Aliens: Colonial Marines – Not The Game It Was Meant To Be

By Kris . February 23, 2013 . 10:30am

This is not the Aliens game we were promised. Back at PAX 2011, Gearbox showed off a game in which Xenomorphs were smart, vicious, and able to move intelligently through the environment. You’d have to use your motion tracker to find them, a process that would require you to keep an eye on your environment, notice something amiss, then bring up your tracker to find whatever lurked in the darkness or the vents around you.


The game looked beautiful, with Gearbox reps talking up the game’s "next-gen" lighting, their painstaking devotion to recreating the colony Hadley’s Hope on LV-426, and what seemed to be a genuine passion for the films and the game they were making: "a canon sequel to Aliens".


None of what I was shown made it into the final game.


Instead, the Xenomorphs simply run towards your marine, Christopher Winter, waiting for you to mow them down. If they get too close, they’ll wave their arms like they’re swatting flies in an attempt to scratch you. Some will occasionally jump through you, teleport back in front of you and hit you. They only take a few bullets to kill, and it takes them much longer to kill you than it takes you to kill them. It’s no big deal if they get close, since you can simply melee them away, or occasionally to a contextual kill where you stick a gun in their mouth, shoot them in the head, and get acid all over you. Just like Hudson did in the movie! It’s sure cool that I can re-enact that mistake!


Don’t worry though, acid blood doesn’t do much aside from hiss as it touches you. Your health is very rarely significantly impacted by it. Also, don’t worry too much about using your tracker, it’ll beep at you even if you don’t have it at the ready when enemies are ready to attack you. You can bring it up to figure out where they are, but to be honest, it’s almost more helpful just to look around.


Those are the default Xenomorphs though. You’ll also find blind Xenomorphs that will walk like a poor-man’s Kaiju, starring an actor significantly smaller than the rubber suit he’s wearing. They’ll explode on you if you make too much noise, but stand still and they’ll walk away. These Xenos show up in a sequence in which you don’t have any weapons, so conceptually they’re kind of interesting (especially since they molt and leave husks that look a lot like they do when they stand still). However, you can get by them simply by standing still until they ignore you, finding a switch, and pressing X to turn on a noisy machine and draw them to it, making them explode themselves in an attempt to destroy it.


Some Xenomorphs are a bit faster, and they’ll try to jump on you, starting a QTE where you just mash X for a while until Winter punches the Xeno off of him. At least these ones killed me once when I didn’t notice the QTE prompt onscreen on account of being confused by the fact that it pounced me into a wall and the screen looked like a clippy mess. There are also occasionally bigger "boss" aliens, but you’ll have to do a scripted sequence in a proper order to get around them. At one point, I had to cut open and weld shut doors, something that I was hoping would be an important tactic for battle, by holding X near a door to open it, going to the other side, and welding the door shut by holding X. Failure to weld a door shut, even when I apparently had the time to do so was met with an instant, death, accompanied by what I only assumed was a death animation, but came across as the camera flipping out near (and clipping through) the Xeno’s head.


However, these are just the Xenomorphs. You’ll also fight Weyland-Yutani PMCs. The explanation of how they got onto the Marines’ ship is rather nebulous, and they basically make the game into an underwhelming cover shooter. Similarly to the Xenomorphs, occasionally they’ll just kind of explode into bits when you shoot them with your standard assault rifle. If you’re lucky, you’ll fight the mercenaries and Xenos at the same time, and it’s kind of fun to see the Xenomorphs kill the mercenaries with a couple of fatalities that you’ll never see performed on a marine. If you’re really lucky, sometimes an alien can kill you like this, which seems to be the reason for the weird, lengthy, grayscale game over screen that typically just has everyone freeze in place while the ragdoll physics move Winter’s body a little bit and shows some bars on screen.


Outside of combat, most of the game just has you moving to a specific point and holding X while Winter types on a keyboard or keypad, welds open a door, or sets up a gadget. There’s a lot of holding X while waiting for a bar to fill up. It seems like the game was more ambitious at one point, with things that look like gameplay (particularly one scene where a character climbs out of a treacherous situation using very game-like handholds) that feel like they’ve just been relegated to holding X or watching a cutscene. 


I was also hoping that we’d have a bit of time to start to care about a large group of marines, getting to know them as we were pitted against increasingly dangerous onslaughts of Xenomorphs, seeing how the fear of these brutal creatures impacted them, and saddened when I lost one that I liked in combat. Instead, most of them are eliminated in the first hour (in part due to some stupid decision making by a single marine in the process of being chestbursted), leaving you with just a handful. Whereas the decimation of the marines in Aliens undermined the marines’ posturing by pitting them against a much more dangerous foe, nobody seems particularly impacted by the death of the majority of their squad, continuing to say things like "Oorah to ashes," and "We don’t leave marines behind" in the face of what should be immeasurable horror.


