Given that it boasts some of cinema’s most iconic monsters, weapons, spaceships and characters of the last 35 years, it’s no surprise that there have been more than 30 videogames set in the Alien universe since Ridley Scott first introduced H.R. Giger’s terrifying xenomorph in 1979. But let’s be honest, most of those games have been utter horseshit. There hasn’t been a title that’s adequately captured the abject horror of Alien since the titular beastie (quite literally) burst into the public consciousness. And, as much as I wanted it to be otherwise, Aliens: Colonial Marines – developed by Borderlands’ Gearbox, published by Sega and purporting to be a true sequel to James Cameron’s 1986 masterpiece, Aliens – has done little to redress the balance.
You can tell Colonial Marines has been in the works for a while – Sega bought the franchise rights in 2006 – thanks to a wealth of grainy textures (that probably looked great in 2010), two-dimensional rendering and last-gen-quality cutscenes. Gameplay consists of either trekking from point A to point B as you fight off predictably spawning enemies, or defending point B from wave after wave of xenomorphs (or, as the plot progresses, human mercenaries) while one of your unhelpful teammates fiddles around with a door or computer. There’s no strategy, no room for maneuver and no sense that an army of chitinous killing machines could descend on you at a moment’s notice.
The game has done a decent job of recreating the locales from Cameron’s movie. There’s also an eerie feeling as you creep through the abandoned corridors and idle sentry guns (which remain just as they were left by Ripley et al) of the USS Sulaco and Hadley’s Hope. But there’s been no attempt to recreate the tension – or, indeed, the terror – that the nightmarish xenomorphs engendered in the cinema. And on top of that, Colonial Marines is a broken game. There are elements that simply don’t work. The iconic motion tracker puts itself away every time you aim your weapon in response to one of its alerts – at a time when, surely, you’d need it the most. Non-playable characters are indestructible, which perhaps explains why they’ll happily walk right up to what are supposed to be the galaxy’s most fearsome creatures and shoot them from point-blank range – not to mention possessed by an unnerving tendency to walk right through you if you’re blocking their way. Colonial Marines looks, and plays, like an unfinished project.
Not even the online modes can make up for it. The drop-in co-op system for the story campaign doesn’t reward you for teamwork, instead encouraging players to charge right in and steal the lion’s share of the experience points you need to level up your arsenal. The multiplayer has a couple of interesting maps – and taking control of a xenomorph is pretty fun – but, like the rest of the game, it’s still just a desperately poor shooter, garbing itself in nostalgia to hide its sizeable shortcomings.