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Is It Really That Bad: Aliens: Colonial Marines

February 13, 2013 | | Comments 0

Two games released within weeks of each other have generated massive fan reaction, Dead Space 3 and Aliens: Colonial Marines. I admitted a bias in both because of my history with the latter. Before going “legit” with Amethyst, I was creating homebrew RPGs on my still functional website Serenadawn.com. The flagship game of that site was my adaptation of the Alien series for use with the FUZION game system. I admit after years of research, and a fanatical loyalty to the franchise, to being the foremost authority on Alien canon.

I picked up Aliens: Colonials Marines, completed the single player campaign by bedtime, and will not be returning to it. The fact that press releases have claimed this game as canon is a more spiteful slap in the face than Aliens vs. Predator. I played A:CM after Dead Space 3, and even though I had reservations about that game, I now look back and realize how superior DS3 is. I’ll be going into my issues with that game later. As for Aliens, this game is simply depressing. It claimed a six-year development cycle and I believe it might’ve been a passable production if it was released six years ago. In order to fully explain the issues with Aliens, I’ve decided to reprint the IM conversation I had with my best friend as I played it.

Me: “This has the worst flame effects I’ve ever seen. I swear, I think my flamethrower reaches about four feet. And I think they made the Sulaco about ten times bigger than it actually is. It’s 1,200 feet long; it’s not the god-damned Enterprise! And I’ve seen more realistic characters in a muppet movie.”

Friend: “Wow, pathetic eh?”

Me: “I wish they’d stop calling it the United States Colonial Marines. When Cameron wrote it, it was only the CMC.”

Friend: “I don’t think you can ask anything of it. It’s getting what it deserves. If it was good, that would be a critique that mattered.”

Me: “I also think I’ve wiped out the population of Hadley’s Hope three times over by now. I just fought Weyland Yutani mercenaries. And when they die, their weapons and armor fire off them like gold-colored candy to be picked up. I also like it when you shoot a human, he drops ammo which resembles four bazookas the size of a suitcase. And my skin must be caked in baking soda because I’ve rarely felt the burn of acid blood.”

Friend: “You are built of a strong base.”

Me: “And when did aliens explode? They all explode!”

Friends: “How could they make Borderlands? And then this?”

Me: And talk about blowing the reveal. I just entered the WY base. The base shutters open revealing…holy hell, the engineer ship from Alien….and NO ONE acknowledges it! It’s like, hey look at this data, and I’m like, is no one going to look up?”

Friend: “Makes so much sense.”

Me: “No, what makes no sense is that in one scene you get a smartgun, use it until it runs empty, drop it, and you never get another. Meanwhile, your computer controlled teammate, who can’t die, gets to use one for the entire game. And you can’t pick up smartguns from enemies which use them. Awesome.”

Friend: “Glad we didn’t pre order.”

Me: “Wait…did those two dudes literally just teleport. A cloud of mist…and they teleported.”

…and it goes on from there. Aliens: Colonial Marines is downright embarrassing. The AI and graphics date back to Half Life 2. The aliens aren’t the slightest bit scary. And the story misses the mark by such a wide margin, it makes me actually angry, especially considering I ran an Alien campaign using the aforementioned rules twelve years ago.

I haven’t issued any spoiler warnings at this point because everything I’ve mentioned has been seen or spoken of in promotional materials and in the multitude of negative reviews published recently; however, I’ll issue one now in discussing plot points the reviews have attempted to circumvent…

To recap, a battalion of over 300 marines (yeah 300) arrives around LV-426 to respond to a distress signal made by Hicks after the events in Aliens. They find the Sulaco still in orbit around the planet, curious how it returned there since at last word is was still around Fury 161 after the events of Alien 3 (they call this a direct sequel to Aliens, but considering how they continually reference Alien 3, it would make more sense to claim it a sequel to the first trilogy, ignoring the 200-year future of Alien IV). They board the now hive-infested Sulaco, fighting…wait…what?

So the story tries to sell us on the idea that after Ellen Ripley does a Peter Pan at the end of Alien3, Weyland Yutani boarded the Sulaco, found evidence of more eggs, intentionally created a hive, and then flew it back to LV-426. In the span of only a few weeks, they created a gigantic research base around the engineer derelict from the first film in order to create more aliens. Apparently the alien life form is more important than the technology of the engineer ship, a plot discrepancy I’m still annoyed at after five sequels. The colonial marines arrive and the Weyland Yutani mercenaries, despite having lost control of the Sulaco, still act against logic in firing both on the marines and their ship. The surviving marines (about 150 or so) all escape to the planet surface.

I’ll stress that again, 150 of them survive, but you’ll be lucky to encounter more than ten over the course of the game. You just hear about these other marines through radio chatter. The story completely ignores them in the final act, more on that in bit.

