Aliens Colonial Marines review

Key features

  • Developers - Gearbox Software, TimeGate Studios, Nerve Software
  • Publisher - SEGA
  • Platforms - PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (tested), Microsoft Windows, Wii U
  • Release date - Out now on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows, Wii U version 13 March
  • Price: £39.99

Aliens: Colonial Marines

Despite the critical miasma that's been gathering since the game launched, Aliens: Colonial Marines is actually alright. A comfortable, straightforward shooter that's certainly a bit rough on the technical side, this nevertheless feels like a victim more of fanboy entitlement than poor creative work.

You play Winters, one of the eponymous Colonial Marines responding a distress call sent by Michael Biehn's character at the end of Aliens. Arriving on-board the doomed transport ship The Sulaco, you're soon confronted by the iconic Xenomorphs and have to fight your way to The Queen through several recognisable locations from the movies.

The dead planet LV-246 makes an appearance, as does the interior of Xenomorph-overrun colonial settlement Hadley's Hope. Other nods to the movies include a turn by Lance Henriksen as ultra-intelligent Synthetic, Bishop; achievements named after lines from the films; and an arsenal of trademark weapons like the Pulse Rifle and Smart Gun, complete with signature sound effects.

Aliens Colonial Marines review

But the Alien's license is a curse as much as it is a blessing for Colonial Marines. Developed in conjunction with 20th Century Fox, the makers of the game even had access to an early draft of Ridley Scott's Prometheus script so they could weave in as much canon as possible. But although the Xeno on the cover gives this otherwise plain shooter an established fanbase to plunder, it also throws the door open to all sorts of haughty criticism.

Not that clever

It's not a great game; it's not even a good game. Even at best, Colonial Marines is a merely competent shooter with no new ideas and some technical flaws. But it's not particularly offensive, either. The acid blood that's been spat in its face thus far seems to be coming from reactionary Aliens fans who have spent so much time and money on boxsets and the novels that they feel they can claim ownership over the franchise.

These are the people who have imbued Aliens (a series which, at its heart is about aliens and the shooting of aliens) with an inflated sense of importance, boasting on forums and in pubs about the Giger-esque imagery and themes of emasculation. And it's not that those things aren't there it's just that they're secondary to the action, and better explored in other literature. And it isn't the responsibility of Colonial Marines to pander to first-year, pseudo intellectuals who in all honesty would benefit from reading more.

The Aliens series isn't and never was, that clever, and neither is Colonial Marines. Admittedly, even compared to the movies, the plot feels a little undercooked, but as far as the 'soldiers find Aliens-soldiers fight Aliens-soldiers win' framework extends, Colonial Marines delivers. The writing is just ok - it's neither hot nor cold - and it feels like a lot of the indignant responses are from people who, thanks to years of self satisfying conjecture online, have blown the intellectual density of Aliens way out of proportion.

Aliens Colonial Marines review

Rough edges

But aside from ragging on it for some technical rough edges, and for sidestepping a lot of Aliens lore, there's not a lot to say about Colonial Marines. It's a typical, printed out kind of every game that wouldn't blip on anyone's radar if it weren't for its franchise rights.

There are some good bits. It has a tight, nerve-wracking opening 15 minutes, after you first board the Sulaco and there's no-one around. Here, you find yourself scanning with your motion tracker just waiting for that first blip-blip-blip that means you're about to get Tom Skerritt'ed. But once the first Xenomorph rears its long, black head the tension all but dissipates, as the game throws way too many aliens at you for them to be scary.

You kill Xenos by the dozen, your Pulse Rifle and pump shotgun making short work of what should be near indestructible, predatorial menaces. Instead, the aliens leap in front of your crosshairs willingly and that claustrophobic nausea captured in Scott's original film goes right out the airlock once the game kicks in proper. A shame, even if the plain old shooting and killing still feels pretty solid.

Aliens Colonial Marines review

All the weapons sound perfectly strong (the motion tracking Smart Gun retains its recognisable whirr from the films) and the Xenos are just tough enough to feel formidable, just weak enough to not get frustrating. The fear comes back about midway through the game during an excellent sneaking section in the Hadley's Hope sewers.

Alone and unarmed, you have to creep through the water, surrounded by dead alien husks, avoiding any Xeno that's still alive by moving slow and keeping still. The atmosphere is killed a little by the plastic AI which generally follows a scripted route and is slow to react to your footsteps, but as far as feeling like a scene from one of the films, this is good as Colonial Marines gets.

Actually alright

But even for those uninitiated or uninterested in Aliens, the game's environments look a little dreary. Set design is something the film series consistently nailed, all eerie retro computer consoles and ribbed black walls, but Colonial Marines is perfectly flat, the interconnecting grey corridors and flickering fluorescent tube lights more reminiscent of DOOM 3 than Ron Cobb's work on the Nostromo. Like the wholly pedestrian shoot-and-duck mechanics that comprise the majority of Colonial Marines' play time, it's an unimaginative work of visual design.

Nevertheless, this isn't the catastrophe it's being made out to be. The consensus seems to be that Colonial Marines is somehow offensive, that launching a game that's partially unrefined and lacking thematic pretensions is a slap to the face of Aliens. Not so - the reality is far more miserable. Aliens: Colonial Marines is a harmless, evanescent first-person shooter that, if it weren't for the franchise gloss sprinkled throughout, wouldn't have attracted anyone's attention at all.

Aliens Colonial Marines review

It's OK; it's fine. You shoot the aliens and the aliens die. It's regrettable that Colonial Marines doesn't inherit more of the quadrilogy's atmosphere and that there are a few glaring technical holes, but an incendiary work of franchise destruction this isn't.

Aliens: Colonial Marines is actually alright. 

Scores:

  • Gameplay: 6/10 - A few technical bugs and the action never captures the feeling of the films, but competent nevertheless
  • Sound: 7/10 - Solid voice acting and all the recognisable squawks and gun noises from Aliens. A forgettable score
  • Graphics: 6/10 - Again, mired by some bugs and the grey/brown of the environments ignores the stark imagery of the movies. Fine otherwise
  • Writing: 5/10  - A major source of contention for some, but the script to Colonial Marines is merely bland
  • Replay value: 5/10 - A disposable campaign offset by a Marines v Aliens multiplayer mode that adds little and won't attract a player-base
  • Overall: 6/10 - An alright, perfectly capable first-person shooter that doesn't run with its franchise rights as much as it could and has drawn an unfair amount of flak as a result

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