Welcome to Tales From the Bargain Bin, a new semi-regular-ish feature wherein our intrepid explorer Tim journeys into the depth of clearance sales, used bins, and Steam Sales all over this great land of ours to find cheap games and determine if they deserve that sort of treatment. Got a suggestion for a cheap game to cover? Tweet us @GIZORAMA or hit up Tim directly @PrinceOfBrains!
THE GAME: Aliens: Colonial Marines (PS3, Gearbox/Sega, 2013)
THE BIN: GameStop “Used Games $10 And Under!” box
PRICE PAID: $7.50 after discount card and birthday coupon ($9.99 used normally)
Knowing I would start this column in October, I wanted to find something with a bit of a spoooooky theme and between my initial avoidance of this game, the impending release of Alien Isolation, and the fact I had a 20% off birthday coupon just sitting in my inbox, I gathered up all my courage and assumed “maybe with the benefit of hindsight and distance I could find something positive to say about Aliens: Colonial Marines!“.
You know what they say about good intentions.
This game barely needs an introduction at this point; a long-promised Sega title attempting to fill the gap between my fifth-favorite movie ever, Aliens, and its basically awful sequel Alien 3, resulting in a lot of hurt feelings, disappointed gamers, and legal recriminations between the four studios involved in this game. Humorous gifs and angry Youtube videos sprung up nearly immediately following its launch indicating what a giant disappointment it was both as a representation of one of moviedom’s most revered titles and as a Gearbox game, who were still cruising pretty high on goodwill from Borderlands.
That sort of disappointment proves to be a common theme in this game. Colonial Marines starts off well enough; a generic tutorial, bad dialogue, and tenuous connections to the previous movies being thrown about (someone mentions Fury 161 from Alien 3, seemingly just to make the developers feel better) don’t give you much hope, but then you finally get to a point in the game where something happens, and you know what? It isn’t bad. Sure, the controls are clunky and it’s awfully hard to shoot anything, but that first encounter with a xenomorph is actually kind of cool! The monster dodges through shadows and retreats into vents, sticking and moving in such a way that you’re forced to rely pretty heavily on your motion tracker, which is actually a neat gimmick that I probably could’ve dealt with if it happened more. I finally vanquished the beast, cursed a bit at its insistence of spraying acid blood when killed, and thought “hey, maybe if there’s more fights like this I can squeeze some joy out of this!”
There weren’t. I quickly learned, outside of the possibly-scripted first encounter, just how awful the AI was. Xenos tend to just sort of…run at you, not displaying any of the guile or cunning they employ so often in the movies, waiting to get gunned down in nearly single-file order. It reminded me a lot of Serious Sam, except 1000% less fun.
When they do damage you, it’s surprisingly frustrating; despite my initial enthusiasm at seeing that you have to pick up health kits to restore health, the health system is something not unlike Far Cry 2 or The Chronicles of Riddick, with regenerating segments that can only be fully restored by finding a health kit. Now, flash back to a paragraph before, where the enemy encounters tend to be a lot of things just running right at you doing damage. The flow of combat is constantly disrupted by the health system, which seems designed for a much slower and more methodical game like the aforementioned two titles, and while the developers may have been trying to use it to bump up the tension, it mostly just causes frustration and makes it look like the health system was a hold-over from a much earlier version of the game (which is extremely likely given its long development period). The terribly long, Too Human-esque death screen furthers to both break the flow of gameplay and rub your face in the fact that you probably got killed by something you didn’t see and likely couldn’t have prevented.
I went into this wanting to find something to like, and I will go this far: it looks pretty awesome, especially in context of Aliens as a whole. The prop design is dead on, replicating iconic equipment like the Pulse Rifle and motion tracker in a well-rendered and faithful manner, and the stuff they made up for the game fits into the big chunky vibe of everything from the original movie pretty well. Syd Mead may have had some hand in designing the sets, and it shows – the dingy maze of catwalks and CRT monitors that made up Hadley’s Hope in the movie are also brought to effortless life, even if the slightly dated graphics and overall look make the game look more like Doom 3 than anything else (itself a game that really captures the look of Aliens without being at all connected to the movie). That said, these good words only apply to the weapons and backdrops – the character models are bland and under-detailed (both for the marines and the aliens) and the animations are laughably bad. A popular animation made the rounds showing the awkward clunkiness of the Xenos’ animations.
Look, I wanted to like Colonial Marines, I really did. But I can’t deal with this game much longer. Somewhere between its hamfisted gunplay, its insistence on making you fight human enemies waaaaaaay too often, its complete lack of tension or fear, and its utter lack of what made the original movies so compelling, Colonial Marines is just another on a long, long list of ‘licensed property tacked onto an inappropriate framework’ games, except this time it’s a subpar Call of Duty clone instead of the awful Mega Man ripoffs movie games used to be crammed into back in the NES days. If you just want a good game in this universe, you’ve got plenty of choices – the Jaguar game holds up pretty well, and despite the mixed reviews for Alien Isolation it at least captures the spirit of the movie.
And, heck, if you really need to play anything that resembles Aliens, then just go back to Doom 3. It’ll cost you about as much and it’s far far better at capturing the spirit and tone of a movie it really has nothing to do with. Or, heck, just find a game with spooky corridors and/or hideous creatures from beyond – there’s a billion games that rip off Aliens that get far closer than the actual Aliens game.
Just don’t play this, okay? It’s the only way to be sure.
(Didn’t think I’d get through this without quoting the movie, huh? I was so close, too.)