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Xbox 360 Review: Aliens: Colonial Marines

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Corporal Christopher Winter is in a bad place. Escaping from the webbing that restrained him, he splashes into the sewers weaponless, Xenomorphs all around. Here in their underground territory, they are blind. Winter needs to slog silently, because despite their lack of vision, their precision hearing causes a bum rush of suicidal aliens. In all of Aliens: Colonial Marines, this is the one sequence that captures the fear, power, and tenacity of the species.

Otherwise, they are just plain dumb.

Actually, the majority of Colonial Marines is dumb. FOX supposedly signed off on this narrative without so much as glancing at it, leaving gaping plot holes in the title’s relationship to James Cameron’s feature film.  After six years in development, someone should have found the time to patch this script.

As the supposed, unconfirmed truth slinks out a few days after release, Gearbox is unwilling to take the full blame. They’ve chosen to point fingers at TimeGate (capable devs of Section 8) who were responsible for spitting out the single player campaign while Gearbox toiled away at Borderlands.

What is left is a game that feels six years old, if not vintage. It is odd that shooting down the sights of a weapon feels powerless. Going from the hip, shoot the gun and the resulting flash adds some punch and impact. Imagine that halfway through development of this run-n-gun style gameplay, someone liked Call of Duty so they tweaked Aliens to retrofit the sights. Colonial Marines becomes about perspective, not gunplay.

Between the abysmal animation in the cinematics which–no kidding whatsoever–is bested by the introduction in Alien Trilogy on the PlayStation (Sega Saturn too), and remarkably flat lighting, Sega never should have let this one slip to market. This is meant to capitalize on investments, nothing more, all at the sake of the consumer.

Before dropping to LV-426, players rush to a rescue beacon on the Sulaco, a ship with an impossible number of computer gadgets strewn about its distressed hull. They fill space to hide the corridor-driven level design, because otherwise, the rather direct style would become immediately apparent.

But, maybe that is suited to Aliens. You cannot escape, and knowing Xenomorphs, they are capable, multi-directional killers. With them around, no hallways are safe… in the properly designed environment. What we have here are alien creatures that run forward screeching without much of a plan. Many of them attempt to walk along the rafters in an attempt to take down an invincible AI partner. Lucky for those Xenomorphs, the AI for the human side is just as doltish. Between getting stuck in doors, firing at walls, or looking the wrong direction, the friendly AI take up as much space–and are just as useful–as the strewn computers.

Beyond that, Aliens defies licensing logic in a desperate bid for variety. Weyland-Yutani forces, members of the universe’s despicable corporation, barge in. Suddenly, the sloppy, unweighted shooting mechanics are not only festering at the hands of creatures, but targets that shoot back. In less than a minute, Colonial Marines shifts from a ship undergoing an alien metamorphosis to one that becomes a human battleground, no Xenomorphs in sight.

Desperation calls for the game to ramp up its action, bringing in the overly foreshadowed power loader for a brief battle with a scarred, irregularly large Xeno. That sequence is a mess of small space, clumsy polygons clashing, and messy first person melee slapping that still cannot match the level of coolness it is shooting for. And, when the inevitable alien queen makes an appearance, her death is as obvious as you would expect.

Marketing makes it clear this is a sequel to the James Cameron film–an official one too–so the reintroduction of a previously dead film character late in the game who serves no narrative purpose is impossibly frustrating. Logic gaps are huge elsewhere, with soldiers befuddled by the creatures, then naming them minutes later, only to be shocked when they show up again. The whole thing is on unstable, holy ground it does not understand.

Toss in multiplayer because marketing said so, and Aliens only continues to spiral out of quality control. Part of the multiplayer play does succeed, and that is the concept (and only the concept) of aliens vs. Marines. In execution, aliens are fodder despite various types and the ability to level up (because all Xenomorphs are born with dreams of being equipped with new powers). Cranky, inconsistent collision means a lack of consistency that is desperately needed for a level playing field, and climbing on the walls only serves disorients. Marines have guns, aliens have claws. That is what it boils down to.

In 1990, Konami released Aliens: The Arcade Game. Players took control of a sprite-based Sigourney Weaver who proceed to blow the hell out of an absurd number of Xenomorphs with outrageously designed weapons. Colonial Marines sort of has the same idea, only it throws it away. The game seems unwilling to decide if it is meant to be a blast-a-thon or serious horror affair with deep, black corridors. Either way, with tweaks designed to fix either side of the Aliens coin, this is a six year developmental failure. After those six years, it was a mere six hours before launch when someone destroyed it on the internet with a single, soon to be infamous, gif. What a shame.

Aliens: Colonial Marines is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language . This game can also be found on: PS3, PC

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.