It’s like a horribly operated marionette, making the whole sequence completely laughable.
  • That the checkpoints are bad can’t be a surprise to anyone. I’m fairly sure the Council Of Terrible Games would have fined them heavily if they’d put them after long, tedious corridors, or immediately after a boring battle.
  • One boss fight went a little wrong when the game shut some giant metal doors with the boss on the other side of them. The infinite waves of regular aliens didn’t put up much of a fight for the Power Loader, but it got a bit boring after the first 29 months.
  • Talking of the Power Loader, it’s almost impressive how they’ve managed to reduce it down to something as fun as stabbing yourself in the back of your hand with a knitting needle. There’s no weight to it, there’s no sense of strength, or power. And it’s tiny! Imagine if they’d tried to capture that awesome sense of sheer danger you get when Ripley climbs in.
  • I have heard the words “We don’t leave marines behind,” about 37 times in this game.
  • My whole approach to the game has changed quite dramatically with one realisation. You don’t really have to fight stuff – so long as you can run to the next checkpoint, it’s all cleared up for you anyway. It becomes about speed running at that point, and you know what – that’s a tiny bit more fun than playing properly. Which makes it elevated to Not Any Fun Whatsoever.
  • Your teammates teleport in front of you a lot. And it’s not just if they’re caught up behind – they can be stood next to you, you open a door, run through, and they’re already waiting the other side. In a game that’s so desperately trying to scare me, it’s sad that their sudden appearance is the only thing that ever made me jump.
  • What does this mean? WHAT DOES IT MEAN? “You make one fucking sound, and it’s your brains they’ll find in the garbage tomorrow morning.” The marine has his gun to a doctor’s head when he says this. Was his plan to shoot him, then sweep up his brains and pop them in the bin? And why would people be looking in the garbage in the morning? Who looks through the rubbish in the morning?
  • Although saying that, this is a man who responds to, “Jesus, where have you guys been? What happened to Bella?” with, “That’s a negative captain.”
  • A videogame death is always a little more galling when you got shot through the giant wall of rock.
  • At a certain point during development someone said, “Look, the NPC AI isn’t getting fixed, is it? They just stand in front of the player all the time. We need to do something.” “I know!” piped up a bright spark. “What if we just make it so you can shoot straight through them.” And another day finished early.
  • Now enemies have started teleporting into locked rooms, and I think that’s a bit off.
  • So although it’s certainly a worthy criticism that this so-called Aliens game spends far more time being a manshoot than an alienshoot, it really is at its least-worst when you’re shooting other soldiers. The alien combat is so teeth-pullingly infuriating, their leaps improbable, their death animations identical to their slightly wounded animations, and their colouring almost always the same as the dreary corridors you’re shooting in. At least the thousands of enemy soldiers have the good grace to wear white.
  • Oh good grief. I’m nearing the end now, and it’s found a new level of stupid. I have to disconnect three fuel lines, each of which requires a lengthy sequence with control taken from me, while the swarms of aliens continue to attack. The two other NPCs do nothing to defend me, so each time I’m killed before it gives me back the controls.
  • I mentioned the teleporting NPCs. Again, I really want to stress that they do this seemingly because they can’t be bothered to walk three metres through a doorway. But here’s the craziest thing – as they appear there’s a little tingle of blue electricity, as if it’s a design feature, as if they’ve got the technology to do it. While we’re all stranded on a planet, surrounded by humans and aliens who want to kill us.
  • Oh God, why won’t it end?
  • Wow. Just wow. It had the gall, the bum-squenching temerity, to finish on an open ending. This colossal waste of everyone’s time doesn’t even wrap up its dribbling story. Because we’re all just on tenterhooks for the sequel, right?

