How do you attempt to address the overwhelming number of problems that plague Aliens: Colonial Marines? Problems that include low res textures, appalling dialogue, broken AI, and linear and underwhelming gameplay? One might suggest the only way to be sure would be to nuke the entire game from orbit, but Gearbox refuse to admit defeat (or accept blame) for 2013’s biggest gaming faux pas to date, and have issued patches in an attempt to salvage the situation. Today we’re looking at one of the patches for the PC version, which weighs in at an impressive four gigs and promises to make the game easier on the eye and, indeed, easier to play. So, can an update of even that magnitude really improve a game whose dialogue includes “chicks and dicks” and “I’ll shit in my breakfast”? There’s only one way to find out...
The short answer, I’m afraid, is no. Aliens: Colonial Marines is still, and will most likely always remain, shit. Set after the events of Alien 3, Aliens: Colonial Marines places gamers in the role of a United States Colonial Marine, Cpl. Christopher Winter, tasked with investigating the disappearance of the previous platoon. Described as a true sequel to Aliens, the first familiar location you’ll explore is the interior of the Sulaco, which, for reasons that are never explained, has mysteriously appeared once again in orbit over LV426. Once the brief and underdeveloped opening ends, we’re immediately placed into generic first-person shooter territory, with absolutely nothing to set it apart from the competition (even the motion tracker proves to be purely an aesthetic addition and servers no practical purpose). While visuals don’t necessarily make a game, even post-patch and on maximum settings the graphics here are outdated, bland and low resolution. Something, should you decide to see the game through, you’re just going to have to embrace.
We can forgive bad lighting, textures and so forth, should the experience be an entertaining one. Sadly, Aliens: Colonial Marines actively works against itself to continually break immersion and remind you that you are playing a badly designed, poorly coded video game. If it’s not the offensively bad dialogue, the clunky story (the fact that Hicks is alive and well is ‘explained’ with the line “that’s another story”) we’ve seen hundreds of times before, or the broken enemy and NPC AI, it will be the game-breaking bug that finally tips you over the edge. The patch promises to address “AI” issues (we recommend you check out YouTube for examples), so, with this in mind and following complaints that the game was too easy, we chose to play the game on hardened. In fairness, completing the campaign was extremely tough (and consistently frustrating), but this was mostly due to the game’s flawed hit detection. Enemies (both Alien and human) display nothing more than the standard henchman scripts from games gone by, but are somehow able to employ a cunning technique which allows them to attack (and more often than not kill) us, despite the fact that we are behind cover and out of sight. Add to this a save system which happily asks you to play large chunks of the level over and over in order to progress, and the aforementioned entertainment factor is the only victim of these Xenomorphs.
The most disappointing aspect of Aliens: Colonial Marines is the game’s best moments. Every once in a while things come together beautifully and we get a glimpse of what could have been. Midway through the campaign, Winter is stripped of all weaponry and dropped in a sewer system crawling with Aliens, marking the first time frustration truly turns to tension. Here, without the ability to simply point and shoot, the Aliens become the threat they deserve to be. For this brief section, Aliens: Colonial Marines delivers the goods, showing that at least on some level the developers (pick any of the many involved) actually understood the source material. Unfortunately, these circumstances are too few and far between to recommend a play-through, and simply serve as a cruel reminder of what we were promised for all those years.
The game’s only saving grace is its multiplayer function, which is varied and enjoyable, and provides the action, tension and excitement missing from the rest of the campaign. When the Aliens are controlled by intelligent adversaries, you start to believe you’re playing an Aliens adaptation rather than a flawed and outdated first-person shooter. It would have been foolish for us to expect post-release patches to dramatically improve this train wreck of a game, but, like many fans out there, we really wanted them to. Gearbox’s convoluted history with this IP, and the still-unconfirmed circumstances that led to such a shoddy release, have left the property dead in the water. Single player DLC, which we imagine will be developed exclusively in-house, is planned, but we’re not sure we can muster the interest anymore. Aliens is a franchise perfectly suited to video game adaptation, and has been comprehensively ruined. This is one pissed off gamer, signing off.