Sunday, 3 March 2013

I've Got a Bad Feeling About This Drop

Aliens: Colonial Marines. Right, where do we start? 1979?
You know about the films and you know there have been a handful of decent games made off the back of them, but none of these games have fully lived up to our expectations. We had no reason to believe any of them ever would, until this glimmer of hope shone through the darkness in 2006………
Oh my. This is it, we thought. Finally. All we’ve ever wanted was to be a Colonial Marine playing out James Cameron’s Aliens. It doesn’t matter which previous game you can think of in the Aliens franchise, they all aspired to be just that. Whether it was Aliens vs Predator on the PC, Alien 3 for the Megadrive or Alien: Resurrection on the PS1, all of them tried to replicate the second film in some way and all of them fell short. But this, this had promise.
After all, with the technology we now have, how hard could it be to make an Aliens game? All you need is right there on the screen.
With the possible exception of Death Race, I can’t think of a film more suited to a videogame adaptation than Aliens. You have a cast of characters, a squad mechanic, great locations, atmosphere, the monsters and an almighty boss battle.
So what the hell happened?
After that initial reveal, it all went quiet on Colonial Marines. It would be six long years before it emerged again, but it arrived on a wave of big words from developer Gearbox. It was their baby, their labour of love and this game was so true to the franchise that it was proclaimed as official canon by Fox and the true sequel to Aliens. Despite shitting out the worst game ever made in Duke Nukem Forever, Gearbox had our attention and our trust and what they were showing us pointed to a brilliant game ahead.
We approached the release. Where were the reviews? It became evident that a review embargo was in place. With publishers trying to maximise week one sales by getting the games magazines to sign non-disclosure agreements, embargoes are rarely good news and show a lack of confidence in their own product. 
Sure enough, when the release day came, the reviews landed and they were hard to read:
Edge called it "a familiar mismanagement of a rich and potent set of ideas and images," while OXM described it as a "superficially faithful clone with little of the films' spirit inside."
And of course, Hitler had something to say about it too.
Despite the Fuhrer, I decided to make up my own mind and handed over my money with trembling hands.
The game starts well enough with all the right sounds and titles and these sound effects continue throughout the game – the horrifying blip of the motion tracker, the hiss of the aliens and of course the deep, raw sound of the pulse rifle – all are present and correct. Even Lance Henrickson has lent his voice.
Other highlights are the first few sections as you are still expecting a true Aliens experience. You are creeping through the darkness, the tension mounting. Finding locations and little nods from the first two films will also cause a few stirs of emotion from you.
Voice synching with the marines’ lips is terrible, the AI is seriously flawed and full of bugs – marines suddenly spawn in front of you when you run ahead and you can shoot and walk right through each other.
The textures are awful and the whole game, while not quite last gen graphics, is pretty damn close to it.
I know the game is supposed to be action packed, but there are just far too many aliens and facing them quickly loses its impact.
And the story, while adequate, ends with the hope of a sequel that we’ll never see and also (and I won’t give away how), it gives an almighty "fuck you" to Alien 3’s opening.
Having said all that, I did find myself reasonably entertained. I think I had more fun than I did with Black Ops II’s campaign, I was never as frustrated as when playing Kane and Lynch and it isn’t as bad as Duke Nukem Forever. Nevertheless, even if you’re the kind of person who can justify the price for 6 – 8 hours of reasonable entertainment, there are still a lot more games you’d be better off with. The multiplayer is awful and you’d never choose it over Halo or Battlefield and even though there is fun to be had in split screen or 4 player co-op, this will be more down to your friends than the game.
But the main reason I can’t in good conscience recommend this game has a lot to do with this:
We were lied to. Gearbox rolled us one up. They had us believe the game was better than it was and if Sega have anything about them, they will do something to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
But I haven’t told you the worst part.
The worst part of Aliens: Colonial Marines - and this is the game’s greatest crime of all……..The Xenomorph are not scary.
Sure there are a few bits in this game that will make you jump and there’s the blind-firing panic you get into when you’re caught in the open or one has worked its way behind you in a corridor, but ultimately this game becomes a firing range. You step boldly into rooms where you should be edging your way in, checking those corners. You run, gung-ho through levels when you should be hunkered down, preying your motion sensor doesn’t beep.
These are not H.R. Geiger’s ferocious creatures that have haunted our dreams since 1979. They are far from the perfect organism with a structural perfection matched only by their hostility. They are dumb, limp AI with no direction or grace, flailing headlong at your gun barrel. They are mere cardboard cutouts of cinema’s most beautifully terrible creation.
Game over, man.

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