Little Green Men
Let me start by admitting something that some people may find shocking: I am not a capital-A Alien kind of guy. I haven’t seen the seminal sci-fi film of that name, nor the sequel (Aliens) or any of the myriad of extraterrestrial films that followed (Alien 3: The Last Stand, Alien 4: The Lost World, Alienz in the Hood, Aliam Neeson in Abducted, etc). It is with this woeful ignorance of the franchise, this blank slate that I approached this week’s game, the much maligned Aliens: Colonial Marines.
I do know this much: this game got put through the ringer when it came out. The Internet exploded with negativity over something or other. People were unhappy. Rage was spewed. What was it all about? I couldn’t tell you. I didn’t end up following it that closely. But I was ready to get in there and tear Aliens: Colonial Marines a new eggplant-head-shaped orifice. Is it time to get on the A:CM hate dogpile train? Punch your ticket, let’s go.
In truth, that train left the station long ago, and the only engines leaving now are mediocre FPS steam engines with a single cargo container filled with classic tropes, bland characters, and confusing if ignorable progression mechanics. In other words, it’s like almost every other FPS I’ve played for the past five years.
In some ways, that’s a win, right? It may not have the animation polish of a Call of Duty or the building destruction tech of a Battlefield, but it has all the elements that make it look like a very pleasant cousin of the two at the family reunion. You pick up guns, you shoot things, you pick up ammo, you find out halfway through level 2 that there’s a secondary fire, you interact with doors and NPCs, you trigger some mini-cutscene where the ship falls apart and you suddenly see your hand shielding you from random debris that may or may not be flying about in the air, you listen to some stilted dialog about why you have to get to the next objective, and then more aliens appear between you and that objective and you get to shoot them. It’s the FPS cycle we all know and love. A:CM isn’t some aberration of the genre. It’s just the pudding-faced cousin that doesn’t really have any qualities to make him stand out.
I mean, there are some things wrong with A:CM that get in the way of this cycle. There’s a weird character-level-based progression system that inexplicably unlocks gun parts that you then purchase with your levels. These guns may or may not be one of the two guns you’re currently holding. There are also special guns that appear golden that don’t get any of these upgrades! It’s a really confusing and completely unnecessary way to give some kind of weapon progression to the player and it just doesn’t work. The good thing? It doesn’t matter – the starting weapons are just fine without any parts.
The NPC characters, as is their custom in shooters, are both completely invincible to alien attacks and yet somehow stunningly incompetent at helping to dispatch them. Their guns are loaded with blanks or something; it takes them hundreds of bullets to kill an enemy that can be brought down with a half-dozen well-placed shots on your part.
There’s a whole multiplayer mode that I didn’t play at all, though I found the idea intriguing, as the game led me to believe that it was an asymmetrical marine vs. alien PvP battleground. Still, the campaign kept me busy enough.
Which is to say that as a whole, A:CM is a totally serviceable shooter. It doesn’t have anything to really recommend it, but I didn’t find anything that drove me to immediately post vitriolic hate online about it either. It’s weird that there’s a section in the middle where you’re suddenly gunning down humans for some fictional reason that involved some company name that may have been explained had I actually been paying attention to the story. There’s a neat section where you have a smart gun that auto-targets aliens and makes you feel like a badass until it runs out of ammo. There’s an interesting stealth-like section where the main character loses all his gear and has to do some alien-sneaking. There’s a flamethrower.
A few quick notes to wrap it up:
- This game had the most publisher/dev/license splash screens I’ve ever seen before the main menu. I counted six: Sega, 20th Century Fox, Gearbox, Timegate, Nerve, and nVidia. Wow! That’s too many cooks.
- I got a new keyboard recently that has a little LCD screen in it, which is a neat gimmick. I mainly use it to monitor my CPU and RAM usage, but A:CM actually shows the campaign objectives on there when I’m playing. I thought that was a nice touch.
- For some reason, every time I exit A:CM, Steam tries to start it up again immediately. It knows the truth: I can never truly stop playing this game. Ever.