Aliens: Colonial Marines
Hey Vasquez, has anyone ever mistaken you for a man?
This game has been getting absolutely hammered by critics. I guess it's to be expected from the crowd that gives each new up-numbered copy of CoD high ranks for being the same clone the last one was, but some of their complaints are completely sound. Having been a long time fan of The Alien series (including the wonderful Predator crossovers way back when on SNES through to the PC), I was anxiously awaiting this game for the 5 years of tortured development it went through. Enough about that though - I don't let my love of a series get in the way of what I think about a game (look back at that Force Unleashed 2 review if you don't believe me), because fluff aside the goal of a game is to entertain me. In that case, lets get down to the sonic electronic ballbreakers shall we?
As a vet from the previous alien/predator games, this wasn't exactly original in any ways (as far as Colonial Marine plotlines go). It picks up after the third movie (Alien 3 - the one with the dog/ox alien depending on the version you watched) but more directly is stated as being a sequel to the second movie (Aliens) in its location, cast-types, and overall feel. The plot contains a (for me at least) totally not forseen plot twist that is actually played off very well (despite dodging a rather important question with a simple "We ain't got time for dat!" response), especially considering how undistinctive the rest of the game story actually feels. Character reactions are relatively believable to an extent (some of them go way over the top for what I feel is simply stage direct), although since the general life cycle of the xenomorphs (aliens) are so well known, it's hard to not see moments of "you have a baby alien inside you, you are obviously going to die, I just wish I could end it sooner" as being ridiculous - however, the characters themselves might actually not know.
Sounds in this game are, for a lack of better word, awesome. From the iconic noise of the pulse rifle to that xeno hissing, and even the music itself. The game creates a great atmosphere with the audio, broken up eventually by the voice acting. The marines in this game are pretty copy-paste generic "this is what marines are like" and smart-mouthed over-the-top as the original crew of the Sulaco from the second movie. I won't say the acting is the best I have ever heard, but I have seen far worse voice acting in a game, and it does have some of my favorite quotes from any game I have played so far - which I'll leave out of here for the sake of them being a little crude.
Yes, a staggering point for some, I have never been a person to deprive myself of playing a game because of the graphics. The problem here is not so much that the game doesn't look good, as much as the fact that there is a lot of texture loading issues (on the 360 version that I played) - Such that it will take a moment before the texture actually loads on there to make it look good (much like Halo 3 and some of the Gears of War games did, IIRC). It's a nuisance, but it rarely makes the game unplayable - and it largely seems to be a randomized as to when this will happen (playing with a friend, for example, I could see things fine, but all of the walls failed to pop their textures, causing him to have a hard time finding out where the door was). When things do load correctly, however, this game is bounds ahead in the development of atmosphere. Revisiting broken down sights from the movie really give you a sense that things could go wrong at any point, and provide many little moments of nostalgia as you recognize things out of the environment. The marines all have their own paint-on-designs on their armor (much like those from the movie) that also adds a little bit to their character. Animations aren't the most advanced things in the universe (especially when it comes to the faces), but everything functions pretty smooth, and the game easily looks as well off when functioning correctly to rival the earlier days of Black Ops in looks.
This really needs its own part, as its one of the highest points of failure in the game. There is (I am pretty certain) at least a 25/75 chance that instead of being an intelligent digital creature out to kill you, they will instead stand there and do nothing. It's more noticeably on the enemies that aren't Xenos, but even the Xenos have their moments of just sitting on the ceiling in some remote part of the room waiting for you to kill it. When the AI is working that 75 percent of the time, however, things go quite well. People complain about things such as the Xeno AI just running straight at you (mostly just the 'warrior' types), but considering this is how they legitimately act in the movie from which they are pulled and they have no ranged weaponry, it's about as stupid a complaint as if you where to complain about the machete guys in Borderlands charging at you with their knife. 'Lurker' type enemies are generally far more cunning, retreating into the environment so that they can pounce on your back when you aren't looking, and non-Xeno combatants will take cover to protect themselves. Unlike in some game of the type, these enemies are actually NOT friendly with each other, and will duke it out to the death instead of always focusing on the players in the game as well - a nice touch.
The more glancing issue about AI is the Marine companions. These little jerks serve to get in the way or be counter-productive for 75 percent of their existence. If you happen to work on a challenge (say, get melee kills), they consistently decide to steal kills from you, whereas it seems whenever you really need them to help kill things, they are just in the background relaxing and taking a break. They honestly serve better as a distraction for enemies than they do a fireteam.