In fact, "we don’t leave marines behind" encapsulates the storytelling of a decent chunk of the campaign. People are taken by Xenos and the rest of their crew goes after them… multiple times. One particularly underwhelming scene scene had one marine freaking out over the loss of another, only for me to find that marine alive, but shaken, 90 feet away.


It would be one thing if this was just a bad Aliens game, but an okay shooter. Instead, it just feels unfinished. Chestbursted character models look ridiculous. There’s a surprising amount of screen tear for an Unreal 3 Engine game on Xbox 360, especially one that’s been in development since 2008. One "jump scare" cutscene had its sound unsynchronized, so I was just looking at a Xenomorph for a short while before I heard it make the noise that was supposed to make the scene scary. Another jump scare had a Xeno in a ceiling drop a headless body from the ceiling. That headless body apparently contained no blood and just looked like an action figure with its head removed at the base of the neck. Multiple lines of dialogue play over each other, and not deliberately. The lighting that they showed off in the early previews is nowhere to be found.


There came a point where I became numb to the technical issues. I just started saying "well, okay" when a character knelt down to check someone’s pulse six feet away from their neck. When Xenos got stuck in the ground, I shrugged it off. When I opened a door and a mercenary teleported in with his back towards me, it was business as usual for Aliens: Colonial Marines.


I don’t know what happened to the game I saw back at PAX 2011. I just wish Aliens: Colonial Marines was closer to that than what we got.


Food for Thought:

1. When it works, I like the sound direction. The weapons and Xenos all sound like they do in the movie, and James Horner’s score still sounds great. I even like some of the voice acting by Travis Willingham and Ashly Burch, even if Willingham’s voice doesn’t quite fit his character’s appearance.


2. There’s one sequence in which you’re separated from your weapons, and before I realized how scripted it was, I was actually nervous during a scene in which one Xeno attempted to track me down. I liked that it made me feel underpowered and it made me think about how interesting a game based off of the original Alien could be.


3. The screenshots that were released by Sega and used in this playtest are not representative of the way the game looks.


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  • SirRichard

    I think the biggest thing that gets me about how much lying went on about this game are the screenshots showing a Queen Xeno fighting a Power Loader. They didn’t just fart out a nice-looking demo to get interest, they went the whole hog and faked screenshots, actively held extensive interviews where they talked about features and contents the game does not have, the lot. So much lying went on about this game, I can’t help but wonder what actually seriously went on behind-the-scenes and why Gearbox thought they could possibly get away with it.

    I think, though, that ultimately this was a good thing for the industry. This entire affair has led to people being a lot more suspicious and questioning of trailers and videos not showing explicit gameplay. I know that I certainly had my reservations about most of the things shown at Sony’s PS4 event, and I’ve heard tell of journalists coming out of Bungie’s Destiny event unimpressed at how they didn’t show anything concrete.

    People aren’t just taking the developer’s word on things any more, or at least for now. Hopefully, that continues. We could all do with being a bit more critical and discerning about the games we play and especially the games we’re told we have to be hyped for.

    Or maybe nothing will change, and it’ll be business as usual. More likely that, but I can dream.

    • ShawnOtakuSomething


    • kylehyde

      100% agree with everything.

      I really hope that the gamer community became more critical and less passive after this affair and show that in the end is the consumer who has the last word about what stays and is out.

      • Testsubject909

        Well… Look at Mass Effect 3.

        Yes, I know, not all of them were smart or knew exactly what they were complaining about, but a lot of them felt that the end of the end product was not what was promised. But disregarding how some of the people involved in that group behaved, in the end they were technically in the right. They were lied to, sold a product that completely went against what was advertised and in the end received some recompense of sort…

        And again. I tend to go against anyone who wants to yammer on about “artistic integrity” by pointing out that the lead writer, y’know, jumped ship mid-production or point out the shorter development time which certainly has an impact on the end product and also on the result of the initial vision, to which again I think of it as tainting said artistic integrity that people love to put up to try and defend Mass Effect 3’s ending.

        And yes. I heard what the possible original ending that the lead writer had in mind. No, I think it could’ve been better, in due part because of the presentation and putting more weight unto the actions that you have taken leading up to the end fight despite it being an A or B ending. I see that as broader strokes of a paintbrush where smaller details could be spread about the whole.

      • landlock

        Well Aliens 3, Resurrection and Colonial Marines none of it’s canon really because Ridley Scott only acknowledges Alien/Aliens. The rest are being ignored.

