Top positive review
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It's good for you boy, eat it.
on February 15, 2013
So, from a hardcore "Aliens" and FPS fan: How is this game---really? Well, that would depend on what you lean towards: gameplay; story; or franchise nostalgia/evolution. 'Aliens: Colonial Marines' does an excellent job on two, and a decent try on one.
Here's the breakdown:
As a fan of the franchise, the game is very cool. In fact, it exceeded all my expectations. However, as a FPS, we're in for some chop. But let's take this one at a time.
Graphics seems to be the biggest gripe, and it does have some issues. The years-long development time shows. For me, I had some cut scenes glitches where there would be a horizontal line that showed up and flickered---like a TV that hiccups, and some frame rate issues were present. As for in-game graphics, some stuff like walls or surfaces are modern 2013 graphics and crystal clear---so much that you can read the airlock warning sticker's fine print by the doors, names on lockers, and uniform nametags. But on the other hand, some things are more blurry and older looking---like reading the numbers or print on missiles, or the various printed things on the dropship. There were even some spots that had the Weyland-Yutani caption print and logo backwards. Those instances obviously looked more dated, like graphics from 2008. Basically you can tell what was done a few years ago, and what was done more recently. The most important thing---the characters and aliens looked for the most part great, and likness of the real actor's faces were very well done. But there was an annoying juxtaposition of older and newer graphics. However it's not as bad as some reviews have claimed. The game's "bad spots" don't look any older than 'Mass Effect 2' or 'Dead Space', but when you have the new contracting against the old, it shows. But then again, most of the game is dark and gritty, so it doesn't matter much when you aren't looking for it.
The next issue is the shooting. It's decent, but not refined. If you want to run and gun xenos in the same frantic style as the film, you have nothing to worry about. But if you want a 'Modern Warfare 3' style of precision and accuracy, you won't find it. On the plus side, there are a ton of weapons in the game, and most of them are based on the film, though there are a few original guns that show up. One is the "Assault Rifle" that was never used in the film, but fans of the movie will remember there is one brief scene at the beginning where Frost walks by a weapons rack full of long-barrel (real life) British L-85 rifles, and the in-game rifle shares a similar shape and bullpup configuration. There's also a new sniper rifle that looks similar to the M42A2 Scope Rifle from the _Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual_ book by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, but it's not an exact match, so I don't know if it was an inspiration, or mere coincidence. Regardless, there are many other weapons and explosives to choose from, so you'll have enough firepower to kill the xenos---if you wield them properly.
Overall gunplay works and works well, but not to the high standards set by dedicated FPS that have years of experience in the subject and gameplay. At close range there's not too much of an issue, but things do get sloppy when sniping or firing from range, as sometimes even though you have your red dot on a baddie, you'll miss the shot. Repeatedly. That wasn't cool. But again, it's all in context with the Totality of the Circumstances---which I'll explain beow.
Overall, things function fine---but be warned, combat is deadly. You will die. And you will die a lot. They are not kidding with the xenos. With Veteran difficulty settings, the aliens are film-level deadly, so if they get in close and you get hit, you're pretty much dead meat. They also blend with the walls and ceiling like the film, and they are fast, so you're constantly paranoid about when they will attack. Thankfully the motion sensor gives you warning when they move around, but when they are hanging on the walls totally camouflaged and still---then fall on you, it's game over man, game over. Even with the motion tracker, you aren't fully prepared. When that thing starts beeping and you see multiple readings in front and behind---but see nothing, it gets nerve-wracking because will they hit you from the ceiling, or come up through the walls or floor? You can only aim at one place at a time!
There is marked clausterphobia and paranoia that's extremely pervasive of the game that's reminiscent of 'Silent Hill' and 'Dead Space'. If you can suspend your disbelief, you will be on edge and you will get some genuine scares---both pop-up starts, and psychological.
Where the film really shines, is with the voice acting, music, and sound effects. They are superb. It is exactly like the film. All the characters sound realistic and convincing; every very weapon, device, or sound used in the film was painstakingly used in the game; and the music is a seamless fit. The attention to detail is also crazy. (Except the dropship and APC. Those are only about 80% to scale, not 100%, so they look a bit small when next to them.) The sets are dressed and matched very close to the film. Some stuff is almost exact for those areas that overlap. So for instance, remember the floor grates the queen ripped off when she was chasing Newt in the Sulaco's hanger bay? They were properly represented in the game. Even the crates, boxes of ammo, gear, and other stuff that were in the film's background were re-created. (You can even find Bishop's "blood" spatter and lower body half.)
