While trying to free a fellow Colonial Marine from the black resin like substance I find him cocooned in, a xenomorph pounces from the wall above, knocking me to the ground with such immediacy I actually gasp with shock. Gone as soon as it arrived, I get to my feet, equip my Motion Tracker and slowly, cautiously, scour the area. A flick of the tail as my alien assailant rounds a corner is an invite to follow it through corridors covered in shiny, organic black matter lit only by blinking strip lights and a dim torch, with the slow, methodical bleeping of my equipment providing the only sound.
At this early point in the game, Aliens: Colonial Marines seems to capture the atmosphere of the Alien films, in particular the action-packed second entry to the series. A direct sequel to Aliens (though set after the trilogy), it’s hard for anyone with a soft spot for that film to not get excited as the game kicks off with a visit to the U.S.S. Sulaco, followed by touching down on LV-426 – both of which are accurately recreated, despite a graphics engine that would have looked outdated years ago.
Listening intently to the bleeps of a Motion Tracker while nervously scanning walls and ceilings, edging round corners and freaking out over tricks of the eye is exactly what any Alien game should be about. And just as Colonial Marines starts living up to that ideal, I round a corner only to prompt the re-appearance of the xeno by crossing an invisible trigger point. Not only does this bit of scripted action make the minute or so of tense exploration leading up to it effectively pointless, the xeno’s animation resembles the movements of a dyspraxic puppet.
Like everything else in the game from Pulse Rifles, to vehicles, to half-eaten doughnuts, the alien models look like they do in the films, but low-res textures along with terrible animation makes it impossible to really get invested. The xenos jerk and skitter so badly it’s as if frames are missing. They leap long distances stuck in awkward poses as if voguing for your gun barrel. Sometimes they burst into body parts when shot, other times they simply disappear.
Then, for the second chapter, the xenos vanish entirely, replaced by Weyland-Yutani PMCs. The shooting mechanics are OK, with subtle auto-aim rather than the dramatic dowsing rod movements favoured by some shooters, but the enemy AI is non-existent and hit-detection sporadic. More to the point, this is an Alien game and if you want to shoot waves of soldiers there are plenty of titles that already offer that (and do it far better). Suddenly, the xeno’s ropey animation doesn’t seem such a problem after all.
During its development there was a lot of talk about the lighting system Colonial Marines employs. It uses a technique called ‘deferred rendering’, which according to Gearbox is supposed to be an example of ‘next-gen’ tech that allows for more ‘flexible’ lighting. To our plebby eyes, it doesn’t look any better than Dead Space, for example, a game that was released five years ago.