To say that I've been a fan of the Alien movies is somewhat of an understatement. Aside from the lackluster Alien Resurrection, I love everything those movies have to offer. Ridley Scott's Alien was an experiment in tension and fear; James Cameron's follow-up, Aliens, was an action-based sci-fi adventure; even David Fincher's (Director's Cut only please) Alien 3 was an enjoyable experience. After hearing that Gearbox Software, hot on the heals of the successful Borderlands 2, was set to release Aliens: Colonial Marines after one of the longest development cycles known to man, I was extremely excited . . . maybe too much for my own good.
Leading up to its February 2013 release, fans of the series were provided with countless videos, screen shots, and interviews from the developers. Up until the day I finally got my hands on this "direct sequel" to the Aliens movie, all looked extremely promising. It was to be a first person shooter - set weeks after the concluding events of Cameron's film - provide for up to a four player co-op campaign, and add in the option for a robust multiplayer experience. Everyone who saw footage of this game at E3 the previous year couldn't help but rave about it. This was finally gonna be the game Alien fans have been waiting years for. What we got couldn't have been further from the truth.
Upon first starting the single player campaign I immediately realized that it was lacking the polish that was demonstrated several months earlier. Interesting, I thought. Normally when videogames are seen early in their development cycle they are interpreted as a work in progress, with months left to give it the attention and detail it usually needs. Somehow, somewhere along the way, we entered bizarro world, where the opposite is the norm. Instead of visuals that represent a game at the end of a console generation (i.e. mind-blowingly awesome) Gearbox Software delivered what I consider to be an average title from the PlayStation 2; bland and uninspiring hardly come close to describing the final version of Colonial Marines.
I can live with sub-par visuals in a current generation videogame. If the developers saw fit to focus more on the game's experience - the story and the controls - rather than spend valuable resources on making it look pretty, so be it. Unfortunately, that simply was not the case. Aliens: Colonial Marines was just a sorry excuse of a video game and was an even bigger disappointment for those die hard fans of the series.
The story, if you can call it that, was laughable at best. I'm actually shocked that Twentieth Century Fox allowed this game to exist as a part of the canon. Not to give away any spoilers, but the writers for Colonial Marines saw fit, in all their wisdom of the series franchise, to end the game in a way that alters what I always thought to be a mostly solid story - from start to finish. That, in and of itself, is unforgivable and enough to turn away fans of the franchise. As your typical space marine, you are sent in to investigate the final distress call from Corporal Hicks from the ending of Aliens. As one might expect, things don't go as planned and you and your fellow Colonial Marines find themselves in one desperate situation after another as they look for a way to leave behind planet LV-426 and the zenomorph infestation. Not a bad premise for a videogame, but each alien encounter felt more like a nuisance (like swatting at a bothersome fly) rather than what it should have been - a constant struggle for survival.
As much bad as there was about Aliens: Colonial Marines there was still some positives about the game . . . just not enough to save it from its inevitable poor reception. Where the visuals and story fell well short of acceptable levels, the sound effects and musical score helped ease the pain of playing this game. This speaks more to having fond memories of the Alien's hiss and screech, the power of the pulse rifle, and the engaging blip-blip-blip of the iconic motion tracker. In addition, much of the music that accompanied the game was direct from James Horner's epic score. It was the sound, and sound effects, that helped me to look past the other shortcomings of this game; but even that only lasted for so long. After the first hour or two it was clear that man (aka, gamer) cannot live on sound alone.
Maybe I'm letting my inner Alien fanboy get the better of me as I continue to look for excuses that help me to digest this game. As bad as the visuals, story, and overall experience was, I was still searching for reasons to accept Aliens: Colonial Marines . . . until I recall the unending stream of glitches that came with this full $60 retail game. Bugs - and I'm not referring to zenomorphs here - were in abundance and broke an already damaged game. Doors had trouble opening, weapon load outs wouldn't always function, audio consistently dropped out, the list goes on and on and on. Probably my favorite (and recurring) defect was watching Aliens approach me, drop through the floor (while the tips of their tails still poked through), and then reappear directly in front of me - clawing, spitting, and biting with no longer a chance to defend myself. This was a level of "fun and excitement" I had not experienced in many years.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is not a game for the faint of heart. It may have been developed with the best of intentions, but good intentions will only get you so far. Although the high number of easter eggs throughout the game - dog tags of fallen Marines, Hadley's Hope in disarray, Newt's doll head floating in the sewers - was somewhat of a treat, it wouldn't be enough to satisfy and please those super-fans that were the most excited about this game's release.
Although there is a multiplayer component to Aliens: Colonial Marines, my single player experience has left enough of a bad taste in my mouth to prohibit me from ever considering placing this game back into my PlayStation 3. I have yet to hear anything to suggest that the multiplayer is the game's saving grace. As I am mostly disinterested in multiplayer games to begin with it's a safe bet that I have completed the game as much as I ever intend to.
Randy Pitchford and Gearbox Software should be ashamed of themselves. For months leading up to this game's release they provided their fans with images, videos, and discussions that were misleading. I've heard references to this game being a classic "bait-and-switch" and, in all honesty, that's a fairly legitimate description. Borderlands may be the developer's claim to fame, but it'll take nothing short of a miracle for me to trust this studio again or have any interest in giving them my hard-earned money. Had I been playing this game in space you most surely would have heard me scream.