Aliens: Colonial Marines: The Kotaku Review

A game based on existing media has three options. It can strive to be faithful to the original work, privileging authenticity above all else. It can try to do its own thing, using the original work as merely a jumping off point for something else. Or, it can try to find a balance between authenticity and originality. Aliens: Colonial Marines fails spectacularly at all three of these possible approaches.

That's a lot of words. Let's cut to the chase: Aliens: Colonial Marines is an awful game.

As its title suggests, Aliens: Colonial Marines Aliens: Colonial Marines is a game based on the world created by James Cameron — specifically, it's supposed to take place after the second film, Aliens. You play as a marine named Christopher Winter, and the game revolves around finding out what happened to the missing marines aboard the U.S.S. Sulaco.

...at first, anyway. Your aims evolve as you go along — they go from, say, solving a mystery to also trying to save a fellow marine, to getting vengeance. The constant among these ever-shifting objectives is that with each new one comes the sinking realisation that you're going to have to play this game some more.

The appeal is supposed to be that you get to explore locations from the movies, meet some key characters, and use iconic weapons. I'm not a huge Aliens fan, but I know that the movies bank on the use of tension, atmosphere and knowing when to unleash the alien threat on its characters. In the first film, you don't even see the actual alien much, but that doesn't matter.

There's also all the thematic stuff about motherhood, rape, impregnation, amongst other things — but let's not kid ourselves about their applicability here. The sophistication of the writing in the game can be boiled down to quick one-liners and occasional quote from the movies; there is no meaningful exploration of ideas like motherhood in the game. It comes down to you, your gun, and aliens that need to die. Occasionally humans need to die, too.

That meathead approach is a part of the problem when considering the game as a continuation of the movies: there is too much shooting and not enough tension and anticipation. This would be fine were the game interesting mechanically — if it was trying to be its own thing — but the shooting falls flat.

None of the guns are fun to use, even when you upgrade them. Actually, they can be a major pain. The pulse rifle for example "features" a similar sound to the guns in the movies, but it's not a pleasant sound. The movies could get away with it because actually, they didn't feature an extravagant amount of shooting.

But after four hours of hearing the same grating sound endlessly in the game, I found myself mentally blocking out what was happening on screen just so that I could get through it.

Aliens: Colonial Marines

Developer: Gearbox Software

Platforms: Windows, PlayStation 3, Wii U, Xbox 360

Released: February 12th

Type of game: First-person shooter

What I played: Six hours on the main campaign, though nearly two of these were trying to beat a boss battle at the end.

Two Things I Loved

  • The game is short.
  • Your first encounter with a Xeno is pretty good.

Two Things I Hated

  • The sounds of the guns.
  • The claustrophobic level design.

Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes

  • "Please, make it stop. It hurts to play this game." -Patricia Hernandez, Kotaku.com
  • "Screw nobody left behind!!" -Patricia Hernandez, Kotaku.com

Once, I believed that the worst crime a game could commit was boring a player — and at first, that's what I thought Colonial Marines would do, bore me. An hour in, I thought it was merely a mediocre shooter, a licensed game that hides its boringness behind its source material. It's loaded with idiotic AI that either barges at you or stands completely still, and monotonous gunplay that fails at eliciting a response from the player at best, or actively repels her at worst. You'll see most of what there is to see about an hour in, after which things start repeating with mild variation — and ultimately lacking any of the atmosphere that make the movies so good.

But it's worse than that. The horrible sounds, bad writing and grating sound effects become a sort of psychological torture, and it was literally a pain just to get through the game. I'll take boring over nausea and headaches any day. I realise not everyone will deal with the claustrophobia thing, but other folks I talked to noticed the audio, and it'll be impossible not to notice how incredibly bland it all is.

The worst part is that the first 20 minutes of the game had promise. Maybe, I thought, just maybe, Gearbox stumbled on to the formula for a proper Alien game. Right at the start, when you don't quite know what's happening, you see everything falling apart, and you have to rely on a motion tracker to show you an enemy you cannot actually see. You hear sounds in the walls. Something's coming.

Then, the alien appears — briefly. You catch a glimpse of its body melting back into the shadows, but it happens too quickly to react — and then it keeps darting in and out of the darkness.

