The power loader turns up once or twice before being forgotten for the second half of the game, and the ability to weld doors shut to defend against an oncoming horde is only made use of in multiplayer mode. The actual direction of these set-pieces is rather shonky, too. While the absence of a handholding, Gears-style action button is welcome, we frequently found ourselves disoriented and looking the wrong way during scripted story beats. Admittedly, so did friendly android ally Bishop, who at one point just stood unflinchingly still as aliens charged, slashed and burst to an acidic pulp all around him.
There are a few stronger moments. A sequence that takes your guns away before dropping you in a sewer tunnel with bunch of ancient, hibernating aliens is scarier than it sounds, while it's hard not to feel at least a little thrill at the idea of creeping around an accurately modelled Hadley's Hope, or exploring the Space Jockey's Derelict, all the while toting an M41 Pulse Rifle. The look of the Aliens universe has been magnificently recreated, and it's during the scene-setting quieter moments, such as when your first touch down upon LV-426's blue-tinged, irradiated surface, that you're able to appreciate this. And then the fighting starts.
Multiplayer doesn't have recognisable sets, but it certainly restores some of the drama, thanks to an asymmetric structure that appropriately takes an awful lot of Left 4 Dead's cues. Escape is the mode most obviously inspired by Valve's game, tasking a small squad of marines with pushing through Alien-controlled territory, the constantly respawning Xenomorphs being controlled by the opposing team.
Play as a marine and there's a sense of threat nowhere to be found in the campaign, because the Aliens have been made intelligent again courtesy of their human puppeteers. Lurkers (the shiny-headed variety from Ridley Scott's first film) might be skulking behind that corner, preparing to lunge. Soldiers might make a co-ordinated attack from the ceiling while the oversized Crushers can, by turning up at just the right moment, completely unravel your plans.
It's more fun as a marine than an Alien, however, due to the Xenomorph's ungainly, awkward movement and their unpredictable relationship with the surfaces they're able to climb on. That said, actually being the Lurker hiding behind a corner about to pounce on your victim can't help but entertain.
Extermination, meanwhile, is a hectic objective based gametype that sees the marines racing between Alien egg clusters, holding positions long enough to the destroy the facehugger-incubating monstrosities. By putting the marines on the offensive it lacks siege mentality of Survivor, however, which sees a squad of four marines holding out until either the time runs out or everybody dies. A predictable suite of upgrades, perks (or in the Xeno's case, "mutations") adds a meta-structure to the multiplayer, though you can also unlock weapons and upgrades during the campaign.
Will there ever be a perfect Aliens game, something that captures the overwhelming intensity of Cameron's film? Or have we already had it, in the form of Halo, Dead Space, and countless other Aliens-inspired videogames? Few cinematic series' can claim to have had the lasting impact on game designers' imaginations that this one can, but that fact means the source material itself feels second-hand.
Colonial Marines can't trade on nostalgia alone, in other words. It needed to offer intense combat against an unstoppable force, deft storytelling that matched the cinematic flair of the films, and some new ideas that could have rejuvenated an overexposed franchise. It needed, in short, to be a better game.
Could have used a few more years in cryosleep
- Meticulously authentic in its environments
- Fire a pulse rifle!
- Aliens are boring to fight
- Combat is monotonous
- Set-pieces feel creaky