Monday, April 27, 2015

VGR Colonial Marines

That's it, man. Game over, man. Game over.

VGR: Aliens: Colonial Marines also known as simply Colonial Marines
From Gearbox Software/TimeGate Studios/Sega/20th Century Fox
Played on Xbox 360
Also available on PS3 & PC

Type FPS
Year 2013

Today let's have a look at the infamous Aliens: Colonial Marines game.

Colonial Marines was the third Aliens game produced by Sega following their partnership with 20th Century Fox, following Aliens vs. Predator in 2010 and the Aliens Infestation on the DS in 2011.  It was developed by supposedly veterans from the FPS genre, Gearbox Software. And took so many wrong turns before it's mixed arrival...

It took the game about a decade to be finally released following a lot of controversies which I won't delve upon here in the introduction. Let's just say Sega thought they were helping Gearbox finish polishing this long-awaited title but instead they ended up basically financing both Borderlands games (true story!).

The game was released for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC in 2013. A Wii U version was being worked alongside, but it was finally canceled late in development.

Believe it or not, the story was actually written by Battlestar Galactica writers Bradley Thompson and David Weddle. Which explains why there's so many hidden BSG references instead of them making sure the story was a proper Aliens tale in my eyes. (Just check any of the game's numerous keylocks!)

Aliens: Colonial Marines was named after the fan-favorite cult classic 1993 Dark Horse Comics series of the same name (kind of like the Predator: Concrete Jungle game was). The game began life as early as 2002. At that moment it was being developed by Check Six Games instead and was going to be published by Fox Interactive and Electronic Arts at the time, for PS2. Lots of early concept arts made it look like a glorified Alien Trilogy remake (which the final product still sort of reminds me of). The game's long troubled development is not that far off Duke Nukem Forever's (another Gearbox "game" no less), and that was never a good sign. It was set to be a much more traditional FPS, set between the events of Aliens and Alien 3 following a rescue team looking for the missing Sulaco. When Sega announced they acquired the rights to the license back in 2006, they were quick to reveal Gearbox was working on a new version of the same idea basically. The guys who made Opposing Force, what could go wrong? The game was announced to try to recapture the atmospheric look and feel of the original Alien films, they even recreated a lot of exteriors and interiors from the film in the first few screenshots of the game. But because of all the delays it ended up being released after the 2010 Aliens vs Predator game...

The story of the game is set as a direct sequel to James Cameron's Aliens, although it does take place after the events of the questionable Alien 3. The game basically retcons the events of the third film in the franchise while still keeping all films valid.

It all begins with a few new Colonial Marines arriving at the premise. You play through the eyes of a marine named Corporal Christopher Winter. This new ship the USS Sephora is sent to investigate what happened to the USS Sulaco (which wasn't completely destroyed as original thought in the film..?). What they thought being a simple search and rescue mission aboard the missing vessel finally takes them to LV-426, and through the famous ancient derelict ship from the original Alien film. They soon find themselves in a confrontation against Weyland-Yutani mercs trying to take over the locations of the films.

Winter's crew is looking for the missing marines. The crew is composed of Winter, Private Peter O'Neal, Private Bella Clarison and even a new familiar Bishop android (voiced once more by Lance Henriksen making him the most recurring actor in the franchise) and a few others.

They discover the cryotubes carrying Ripley, Hicks and Newt had been hijacked by Weyland-Yutani. Yes, the story doesn not make much sense, there are lots of twist and turns to alter the canon and find a reasonable excuse to bring Michael Biehn's character back). Just to surprise the player, without having put too much thought into making sense of anything really.

The story explains how WY intercepted Hicks and his body was swapped by accident by the Weyland-Yutani soldiers as the ship went down over Fury 161. They escaped too late only to witness Ripley's death in front of Michael Weyland in the third film. Hick was then tortured for information for ages...

These Colonial Marines are supposedly properly briefed on everything yet when they find this Bella clearly infected by a facehugger they never question her soar throat throughout the story...

The team at Gearbox also got the occasion to talk to Ridley Scott during the production of Prometheus, thankfully they didn't force a crossover with the film... All they did was put a couple of little easter egg allusions to the film (and apparently a war going on amongst the "Engineers").

Colonial Marines is said to now be part of the official canon Alien franchise by Fox, but I doubt they will ever mention the events of this game on screen to be honest. (Specially now with Neill Blomkamp working on his own continuation from Aliens onward.)