You shoot blindly, stupidly — hoping to land even one errant shot. Eventually you kill the alien, but your racing heart knows that in a way, it's actually bested you. It's dead, but the fear isn't gone.

That's not my type of game, but I recognise good tension and fright when I see it. Colonial Marines would have been fantastic had it stuck with that formula, but from that moment onward it opts to mindlessly throw countless aliens at you, one after another. Any semblance of fear these creatures once conjured is erased by constant head-on exposure, and quickly the entire experience becomes dull.

That makes it sound as though the highlight of the game happens right at the start, and it's all downhill from there. Actually, there was another spike in my enthusiasm, and it happened right at the end.

I got to the end in about four hours (yes, four hours). I'm going to describe this part to you, spoiling it, because realistically you shouldn't waste your time with Colonial Marines anyway. But, if you're going to play the game anyway, I suggest you stop reading now.

The final boss battle is against a Xenomorph queen. Your job is to get rid of her by ejecting her out of the airlock. (Does this sound familiar?) To do that, you'll need to turn a series of switches alongside a track, until you get to the final button. At that point, she's supposed to stand squarely on the track so that she is pushed out into space.

It would be one thing if this battle was simply obtuse and anticlimactic. But in my game, there was a glitch of sorts that made it impossible for the structure on the track to connect with the queen, and instead what I often saw was the queen skipping in a weird animation.

So there I was, trying to eject this idiotic, hulking beast for maybe an hour and a half — in what was supposed to be a four and a half hour game at most — continually failing despite how simple it was supposed to be. Flip like, 5 switches. Make sure she's standing in the middle of the track. Eject. Nope.

Eventually the game righted itself and the ejection worked, but I didn't actually do anything different from the dozens of times I'd tried before. But you know what, I didn't question it. I felt overjoyed when it happened, because thank-effing-god, Aliens: Colonial Marines was finally over. Done. Never again.

It was during this boss fight that the game went from 'there was a salvageable moment in the game at the start and perhaps an interesting discussion to be had about what to do with a game based on an already existing property' to 'I never want to touch or hear about this game again.'

After beating that loathsome final boss, I got an achievement named for Bill Paxton's iconic line from Aliens: Game over, man. If only that were the case. Unfortunately for me, I actually do have to play a little bit more. I'll be updating this review sometime later this week with impressions on the multiplayer, which hopefully has something worthwhile for people to play. The single-player certainly doesn't.


Comments

    Yeah no surprise that the game is abysmal. Is a shame though.

    Last edited 12/02/13 8:27 pm

    Honestly, I'm not sure if you're trolling or serious. I liked it so far.

      She's honestly representing the majority opinion if all the other reviews are anything to go by.

      This was positively glowing compared to Destructoid review. 27 paragraphs of just scathing criticism.

        Yet it still managed .5 more than DNF.

          The graphics were really bad, it kinda reminds me of RAGE. Game companies need to stop being lazy and taking the easy way out by just designing it for the console and porting it to the PC. They really need to do it the other way around.

          I wonder what Gearbox's problem is when it comes to games other than Borderlands. DNF sucked balls, this one by most accounts sucks slightly less sweaty balls.

            Somes games designed for console look great, its no real excuse to say "oh it only looks bad because its a port". It looks bad because its badly made.

    I've played about 4 hours (3 of them in Co-Op) so far and I'm having fun. I'm not sure what's up with complaints about the action,; this is based on Aliens, not Alien. Aliens was always about the action. It's not ground breaking by any stretch, but it's enjoyable and far from "awful".

      While I'm enjoying it so far, the graphics are sub-par, the voice acting is far from amazing, the weapons are kinda same-y, and the AI is abysmal.

        I find the guns satisfying, but I agree there is little difference between the guns in each category (One shotgun is hardly different to another, etc). The graphics are kind of dated, but that doesn't bother me so much. As long as it's fun and keeps me entertained (which it's doing so far) I'm happy. But maybe it's because I don't expect much from this franchise any more. I loved AvP2 (super awesome game), but most games that have followed have been meh.

        Last edited 12/02/13 8:56 pm

      ...no it isn't, it was still a horror movie. The difference now is that the horror has amped up with fratboy marines who are reduced to crying children once everything goes tits up.

