Release Date: February 12 (worldwide)
Platforms available on: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Gearbox Software
Genre: Action horror
Aliens: Colonial Marines has its heart in the right place. The shooter pays deference to its subject matter, and many years in development has produced a solid and very playable game.
But developer Gearbox Software has also committed the cardinal sin of producing a vanilla experience, brimming with clichés and some bland dialogue.
After previewing the game last year, our expectations were not exactly flying high for the full review.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is much more engaging than we first feared it would be, and the story picks its way through the aliens' folklore without dropping too many major clangers.
But overall you just feel like you've been here all before. The marines spout clichéd grunts as they prepare to go into the abyss.
The Xenomorphs are so plentiful that by the end they become more annoyances than terrifying killers. And unfortunately, in this version of space, everyone can hear you yawn.
Gearbox bills the story as the imagined sequel to James Cameron's 1986 film Aliens, and on that score it doesn't do a bad job.
Set 17 weeks after the film, you become US Colonial Marine Christopher Winter, who is part of a team on the USS Saphora responding to a distress signal from the USS Sulaco, the ship that ferried Ellen Ripley and the original team of marines on that fateful mission to the notorious planet LV-426.
We are not going to give away any spoilers, but you do learn more about the fate of the Sulaco, Hadley's Hope and other aspects of the story.
It's debatable, though, whether this is a decent Aliens narrative. The dialogue is certainly not a strong point. "Attention, chicks and dicks of the USS Saphora," is one such example that Captain Cruz barks rather weirdly at the assembled marines.
The cookie-cutter characters spout the usual lines about "never leaving a marine behind", and how the "s**t's gone bad", until you just hope an Xenomorph rips their head off.
Oh, and the Xenos don't get off much better either. They sound strange, to the point where Gearbox appears to have sampled grey glove puppet dog Sweep from Sooty & Sweep for the noise when they die, which is very odd.
As a shooter, the game plays by the numbers, which doesn't mean it's not fun to blast through.
The usual shooter controls are all present and correct, but the pacing struggles to build any sort of tension, and things soon descend into an all-you-can-eat killfest.
- "The score is really strong, picking just the right moments to rise anthemically... but then again, the tension is so often ruined by the marines' moronic comments."
There are just so many Xenomorphs to kill that you start to rather pity them. They come rushing at you like excitable yobbos and try to get within hack-and slash range.
But invariably you will have cleaved half their head off first. Things get mixed up with acid spitters, lurkers and other alien types later on, but plentiful ammo and powerful guns sometimes makes it feel like a turkey shoot.
The introduction of generic Waylan Corp mercenaries into the mix doesn't really help, either.
Aliens: Colonial Marines really finds its range when it does something different. Taking on the Facehuggers is pretty terrifying as they skitter around the floor and are incredibly hard to pick up in the gloom.
Then a sequence later in the game strips away your weapons and makes you move silently and unarmed to avoid instant death. The change of pace was really welcome.
In terms of presentation, Aliens: Colonial Marines is an equally mixed bag. The score is really strong, picking just the right moments to rise anthemically, but also knowing when to fall to silence, allowing just the tracker beep to echo around the dingy corridors.
But then again, the tension is so often ruined by the marines' moronic comments.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is not an ugly game, but it's not pretty either. There are some nice vistas, such as on the Sulaco or LV-426, and the cinematic set pieces are decent.
But the graphics are also rather muddy in parts and certainly show the creaking limitations of this console generation. Shifting from the PC version to the PS3 is a bit like going from broadband to dial-up internet.
There are some positive things here. The weapons are all really punchy and fun to shoot, each with second functions.
We also like the way Gearbox has threaded experience points and skill upgrades throughout the campaign, meaning that you constantly feel you are being rewarded for achievement.
This could improve replayability, particularly with the fact that you can take on the campaign with a friend, laying even more destruction on those hapless Xenos.
- "Aliens: Colonial Marines commits the sin of making Xenomorphs, those acid-blooded creatures built for nothing but killing, just not that scary."
Escape mode, for example, involves two teams of four competing against each other. One team becomes the Marines, who must escape back to specific points until they reach their goal, while the other team are the aliens, who have to stop them.
Playing Escape as the Marines is a joy. You have plenty of ammo, remote guns dotted about and lots of good places to defend from attacks.
Playing it as the Xenos means being shot in the face repeatedly and respawning - over and over again. It's pretty much the same situation in Survival mode, which unfurls on an open map with more ad hoc goals for the marines.
Things even out in Deathmatch mode as the action is a bit more free-flowing and open, enabling the Xenos to use their advantages of motion sensors, the ability to climb up walls and brutal melee attacks when up close.
Playing as the Xenos is a totally different challenge that will really appeal to those hardcore stealth players who love close-up prestige kills. But everyone else might just squabble over who gets to be the Marines...
Aliens: Colonial Marines commits the sin of making Xenomorphs, those acid-blooded creatures built for nothing but killing, just not that scary. The campaign rattles along at such a pace that the horror is lost, and instead replaced by full throttle action.
This would be fine if much of the action was not just so vanilla. This is a solid shooter, but not the game that Aliens fans had long hoped for.