    • Testsubject909

      I’m not sure why I’m doing this since I feel entirely indifferent about Bungie and to an extent their whole Halo franchise but.

      To be fair. Sony DID warn that the following would not contain gameplay and would be just a wider view of what would be to come.

      So… Really the Journalists complaining that they didn’t get anything concrete about Destiny sound… well…


      • SirRichard

        I was on about the Destiny event held before the PS4 one, mate.

        • Testsubject909

          Oh. M’bad.

          Edit: Also, it’s not exactly right that I have to say this but. You get used to it. It certainly isn’t the first time that a game company uses smokes and mirrors and pre-rendered videos to make their stuff look better, or where the demo doesn’t match up with the end product. (Same goes for movies too. Notice how The Last Airbender’s trailer scene is nowhere in the full movie or so people tell me. I was wise enough to never go see that movie and I never will since I happen to be fond of the animated series).

          But yeah. Older gamers are probably habituated by the fact that certain end products will differ from what they were promised… It’s not exactly right that I have to say that… At least it certainly doesn’t feel right since it sounds like fraud is commonplace in certain companies…

  • ShawnOtakuSomething

    We can all say, that the Demo was better then the full game.It feels like we got a very rushed game. Nice Review by the way.

  • Aoshi00

    I wonder if TellTale could take a crack at this.. so far they’ve done several point & click adventure games for some of my favorite movies and feel like a legit sequel, like Back to the Future and Jurassic Park (despite some technical issues). The Walking Dead game was very good as well, the atmosphere just felt so engrossing and intense.. Aliens and T2 were some of my favs, but I’m not very good w/ FPS, I think Telltale could make great games to follow up on these movies as well.

    • Aristides

      Unfortunately Sega has the rights to Aliens :( oh well, at least we got Aliens infestation. But this really pisses me off I’m a huge Aliens fan and I’ve been waiting for this game for so long -_- they should have just canceled the title back when development had apparently stopped a few years ago.

      • kylehyde

        Specially considering that because of this title, aliens infestation was canned during two years even that was almost finished. Originally infestation was called Aliens colonial marines DS. Fortunately was saved and rebranded so any connection to the awful colonial marines was severed.

        • Kris

          Yeah… after playing ACM, I went back to Infestation to get the bad taste out of my mouth. :P

          • Testsubject909

            But Kris… Can you really ever forget?

            Somehow. I imagine you waking up in sweats from your sleep, as if you had Nam flashbacks of ACM.

          • Kris

            You know that scene in Aliens where Ripley dreams that she has a chestburster insider her?

            It’s like that, except the chestburster is ACM, and Ripley’s chest is ACM when I think MGR is in there.

  • asch999

    I read somewhere that the the difference in qualitybecause Gearbox outsourced the development of the game to other company. What they shown at PAX 2011 is what Gearbox developed themselves but due to the main team worked on Borderlands 2 later and contract with Sega that if the didn’t finish the Alien in time they will get some penalty, Gearbox outosourced it to meet deadline with Sega

    • Luna Kazemaru

      Aparently GB only did the MP which kinda made md facepalm

    • The game was constantly delayed by Gearbox because they wanted to put in more time and money into Borderlands 2. They had the time, funding and patience from SEGA but it came to a point where clearly Gearbox didn’t care and SEGA was just wanting something to put out there without having to put more resources into a clear mess of a game.

  • Adam Acuo

    Wow, what a mess.

  • Solomon_Kano

    It’s unfortunate how poorly this turned out. I remember when this was first announced in Game Informer way back when. Heck, I still have that issue around somewhere.

    Really disappointing. Even more so coming from a name like Gearbox.

  • Hossi Blumengaarten

    guys, we all got GEARBOXED!!!!

  • MrJechgo

    “False Advertising” should be an easy and legal reason to report and return a game these days…

  • Bakuryukun

    I am so glad I ended up having to cancel my preorder for this game. Talk about disappointing. Dumb as bricks AI, glitches everywhere, not scary at all, a ridiculous plot twist later on that completely messes around with series canon, trailers and interviews that intentionally lied about how the final product looked and played.

    This game is mostly a piece of garbage. Mostly.

    • Matt Forsyth

      “This game is mostly a piece of garbage. Mostly.” I lol’d

  • Matt Forsyth

    Well this is really disappointing. Guess it turned out to be just another bug hunt. Hey Sega, “How do I get out of this chicken-shit outfit?”

  • Kalis Konig

    Was there any truth to the rumor stating that the budget for this game had to be cut because it was used for a certain other title under the company? That would explain the whole actuality vs. reality mishap.

