Review: Aliens: Colonial Marines (PC)

Now all we need is a deck of cards….

Man, I’ve waited a long time for this. And as is often the case with something you wait so long for, it’s all too easy to expect too much. As a canon sequel to one of the greatest action films ever made, Aliens: Colonial Marines was always going to struggle to keep up with the expectations, and by and large, to be honest, it was a bit of a failure. Or at least, failed to keep up.

It’s a classic case of a game being overdeveloped to the point of breaking; a simple premise is not quite brought to fruition, and coupled with what clearly was a modelling and animation race to keep up with the ever extending release deadline, ACM is a bit of a hash job. It looks dated, it can play quite stilted at times, and feels like a PS2 re-release. And yet, I can’t help it: it’s actually a lot more enjoyable than many would have you believe.

Now, I will address the fact that I feel reviews up to this point (the day after release) have been unduly harsh; although A:CM isn’t about to carve it’s name deeply into our collective gaming hearts anytime soon, that doesn’t mean it is bad; simply bogged down by unrealistic expectations delivered in a final product best described as “occasionally a bit meh”. It isn’t broken, unplayable, or even boring; in fact, it has some great moments filled with tension and fear, and generally plays like something out to get you sweating.

I think the real issue is this; most games journalists are chickens, and all played it on normal.

I didn’t. I cranked it straight to the hardest setting, fully wanting the feel of the films; wherein fast, evil-bastard creatures wanted to rip my face off, and had full capability of doing so. And you know what? Gearbox delivered on that, at least. And for that, they have my respect.

So, let’s get all the bad stuff out of the way. It has an odd blend of good and bad visuals, wherein a table can have highly detailed woodgrain, but have a low res book on top of it. Character models, by and large, are good, but carry a whiff of 2007 about them. The animations are at times woeful – encounter a lone Alien and you’ll appreciate how horribly they run at you, for example. Multiplayer sucks enough that I’m not going to really talk about it much – it just doesn’t do much, and I’m not going to rush back to it.If it wasn’t for the franchise, this game would be a lot worse, but the sheer love for the story shown by the developers drags what is a very standard, even dated, shooter just up enough to make it fun

Furthermore, the cutscenes are terrible – all bad acting and horrible animations and models. There is also the odd infuriating glitch – nothing as bad as reported on consoles, but one moment where a large explosion was meant to knock my marine off his feet failed to do anything, making the following scene of trying to recover very odd indeed. And, for many, it suffers the ultimate cardinal sin – it’s isn’t very scary.

But that’s alright. Aliens wasn’t scary either. It was just a damn awesome action film. And as a shooter based on an action film, I’ve played a lot worse.

You see, it gets the small details right, which brings a big tick for a nerd like me. Every level is an homage to the films, with detailed scenes showing the aftermath of film events. The audio logs bring some great depth to the secondary characters of the films, and the original voice actors breathe real life into their characters. The guns have the right heft to them, and the damage balance is great – enemies take enough damage to be a challenge without making you feel underpowered. Every fight feels like it could be your last, and in the context of the story, that really works too.

And just wait until you wander about in the dark with iconic motion tracker pinging in your hand – I swear even the hardest-hearted player will get goosebumps.

It’s quite predictable, even tepid at times, but between the heavy battles, tension-dripping slower moments, and the enjoyable scenery, Gearbox have managed to salvage some of the games dignity; it feels right, somehow. Sprinkle over the epic soundtrack, and suddenly you have a very immersive title, even if it is “by the numbers”.

And that’s the point really; this isn’t a great game, merely an enjoyable one, made better or worse by the players own take on Aliens. If you love the lore, the characters and the action, you’ll probably get a lot more out of ACM than those who don’t. In fact, if it wasn’t for the franchise, this game would be a lot worse, but the sheer love for the story shown by the developers drags what is a very standard, even dated, shooter just up enough to make it fun.

ACM does enough to teeter on the brink of “average” and “decent” – I’d certainly say non-fans could take two points off the score. But for many, this is at least worth a rent, or a purchase on a Steam sale – it has it’s own charms and is a lot more fun than the initial fanrage would suggest. But, for Ripley’s sake, play it on the hardest setting – anything less would suck out its soul.

The Good: Is a decent love letter to the franchise, with tons of stuff for the Alien fan; weapons, vehicles, locations and more are all very accurate to the canon; location and character models are mostly pretty good; standard but fun FPS gameplay; playing as an Alien is good fun too; voices and sounds are great, as is the music; not too bad a story, which stays within canon; smartguns and turrets are epic; level quality keeps improving as the game goes on; is best played on Hard, where it feels most like an Aliens filmThe Bad: Limited gameplay, and quite short singleplayer; very dated; final boss and ending are very naff; alien animation is rubbish (although the darkness and/or swarms hide this well; multiplayer is forgettable; occasional annoying glitch, although not as bad as often reported on consoles

Gameplay:  7
Graphics:    7
Sound:       9
Overall:      7

Bronze Y Award

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