The saddest thing to report is that Aliens: Colonial Marine doesn’t even achieve that “so bad you just have to see it” place. The innumerous bugs only frustrate, rather than offering the surprising jazz-style joy of a Soldner. (“Soldner”.) And it’s not even the “If you found a copy in a charity shop you’d have to experience it” level of awful that something like the Starshop Troopers game offered. Although as I was playing, that was the game that came to mind most frequently. (Weirdly, the defunct team who made Starship Troopers, Strangelite, now mostly work for Rebellion, who made the execrable Rogue Warrior and Aliens Vs. Predator for Sega in 2010. Small world.) It occupies that worst of gaming spaces – just a very badly put together game that’s infuriatingly tedious to play. It’s pretty telling that it’s when you’re just shooting men in corridors that it’s its most passable – you slump into the muscle memory of it all and pass the time. It’s every time an alien comes on screen that you know unfair deaths, dreary, repetitive combat, and broken code is coming to the front.

It’ll be fascinating to learn what went wrong in spending half a decade making this game, once enough time has passed that everyone will speak. Until then, there’s nothing of interest at all within, especially for those with a great passion for the Aliens franchise. Yes, this is now official canon, but no, you don’t want to know it.

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319 Comments »

  1. psepho says:

    The line about the only time the game made John jump made me laugh out loud.

    More crap games, please. Just so RPS can WIT them.

  2. Numerical says:

    Well damn. As an Aliens fan I could not be more disappointed. At least I won’t have to waste cash on it only to find out it’s a lemon.

    What’s funny is that I am still planning on buying Borderlands 2 this weekend. Well maybe not so funny, but a weird coincidence. Ah well.

    • Rawrian says:

      And why not do it? Borderlands 2 is an awesome game, especially in multiplayer. It’s a shame about A:CM, but stuff like that happens – AAA games development could be a huge mess.

  3. Alexander says:

    Almost 600 recommendations on Steam already.

  4. Ruffian says:

    Could just be the angle of the pic or something but the dude in the second screen shot looks dead on Ulman from Metro 2033 to me.

  5. mouton says:

    Why the Starship Troopers hate? I really like the RTS game. Much more than the horrible film.

    • Chaz says:

      There was also a rather terrible FPS game.

    • trjp says:

      ST was an excellent film IF – and it’s a big ask for some people but IF – you realised it was ironic ;)

      • Rawrian says:

        Re-watched it recently, and turned out it’s really hilarious. It’s really weird how in the 90′s most of the people didn’t get it, even with all these over the top news segments. Marketing, I guess?

        • Beelzebud says:

          People thought that it would be the love letter to fascism that the original novel was, and it turned out to be a a satire of the entire book.

          • x1501 says:

            When you actually bother to read the book, you’ll probably be surprised how very little it has to do with fascism, let alone with its endorsement. That god-awful movie adaptation, on the other hand, is less of a clever satire of the subtle, intelligent and thought-provoking novel and more of a puerile piece of unwatchable cinematic trash. In fact, “satire” or not, the book and the movie have surprisingly little in common. Well, not really that surprisingly, considering that the director of the movie admitted that his only attempt to read the 200-page award-winning classic quickly ended up in his getting bored and tossing the book aside. Some satirical genius.

          • Grygus says:

            It seems as though you haven’t actually read the book; you should. It might surprise you.

    • wererogue says:

      Yeah, the RTS, “Starship Troopers: Terran Ascendancy”, was pretty good fun, if a little under-baked. “Starship Troopers” was a not-so-great FPS.

  6. merbert says:

    I admit to plagiarizing the comments below, but they did make me LMFAO.

    “How many games is this for you, Gearbox?”
    “Thirty eight… simulated.”
    “How many *decent* games?”
    “Uh, two. Not including this one.”

    FAILiens

    Classic.

  7. Hillbert says:

    Foreseen or not, I’m really disappointed. I’ve loved the Alien franchise since watching Aliens on ITV at a slightly too young age. (especially the part where they give up trying to dub over the harsh language and just covered Hudson’s swearing with the sound of pulse rifles)

    I love so much about them, the general aesthetic, the body horror, the subversion of action tropes before they were even fully established, even that little “TCHONK Tchonk tchonk” noise that is now replicated wherever ever sci fi horror needs to be implied. (It’s in Dawn of War 2, when ever Tyranids are about)

    As well as some of the original Aliens and AvP gamesI loved Space Hulk, Alien Breed, Alien Swarm, Shadowgrounds, Deadspace, etc. Anything where I might be investigating an abandoned colony or fighting an alien in a cramped corridor.