        A thriller perhaps, but I just don't see it as a horror film. But I haven't watched in a few years so, I could be remembering it wrong.

        Even though I was having a good time playing this, I knew the reviews were not going to fantastic. I didn't think they'd be as bad as they are, but for the most part I can't disagree with the reviews. I guess I just like a terrible game. :)

    I'm having fun. Co-op is tacked on and terrible but single player is okay and multiplayer is plenty of fun (though Marines have it easy at present). Disagree with her on so many points.

    But then, it IS a Patricia Hernandez article, the queen of "making articles just so people argue about them"

      But in this case you should give her the benefit of the doubt because she's far from the only person, reviewer or otherwise who thought the game was terrible. My twitter feed has been littered with disappointment in the game for the past few days. So I doubt she's writing this review in this manner just for the attention.

      That said, it's great you're enjoying the game, it's good to see someone saying something positive about it for once.

        I'm enjoying it so far too. I'm a massive fan. Graphics are not terrible in my opinion - they're rough in places but in other places they're jaw-dropping. I think it really captures the look of the second film nicely...awesome fan service. Some moments are genuinely scary...most aren't but it's an action game. Characters are no worse than the marines in the films. Gunplay is fine - the guns feel legitimate, the sounds are amazing...really nice sound design in this game, the score is awesome too. The level design is fairly weak....but it's an old-school corridor shooter, they don't really have a sandbox to play with...you always feel enclosed, which is good so I think while the level design is weak it doesn't hamper the game that much. The art direction is top notch...no matter how "technically impressive" the visuals are. Nobody's really praising the positives of this game which bothers me. It's so authentic to the films...I don't understand how it's not getting higher reviews based on it's stand-out positives. Oh well...at least some of us are enjoying it :)

      But you know this is for real because it isn't about how some group is being oppressed or underrepresented.

        Haha, so true.

          "There’s also all the thematic stuff about motherhood, rape, impregnation, amongst other things"

          and I thought here we go...

          And if you're not an Aliens fan then this game is not for you.

            I'm a fan of the film Aliens and I knew this game was going to be POS.

            By "Aliens fan" you must mean the equivalent of a hardcore Trekkie who also happens to have low standards.

    Yeah, there are games like that that deviate from the source material. IMHO a lot of games that are based off something that are coming out these days are utter tripe, especially with the writing.

    Top sold game on steam at the moment and it's splashed on the front...I was tempted to buy then browsed around before hand and my god the game is rated so bad.

    Feel sorry for the amount of people who are buying this game without waiting a bit longer...going to be in for a short campaign and a game clearly not worth the 80 it's priced at here in Australia.

      I pre-ordered it on steam. Love Aliens and what I had seen a while back looked cool. However luckily i read some comments online last week and so quickly cancelled my pre-order.

      I still might buy it when it's marked down a significant amount.

    I haven't played the game, but I can tell from what is said in this review that I would trust the reviewer's opinion because her opinion of the movie is spot on. Aliens is a fantastic movie with great characterisation (*cough* as opposed to prometheus *cough*) with a palpable sense of inevitable death for all those trapped on the planet. Turning it into a meatgrinding FPS is never going to work because it destroys the mystique and the terror of the movie

    In case you think that's not constructive, I can immediately think of a better mechanic for this game that makes it good - and that is that you start with a squad of size X and if all your squad dies, you're hosed. Game, over man, game over. Reduce the engagements with the aliens to flashpoints - have a few mechanics to push the game on through the moments. IE protecting your HQ. Stuff like that.

    As soon as I saw that they had "classes" of aliens, and a bit of video of them being cut up, I knew this was coming. Aliens had what.. two distinct colonial marines / aliens battles and a bit of Ripley versus the rest.

    So glad I held back on this because everything I saw said 'cheap shit'.

    I half expect a gearbox Blade Runner game where you kill thousands of replicants in 4 hours :-)

      Pray tell, what's so shoddy about Prometheus' characterisation exactly?

        Dear god where to start... the sad fact is that most of Prometheus's best scenes were actually cut. Scenes involving character development and explanation. For instance a scene explaining literally WHY the scientist would reach out to touch the space cobra (he had an affinity for reptiles). Whilst not the worst movie in the world, Prometheus's characterisation was pretty dire.

