Aliens: Colonial Marines is a scrappy shooter that is best played co-operatively
We often find ourselves complaining about a “lack of polish” in games these days. This could be attributed to a game’s production budget or a rushed release. Aliens: Colonial Marines, however, has no excuses. SEGA and Gearbox Software’s (Borderlands, Brothers in Arms) shooter has been in production for as long as can be remembered (with a health production budget at that). But is fan service (or the developers’ version of it) and nostalgia enough to carry Colonial Marines past the finishing line? Or does the lack of finesse hurt it?
Labelled a “direct sequel” to James Cameron’s 1986 science fiction classic, Aliens, Colonial Marines is a linear corridor shooter set in the same universe as the film. It must be said that there’s significant fan service right from the get-go — the developers have played around with the fiction quite a bit, however. From the authentic film-inspired settings such as the Sulaco, Hadley’s Hope and LV-426 to the assortment of colourful weaponry, including the pulse rifle and flamethrower, it’s all very nostalgic indeed. It isn’t scary in the traditional sense (a trend in 2013, it would seem), but it is strangely atmospheric in spite of a graphics engine that doesn’t always deliver.
You play a regular jock, Corporal Winter, jumping into the action after the events of Aliens. As part of a search and rescue operation, your mission is simple: locate the ejected cryopods of Ellen Ripley, Dwayne Hicks and the other marines, and if possible, not die in the process. Treading familiar ground, you’ll be corridor-shooting your way past Xenos and mercenaries, occasionally playing hide-and-seek, opening and welding doors shut, as well as commandeering everyone’s favourite piece of equipment from Aliens, the robotic loader. There are a lot of things that Alien: Colonial Marines doesn’t achieve, but it does manage to make you feel (aptly) that you’re an insignificant part of the Aliens universe — assuming you’re playing co-op, of course (the game supports drop-in/drop-out co-op for up to four players).
As a single player experience, Colonial Marines falls short. It is exposed for what it is: a barely functional shooter with a derivative upgrade system and generic story. The writing and voice acting are shockingly below-average even for a game of this type — Lance Henriksen’s cameo as the synthetic, Bishop, is a notable exception (but that could be the nostalgia talking). It is buggy, patchy graphically and dated from a design perspective. It is very easy to dismiss, given that it is a fully priced title at retail, but it does have some redeeming qualities.
Aliens: Colonial Marines’ campaign is best experienced co-operatively — when hit-boxes don’t always matter and where the game’s faults are masked by the magic of a shared adventure. If you’ve got a few friends who are Aliens fans, all the better, because, despite a significant departure from the films’ fiction, Aliens: Colonial Marines does offer some good fan service minus the scares (the sound of that pulse rifle, discharge of the flamethrower, ping of the motion tracker, nostalgic settings, all your favourite Xenos). It’s as scrappy a shooter you’ve played — reminiscent of games from the late 90s/early 2000s that are now considered classics, and while the lack of polish will put off majority of the triple-A crowd, there’s still something very appealing about Colonial Marines’ scrappiness that is best shared with other players. Aliens: Colonial Marines is now available on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.