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Game Fight!: Aliens: Colonial Marines vs. Every Other Game

by Seth Macy

By now you've probably seen the reviews or heard about the horrible mess that is Aliens: Colonial Marines. Five years in the making, Aliens: CM was poised to be a AAA mega blockbuster number-one-selling game of the year. I remember at last year's PAX East, the line to see the game was much, much longer than I felt comfortable standing in, but boy oh boy was I excited nonetheless. I figured it was going to be a slam dunk. I mean, a game where you play as a Colonial Marine and shoot xenomorphs? Who doesn't enjoy the movie Aliens? Or its sequels, Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection? Just kidding to those last two. But they’re certainly more enjoyable than A:CM.

But that isn't saying much, honestly. I've pitted A:CM against every other game because it is quite simply the worst game I have ever played. There are worse games out there, there must be, but none that came with such high expectations. When Duke Nukem Forever finally shipped after 10 years, we all knew it was going to suck. But so many of us gamers truly expected A:CM to be everything gaming dreams are made of. Coming on the heels of Gearbox's Borderlands 2 (one of my favorite games of last year), A:CM promised to take gamers on a riveting, action-packed first-person adventure through distant worlds, in a universe already brought to life in four movies, several comics, and other games. Instead A:CM is so utterly horrendous that it makes me question my belief that Borderlands 2 is a good game.

My initial reaction to the news that A:CM was terrible was a twinge of sadness. I know that there are literally hundreds of people who had a hand in this game, and I like to imagine that no one likes to believe that what they're creating is bad. So I tempered my emotions going in and decided I to look for any nugget of creative vision that was the design team's original intent. Several minutes into the game I decided that if there was a grand unified vision of an epic tale of spacemen shooting guns at stuff, it had long been buried in the mess of inter-company squabbling, broken promises, and outsourcing, that marked this game's five year development.

Warning: Everything from here on out is packed with spoilers. If you feel you must play the game, then I advise you to pay extra attention and not turn your eyes away from this review. I am doing you a favor. Trust me. It's not like a really bad movie, one that can still be enjoyed in spite of its obvious shortcomings. Don't get me wrong: I love terrible movies. I watch Hackers whenever I get the chance, and The Core is one of my favorite bad movies of all time. But there is nothing redeemable in a bad game. Frustration becomes your guide down the long road of mediocrity when you play a game as bad as A:CM to its conclusion. That said, on with the Game Fight!

The first thing I noticed when I began playing was how terrible the dialogue is. Every line from every character is lifted from the Rand McNally Big Book of Crappy Military Cliches. The commanding officer of the mission refers to the Marines as "chicks and dicks." The main character, Winters, the one the player controls, is talking to O'Neal, one of his squadmates, about a female Marine named Bella. "She and I had a thing," O'Neal says. "What kind of thing?" asks Winters, the main character. "A sex thing..." O'Neal dryly replies. At one point Capt. Cruz tells the squad that they don't stand a "snowball's chance in f***!" I could go on, but I won’t. The Marines only have a few lines that they repeat during battles. "I got one!" O'Neal will exclaim as a pile of thirty xenomorphs piles up before disappearing into nothing.

If the dialogue in the game is terrible, then it at least fits well into the repetitive battles that the player faces. The locator from the Aliens movie will ping, signifying incoming enemies. It does this even if you aren't looking at it. Early on, it's easy to figure out that the locator is wholly useless except to find mission objectives. The ping deflates any sense of tension that could have built leading to battles were the game more expertly executed. As it is, however, the dark, muddy corridors do an unintentionally good job hiding the "xenos."

The game progresses as such: Some xenos attack you. You shoot them, or melee them (despite the fact that it's well known that their blood is concentrated acid). You move on. Suddenly, some mercenaries are attacking you! So you shoot them, or melee them, and move on. The entire time you're subjected to more of the same terrible dialogue and awful graphics. There are items to pick up, but in yet another questionable game design decision, you actually have to push a button to pick the item up. You can't just walk over it and have it automatically added to your inventory or health. And sometimes the detection area doesn't register, so you will be literally on top of an item, mashing the button, and have to reposition to pick it up. If you need desperately to pick up an item, because your health or ammo is at a critically low point, it's extremely frustrating to have to deviate from the language of games by having to use a button to acquire items. I imagine it was implemented as another false way to build tension, much like the terrible door-cutting and terminal-typing that leaves you "helpless." It fails as a device because the enemies in the game are usually too busy clipping through walls or attacking one of your squadmates. Simply running away is usually enough to throw off the AI algorithm and buy you enough time to reload or reequip.

And the AI is terrible. In a particular scene, the one and only time I actually jumped in the game, I had just shot one of the mercenaries. I was exploring the room he was in and when I turned a corner, I was startled by another mercenary who was literally running into the wall. It startled me, because my natural reaction to seeing an enemy was a brief fight-or-flight response where I braced myself to take some damage, but instead I treated myself to a few seconds of observation. If I had captured it as video, it would have been perfectly complimented by a rendition of "Yakkity Sax".

If I were going to make a pie for Thanksgiving and I wanted it to resemble this game, I would need the following ingredients:

  • Subpar graphics
  • Terrible dialogue
  • An uninteresting, cliched story
  • Repetitive battles
  • Laughable glitches
  • Frustrating gameplay elements
I would then put all of these ingredients into a pie crust made from scratch, then cook it for several years before scooping all the ingredients out and putting them into a new pie crust thrown hastily together at the last minute to satisfy contractual obligations. I would call this pie Uncle Pitchford's Homemade Crapmeat Turd Pie.

The winner in this Game Fight! is every other game. If you walked into a game store blindfolded and took home the first game you stumbled into, there is a near-certain chance it would be better than Aliens: Colonial Marines. Avoid this game.

The Game Fight! rages on in the Game Fight! archive.