    Not sure where I’m going with this…

  8. Vicho says:

    D… Did someone say Soldner

  9. fish99 says:

    Hope no one preordered this. If you did you’re a sucker, because the trailers they put out like 18 months ago looked completely mediocre, and then the game was put on hold, and there’s been hints for several years now that Sega weren’t happy with it and it was going to stink. Hell, it was nearly cancelled.

    TotalBiscuit is right, people need to stop preordering games. Don’t reward publishers for having day-one review embargoes, it’s borderline fraud. “Hey if you don’t preorder we’re not going to give you the full game, but we’re not going to let anyone review it until you can no longer cancel your preorder”. It’s a scam.

    In this case though you didn’t even get anything decent as an incentive.

    • Runs With Foxes says:

      Preordering is fine if you have some clue about what you’re buying. People obviously bought this based on the IP and what they imagined an Aliens game to be, ignoring all the obvious warning signs.

      • fish99 says:

        Even if you’re fairly confident it’s going to be good, it’s still a risk. There’s got to be something to make that risk worth taking, something more than just one gun, considering the price of the game.

        It’s the business practice that bothers me though, the dishonesty of it and the manipulation of the review system. It’s approaching fraud.

      • Squishpoke says:

        No, preordering is still not fine, as Steam is unlikely to run out of digital copies the same way a console store would run out of CD-ROMs. Buying into preorders only sends the message to publishers that “it’s okay to include pre-order goodies in your game.”

        • Malibu Stacey says:

          Very much this. Pre-ordering has no place in the age of digital distribution. Sadly most gamers are idiots.

          Plus by not pre-ordering you’ll probably save yourself some money and not have to deal with the launch day bugs every game ships with these days.

  10. Scumbag says:

    Clear me up on the mistakes I make with this:

    Gearbox
    A game that has also been developed by someone else (as they seem to be palming the blame on atm)
    Its been in development for a long time
    Its an FPS
    Its dog eared and very ropey
    Its taken a loved franchise and pretty much sunk it into the mire of crap that cannot be touched again for another decade?

    Is it me, or has this happened before?

  11. HothMonster says:

    Is Ashly Burch good at least? And hopefully not in danger of being accused of verbal blackface?

    • derbefrier says:

      I know I probably shouldn’t but every time I hear “verbal black face” I giggle a little. It just sounds so ridiculous.

  12. Siresly says:

    This article made me get Söldner.

  13. junglist 69 says:

    ” Game over Man “

  14. Thurgret says:

    I keep confusing this with Interstellar Marines. Huh.

    And I kind of like that style of WIT. I mean, it’s not going to be good for every game, but I like it.

  15. rustybroomhandle says:

    Good news though- as a result of the Tommy Westphall hypothesis, this game does not actually exist.

  16. abandonhope says:

    So that writer for the game who disavowed the grunting-marine trailer…

  17. Turkey says:

    They should’ve dropped the entire single-player campaign and just focused on making a really solid left 4 dead clone. There’s really not that much exciting you can do with an colonial marine fps that hasn’t been done a billion times before, so you might as well just make it a co-op game.

  18. SwiftRanger says:

    It actually improves the canon imo, in a rather plausible way. I don’t see plot holes in that regard, some might wanna watch the orignal films again. The script for Alien 3 was an atrocity for only leaving Ripley alive at the start of the film, everyone who liked Aliens realises this. Trying to correct that is one of the best decisions Gearbox could have made.

    I also don’t know what John expected from the dialogues as the ones in Aliens are pretty much just as cringe-worthy if you don’t cope with the “lean, mean marines”-spirit of that movie (and you do have to cope with that, if you liked Alien more than Aliens I can guess it’s more difficult to do that though). Focusing on Weyland-Yutani is logical (I don’t mind shooting humans, they should have looked less like tourists of course) but I would have liked to know a lot more about the aliens themselves too. Guess that’s another disadvantage of working with a license. :(

    That being said, this isn’t exactly better than Quake IV and it damn well should have been. There are great nods to the movie but as a shooter it underperforms and is just run-of-the-mill stuff.

