“Aliens: Colonial Marines” (PC, PS3, X360: $59.99: rated M) isn’t a great game. In fact, it’s not even a good game. But for a certain variety of gamers and science fiction fans, it’s not bad.
“Marines” is the latest in a long line of video game titles based on the “Alien” film franchise, starring Sigourney Weaver as the eternally righteous Ellen Ripley. The basic premise in these games – fight off and/or run away from hordes of terrifying xenomorphs, those chest-bursting, acid-dripping baddies made famous by director Ridley Scott in the original 1979 film.
The most interesting part of this latest game adaptation is that, story-wise, it ignores all the nonsense that took place in the film series after the worthy 1986 sequel “Aliens.” The series has gone steadily downhill since that movie, with awful detours involving Winona Ryder, “Predator” movie crossovers and last year’s unfathomable mess, “Prometheus.”
The events in “Marines” take place around the same time as “Alien 3,” but the setting remains in and around the locales of the second film. Colonial marines have been once again dispatched to investigate distress signals from the doomed spaceship U.S.S. Sulaco and the infested planet LV-426.
You play as new protagonist Corporal Christopher Winter, and other familiar characters pop up as the game progresses. Actor Michael Biehn reprises his role as Corporal Dwayne Hicks and Lance Henriksen returns as the android Bishop.
The plot of “Colonial Marines” is by far the best part of the game. Had the film series gone in this direction, we would all be happier today. Much of the storyline was penned by writers form the recent “Battlestar Galactica” reboot. Without disclosing too much, it’s safe to say that even more iconic characters make cameos and that the villainous Weyland-Yutani corporation asserts itself once again.
Good story, weak game
Unfortunately, “Colonial Marines” has very little to offer as, you know, a game. This is an unadorned first-person shooter and an uncommonly lame one at that. Levels consist of opening doors and shooting xenomorphs, then opening more doors and shooting more xenomorphs.
Combat is helped a bit by the creepy environments and faithfully replicated equipment, like the pulse rifle and motion detector. But the fighting here is way too repetitive and predictable to hold the attention of most FPS gamers.
It’s a depressing waste of potential, really. The unnerving xenomorphs – with their surprising intelligence and weird, biomechanical design – are among the best monsters in the history of science fiction. Here, they’re reduced to mindless whack-a-mole baddies.
What really sinks the experience, however, is the title’s surprisingly low-rent visual presentation. In many sequences, “Colonial Marines” looks like a below-average PlayStation 2 game circa 2004. Because the game relies so heavily on atmospheric elements, like those gluey alien corridors, the cheap graphics really break the spell. Facial animations are stiff, textures are unconvincing, and even the cutscenes are glitchy.
If you’re not a hardcore FPS player, the game’s easy combat and simple design means you can power through the campaign storyline in just a few hours and get back to the good stuff – the story. Some developments late in the game provide interesting twists. The game also offers cooperative and competitive online multiplayer modes, plus local two-person multiplayer via split screen.
“Aliens: Colonial Marines” ultimately disappoints as a gaming experience, but it succeeds in updating the mythology of an enduring sci-fi franchise. It’s undeniable fun to be creeping once again through the colony complex of LV-426, with aliens closing in and marines freaking out.
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