The most important part of the game - how it plays. A roughly 6-8 hour campaign (which people complain about being too short, even though games like CoD and even Halo 4 have had campaigns falling under 6 hours) that allows for 4 player cooperative play through Live (and also 2 player split-screen play for in-house friends), with a group of 4 difficulties. To be completely honest, the game is the best experience with at least one friend played on the "Ultimate Badass" (because we are state of the badass art) difficulty, which adds to the immersion of the game by removing all of the HUD elements from the screen, as well as making you take slightly more damage as well (I think). Some elements of the game transfer better over to the Multiplayer suite of matches - like the motion tracker. Controls are pretty responsive and sensible, although crawling on a wall as an alien can be a bit aggravating when you hit a ceiling as, you will need to re-adjust the 3rd person camera in order to move the directions you want. In campaign and some of the MP matches, you can revive fallen teammates before the bleed out (as is found in many modern shooters), and when any member of your co-op party picks up an item (armor refill or ammo) the entire party is granted it (campaign only). There are also plenty of collectables in the form of dog tags, audio-logs, and "Legendary Weapons" (guns from characters who existed in Aliens).
Across both sections exists a suite of 3 tiers of challenges, each tier independent of the other. Within those tiers exists somewhere from 10-40 items to do, each needing to be completed in the order listed to get credit for it. Doing these (as well as simply playing campaign or multiplayer sections) reward you with experience (for the Marine character) that you use to Rank-up (anyone who has played modern FPS games will be familiar with this mechanic). Ranking up will grant you access to more weapons and skins (and abilities for the Xenos) that you can purchase using "skill points" you get from leveling. This helps differentiate your play style to some extent, giving you the chance to be different from every other marine/alien. The downside to this (and why I have always been a bit upset with the system) is that it puts the higher-ranked players at a distinct advantage as far as gear goes. A rank one marine, for example, isn't going to be murdering Xenos with a semi-auto shotgun wall of death, and a rank one Xeno isn't going to be moving as fast or take as many shots as a higher-ranked one would. It does give the completionist something to strive for though.
As far as multiplayer goes, at this point there are 4 separate modes: Team deathmatch, Extermination (essentially a "take the point, move to the next, the side that nabs the most points as marines wins"), Escape (Teams take turns seeing which Marine team can get the furthest or escape the fastest), and Survivor (whichever Marine team can last the longest). In all four modes, each team plays a round as the Xenos and a round as the marines, so the game is evened out. Special weapons exist on the maps for marines to pick up (such as rocket launchers, smartguns, and flamer throwers), whereas special zones allow the Xenos to transform into a more powerful form (a special hive-wall allows the Crusher, and a alien husk allows the Boiler) to help mix up the combat. Xeno players get three spawn choices - tough straight forward Warrior, Fast and sneaky Lurker, or the acid-spitting ranged Spitter - to choose from, each with its own particular advantages over the others, while marines use customized loadout options (much like any other FPS these days). The motion tracker becomes much more useful in multiplayer, where human players can be as erratic and sneaky as possible, and it becomes worth having a player who has to lower his gun to shoot just to get the advanced warning of impending danger. Some of the fun can be ruined by the highly powerful unlocks from high ranks (at one point my entire squad was wiped out by killing a normal xeno Spitter in an escape game mode), but in the long run it will balance as more people become higher in rank, and the diverse game modes help to make it so that it's not always about the most kills. There is a glitch that occasionally happens in MP modes, however, that causes a Xeno player and a marine player to get stuck on each other (normally during a xeno pounce) and lock up, causing both to be unable to move or do anything until a helpful other player decides to come over and kill them - it's quite game breaking when it happens, but thankfully it seems to happen relatively rarely.
So all be told, I feel that the game has been getting a terrible rap that is mostly undeserved. Many complaints pop up from the fact that supposedly Gearbox outsourced to three or four other companies to make the game, but it doesn't matter who makes it as long as the thing is fun - which for me and at least the group of friends I have, it is. I've gone through the campaign multiple times with varying numbers of players, and logged quite a good number of hours in the multiplayer modes (especially Extermination), and will probably log even more when the eventual Horde mode DLC comes down the line. If your a fan of the series, you might want to own it for yourself, but for the sake of all the hate the game has been getting, I'd recommend you rent this one before you go nuts. I enjoyed it, but you know, that's just my opinion, even if I am state of the badass art.