Aliens: Colonial Marines is a fairly standard first person shooter.

The weapons range from your usual iconic weapons from the films such as the pulse rifle, the smartgun or even the flamethrowers. You can even use a couple of sentries a few times, I didn't find them that useful since they don't appear to do much damage in my eyes.

They wanted to make a moody game, instead they went for your fairly typical straightforward linear game, with more action, where you basically go from one room to another cleaning waves and waves of enemies. The game begins setting up a nice mood at first, but then it devolves into something far more classic, nothing like the far better creepier AVP games.

You also have access to the iconic motion trackers, but to be frank it never really work in this game. Sometimes it indicate a single scripted Alien encounter while in the same room it fails to show any of the other countless aliens around. And sometimes you can check out the other marines around and their own motion trackers won't even show the same screen as the player's!

There's a few interesting segments that will break the routine like running off a monstrous boss while sealing off doors behind.

Some levels are very much squad-based. You don't exactly give them orders (as originally planned), instead the combat will rely on the AI-controlled allies.

The enemies are various, yet they get quite repetitive after a while. You end up facing a few new types of xenomorphs, like the ones carried over from the movies like the facehuggers, (Alien 1) drones and (Aliens) warriors, or even (Alien 3-inspired) runners. As well few new original xenos introduced in the game, sort of reminiscent of older Aliens game, probably base on past expanded universe comics and games. The new aliens count the likes of the "Lurkers", "Splitters" that do exactly what their name indicate, "Boilers" that are able to explode their acidic blood on you to defend the hive or also that huge "Crusher" Alien. There's also a long on-going fight against this boss "The Raven", probably the game's most iconic encounter.

But you actually mostly fight against other humans, these Weyland-Yutani mercenaries for most of the game. They can be really annoying as I found they pose much more of a threat than the typical xenos which are way too easy to dispatch. The Aliens will probably rarely kill you, if ever. While you might get stuck a few times in these firefights.

At the end of each stage (there are about 11 stages in this game) you will score points during the playthrough and you can use those to customize and upgrade stuff.

During development a lot more gimmicks and ideas were planned, but very little of what had been shown in trailers made it into the actual game.

Like making the experience a lot more cinematic. (And the actual ridiculous cutscenes certainly fail to do that.) They didn't any HUD with on screen info, instead we have this partially-regenerative health system and the usual pops up constantly at all times.

The game was released to so many controversies..

For one for all this long development and failed promises, we ended with such a glitchy game.

I can't believe this is such a recently released game, even the much older AVP3 game looks far superior and better in comparison.

Also most of the game appears to play itself, countless times, on automatic. Why can't we play or control those segments? The character's running in an exploding corridor? The game takes over (and yet still plays in first person!).

In a way, I see it as a sort of successor or remake of the other game in the franchise filled with missed opportunities, Alien Trilogy. It sounds just as stupid story-wise! It's not a particularly good looking game.

But the thing is, Gearbox just decided to put too much focus on their own creator-owned Borderlands titles, they even took money from this Alien game to their other projects. Which raised some issues between Sega and Gearbox. And the result shows - the game shipped half-finished and un-polished on many fronts. While most technical bugs would get fixed with patches over the following months, it still feels simply rushed. That controversy was so big Sega even took some legal actions against Gearbox! Can you believe it? They simply just didn't care about the product. Showed a couple of promising scripted CGi demos and put out a fairly basic game with none of the promised features. With barely decent looking visuals that make the earlier 2010 AVP looks so much better in comparison. It's just a rushed product, with a really bad job and a story that makes no sense at all.

Yet they certainly found the time to produce a few DLCs and even sell a season pass for the game!

The game has plenty of references for fans, mostly regarding Aliens' Hadley’s Hope colony but also Prometheus and even Spaceballs (The tap-dancing alien with the cane!!!).

There are some really good Alien-like segments, when the game makes you ditch all weapons and you are forced to hide from this old huge disfigured monstrous Alien, the Raven. But things quickly come crashing down as this entire segment ends up with you facing down the Raven in a sock 'em robot Power Loader boss that seems to last forever.  With poor controls and very little deedback on screen from what you're doing. Nothing like the perfect hand to hand combat in the likes of Chronicles of Riddick or Condemned. Which is a shame since it all started so good (I can see it as sort of the inspiration behind the following game, Alien: Isolation, only without the complex AI).