The next stage is set at the ruins of Hadley’s Hope, virtually undamaged despite being only a few kilometers from a 40 megaton nuclear detonation that was supposed to “leave a cloud of vapor the size of Nebraska”. If it could’ve survived in this state, there would’ve been no pressure for the original characters to have left. Eventually, your mission takes you to the engineer derelict from the first film, recently taken over by Weyland Yutani, in an attempt to extract an embryo from within another computer-controlled character. Alien gestation apparently runs at the speed of plot. It was minutes after Kane awoke in the first film, days for Ripley in the third, and hours for Purvis in the fourth. I was willing to excuse Ripley’s delay because she held a queen, and that could take longer (in fact, it said so in the Leading Edge RPG…yeah, I just citied the Leading Edge RPG).

In the end, you fail to save the NPC because of an unfortunate plot hole. The game claims alien embryos can’t be removed from their hosts because of the connection to the host acts like a cancer which kills the patient. If that was true, how did Ripley survive it in Alien Resurrection? It’s at this point the big twist occurs, which if you had a shred of common sense you would’ve seen coming from about four hours before (the entire length of the game until this point). Your delve deeper into the research base (where aliens are being bred by the company…because companies are EEEVIL and that’s just what they do) when containment fails (of course it does) and aliens run amok. As it turned out your real objective was the recovery of a survivor from the Sulaco, a marine specifically. Follow the logic, faithful readers, and yet it’s still another hour before they reveal it to be Hicks.

Critics have lambasted this curveball but let me take a moment to defend it. Hicks’s body was impaled, pulverized even, by a safety support in Alien 3. There was little to identify him. The prison colony wouldn’t have DNA verification—they’d check the manifest and assume it was him. In the story, it’s explained that Hicks was captured by Weyland Yutani, he fought back, and one of the mercenaries (I’m assuming) got stuck in the cryo-module when the fire broke out, ejecting the crew over the prison planet. The mercs eventually captured Hicks and took him back for interrogation. It’s even safe to assume he was on board the company vessel which appears at the end of Alien 3, which also explains why a certain Lance Hendrickson look-alike appears at the end of the game. Hicks being alive doesn’t break canon despite critics’ salivating fervor; the story is guilty of a lot, but this was one I’m willing to let slide. I can’t even claim it a huge reveal, I mean they hired Michael Biehn for the voice of Hicks in the SOS at the beginning of the game. Why would do that if he wasn’t going to show up again later. It was one of the most predictable plot twists since discovering that the princess was in another castle.

Eventually, the game turns into a run-and-gun where the surviving marines, boarding vehicles which literally appear out of nowhere, make a do-or-die dash for the WY command ship before it takes off. The remaining marines are disregarded because only five make it on board, and there’s no attempt to rescue the others. After one of the most perfunctory and obviously orchestrated boss fights I’ve ever been involved in, we conclude to a whimper of an ending with unanswered questions before a cut to black.

Aliens: Colonial Marines is a huge fan service, one which had been done already adequately twenty years ago with the Alien Doom conversation. The fact that this one looks better and sounds better is the only improvement. There was no attempt by the creators to forge an original story with original ideas. All it does is wink at the audience so many times, you’d swear the game had palsy. There’s even a point when the “pup”-robots from Prometheus make an appearance. There’s no reason for them being here and it’s never explained. You’re just running through the derelict ship, shooting aliens, and then one these robots buzzes by you. That’s it. There is so much material in this setting, I’m losing patience that nobody assigned as a creative force has the courage to tap it. And to pour salt on the acid burn, the gameplay is atrocious, with the aliens being treated with as much respect as Kenner did with their toy line, and I use that reference knowing perfectly well the game actually ripped off designs from that atrocious series for some of their alien models.

It doesn’t matter if the co-op or multiplayer components are redeemable, even though I’ve read they’re not. Aliens: Colonial Marines succeeds in showing that the Alien series has potential…by not actually exploiting it. The fan reaction proves that there’s a demand for fiction set within this setting, whether it be a movie, a TV show (my preference) or a game…it’s just not this game. I recommend that Fox immediately disown it, kick it from canon, and try again.

Filed Under: MoviesReviews

About the Author: Chris Tavares Dias is the literary equivalent of that crusty burnt cheese at the bottom of the fondue pot. Some people claim he looks like Mathew Perry. He would like that to be true. It's not. In 2010, Chris co-wrote and created Amethyst Foundations, a 4th Edition setting based on the previous version under 3.5. It has received critical acclaim for integrating science fiction into classical fantasy. In August of this year, Chris was last seen staring at a dead raven that had fallen beside his car. Two months later, his watch and notepad were found in the stomach of a basking shark that had washed ashore off the coast of Florida.

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