4 – Graphics:
Good things first: The game is incredibly faithful to the franchise: Pulse Rifles, APCs, Powerloaders, they are all here and look the way they should. The levels look suitably dark and dirty, and the new areas expanding on existing ones from the movies blend in seamlessly, offering some nice eye candy along the way. The same can be said about character and enemy models. Yeah, one can argue about the design of the new Xenos, but they still above Kenner material, with the Raven being a highlight. It’s a stellar art design that saves the visuals. And, boy, are they in need of saving.
As you progress through the game, it will quickly become obvious that the graphics are incredibly dated. Low-res textures are aplenty, the animations are stiff and outdated and the shadows are plain ugly at times. The hideous textures are the most glaring problem, and there is simply no excuse for a game in 2013 to have these. And don’t get me started about the stiff animations and glitches such as floating medpaks. Ironically, despite being everything but a junkie for high-end graphics, this offended me the most about the game…and that should make you worry. If I were to judge the game by graphics alone, I’d consider the 50€ price tag an insult. Just for comparison: The most recent AvP game is now three years old and still looks much better than this.
5 – Sound:
Now this is where the game really shines! Everything sounds as it should be, from the motion tracker to the Xenos and the weapons. The voice acting is top-notch, with some great contributions by Aliens veterans like Lance Henriksen and Michael Biehn. The acting also sells you the characters and easily saves the day when the writing falters. Now, the biggest star is undoubtedly the game’s score by Kevin Riepl (Gears of War 1, Resistance: Burning Skies). As many aspects of ACM, it is a love letter to the movies. But it is more than that. Unlike Debney’s score for Predators, it avoids the pitfall of sacrificing its identity for the sake of excessive fan service. Yes, references to Horner’s work are abound in both thematic material and instrumentation, but also manages to grab your attention with original elements. What pleasantly surprised me are several adaptations of Goldsmith’s music for the first movie, incuding several reprises of his main theme, but this time with the musical texturing of Horner’s score for the second movie. This helps creating an overall musical identity for the franchise, a thing which the movie scores, as great as they may be individually, sorely lacked.
6 – Story:
Personally, I am a very story-focused person. I can play and enjoy an otherwise generic game if the story is just good enough. Add to that that I am an Alien nut, Colonial Marines has two things going in its favor that may very well outweigh its shortcomings in graphics and gameplay. And it’s not just me, as Gearbox itself has made a big selling point out of the story, claiming that ACM would be the sequel to Aliens everyone always wanted, even stating that ACM’s story would make Alien³ a better movie. Unfortunately, the story is mediocre at best, an insult at worst.
That’s not to say that I didn’t like parts of it. There’s still some suspension of disbelief necessary to accept that there’s anything left of Hadley’s Hope after the explosion, but I loved the element of the surviving aliens that have gone feral and mutated while lurking in the sewers. Unfortunately, that something the plot barely touches on, and perhaps it would have made for a better more prominent plot point. Why not even go wild with the mutation aspect and let them take the spotlight, perhaps instead of the Wey-Yu mercs? Nonetheless, I have to say that I didn’t take as much offense in the presence of human soldiers as other players. I thought it made for an interesting inclusion and helped giving the conflict a broader scope. A favourite moment of mine was the memorable introduction of the Queen, very cinematic and tense. I also had no problems memorizing the new marine characters. They were distinctive enough in character and appearance, but that was not that difficult anyway, given that there’s a main cast of only four new marines, plus Rook and Hicks. And, as I have mentioned before, the story is helped by the incredible faithfulness of the environments to the Aliens franchise.