A Top Contender for Worst Game of 2013
HIGH The first mission manages to capture some of the magic of Cameron's film.
LOW Trying to unhook fuel lines while Xenomorphs kill me during the animation and my squadmates stand there watching.
WTF An enemy merc shot me dead from around a corner and behind a steel crate. JFK's magic bullet lives…
When it comes to using 27-year-old films as the basis for a video game, there are no choices better than Aliens. James Cameron's follow-up to Ridley Scott's haunted-house-in-space masterpiece is a movie that already resembled a video game a quarter of a century before we knew what modern games would look like. It's arguably the most perfect inspiration for a first-person shooter ever, and it's no exaggeration to say that the influence of Cameron's film in a truckload of modern shooters—from Doom to Dead Space—is easy to see.
That the film is such a beloved piece of sci-fi action cinema makes it even more insulting to see how Gearbox has treated the source material in Aliens: Colonial Marines. What should have been a beautiful and loving homage to one of the best science fiction films of the past fifty years is instead a soulless and broken experience that's already marked itself as the early front-runner in the race for "Worst Game of 2013."
Colonial Marines starts out well enough, placing players in the shoes of a Colonial Marine named Winter as he and a new band of soldiers try to find out what happened to the ill-fated crew of the Sulaco. This means players will get to explore all of their favorite locations and set-pieces from Cameron's film as they battle the Xenomorph menace. Unfortunately, once the game moves past the fan-service, there's nothing else to see aside from horribly broken artificial intelligence (AI), graphics that are embarrassing by modern standards, and game mechanics that felt stale fifteen years ago.
It becomes obvious in the first hour of gameplay that Colonial Marines is trying to coast on nostalgia and a love of the source material. The "oh, look, that's the lower half of Bishop's torso!" moments come fast and furious, but as a piece of Alien series canon, this new tale is every bit as disappointing as the technical aspects of the title. The revisionist history on display here is sure to anger anyone who liked Fincher's divisive Alien 3, as it brings back a character left for dead—and that's not even its worst sin. The reason no one but fan-fiction authors try to bridge the gap between Aliens and Alien 3 is because there's nothing really to bridge.
For as big a letdown as Colonial Marines's story is, it looks like a work of genius when compared to the gameplay.
I'm not going to get into all the controversy about how much of this game Gearbox farmed out to other developers, but anyone going into this expecting a title on par with the studio's Borderlands games is bound to be severely underwhelmed. It doesn't matter who programmed and designed which parts of this experience, because they're all terrible. To paraphrase a Marine from a different film, "it's a huge shit sandwich, and you're all gonna have to take a bite."
Anyone unlucky enough to actually play through the whole game will be having an eleven course meal comprised of said sandwich, and picking the most awful problem in Colonial Marines is lot like being forced to choose whether you'd like to be afflicted with cancer, leprosy, or syphillis. No matter which is chosen, suffering ensues.
Cameron's film benefitted greatly from Adrian Biddle's cinematography and Crispian Sallis's set design. Colonial Marines tries to ape the visual style crafted by these skilled artisans, but results are sort of like looking at a crayon drawing of the Cistine Chapel. Colonial Marines is decidedly low rent in the graphics and animation department, where character models look waxy and unconvincing, environments are dull and uninspired, and the textures pop in right before the player's eyes. This is to say nothing of the star attraction—the Xenomorphs themselves. These poor creatures, portrayed on film as one of the most devastatingly ruthless killers in the galaxy, move in such a cheesy way that gamers will find themselves laughing at them more often than screaming.
There will be screaming, though—Colonial Marines is a frustrating experience from a gameplay perspective, which means anyone jumping in will have to get used to a multitude of cheap deaths. The game isn't quite broken, but there are sections that are close to unplayable because of poor design and various glitches.
One great example involves a segment where Winter must unhook three fuel lines from a spacecraft while his squadmates fight off a Xenomorph assault. The teammates are there to provide fire and keep the Xenomorphs busy while the player unhooks the fuel lines (which involves a mini-cutscene of sorts), but the game allows the acid-spewing spitter Xenomorphs to hit Winter while he's in the animation. Even better, when he finishes, the Xenomorphs stand on the steps behind him and kill him before the player regains control. I spent the better part of an hour trying to get through this segment—and finally the game just relented and let me advance.
The design is bad enough, but the problems are compounded by the astonishingly stupid AI Winter's partner O'Neal spends the bulk of the game shooting harmlessly at environmental objects that enemies were hiding behind. I watched this guy pump a thousand rounds into a metal container without ever hitting anything. Of course, this is still an improvement over a segment where he simply stood in the corner of a room doing nothing while I was overrun by a horde of slavering monsters. That happened several times.
In a move that feels almost as if it were designed to balance the terrible partner AI, Colonial Marines also features a variety of stupid enemies. I'd often open a door only to find a Xenomorph or a Weyland-Yutani merc just standing there while I pumped repeated shotgun shells into his face.
Speaking of Weyland-Yutani mercs, it's disappointing that I spent almost as much time fighting these weird human soldiers as I do the Xenomorphs. Gearbox and their partners designed a variety of Xenomorphs for the game, but I still wound up killing a battalion's worth of humans. Why would you put a bunch of generic human enemies in an Alien game? Like so many other things in Colonial Marines, it just doesn't make sense.
Gearbox has certainly burned through some gamer goodwill with this mess of a release. Aliens: Colonial Marines is a fine example of what happens when a publisher delays a game for a long period of time and a developer outsources key parts of the experience to smaller, less skilled, studios. That Sega saw fit to actually put this title on store shelves for $60 is tantamount to committing a crime. Colonial Marines is an utter disaster that further tarnishes the franchise. Fans, Michael Biehn, and Lance Henriksen all deserved better than this. This game is an absolutely pathetic effort that deserves neither your time or money.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via rental and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately eight hours of play were devoted to single-player modes (completed one time) and zero hours of play in multiplayer modes.
A film critic by trade, specializing in Euro-horror, cult exploitation, and Asian action cinema, Mike has written reviews for a diverse group of print and online publications. He covers horror news, movies, books, and games at TheHorrorGeek.com and Horrorsquad.com and spent two seasons as The Horror Geek on Comedy Central's pop-culture game show, Beat the Geeks.
Mike's childhood was spent playing videogames any time he got a chance. His parents had a Pong console and his grandmother had an Atari 2600, where Mike cultivated his skills by playing hour upon hour of games like Space Invaders, Berserk, and Asteroids. From those early experiences Mike learned one thing: he loved games.
In 1999, Mike became a staff reviewer at Cinescape Magazine's website where he spent a year learning the craft of game criticism. After internal changes led to Mike leaving Cinescape in late 2000, he joined up with RPGFan in 2001 and spent several years writing reviews for them. Happy, but looking for an opportunity to expound on a wider variety of titles, Mike joined GameCritics.com and hopes to help Chi, Dale, and the rest of the GC staff bring a higher level of respect to the field of game criticism.