Selling a Sequel
Aliens: Colonial Marines is a poignant example of good ideas that need more time in the oven. The sad irony is that the game was first announced in 2006, nearly one year before the original Mass Effect hit store shelves. It bookends that richer, deeper series, finally bearing fruit only last week, a full eleven months after Mass Effect 3 concluded a trilogy to define a new era of RPG. For all that development time, one might look forward to exceptionality from Aliens. One might expect a game that speaks of refinement and care; one of tight controls, excellent mechanics, and a canonical story worthy of being called a sequel. That player would be terribly, terribly disappointed.
Colonial Marines is a sequel. In preview events, Gearbox Software CEO, Randy Pitchford, repeatedly told press about how closely his team had worked with key figures from the films. The story had been approved by FOX. It was to be considered canon to the Aliens franchise and factored into story decisions for every addition that would follow. Something tells me that FOX might be backing away from those claims.
In the game, players take the role of Christopher Winter, a colonial marine whose team is sent to investigate what happened on board the Sulaco following the first film. Unfortunately, things take a nasty turn, and Chris spends most of his time separated from his outfit facing off against aliens and mercenaries alike. Over the course of the game, players will scour the halls of the storied ship as well as investigate Hadley's Hope, the decimated colony on the surface of LV426.
Narratio Non Grata
Unfortunately, this story falls flat on its face, stretching disbelief to game breaking levels. The marines, for example, have a preternatural understanding of the xenomorphs – the iconic, two mouthed aliens Ripley and co. uncovered in the first film – calling out enemy types before they should even know what xenomorphs are. Worse still is that the game disrespects the player with more than one nonsensical plot point that the game simply shrugs away with a “that's another story.” It's not unlike questioning a third-grader whose only answer is “because.”
Aliens grates on the nerves. The films, in large part, were a commentary on the efficacy of cowboy-ism held against a crumbling sense of security. For all their machismo, the original marines failed. Under pressure, they panicked and died regardless of their quick trigger fingers and will to kill. Ripley played the odd woman out with a cool self-confidence and survived the day. Colonial Marines lets Ripley's ship sail and instead packs the game with the former. Every character is a crass cut-out of exactly what the original writers were commenting upon. Yet there is no commentary taking place here, just a shallow male power fantasy that presumes juvenility in its writing. There is also no sense of suspense or fear once the first alien has been revealed, removing one of the series' greatest hallmarks.
The game is also painfully – or blessedly? – short for its $60 asking price. Clocking in at five hours, the adventure ends abruptly in one of the worst, most hands-off endings in recent memory. Competitive multiplayer pads the count but not by much.
The shortcomings of the story might be more forgivable if the gameplay held water, but it doesn't. Colonial Marines is a first-person shooter, and following their 2012 hit, Borderlands 2 one might think Gearbox would have mastered this area. Unfortunately, they haven't and it shows. From the outset, the player is given access to every weapon ensuring he has a virtually unstoppable arsenal when used accurately. Even this is undermined. Outside of the loud and explosive shotgun, weapons just aren't much fun to shoot. The iconic pulse rifle, for example, loses its charm when you realize that it lacks any weight whatsoever. Rather than achieving a sense of firing a high powered machine gun, it feels more like using a high powered pea shooter, and even the excellent sound reproduction can't pull it from the depths. The final weapon is the pistol which feels oddly cumbersome and is distinctly underpowered.
Faithful recreation of film environments and sound effects, unified leveling system
Poor AI, short, unsatisfying campaign, plot holes, unrefined weapons, under-served setting