The Aliens franchise has been ripe for video games ever since we saw the first total conversion of DOOM. Over the years there have been a handful of shooters have taken on the task, most with varying degrees of success. Five years ago Gearbox and SEGA announced Aliens: Colonial Marines and it sounded promising, bringing co-op gameplay and a continuation of the canon created by the movies. But five years is a long time, especially in game development, and gaming has evolved since 2008. Can Colonial Marines overcome whatever roadblocks it hit along the way and be considered a "good" Aliens game?
Aliens: Colonial Marines tells the story of what happened between Aliens and Alien 3. Players join a group of marines aboard the U.S.S Sulaco sent in to investigate LV-426 and the events that transpired there. But as the marines arrive, things aren't what they seem as the Weyland-Yutani corp has plans of its own. While the story in most shooters takes a back seat, I'm happy to say that fans of the Alien franchise will have plenty of material to look forward to. Colonial Marines does an excellent job in the fan service department, even the collectibles like guns and dog tags are inspired by the movies.
There's nothing groundbreaking about the gameplay in Aliens: Colonial Marines, in fact, the basic way you play the game feels like a mixed bag. The best way I can explain it is how the game deals with item pick-ups. In a high intensity shooter like Aliens: CM you don't want to have to worry about choosing what to pick up, you just know you want armor, health, and ammo. Typically you'd just run over it to acquire it. But in Colonial Marines you need to "look" at the item and hit a button to confirm pickup. When you combine this with the fact that all pickups are automatically shared between players in co-op, there's no viable reason to use this method for item pickup other than to frustrate the player during combat. Basically since there's no item hoarding in co-op, what's the point of confirming a pickup?
The basic combat, at least initially, feels off. On the Xbox 360 the controls are a bit too floaty by default and definitely took some tweaking of the sensitivity to get the hang of. The staple Pulse Rifle is packing 10mm explosive tips, but actually shooting xenomorphs and other enemies feels like it lacks punch. There's that intangible disconnect in Colonial Marines, where at times, the "shooter" aspect of it feels unsatisfactory.
After some time Colonial Marines did grow on me. I think part of this has to do with the global character XP and challenge system that lets you purchase unlocks and customizations for your dozen or so weapons. Completing levels, killing enemies, finding pick-ups, and finishing challenges will earn you experience that counts towards a global player level. With every level achieved, you'll earn points to unlock attachments for guns like scopes, bigger ammo clips, or even custom skins. Once I began to upgrade my shotgun and assault rifle, combined with levels that became much more interesting later on - the combat seemed to finally settle on something more towards what I was expecting.