In 1994, Justin Fisher created Aliens TC for Doom. I remember being completely blown away by the atmosphere and being completely enthralled with the gameplay. I know that’s a lot of pressure to put on Aliens: Colonial Marines, released today on all major platforms, but there we are. Honestly, I’m still not sure if it manages to live up to those heady days on my old 386/25…
Aliens: Colonial Marines (A:CM) is a tough title for me to review. One one hand, when it gets things right, it gets them VERY right. Some examples: The feeling of being in a cramped space with Xenomorphs appearing at unexpected (and unwelcome) times is still intact. One more than one occasion during my playthrough, I truly never felt safe, even when I KNEW (or thought I knew) I had cleared an area. The development team does a fairly good job of keeping you on your toes with constant changes in light levels, flashing colors, and things “movin’ all over the place.” Weapons sound effective and powerful, even those whose effects were not ripped directly from the movies, and explosions have a hefty bass to them. Maybe it’s just (once again) my lack of skill, but the game feels plenty challenging. I found myself being killed repeatedly on the second easiest difficulty (more on this in a bit), so comments about dumb enemy AI confuse me to some extent. Again, I’ll touch on this again shortly. I was especially impressed with the way enemies challenged me to really “check those corners” by utilizing all parts of the map effectively. I found the dialog and story fitting to a degree. It FEELS like it belongs in the Aliens timeline. I’ve seen people deride the dialog, and I want to remind them to watch Aliens again. Yes, there were many Marines on the screen, but only a few true CHARACTERS. Bill Paxton screaming “It’s a bug hunt, man, A BUG HUNT!” is not really heavy duty acting, so I cut the dialog writers some slack. It’s certainly not Oscar-worthy, but it’s not the worst dialog ever written, either. I found the idea of the Weyland-Yutani operatives as additional enemies to be a compelling idea, although I don’t think they were utilized as well as they could have been.
I think that’s A:CM‘s biggest failing- It’s OK where it could have been great. The story could have been presented better, the dialog given more pop. The shooting could have felt more fluid and responsive. Enemies could have been so much more than bullet sponges who effectively use cover. The terror of the Xenomorphs in Aliens came from the fact that they had overwhelming numbers, were tremendously fast, agile, and unpredictable. This happens on occasion during the game, and it’s a joy to behold when it does. However, when the Xeno’s just steamroll straight ahead soaking up damage, it just feels. . . wrong. As an aside, in a game called Aliens: Colonial Marines, why am I spending SO much time fighting other humans? I know I said I was intrigued by the idea of the W-Y mercs, but really the focus should be on the Aliens here. Character models could have (and SHOULD have) been better animated, especially in cut scenes where mouth syncing was inexcusably bad. An exploding spacecraft needs to be more impressive, ESPECIALLY when it’s a MAJOR plot point. Bipedal Xenomorphs should look better, not just during QTEs. Why am I seeing 2D smoke effects, and why does the sound stutter and cut in and out on a AAA title? On the gameplay front, aiming feels a bit off. . . sluggish maybe? That being said, I still wasted ammo (as established in the films) firing at shadows, or missing a speeding Xenomorph by a hair. Also, the frequency of my deaths put a damper on any feelings of tension when I needed to keep repeating the same sections over and over again.
While I liked the idea of searching for hidden dog tags, audio logs, and legendary weapons (like Hicks’ shotgun “for close encounters,” searching for them was another segment of the game that took away from the atmosphere. They didn’t feel naturally placed, but more designed specifically to be a challenge/achievement and nothing more. It’s a shame, because the logs were especially well done, and I really liked the idea of finding “classic” weapons. On a similar note, I was a fan of the upgrade system, but it didn’t make sense from a storyline standpoint. Where was I finding these suddenly unlocked weapons and attachments? Do Marines carry equipment they simply cannot use until they “learn” how?
At the end of the day, I DID enjoy Aliens: Colonial Marines, but I just don’t feel I can recommend anyone pay full price for it. Again, it does some things well, and some things poorly. Unfortunately, what should have been a home run, and the first truly great game about the most underrated faction in the franchise just feels. . . average. If you are a completionist fan of the saga, you’re going to enjoy yourself. There are plenty of nods to the series that will make you smile, and there are plenty of jump-inducing moments. For everyone else, I’d wait for a sale. Maybe it’s time to dust off that old copy of Doom and look for Justin’s TC.