    • jalf says:

      Huh…

      The thing about the movie is that all the marines are idiots. Idiots with huge egos who fall to pieces under pressure.

      If you think the movie had a “lean, mean marines” spirit, I suggest you watch it again, because you’re falling into the same trap that Gearbox did. The movie is pretty much opposite to that. It features big blustering space marines who go around talking about how badass they are, while getting killed, and a civilian is the only competent person, basically doing their jobs.

      So “lean mean marines” spirit? Yes, I suppose, if you ask a fanboy with the mentality of a 4-year-old. (which appears to be what Gearbox did). Yes, if you ask someone who just saw the guns and the explosions and the space marines and the creepy-looking aliens. If you saw someone who watched the movie, and paid even a small amount of attention to the plot, then… not so much.

      And now, I haven’t played the game, but the bit everyone talks about where a character literally just waves his hands and says “it’s a long story” to explain a dead character suddenly being non-dead? You don’t see that as a plot hole?

      • SwiftRanger says:

        The thing about the movie is that all the marines are idiots. Idiots with huge egos who fall to pieces under pressure. If you think the movie had a “lean, mean marines” spirit, I suggest you watch it again, because you’re falling into the same trap that Gearbox did. The movie is pretty much opposite to that. It features big blustering space marines who go around talking about how badass they are, while getting killed, and a civilian is the only competent person, basically doing their jobs.
        Yes, the “lean, mean marines”-spirit is what people remember from Aliens, the semi-breakdown of that spirit just as well. It’s what I implied, sorry for not stating it more explicitly. The dialogs didn’t change much because of that though, which was my point. Since you haven’t played Aliens: CM, they’re getting whipped in this game too (not only by xenos) but they’re not all losing it or aren’t all totally helpless either. Also, the movie didn’t just contain idiots aside of Ripley and it weren’t just the idiots that died either. Ripley was the star and did a lot but not everything. And to make another civilian “save” the marines again in the game (which acts as a parallel sequel)… ? Is that really necessary? I’d say the presence of Ripley in the later Alien movies actually hindered the franchise going forward. You can’t always tell the same story or have the same protagonist. So no, A:CM didn’t mimick the plot completely, it could have done something a lot more unique yes. Still, letting marines come back, with their typical customs but a bit more prepared this time, still failing against the alien threat and the WY appearance was a logical thing to do for the FPS they wanted to make. As a game they should have done a whole lot more with that concept though.

        And now, I haven’t played the game, but the bit everyone talks about where a character literally just waves his hands and says “it’s a long story” to explain a dead character suddenly being non-dead? You don’t see that as a plot hole?
        *spoiler* That long story is about how after he was awakened he managed to put someone else in his cryo-tube (who then in Alien 3 is listed as dead) but still ended up being captured by Weyland-Yutani. How he did that and sent Ripley and co away on time isn’t explained but it wouldn’t seem impossible for him to pull off either. I wouldn’t call it a plot hole because of that and at the time Hicks is revealed in A:CM the situation didn’t call for further explanation.

        • colw00t says:

          It seems pretty impossible to me, since he was heavily wounded and under sedation at the time he was supposed to be tricking people with the cryo pods.

          Aliens is not the story of a bunch of badass marines. It’s a Vietnam allegory. It’s a bunch of cocky technologically sophisticated people getting their ass kicked by a much more primitive enemy that they don’t bother to try to understand. Ripley makes it out essentially because she’s Ripley, and she DOES understand the enemy.

    • DrScuttles says:

      I liked Aliens. I liked Alien 3. Sometimes… I think I preferred Alien 3. The idea of an Alien 3 featuring The Ripley Family fighting aliens strikes me as utter garbage, but I may well be in the minority (especially since I find the normal version of Aliens to be a far better, tighter film than the special edition).
      My only problem with Alien 3 would be cleared up fine had they shown the Queen facehugger instead of a normal one.