          And ALIENS characterisation was much better? The entire marine group was your stereotypical group of meatheads and nothing more save for Hudson. That is no slight on, ALIENS as I personally feel it is the BEST action horror film of all time. However I think to say that from a thematic stand point that it contains much substance is a little much.

          Rape and such is hardly a theme in ALIENS. It was much more so in ALIEN. ALIENS is a very different type of film to ALIENS in that it is much more straightforward and much more like your typical action blockbuster (however an extremely good one). The only particular thematic motif of note that is unique in ALIENS compared to the other films in the series is the theme of motherhood.

          You could bring up the way the character of Bishop is treated by Ridley, however the questions raised surrounding androids are not unique to ALIENS, and are delved in to much, much more deeply and richly in Prometheus with David, who is a much more fleshed out and intriguing character than Bishop ever was.

          ALIENS I'd wager had the same amount of character development throughout as Prometheus did. The first half of Prometheus is practically pure dialogue and character interaction, whereas ALIENS is nearly full throttle action throughout. As a result ALIENS character interaction is very upfront and lacking in subtly, as there is less time in the film for more nuanced character interactions. They say exactly what they feel, and what they think. The interactions between Newt and Ripley (the much lauded mother motif) are not particularly nuanced compared to any other film with a similar theme, however its presence in this particular film is what lends it weight.

          In Prometheus everything is murky; their motivations, what drives their actions, ambiguity in the dialogue... Both films are extremely different beasts. ALIENS had a very straightforward and mostly likeable cast, so it is very easy to relate to and root for them. As a result not much effort for depth is required in their interactions. They just have to kick ass, and be people we can like. Prometheus again is different, most are not likeable people; many are selfish in their motivations and actions. The characters have many different clashing ideals and beliefs, leading to a higher degree of friction between the characters than in ALIENS as well.

          I regards to the cobra scene, who knows how everybody will react in different situations. He discovered their first ever (ignoring the deleted scene) living alien life form. As a biologist, I imagined he would not only be shocked but absolutely overwhelmed with joy at such a discovery. Working as a physist, this kind of unfettered and at time childish excitement at anything new happens all the time among quite a few of the people I've worked with. Yes his actions were stupid and most likely driven by emotion. But thats how bad things usually happen. What about Ripley's stupid decision to return to the planet? How is that NOT an unbelievably stupid decision? Anyone having had gone through that would be extremely traumatised, in fact, Ripley was traumatised judging from her nightmares. Not amount of hatred would compel anybody to return to face another nightmare, and put one's life at extreme risk. The whole films' premise is based on this rather stupid decision of Ripley's, yet no one considers that a flaw in the films writing. She is essentially going to see the aliens again as therapy! But I do not consider it a flaw in the character's behaviour, and nor do I for the character's action in Prometheus.

          People are far too harsh on Prometheus. I was initially disappointed when I first viewed it, thinking pretty similarly, and feeling pretty let down as it was just so, so different to what I had not only expected, but hoped for in an ALIEN prequel. However after watching it again on DVD, I came to view it differently. Eventually decided to buy a copy and have watched a couple more times now. Personally, I think the film is extremely rich thematically, more so than any previous ALIEN film, and David still manages to be just as compelling every single time I rewatch it.

            EDIT: God damn I meant Hicks not Hudson!

            Lawd should really reread these things.

            I mean Milburn as a biologist (not myself XD). I only work with physicists.

            David is only a fleshed out and interesting character BECAUSE of Bishop. Bishop was only interesting BECAUSE of Ash in Alien. The fascination began in Aliens with the fact the android was now on their side, that when you first viewed it, the very first time, you weren't sure which side Bishop actually was on. This came through the motives that Ash had in part 1. David built upon those foundations. That takes nothing away from Ian Holm or Lance Henriksen, or even the wonderfully brilliant Michael Fassbender, but it does say that Davids characters crux was those who came before (cinematically) him. I've seen Prometheus a few times and whilst beautiful, it's a very sloppily edited movie. I say edited, because again, a lot of the scenes that make the movie BETTER are actually cut out to streamline it for cinematic audiences (...right... because audiences can't handle smarter cinema?)

            Ripley returned to the planet as an advisor only, she never had the intention of going in. That was a complete turnabout to her in the movie. She went there with the idea she'd be in orbit the whole time. Things changed, she ended up on the ground. Thus the movie happened.

