James Cameron’s 1986 film, Aliens stands as one of the greatest sci-fi movies to ever grace Hollywood. Since its release, fans have longed for a proper sequel as Alien 3, and the 4th installment (god only knows what they were thinking on that one) failed miserably to extend the life of the franchise. Aliens Colonial Marines now sets the stage to try and become the next true sequel to the series. Unfortunately, harsh language is how to best describe this slop job, craptastic, cluster @#$%, that would do more good nuked from orbit than on store shelves.
Gearbox Software and Sega have bet high with ACM, claiming that, “this is the sequel to the Alien trilogy and it’s a videogame,” said Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford. The problem is the game fails to adhere to the elements that would merit successful results. Instead, we have a depthless story, an atmosphere that lacks any substance, with unrefined gameplay, counter intuitive design choices, wonky animations and horrendous AI bugs. Yes, the franchise has been insulted yet again. Allow me to save you $49.99.
Taking place 17 weeks after the atmospheric processor detonated on LV-426, Cpl. Hicks sends a distress call for rescue on the derelict planet, which merits a battalion of colonial marines enroute to discover the outcome of the marine squad sent there in Aliens. What they find is the Sulaco is now the location of a second hive with Weyland-Yani mercenaries abound to thwart any unwelcomed visit. Eventually this leads you back to LV-426 where the company is conducting more bioweapon harnessing schemes.
Despite that nuclear esque explosion, the buildings from the colony on LV-426, for the most part remain intact, in fact, there’s even emergency power still running inside. Don’t worry, they won’t explain it, just enjoy the iconic revisit, right? Please.
The problem is immediately noticeable as the devs blatantly rewrite sections of the Aliens universe lore to fit its own story agenda. As nice as it is to see Michael Biehn reprise his role as Hicks, it makes no sense that, apparently he is alive, and the body found on the prison planet in A3 is not him; the explanation to this is more of a copout then a simple answer: “That’s another, longer story...” Yup, that’s all we get.
You feel no connection towards the main characters as they are written with the word shallow at the forefront of their place in the narrative. They sound like your typical COD grunts whaling modus operandi marine chants, while revisiting all the set pieces from the first two films. Conspiracies and twists make up for the bulk of the story’s plot and carry no substantial continuity to Alien, Aliens or Alien 3 for that matter. I’m not sure which is worse: Alien Resurrection, Prometheus or the entire AVP franchise. Either way ACM joins the lot of outcasts without any disputable evidence.
Normally a title’s narrative can fall to the saving grace of design or more so, gameplay, however ACM opted to crop up more FAILiens for the sake of no one. Your motion tracker would serve as a handy device to help locate the elusive Xenomorphs, but the scripts and triggers are coupled with the motion tracker blip sound (yes the one from the film) every time you enter a room with enemies. In other words, this mechanic falls well short of having any true purpose. I used it less than 3 times throughout the entire campaign. All you have to do is listen for the blip and wait for enemies to come to you. You can toggle this option off, but this negates having the prop in the first place.
The questionable design choices to weapons left a bad taste in my mouth. The first solid armament you get is the iconic pulse rifle and rightfully so. It even has the same firing sound from the movie. However, in the very first mission it gets traded when you find the first Legendary Weapon, Hick’s “close encounters” shotgun. Some four missions later I was able to get a pulse rifle again - meaning, you can’t find any in between because enemy (human) weapons disappear when killed and in other cases are just a render for aesthetics - only it was Hudson’s Legendary Weapon, which apparently was incompatible with regular pulse rifle ammo. That’s right, the pulse rifle ammo I picked up between mission 1 and 5 did not work with the EXACT SAME gun. I had to wait until enemies dropped Legendary ammo, which didn’t happen for a couple missions, forcing me to once again resort to using Hick’s shotgun and the default shotty, when Hudson’s rifle exhausted the one clip you get to start with.
Moving on to the AI travails. Aliens can crawl up walls and ceilings, but always run or lunge directly at you, keeping the action as flat as paper. So yes, all you have to do is wait for this animation to finish and you can line up your shot. But the Xenos aren't the only AI that suffer from poor programming. The Weyland mercs also share this moronic trait. Sure, they can drop to cover, however, there were dozens of times where I positioned myself at an angle only to have them drop in cover, kitty corner from me, with their backs exposed to me. Shoot one, then another comes to sit in the very same spot. Easy kills, on “Ultimate Badass” difficulty, the highest setting available.
Boss battles were equally disappointing. Remember the “crusher” (cause that name screams originality, right?) from the demo last year? Yea, you fight it in a large area for running and dodging, however its attack pattern was so predictable/manageable that it allowed me sit in front of him, like a matador, while he gave a charge cue for me to strafe and lay bullets into his backside. Wash, rinse, repeat, right? Wrong, in addition to the Crusher’s lackluster challenge, the AI troubles plagued this foe too; during my first and only fight with it, the beast lunged at me and literally froze in mid air, somehow stuck on an invisible wall. All I had to do was sit there and shoot him for the remainder of the fight. Done deal.
Other critics cited the zombie Xenos missions as a stand out piece, however, all I had to do was crouch walk through the level, unarmed, making it to my checkpoint unscathed and uninspired with the rather cinchy level and wonky animation.
Cooperative AI suffers from dodgy development too. Not only are they invincible, which provides no opportunity for the player to garner a sense of care or urgency during transitions where they request you to cover them while hacking a door, but they do not pack the same punch as your arsenal, which is one in the same. It takes them 3 times as many bullets to put down one Xeno. Many times I would let them take the lead into trifecta engagements with Xenos, mercs and marines. Why? Because the AI is smart enough to kill each other off, but cannot do anything to my AI comrades because they can’t die. As for my position, they were too stupid to recognize me standing in the background observing this unfold. In other instances, I could sprint through whole portions, reach a checkpoint to turn around find maybe one or two enemies from the dozen or more that spawned to attack during my dash. I couldn’t wait to reach the end game.
Multiplayer fairs a bit better, maybe that’s because you’re playing against humans, but is far from a saving grace. Marines feel overpowered with immense range, while Xenos are agile, relying on stealth and melee attacks, save for the spitter who can spew acid. Either way, unless the marine is an utter noob, most of the time, I found myself wasting Xeno players with ease, and struggling to kill visa versa. Maybe it’s me, but I can maneuver/kill just fine in Natural Selection 2, which also houses this asymmetrical gameplay.
You can forget about atmosphere, dynamic lighting, clever use of shadows and smooth textures because you won’t find it here. The only stage I found pleasing to the eye was Hadley’s Hope; mainly because it’s rich with the same debris and decrepit detail seen in the film and I loved the nostalgia of being able to traverse it through an interactive experience, then of course, the game spoke and the rest is history.
Tension is lost in the washed out lighting, character models look bland, textures pop in and out, while the music becomes redundant within the first couple of missions and never really expands beyond a shell of what the film score accomplished.
Whatever hope you had for ACM went out the window with any sense of logic to the Aliens universe. The single player campaign is thankfully short, however the multiplayer doesn’t have enough hook to merit any long standing gaming fun. Bottom line: Save your money and go watch the film, you’ll feel a whole lot better than if you were to devote some hours into this squandered mess of a game.
Final Score: 2.0