      • colw00t says:

        I like the entire alien universe, which is to say Alien, Aliens and that really interesting script for Alien 3 that never got made.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      I think Bill Paxton said it best:

      Maybe you haven’t been keeping up on current events but we just got our asses kicked pal!

  19. requisite0 says:

    But can you play as Jonesy? The single feature that would have made my preorder worth it, sigh…

  20. darkmouse20001 says:

    Some great dancing by a little alien in this (and some dubstep) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8dPF8jpItCs

  21. Eddard_Stark says:

    Enjoy fellas, it’s golden:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xulEWbAyv3k

    Randy Pitchford @ 3:10 “It’s all driven by sophisticated artificial intelligence”

    Btw, notice how the whole showcased level is not in the game and it looks much better, at least graphic-wise than the actual A:CM. So Gearbox went to great lengths to create at least one bearable level just for marketing purposes? It just keeps getting better and better.

    • Rawrian says:

      It might have not been Gearbox. I feel it’s a tiny bit wrong to put the blame entirely on them – Sega, Nerve Software and Timegate Studios might deserve some of the blame as well. Hoping there will be more info on the development process soon.

  22. Spoon Of Doom says:

    The sad thing is that this piece of garbage is still in the top seller list on Steam – based on name alone, I guess.

  23. Shockpaddles says:

    any word on the COOP John? this is the only part that interests me in this game? but as the campaign sounds terrible i guess doing it COOP will be no better??

  24. S0NofGUN says:

    It’s a shame waht they’re doing to the Alien franchise, was really looking forward to this game…
    BTW, “Soldner” (Söldner) means “mercenary” in german, the guy who named it does not suffer from dyslexia as implied.

  25. Daarck says:

    If you want a giggle, go see the comment section for the guy that scored this 9/10 –

    http://www.egmnow.com/articles/reviews/egm-review-aliens-colonial-marines/

    Needless to say, he’s not getting much in the way of love flung at him.

  26. Cloudiest Nights says:

    Was his plan to shoot him, then sweep up his brains and pop them in the bin?

    I just about got my computer destroyed with barely contained Cola at this.

  27. Dewindae says:

    What do I want to say? John Walker is a friggin tool. How you could find “Nothing” good about this game is just a testiment to the fact that you cant do any thing worth while but troll a game that Fans of the Aliens Saga have been waiting for.

    The dialog is cheesy, its supposed to be. Have you ever even watched Aliens? The game is not scary, I haven’t thought any of the Alien franchise has been scary since I was six. The idea wasn’t to be scary so much as put by James Cameron “40 Miles of Bad Road” and I don’t mean the flaws in it.

    Yes the graphics are out dated, yes there are bugs that weren’t fixed. When you have people “begging” for the game to be released, because the producers decided to let us know it was going to be made, your going to get poor coding, because the fan base is demanding its release. Sure they could have let it sit on the coming soon pile and told us to wait, but they got it in a state that people who actually enjoy things instead of bitching about how poor it was could get the chance to play a Colonial Marine, instead of playing a game through that has you be a Predator for 75% of the game.

    If you look at most games that are out for online play (which by the way its been stated that this game was meant as a Coop more then a solo game, or even a PVP game) The better the graphics the less people who can play it. Look at Planetside 2, recently released, the graphics are half as good as this game and people cant play it because their systems cant handle it. If any thing you should complain about how there will never be serious updates for the console versions, which in turn means that the PC and MAC versions will go by the wayside.

    If you have even played any of the other Alien games you should have noticed that this fills alot of the plot holes left by Alien 3, and AVP. There’s only one point that I didn’t like in the story line and that was because of the Marine you save.

    It saddens me that so many people cant look at this game and say, hey I had fun playing it, sure there were bugs, but wow, as an alien fan, this peeks my interest, I’m sure they’ll work out some of the flaws in the next game. But I’m sure they wont make a next game cause of people like you who decide something is bad, simply because you cant find any thing good in your life.

    Oh and nice spoiler with the chest popping alien.
    Tool.

  28. MonkeyPunch says:

    I really want to see “Starshop troopers”. Is it a bit camp?

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