            In Prometheus there's *so* many stupid moments in the movie that it'd take around ten pages to get through them... outrun a donut ship? Sure lets run along with it! Instead of to the side? I can buy they'd run along for one moment, but then ANYONE would see free-space to the left and right and scoot...

            Then there's the completely useless characters in the movie... Vickers is not aware of Weylands presence, shes not in on his plan, has no actual authority over David. Her father is on board the whole time, and in a completely useless scene trying to mirror starwars we get the 'I AM YOUR FATHER' moment. Her role as a supervisor is useless as well. Why is her character even there? She literally serves no purpose but to give Idris Elba a chance to blow his space-wad. Not that Idris should be denied anything. lol.

            People are not far too harsh on Prometheus. People should NOT be gentle on that movie because it's an alien precursor. It does not get right of passage due to this. We have had cinema dumbed down over the last fifteen years or so in a dramatically terrible way. Not saying that the 80s was a particularly brilliant era for cinema but the last fifteen years has been particularly bad with the studios thinking audiences just...can't... think for themselves so need to be spoonfed EVERYTHING. Movies should be held to a higher standard. To accept shit, is to say shit is ok. From indie movies to super big budget cinematic block busters, a shit movie should be called out despite its budget, despite its director and despite its pedigree.

            Prometheus wasn't shit, but it had the whiff of a turd.

            Last edited 13/02/13 1:00 am

              Spoiler tags may not go amiss here, on the off chance someone hasn't seen Prometheus yet.

                If someone hasn't seen Prometheus yet, they're better off that way. lol. Fair point though. Ok I'll add Spoiler tags :) ta

      Hey guess what, that game exists! Called Aliens: Infestation on the Nintendo DS. Your "lives" are limited to the amount of marines you currently have. Once you lose all your health the marine you're controlling is DEAD.

    How dare you mock the Aliens pulse rifle sound. GET OUT. NOW.

    I don't know why there's faith in Gearbox for stuff like this in the first place, anyway, Duke Nukem Forever was incredibly rough-around-the-edges, many of the textures were poor in quality, there was no variety and any praise much revolved around the hype of a remake of something we enjoyed in the 90's. The end result was the exact same, thorough disappointment in the form of a B-grade game with references to the past that simply weren't enough to put it in anyone's good books.

    Regardless, slam the game all you want, but don't talk shit about the glorious sound of the pulse rifle. Thanks.

      People seem to forget that 3D Realms did most of the work on Duke Nukem Forever, Gearbox just made it playable.

        I give Gearbox a 10/10 for how they managed to rescue and RELEASE DNF, I give 3D Realms a 0/10. So the score meets halfway at 5/10 fairly.

          funny thing is..the DNF that gearbox released wasnt even the DNF that belonged to 3D Realms. the time line of the games histroy that included in the game states that another group re wrote the story and games from scratch 2-3 years before it was released, like right after 3D realms closed its doors.
          on the topic of A:CM this was not made the gearbox team behind Borderlands or Brothers in Arms

      Reading and watching other reviews, there might be some validity in the not-liking of the pulse rifle sound.
      They raise the point that in the movies, you don't hear it so often and when you do it's all "oh rad, they're shooting at the aliens!" and it's cool and whatever.
      But in a FPS where you're shooting another Weyland Yutani thug and hearing the sound frequently every minute, it can start to grate.

    For those interested apparently the single player wan't made by Gearbox but by TimeGate
    http://t.co/7FzoRG7I

    Last edited 12/02/13 10:22 pm

      Can't really assume how much Timegate was involved but if you have a look at their website (which hasn't been updated since August last year) they seem to have been pretty happy with all the effort they have put into the game:
      http://www.timegate.com/index.php

        This could explain of what happened with the development: http://www.reddit.com/r/LV426/comments/18ewf4/a_lot_of_you_are_rightfully_upset_at_the_final/

    Surprised no one has mentioned the Aliens Vs Predator games from the 90s. I couldn't even finish the marine campaign, it was so terrifying, and still paid homage to its source media. I haven't played this new version, but if it is even a fraction like that old game, then there's no way it would be getting bad reviews.

