The advantages of doing a proper console game based on the 1987 film “Aliens” are numerous and significant. You’ve got a beloved film franchise that has influenced first person shooters and other genres of video games more than we can fully appreciate. The sense of relentless enemies absorbing dozens of bullets before falling at the player’s feet is a big part of Halo’s appeal as a franchise and that can trace its roots directly to James Cameron’s classic. So the idea that that movie is getting the modern console treatment and in a way reclaiming its essence and projecting it fully into a proper Aliens-themed video game was very exciting when Aliens: Colonial Marines first surfaced years ago. All of the sound effects, voice acting from the original actors who played Hicks and Bishop (Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen) and authentic weapon, vehicle and environmental design from Cameron himself should’ve made for one hell of an advantage. Unfortunately, Aliens: Colonial Marines squandered these advantages and buile-in good will on a substandard performance. Like one of Magic Johnson’s failed returns to the Lakers in the mid-1990s, something that seems so right might have been better left as an idea only. The NBA moved on in different directions and so did shooter video games.
It starts with the movement of the xenomorphs; you call them “aliens.” They look like enemies from a version of Doom with darker environments. That is, they have no fluidity to their motion and appear to “pop” from “skip” from one position and location in a room or hallway to another. There’s no convincing locomotion getting them from one place another and certainly nothing like what we saw in the movies where the aliens seem to smoothly crawl around with speed. This is a first person shooter so what you’re seeing as you look down your sights in to the environment is extremely important. The way enemies move and distract in Halo 4 or how human-controlled opponents in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 are a major part of the appeal of those games. How tough it is to train your sights, anticipate movements and time your trigger pulls is where an FPS wins or loses. Aliens: Colonial Marines feels excessively clunky because of this and the entire premise is undermined. Whether you’re using advanced weapons like flamethrowers against specialized aliens, the movement of those enemies never feels right and so shooting them feels “unrealistic.” The movie did an excellent job of transporting us to a place and time with amazing production design, sound effects and characters. This game betrays all of that by giving you control of an ugly system that feels more like a 3D Space Invaders with enemies stuttering and hopping at you than a 2013 first person shooter on PS3 or Xbox 360.
The story and sound effects and even the environments, to a certain extent, are all strong. You’re part of the crew that first comes into contact with the deep space explorer Sulaco some time after the events of “Aliens” and before the events of “Alien 3” where we know Ripley is still alive but with an alien gestating inside of her. Similarly the upgrade system and additional competitive and co-operative modes just aren’t appreciated because tracking and shooting anything in the game is so uncomfortable. Tremendous promise that just falls apart once you take control of things because being in control feels awkward and uncomfortable. Disappointing.
You should totally get Aliens: Colonial Marines if: you absolutely have to have every piece of “Aliens” content out there; if you just want to hear Hicks and Bishop’s voices again in an “Aliens” context; you love the sound effects of the movie and have to have them again or if you’ve been hankering for a first person shooter that plays like Space Invaders, Gorf and/or Galaxian.
You should not get Aliens: Colonial Marines if: you value your time; you had high expectations for an “Aliens” themed video game on a modern console or if you are still playing any of the shooters released in November or December 2012.
Star rating (out of four): One Star