Aliens: Colonial Marines Review!
The Weyland-Yutani Corporation is once again out to “build better worlds” in this canonical entry to the Alien franchise. Step into the shoes of the elite Colonial Marines and explore many familiar locales from the film series while desperately fighting to stay alive in the midst of an alien infestation.
The Alien franchise is one of the most critically acclaimed science fiction series, having received overwhelmingly positive reviews from its massive fan base since the release of the original film in 1979. The alien “xenomorph” itself has become an iconic movie creature, recognizable even by those who have never seen any Alien-related media. When taking such a well known series and adding to the official storyline, one must tread softly while putting their best foot forward to avoid enraging the masses of die-hard fans. Gearbox Software has done a great job in providing players a close up look into familiar territories while still offering a fresh new take on the well-established series. While console versions of the game were met with lackluster reviews, the PC version is leaps and bounds above these in quality and will be the focus of this review.
Taking place 17 weeks after the events of the second movie, Colonial Marines puts players in the shoes of the titular military force as they are sent to investigate a distress call received from one of the survivors aboard the USS Sulaco. While exploring the ship, the marines discover that both Weyland-Yutani mercenaries and Aliens have completely taken over the vessel. After some intense fighting the soldiers find themselves stranded on LV-426, the original planet where the crew of the first Alien film discovered the dangerous species. As they attempt to find a way off the planet, history repeats itself as they find themselves swarmed by xenomorphs and under constant assault from the human mercenaries who are trying to prevent the group from exposing The Company’s plans.
While the plot is nothing ground-breaking, it does provide a satisfying in-between story to compliment the movies. It’s clear that the development team wanted to both cater to long time fans and provide newcomers with a stand-alone storyline; a balance that is difficult to achieve and nearly impossible to maintain consistently. Colonial Marines does an excellent job with this, keeping the new plot moving forward at all times while fitting it in nicely with an already existing canon. There are some points at which some of the more dedicated fans might raise their pitchforks and refuse to accept the new developments, claiming that they ruin the entire story previously defined by the movies. But nothing happens without explanation and one should keep an open mind with any piece of media that tries to fill in blanks between two parts of a timeline. One of the greatest things about fictional storytelling is the ability to offer alternative outcomes as long as any plot holes are covered and the logic of events is sound. There is a very enjoyable journey to be experienced here and it shouldn’t be weighed down by expectations to follow a predetermined story that has already been set in stone.
In this era of the first-person shooter, gamers have fought countless human enemies that will take cover behind anything near them and return fire from this spot until you put the nail in their coffin. This seems to be the standard in any shooter as it keeps the player focused on what is in front of them and forces them to mimic their targets, shooting from behind cover until the fight is over. While the human AI in this game is just about on par with these guidelines, the xenomorphs are another story entirely. Tracking multiple aliens that are not only faster and stronger than you but also disappear into the surrounding environment makes for a stressful survival situation. It’s one thing to have one of these creatures sprint directly at you, but when it crawls under the platform and another appears on the ceiling above you, the panic really starts to set in. This forces the player to actually consider their position and retreat to safe r ground if overwhelmed by the waves of aliens coming from every direction. The game offers a welcome deviation from standard FPS combat and really pulls off the feeling that you are fighting a force that has an advantage over you.
Throughout the game, players will gain experience for their actions, including finding collectibles and completing challenges. This allows them to rank up and earn points to spend on equipment upgrades and modifications. This is a very fluent system of progression that doesn’t affect the game to the point of making it too easy, but also gives each player something to work toward outside of storyline progression. I often found myself with a few points to spare between major weapon unlocks so players should not be hesitate to purchase any upgrade they think will help, even if just for a specific situation. There are also many collectibles to find, including legendary weapons that were featured in the movies. This constant progression system and optional search for collectibles make for a nice distraction from the main goal of the game and give players a reason to replay levels for items they may have missed.
This is the department in which different versions of the game succeed or fail. I had the privilege of playing both the XBOX 360 and the PC versions for comparison, and the difference between the two was night and day. They really show just how dated current-gen consoles have become. The environments of Colonial Marines are just as one would expect from an abandoned planet; dark and unwelcoming. Alien infestation covers walls, lighting systems have failed within the facilities, and xenomorphs can pop out of just about any opening in the terrain. When it comes to the bland textures needed for the game to run at its high frame rate on a console, this makes for a confusing mess of darkness that is very disorienting. Once played on a PC, however, the game shows its true potential. While still maintaining a certain level of atmospheric creepiness, the PC version boasts improved textures and more advanced lighting to aid the player in being able to navigate their surroundings without having to strain their eyes. There are still some rough edges but it is a significant improvement over the console counterparts. The aliens themselves are highly detailed and many areas seen in the movies were faithfully recreated in-game, clearly focusing most of the effort where it counts.
The animations were especially impressive, specifically in regards to the movement of the aliens. Climbing from the wall to the ceiling and then leaping at the player has a lot of movement involved, and not once did I ever notice a broken animation. The constant fluid motion provides a great amount of immersion into the action and adds even more visual depth to the already frightening creatures. There is also a very intricate balance of light and shadow used despite the game’s overall darkness. This serves to add some dramatic flair to the experience and make it feel cinematic in nature.
The sound effects feel like they were taken right out of the movie series, from the alien screams down to the muffled sound of the pulse rifles. Having these familiar sounds to help set the tone of the game is a great touch, and unfortunately one that will be transparent to younger gamers who have not seen the films. The game’s music is generally reserved for dramatic situations and is exactly what one would expect from an orchestrated score. There was nothing overly memorable from the soundtrack, but at the same time it achieves exactly what it needs to in building tension. The voice acting, on the other hand, is phenomenal. The consistency at which the actors deliver their lines is top-notch. Overall the game succeeds in the audio category, but really could have used a stronger score to support key moments in the game.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is a solid shooter that has does a lot right, but takes a lot of flak from veterans of the series for offering up an alternate storyline to the canon established by the films. While the console versions are graphically inferior, the PC version of the game is an excellent experience that fans of the franchise definitely won’t want to miss. Replayability is high for both the 100% completionist and the casual online gamer. The single player / co-op campaign has plenty to offer between the different feel of FPS combat against aliens, collectibles to find, and challenges to complete. On top of that, the game also has an addicting multiplayer component in which players will take control of either the marines or the xenomorphs and compete in various game modes to come out as the victorious species. Running around as an alien and tearing other players to pieces is a blast, and a nice change from the standard of other sho oters to place two equally matched teams against each other. The aliens feel like they have a definite advantage over the humans, and this forces the opposing team to either stick together or get overpowered by the creatures. Players earn rank in both game modes that can be used to upgrade weapons for marines and skills for aliens, so you are free to customize your loadout and skill set to your liking. This is an excellent entry to the series and is definitely worth playing for both fans of the series and gamers who enjoy a fresh first-person shooter.