On an express elevator to otherworldly awesomeness
Most game developers are problem-solvers by nature, and few dilemmas vex them more than the challenge of building a great videogame based on a licensed franchise. So, when Sega announced in 2006 that they’d tapped the crew at Gearbox Software—creators of the beloved Borderlands titles—to take a stab at the Alien universe, it gave gamers and Xeno fans alike a reason to hope.
More than six years later, Aliens: Colonial Marines has finally arrived, allowing us to see whether the gang from Plano, Texas, could take one of gaming’s most-aped intellectual properties and deliver an experience that does the feature films justice.
The first hurdle in this herculean task was to satisfy the Alien fanbase. Colonial Marines is billed as an official piece of series canon, and I’m happy to report that Gearbox has crafted a world that more than lives up to the hype; it’s dripping with fan service in the form of constant reference, re-creation, and respect for the source material that’s easily the best gaming representation of the franchise to date.
You’ll visit familiar places, make use of all the equipment you’d expect, see a few old friends, and square off with a whole mess of uglies you might recall from childhood nightmares. I won’t spoil too much here in terms of story, but suffice it to say that if you’ve ever watched an Alien film and gone “That was f***ing rad!” chances are you’ll get an opportunity to experience the epicness at some point in the campaign.
Of course, staying true to the source wasn’t the only potential stumbling block; all those front-loading, flame-throwing moments needed to be fun, too. And, for the most part, Gearbox knocked it out like a cranky Queen on the wrong side of an airlock. From gunplay to co-op-friendly design, the core mechanics are largely spot-on, but more importantly, the various objectives do an incredible job of mixing it up. You’ll run-and-gun, make daring stands against waves of Xenomorphs, rescue your fellow Marines, find yourself forced to run away like a little weenie, and much more. While the action falls a bit short of the blend of first-person shooter and survival-horror I was hoping for, it’s all fairly well paced—thanks largely to some excellent level design and solid alien AI.
The visuals are subpar in places, but the overall aesthetic makes creeping through the shadowy, blood-soaked wreckage with a group of Marines a real nail-biter. While the core Soldier Xenos should probably figure out that ramming bullets with their face isn’t the best strategy, Gearbox’s other baddies offer up a great deal of variety. This sets up some dreadful moments of anticipation, fearsome firefights, and even a few harrowing escapes, making Colonial Marines’ campaign an intense experience that’s sure to appeal to franchise buffs and shooter fans alike. Sure, you’ve got some definite dents in the hull here—such as the occasionally oblivious squadmate AI, the training-wheel cover system, and the woefully heinous cinematics—but the hits far outweigh the misfires.
The main show offers a 4-player co-op experience that’s a significant step forward from the storytelling in Borderlands—which, in my book, makes it a pretty big event for the genre as a whole. Add to this the significant multiplayer offerings—and their delivery of Marines-versus-Xeno deathmatch and objective-based modes that populate co-op-style missions with player-controlled enemies—and you’re looking at a genuinely impressive outing.
All things considered, Colonial Marines is a consistently solid, occasionally spectacular shooter that does more than enough to honor the Alien name. It was going to be a tough task from the onset, but despite a ton of potential pitfalls for the talented team at Gearbox, they’ve gone a long way toward reminding us that, for folks who love the craft of building great games, the best challenges only seem impossible.
SUMMARY: Like most successful license-based games, Aliens: Colonial Marines is much more than a loving homage; it serves as one of the most robust story-driven co-op experiences to date. The concept definitely has room to grow, but as maiden voyages go, Colonial Marines is a clear winner.
- THE GOOD: A modern Alien game that does much more than avoid being total crap.
- THE BAD: AI teammates that seem to forget the alien menace must be obliterated
- THE UGLY: The cutscenes. Love-ya-mean-it, guys, but next time, can ya get Halo 4’s CG squad?
Aliens: Colonial Marines is available on Xbox 360, PS3, PC, and Wii U. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.