The story is also well crafted---and this is important from a franchise level because this game takes place during "Alien 3", so Ripley is dead---or at least dead until she is cloned 200 years later in the film "Alien: Resurrection", so the story arc pretty much flatlined when "Alien 3" ruined the novels and comics that were written before it came out. In this game however, we get a rebirth of sorts and a new POV takes over that's not from Ripley, so we have new stories that can be told without having to have Ripley present---or alive. Now granted the game story is fairly linear and not overly complicated, but the straightforward plot is welcome because it fits within the greater structure of the simple and straightforward plot of "Aliens". Furthermore, it does offer some surprises, and it successfully works to carry the narrative forward with both combat and political intrigue, as it deals with both the xenos and shady human mercs working for the Weyland-Yutani Company as antagonists. But more than anything else, there is a singular orgasmic geek moment that I won't spoil, but it's a huge plot twist and gift given directly to the fans. For that, I thank Gearbox and the writers very much!
As for Easter eggs and a desire to remain consistent and in-continuity to the film, we also get four "Aliens" cast members who come back to reprise their roles: Michael Beihn as Hicks, Lance Henricksen as Bishop, Al Matthews as Sgt. Apone, and Mark Rolston as Drake. Granted most of this is confined to flashbacks or multi-player play, but still, it was a fantastic touch and hugely appreciated even after 28 years! Thanks guys!
Another thing I personally appreciated, were all the obvious tag lines and famous quotes from the film. The best part, was, here they were used in a clever way: as the titles for the unlockable Achievement titles, not the actual in-game dialogue. So we get all the great one-liners, but it's not as cheesy as it would be if someone had parroted the line in the game.
The game also does a great job making the Marines feel like they are part of the Cameron universe, without using the real film characters as springboards or cut-outs. So while there are tough female Marines, they aren't all clones of Vasquez. And while there are sarcastic guys, they aren't rip-offs of Hudson. I was especially intrigued by Bella, as she looks as if she had Vévés painted on her armor. If so, it would have been cool to know her backstory and if she was practicing Palo, Voodoo, or another hybrid system.
So what's the final verdict? As a FPS, it's average and somewhat forgettable if it wasn't based on the subject matter. So if you're looking for the next best thing in shooters, you will not find it here. You also won't find cutting edge graphics, as I detailed the problems above. But as a canonical continuation from the film, it's excellent. This game was a labor of love for Aliens fans created by Aliens fans. I hate to word it this way because it unfairly shoehorns the game into a smaller box than I'd like, but although cross-marketing is important, it's not necessarily made for the casual or typical 'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3' fan. Oh, make no mistake it's a FPS, but it is also a survival horror FPS that really concentrates on aesthetic and atmosphere, plus a desire to be authentic to the film; rather than to be "authentic" to the typical mechanics of its FPS contemporaries. And this is where it shines the brightest on one hand, but also dims on another.
I'm not a huge online player, so I don't really know how well that flows, but there are plenty of options to play online including being a xenos hunting down other players, or building a squad with your friends. (Just hope they can shoot straight!)
I only have a few minor gripes about the game that weren't covered above. First off, the game is fairly short. Not ridiculously short like 'CoD: Black Ops 2'; in which I finished in only two sittings, but I bought A:CM Tuesday and finished it Friday. So while I would have liked more, there is at least plenty more to do with replay, like finding legendary weapons from the film, lost dog tags, and things of that sort. My second gripe is, as mentioned above, I sincerely wish the game didn't take into account the "Alien 3" film. Ugh! But to be fair, the game does the best it can from what preceded it, as well as adding something new and profound to the mythos. Finally, my last gripe was the acid for blood. Unless it's used during a cut-scene or you're specifically sprayed with it, it doesn't really play a big role. Yeah, I realize the limitations on hardware and how it had to be limited, but I wish it was a larger threat.
(It would have also have been nice to be able to use the APC or dropship either as gunners or full control, but I get it that this is a Marine infantry squad, so it's not a big deal. But hey, maybe DLC?)
As for final thoughts, this game is a mandatory must have for Aliens fans who want a continuation of the story that was first told in "Aliens". It's that simple. Say again, all after "this game is a": Mandatory must have! Things happen in the game that are extremely important, and these things breathe new life into the aging franchise and help it move forward instead of stagnating in subpar sequel films. I've been waiting 28 years for a true sequel to "Aliens", and I found it in this game. Although I would have done a few things differently, things were done well enough to a degree that it reignited that spark I once had and it makes me excited to want to find out what happens next. However, what about you FPS fans or casual people who don't much care for the Aliens saga per se, but want a sci-fi shooter? I hate to say this, but this might not be your cup of tea. It's mostly fun and challenging---mostly, but it doesn't have the mechanics, infrastructure, or graphics that a truly superb FPS needs, and if you're not in it for story or nostalgia, this is probably more of a rental or skip. Now, that's not to say it doesn't have potential. It does. In fact, this story is far from over and it is rife with potential. Focusing on a personal level, it's this potential that adds some bonus points to the game that brings it up to a 4-star review. Once again, concentrating on the Totality of the Circumstances, while not perfect, it has never-the-less set the stage for something very exciting and new if it continues, and if these baby-steps can materialize in the future and things are cleaned up and refined, it can turn into something very noteworthy.