Platforms: Xbox 360 / PS3 / Wii U / PC
Reviewed On: Xbox 360

In 1979 Twentieth Century Fox released Alien, a Science Fiction movie far, far removed from the pomp and circumstance of Star Wars and the lycra kitsch of Star Trek, it changed the face of Sci-Fi cinema forever.

As well as pretty much single handedly inventing sci-fi horror as a genre, the highly realistic world of Alien also introduced us to arguably the best movie creature ever created: German mentalist H.R. Giger’s disturbing Xenomorph.

Its 1986 sequel Aliens has possibly had an even more lasting impact on the entertainment industry, most notably in video gaming. With few exceptions Aliens has provided a template that seems almost impossible to avoid. Nearly every major video game property owes as much to Aliens as it does to Pong. Doom, Half-Life, Halo, Gears of War, Resident Evil, Dead Space, X-Com - and these are just a few of the big ones. The now cliché tropes defined by Aliens are everywhere, and yet we are still waiting for a licensed video game worthy of its own legacy.

With over six years spent in development, has Gearbox and Sega’s Aliens: Colonial Marines managed to shake of the curse of Alien franchise video games?

Sadly no. It fails to live up to the incredibly high expectations surrounding it.

PhotobucketTouted as a story sequel to the 1986 movie, yet set after the death of Ripley on Fury 161, Gearbox have worked in collaboration with Twentieth Century Fox to bring Aliens: Colonial Marines to gamers with a decent level of authenticity.

Members of the original movie cast return to voice their characters, including Michael Biehn and Lance Henricksen who add some credibility. More so than any previous Aliens game I've played, the developers have very much got the right idea about staying as close as possible to their source material, and there are a great many easter eggs chucked in there for fan boys, Bishop’s lower half left on the deck of the Sulaco, for example.

The problem with A:CM isn’t how it ties into the saga, or its art design - to be fair these are some of its stronger points. Unfortunately, its admirable mission statement is let down by almost every other aspect of the game.

PhotobucketThe team at Gearbox had a ready made world to bring to life here, and although its been done very faithfully, there’s a total lack of flair or artistic license on display. This makes A:CM disappear into the multitude of dull sci-fi shooters the Alien franchise has itself spawned.

The single player campaign starts with a brief introduction to your mission: search and rescue on the Sulaco, the Colonial Marine mother-ship found in an orbit over LV 426. We are told the Sulaco has drifted back there on return from spitting Ripley out over Fury 161, the prison planet setting of Alien 3. This convenience of ridiculous proportions allows the plot to draw in both LV 426 and The Sulaco as settings. We are also on a mission to find out why this has happened!

The feel of the movie is fairly effectively evoked here with scenes of the ship and marines being given a Sgt. Apone style pep talk, but we've seen so many variations on this theme now it feels quite flat and doesn't get you ‘pumped’ for another day in the corps.

There is some tension built early on as you cross a space walkway and enter the Sulaco, creep through empty corridors and then arrive in mucus encrusted passages to find a marine strung up with open eggs on the floor beneath him… just as your cutting him down the first Xenomorph shows up! After a brief cut scene where your character is floored by the creature as it escapes, you then have to whip out your motion sensor, find it and kill it.

PhotobucketThe motion sensor is great, looks exactly like Hudson’s machine and the sound effects are, of course, replicated perfectly. You soon find the beast and kill it, easily.

And that’s pretty much your lot. What follows is level after level of dull runways populated by stupid enemies; frustratingly a lot of them are human, with non-existent A.I. The once formidable Xenos are taken out in seconds, you can even melee them with your rifle butt! The human enemies, Waylan-Utani employed mercenaries, are actually more of a challenge than the eponymous extra terrestrials, as they jump about the place like children's TV presenters with pulse rifles.

Speaking of pulse rifles, they are of course included, but fail to pack a punch as while they make all the right noises and look good on screen they, along with all the other weapons, feel underpowered and don’t satisfy. Unlike 2010’s Alien vs. Predator you can now at least aim down the sights with weapons, but sadly the sights seem to be slightly off so you find yourself wading in rather than hiding behind cover in order to make any progress.

The visuals in Aliens: Colonial Marines are very poor: lots of shoddy textures and character models, screen tearing, and banal level design combine with the gameplay fumbles to make the experience hard work. Even a license like Aliens can’t save the game from these base level problems. A:CM isn’t as bad as Duke Nukem Forever, but it's damn close. Its worth noting that Gearbox were also involved with DNF, another well loved property that suffered perpetual delays then flopped massively when it was finally released.

The multiplayer suite is the best part of the game. With the opportunity to play as aliens as well as marines, you're offered some variety of play as they both handle very differently from one another, and there are a couple different game types. As you’d expect there’s a lot of options to customise your character and level up weapons and gear.

A considerably less nausea inducing third person perspective replaces the first person view last seen in Alien vs. Predator, and it's more fun to play as a Xenomorph than a marine. The three standard types can be rather hard to control, however, and I had my ass handed to me by the Marines pretty much every time at first.

Playing as a Marine I found the only moments of tension in the game were to be found in the multiplayer as half the time you have no idea where the aliens will pop out from and they usually gang together, forcing you to use the motion tracker to locate them, something that was sadly not necessary during the campaign.

PhotobucketIt’s a hard task these days for any multiplayer experience to be noticed in a territory so firmly held down by the likes of Call of Duty and Halo, so when you also have to battle against all of the technical problems I've previously mentioned, the fact that A:CM’s multiplayer is enjoyable shows that the strength of the subject matter has shone through a little here and there. Though I can't see myself playing online for the next year as the matches quickly become repetitive.

It's perfectly understandable that A:CM would buckle under sheer weight of responsibility. It had to live up to such high expectations, in the face of so many previous failed attempts to do justice to the movie saga. Doing this is perhaps an impossible task. So much of what is good about the game relies heavily on classic Aliens themes and designs. Unfortunately the make up of what made the films so great is now so deeply embedded into popular culture, when the dark corridors, brash marine dialogue and jump scares are recreated they come off as cliché.

The real crime here is not that the game is anachronistic, and therefore rather dull as a result, it's that it fails on a technical level. In shot - there are too many technical problems in A:CM to be excused in 2013. Technical gaffs coupled with a dull level design and no new ideas, has made Aliens: Colonial Marines a real chore to play, with the exception of some of the multiplayer modes.

My hopes for the future of the Alien franchise in video gaming quite simply are that there isn't one. We have seen too many Alien games fail and in the same ways. Aliens: Colonial Marines has clearly tried to coast on the appeal of the franchise but has offered up a gaming experience we really shouldn't be seeing on a console at the end of its life span.