    • Kris

      There are a lot of rumors swirling about the game’s development, none of them good. Hopefully we’ll find out the truth in the near future.

      • gamefreak86

        The truth is out there.

  • Christopher Nunes

    I want to give this game a chance… but seeing the demo and the full game, hmm I’m not so sure. I have the Wii U version reserved for the pre-order bonuses but now I don’t know if it’s worth it AND are the pre-order bonus available to download anyway seeing that the Season Pass seems to get most, if not all, of the DLC stuff.

    I’ve heard from a friend that Gearbox only worked on the game from September to the deadline of release date on the game, but it’s just rumors so I can’t be sure what’s the true. I also hear they something might’ve happen at their work place where they lost almost all their original data on the game and have to re-do it by scratch which is why we have this poor version of the game. Again it’s just something I hear, not sure if it’s true and there doesn’t seem to be any official statements on it.

    Am I disappoint? Yes, and I like the Aliens series. Do I think it’s a bad game? Probably since it doesn’t live up to its potential, but it’s not the end of the world and it’s just a game and even with all of it’s bad implements I still think it’s a good game regardless and I hear the multiplayer mode is the best part of the game (which I like multiplayer modes and I love being an Alien more than a Marine) though is kinda sad for the main game but I don’t mind.

    Do I wish they could fix it and return it to what the demo originally had? Definitely, and I don’t know if they plan to do that to the Wii U version so I’ll hold onto my pre-order before I make a decision to either cancel it or not unless the Wii U version is canceled.

    Hopefully SEGA next time finds a different company that could work on an Aliens game and make it live up to the hype. I played Aliens VS Predators for the 360 and I loved it… Nightmare Mode was dangerous (for Marines in my opinion), but I managed to beat it and get all the Achievements. And Gearbox could use better time management details, even if they are at fault or not with this game because of this game and the rumors floating around is hurting its credibility and I hope Gearbox learns from this mistake and become a better company in the future or else they risk the chance of closing down their studios.

    That’s enough out of me. I’ll go rent Aliens: Colonial Marines, despite the obvious flaws to it I still find it enjoyable to play right through it.

    • Kris

      Multiplayer is a small light in pitch darkness, but I think that you’ll have more fun there than you would with campaign, definitely.

  • I believe this is a good sum up:

  • landlock

    The game is no where near as bad as you make it to be here. Yeah the graphics are bad and not as they were shown that’s for sure.

    The actual game itself though is pretty fun. I played through the XB360 version and never met half the glitches you mentioned. The teleporting marines I got and that’s not exclusive to Aliens and happens if much bigger FPS’.There was one time cruz melted with the wall but that’s the only one I really remember.

    Also unless you were playing it on easy the Xenomorphs could be quite deadly at times. Especially when they come at you in large groups.

    It’s funny how everyone hates on this but Halo 4 gets top marks despite being short, having boring levels designs and ending with dull QTE boss.

    • Testsubject909

      I’d like to note, you can’t say you never encountered any of the glitches and then proceed to say that you encountered a glitch.

      As for people bashing on this game. Maybe it’s because Prometheus left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths and they were hoping this game would provide something more substantial then teenagers in a slash flick taking over the bodies of supposedly intelligent scientists on a doomed mission with some overly contrived lead-ups towards each crew member’s death.

      Halo 4 though… I got nothing here. I don’t really care about Halo as a series and I always thought the planned Halo 4 to 6 were unnecessary and met more than a few Halo fans who felt the same way.

      edit: Or, the contrast between what was promised and shown back when compared to the end product might also color a lot of people’s perceptions and judgments.

      • landlock

        read my post again I never said I didn’t encounter any glitches.

        • Testsubject909

          You mentioned both teleporting marines and someone melting into a wall.

          • landlock


    • Kris

      I never played Halo 4, but I’m happy that you got more fun out of this game than I did. I just wish it was the game that Gearbox showed me way back.

      Also, I wasn’t playing on easy. :)

  • tubers

    So Killzone 2, Fac Cry and now this.

    Is this becoming the norm for demos and trailers?

    Now that the PS4 was “revealed” but never shown, then Ubisoft saying the demo ran on PC during the event.. don’t blame some people for becoming more and more skeptic..

    but I guess this will become the standard from now on. (ala “bullshots” that have fake anti aliasing)

    • Luna Kazemaru

      Killzone 2 was fine tho

  • The sad part is that neither SEGA or Gearbox haven´t declared anything about the quality of the game, because i guess they don´t want to “harm” more the sales of the game, but seriously SEGA, wtf is going on recently with them.

    And about Gearbox, well :

  • SoulEater98
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