The dull, unattractive Aliens: Colonial Marines is a functional shooter, but little more.

The Good

  • Online multiplayer offers some fun, anxious moments
  • Interesting stealth level brings some suspense to the single-player campaign.

The Bad

  • Campaign is mostly devoid of tension and challenge
  • Static pace and lack of variety lead to boredom
  • Tacked-on cooperative play completely negates the narrative
  • Dated visuals and assorted bugs.

The Alien franchise deserves better than this. Aliens: Colonial Marines is a disappointing exercise in bland corridor shooting, dragged down by laughable dialogue and cooperative play that makes the game worse than when you adventure on your own. Colonial Marines is unremarkable in every conceivable way: it’s far too easy, generally devoid of tension, and lacking in the variety it so desperately needed. It occasionally lets you peek at the game that could have been, allowing its rare scraps of unsettling atmosphere to seep into your bones. But brief moments of dread and excitement are quickly supplanted by more shrug-worthy shooting and a general aura of “whatever”-ness.

In Colonial Marines, this is the height of excitement.

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“Tepid” isn’t likely what you want from a shooter–nor is it what you look for in an Alien narrative. Easter eggs are there for the fans of the film franchise who want them, but even when the game pays homage to the films that inspired it, the results are lackluster. A gruesome event that remains Alien‘s most well-remembered image is replicated here without a hint of fright or gusto, and Colonial Marines frequently relies on visual and dialogue references to fill in for proper storytelling. (Hey, that guy just mentioned Ripley!)

When relieved of the cumbersome cloak of nostalgia, the story gives you little to hold onto. As Corporal Christopher Winter, you join other marines on a rescue mission to infiltrate the U.S.S. Sulaco, thus initiating your post-Aliens journey through a number of storied areas from the franchise, such as the Sulaco and Hadley’s Hope. Several strained confrontations between key characters temporarily raise the narrative stakes; when anger comes to the forefront, you get a glimpse into the loyalty that bonds the marines. But most of their interactions are characterized by snippets of awful dialogue, such as, “Any thoughts on the exploding chest issue?” and “Woke up gagging on a creature like a spider, but wrapped around my face. It’s dead, sir.” Such lines are delivered without a hint of irony–or any other emotion, for that matter.

Sometimes, acid harms you. Most times, it doesn't.

Sometimes, acid harms you. Most times, it doesn’t.

The awkward storytelling is hardly energized by character models and facial animations so stiff that humans look every bit as synthetic as famed series androids Ash and Bishop. Aliens: Colonial Marines is not a looker. Graphics glitches abound, fire and goo effects are unconvincing, and clumsy visual details–jittery transitions in and out of canned animations, abrupt game-over screens upon death–give the game an air of carelessness. Graphics may not make or break a game, but the success of a game in this universe relies somewhat on the atmosphere, and these flaws can make it difficult to stay immersed. And that doesn’t account for nonvisual bugs, such as scripting errors, and the occasions when you spawn into the game in a nigh-unusable third-person view.

Luckily, moody lighting and some creepy environments help pull you back in, though not consistently. Outdoor exploration is given heft by the sight of burning structures dotting the horizon on LV-426, and dark corridors are lined with shiny slime and gross tendrils, keeping your eyes momentarily averted from the bare textures and poor animations. You move through these places, mostly corridors, shooting down xenomorphs, mercenaries, and little else. There’s mild entertainment here and there, at least during the biggest battles. At one point, you must disconnect several fuel lines as aliens skitter across ceilings and appear along the walls, eager to close in and snatch your life away. An enjoyable rhythm can set in as you fend off waves of gross xenos before making a run for your objective. It’s satisfying to gun down an alien before it makes its way to the ground from a high ledge, and watching xenos explode into gushers of goo has a grotesque appeal.

Bella looks cross. You would be, too, if you appeared in such low-res cutscenes.

Bella looks cross. You would be, too, if you appeared in such low-res cutscenes.

All too often, however, you just walk forward, shoot the aliens and mercs that appear with your bog-standard weapons (assault rifle, shotgun, and so forth), open a door, and do it all again. On the whole, the action lacks any sense of momentum or challenge. Aliens: Colonial Marines is exceptionally easy on normal difficulty; human enemies lack smarts, and alien arrivals aren’t horrifying–just horrifyingly predictable. You’re granted the requisite Alien motion tracker, but it’s wholly unnecessary; you don’t need it to stalk aliens hiding in the shadows, or to avoid xenomorphs on the hunt. Enemies arrive just as you’d expect, and you shoot them.

And that’s Colonial Marines’ biggest problem: enemies come, and you shoot them down easily, again and again. The game is remarkably light on variety. A couple of battles masquerade as boss fights, but they require no strategy and are just as easy and thrill-less as the rest. The four- to five-hour campaign has no thrust to it; it feels the same from beginning to end, and the finale just drops with a thud. And by being so easy and predictable, the game lets down the license. There’s little suspense, nothing to absorb you or spur your curiosity. Colonial Marines is tone-deaf to what makes the Alien franchise what it is–and what makes the best shooters so exciting.

The dull, unattractive Aliens: Colonial Marines is a functional shooter, but little more.

By Kevin VanOrd