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.