      1999's was awesome, or rather, still is :-P
      But I think the focus here is on the Aliens, without predators. Even so, AVP (1999) was kick-arse.

    While the game isn't awesome, its on par with ever other piss poor excuse for a shooter i've played since Half-Life...

    ive played it for a few hours now and.. its not that bad. having said that tho' there is no way its worth the $80 pice tag its going for on steam. Also, i feel some people think that this is a single player deadsapce type horro romp in the dark, which it is not. this game is all about the multiplayer, Coop is fun(speically with a full group on higher difficulty) and the VS multiplayer modes will certainly get your pulse going. All in all, it is a decent game but the 80 bucks steam wants is prolly too much. however you can easily pick this game up for half that price on a few other sites (such as greenman gaming). A $40-35 tag makes this game a far more reasonable buy and brings it back down to realistic expectations.

    tl;dr,
    Decent game, dont buy from steam, don't buy for Singleplayer.

    Probably the worst game I've played this year (and last too, while I'm at it).
    Glad it only cost me $36...

    I'll still push through to the end in co-op as the social aspect of playing with friends can make even a horrible game somewhat amusing, but there's no way I could handle playing this alone.

      And it's already FEBRUARY! Worst game of the year!

        The sad part is, it will probably be very close to the truth come December...

    TL;DR:

    "Mostly this game is shit... mostly."

    I may pick it up later for the Co-Op, shame to hear it's not amazing though :(

    So....you're saying I should go buy an old copy of Aliens Vs Predator?

    Played it for about an hour last night (xbox version). Honestly it feels really dated and clunky, I can't really recommend it for anyone but massive Alien fans.

    There's some cool little easter-eggy style tidbits floating around but the mechanics of the game are really average.

    *spoilers*

    Especially when they make you fight humans instead of the aliens. Yuck. Felt like a ps2 era shooter. WANDER UNTIL SEE PLAYER CHARACTER. STAND PERFECTLY STILL AND RETURN FIRE IN THE MIDDLE OF A ROOM.

    I like how Kotaku hammered the game, but have advertising everywhere for it, along with a background.

    Pretty good job.

      Better than them having advertising for the game and giving it undeserved praise, no?

      Had no idea about the background, truth be told. Adblock can be a sanity saver sometimes.

        Yeah, I really need to install adblock on the work PC...

    here's what I don't understand:
    the bosses of Kotaku need this game reviewed. one assumes there was an internal discussion about who would be best to review it. and the result of this discussion, evidently, was "let's give it to the reviewer who doesn't like survival horror games, and who also doesn't like the Aliens franchise." (paragraphs 5 and 15).

    does this make sense to anyone?!

      I think it's more like "Who wants to review this game? Anyone putting their hand up? No? Well let's give to Patricia, I don't think she has much else on her plate."

    Kudos for running an honest review despite all the advertising for the game on your site today.

    After being colossally disappointed in the direction Dead Space 3 was taken, I had hopes that this could do better. The one thing it has going for it is fanservice... horribly pixelated fanservice, but fanservice nonetheless. (Aside: couldn't they afford some AA? Jeez... I've seen less pixelation in recent faux-8-bit games...)
    But if the SP was really done by TimeGate, makers of the FEAR expansions, I can't help but wonder why Gearbox aren't openly publicising that... it's their name on the box, after all.

    Does the PS3 version use an online pass system? I wouldn't buy this, but I would consider hiring it for the night.

    I just played through the first twenty minutes or so and I have to say that this is abysmal for a license such as this. The graphics are really outdated and the gameplay mechanics are pre xbox. The animations on The Walking Dead game are better and this game doesn't have the story. It has very slight hints at greatness. When you enter the hive areas you get that alien feeling, but its way too little to redeem. I am going to play through and maybe give the multi a go but I have to say that Gearbox should be ashamed of themselves for releasing this. It should have been shelved and I cannot believe that not one designer, tester or anyone who saw it pre-release didn't say anything??? I mean, when you have brilliant games like Halo that are similar in premise that are just soooo much better. This game looks like it could be on iPad!!! I am really disappointed that another great opportunity to release a decent version of this license has been squandered. The videos they released of the gameplay before launch I believe were enhanced as the actual game does not look anywhere near as good. A massive let down Gearbox.

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