The final fight against the Alien Queen is also completely ridiculous and way too easy, it won't last you more than 2 minutes!

The human enemy AI is way too smart and always takes cover, forcing you to ambush them on by one, which takes hours! Meanwhile the friendly AI is completely stupid and never makes any progress without the player's help. It's a pretty strange AI that does whatever it wants to do, and never serves the action.

There's a lot of weapons of weapons (although to be honest not much variety, you basically have 2-3 shotguns and 2-3 rifles). It's not super-convenient to cycle through those weapons, and you basically end up only using two main guns the entire game.

There are way too many fights and the corridors are completely linear! It's not really that fun doing the same thing over and over again for such a long game! A few rare times make things interesting. But there's too many annoying QTEs. At least there's no escort mission, but we do get a few frustrating turrets moments. And the lazy cutscenes simply don't sell this story...

My main problem with the game is that the Aliens franchise is not Star Wars!! There shouldn't be space fights in Aliens, complete with scifi-ysh lasers! And sounds in space in a series that always went for more realistic silence in space ("In Space No One Can Hear You Scream", remember??). In fact the Alien films always carefully realistic in regards to space. And Colonial Marines are not military forces, but people that secure and deploy help in colonies, you know, like marines!

The humans overpower you way too easily and the Aliens never scare you.

No surprise there, the game was received to mostly negative reviews at the time, even the nostalgic factor couldn't save it from the bad press. In my eyes all the controversies surrounding the game kinda over shadowed the real issues with the game. Sure it looks really cheap and is clearly a decade-old looking product, but the way it all just feels so generic and pretty uninspired is the real issue here. Sure the game has poor graphics, animations and awful writing, but it does come almost close to reminding how decent the idea originally was a few times...

There's also a multiplayer element, which I didn't get to experience much since everyone already left it since the game's release. A nice enough drop-in co-op campaign and a few versus multiplayer matches. Either online or via split screen. The deathmatches modes are typical such as bug hunts where an alien team hunts the other players.

Finally most of the music was directly taken from James Horner's score from the second film, with additional music by Kevin Riepl. It's probably the game's sole redeeming factor.

Overall, Aliens: Colonial Marines us really bad. It has more or less the same issues everyone had with Duke Nukem Forever, which is not a surprise for such a long development. At the end of the day it all just feels really rushed and unimaginative. And it did took about as much time as DNF to arrive here! The game starts relatively decent, they even get the tone almost right in the first few segments. But it quickly dissolves into one huge generic action game, with plenty of annoying repetitive fights, nothing you haven't seen in all those other countless war games. And it doesn't help the game has to suffer pretty poor graphics, stupid non-playable characters, basic animations and just being a fairly glitchy game. The animation don't do the silly story any favors (the supposedly spectacular scenes end up pretty bad, like the dropship you see at the beginning of the game awkwardly descending into the cargo hold).

I honestly really wanted to like this game. I really tried. But I can't really recommend this game, Avoid It! A bad game. Gearbox was too busy on other games and just tossed this one aside. I expect only fanboys of the franchise and completionists like me going through this game. It's a shame, really, since it had some real potential at its heart which you get to glimpse here and there through the game.

I hadn't seen invisible walls in years! The game was a decent idea, but all of it was really badly implemented. The game looks dated. What did they even do all this past decade during the development?

All in all, despite all I'm saying it's not that awful. But all the shortcomings really show how Gearbox misleaded both Sega and the audience.

The PC version is probably the least crappy of them.

This game shows everything wrong in making an Alien game. Yet another mindless action FPS game, which make those brilliant little moments with the Raven really standout, even if those are just as linear for their own good. The only real way to take this series would be through a survival horror instead of another action game. Instead of narrow corridors and linear levels, they should have gone with a huge open ship to explore. Instead of all those firefights on so many open areas, a claustrophobic tone would have been preferable. Instead of relying on a huge armory that limit the strength of the Xenomorph, a limited weaponry using improvised weapons like in the first film would have worked better. And that is exactly the answer Sega came up with after this game. They scrapped an on-going MMORPG Alien game which wouldn't have been that great, let's be frank. And what followed was the brilliant Alien: Isolation game, with very little combat and relying entirely on stealth and a solo Alien encounter. But that is for another review...
I give it:
1 / 3 Quacks!

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