On paper Aliens: Colonial Marines is a brilliant idea. Take one of the best and most cherished action movies of all time, and make an official video game sequel of sorts. The player will be able to explore the iconic sets seen in the film, allowing both nostalgia and the potential for an even deeper understanding of the lore. This could have been a classic.
Sadly, reality is something entirely different. Development on Aliens: Colonial Marines has been difficult and prolonged. Originally Gearbox said the game would come out in 2009, but several delays followed. And as we sit down with the end product in 2013, it's with the feeling that publisher Sega finally put the foot down and said "let's just be done with and get it out the door". Nevermind if it's done.
As it stands Aliens: Colonial Marines fails to live up to any of the high expectations placed on the game. This is a miss both from a design perspective and on technical merits. It comes across as unfinished to such a degree you will find yourself wondering if you're playing a beta version and not the finished game.
There are tons of bugs and glitches. Characters that hover. Dead Xenomorphs left hanging in the air, seemingly breakdancing. Physics that at times suffers seizures. Squadmates that are magically teleported as you cross invisible markers. Scripted events that aren't always triggered. It's a mess.
The artificial intelligence is miserable. Your squadmates will at times look straight ahead at nothing with enemies coming right at them. I've seen mercenaries empty full clips into walls as their enemy was safely hiding on the other side of the wall. At other times the xenomorphs simply stop what they're doing mid-attack, which makes for some nice and relaxed target practice.
The constant existence of xenomorphs quickly remove any sense of shock or terror as you pick them off. They always come in packs, and you can quickly and efficiently eliminate them one by one each time. They seem more like zombies than the most evolved killing machines in the universe, even if they do climb along walls and ceilings. There is nothing special about killing them - it feels mundane, and they are nothing like the nightmare creatures you'll recall from the movies.
And they're not helped by the sketchy animation work that went into bringing them to life. As they rush up towards and climb up on their hindlegs to attack you they look more like a two-year old looking for a hug than an acid spewing murderer looking to punch through your skulle with its "inner mouth".
The visual issues aren't limited to poor animations. The face come across as made out of plastic and lifeless, and there are so many textures popping up that you'd think they're competing to see who arrives last. Each time you enter a new room or area we're reminded of the early days of Unreal Engine as we're faced with blurry textures and surfaces for a few seconds.
In fairness it should be said that the game improves further in. There is better pacing and there is more atmosphere, and there are places where we get to experience some of the iconic locations from James Cameron's Aliens. It is in these moments that we get to see a glimpse of the true potential Aliens: Colonial Marines holds.
But in the end these moments only serve to underline how disappointing the rest of the experience is. And even at its best Aliens: Colonial only achieves mediocricy. It's hard to fathom how this games comes from the very same studio that brought us both Borderlands titles. It seems obvious that Gearbox didn't bring their a-game as it fails to impress in any area. Let's hope that the folks over at The Creative Assembly are better equipped to bring out the best of this property.